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Thursday, 25 October 1956

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds), who has Icd the debate for the Opposition on this measure, finished on the correct note, and that is where 1 start. He said that he hoped that although honorable members from Tasmania and Victoria might criticize the bill, they would be fair and just. 1 sincerely hope that we will be fair and just in our criticism of this agreement, because there are undoubtedly two sides to the argument. We do not oppose the bill, naturally, because it seeks to ratify a very important agreement between the governments of Queensland and the Commonwealth, which involves the livelihood of thousands of workers in a big industry in Queensland, but it is only right that this House should know, also, the other side of the story. We, from Tasmania, feel that we have a right and a duty to put the other side of the story.

As a preface to my remarks, I want to outline the factors before us in this agreement. The purpose of the bill is to obtain parliamentary approval to an agreement already made between the Commonwealth and the Queensland Government to regulate the production and the marketing of sugar in Australia during the next five years - [956 to 1961. The main principles of the bill have remained substantially unaltered since 1923, but the cost factor has altered considerably, especially in the last eight or nine years, as a result of galloping inflation which has hit this industry just as it has hit all industries.

The contents of the agreement are, briefly, first, that the Commonwealth Government undertakes to continue to impose an embargo on the importation of sugar; second, that the Queensland Government undertakes to acquire all raw sugar produced from cane grown in Queensland and Vew South Wales; third, to make sugar available in Australia at fixed prices; fourth, to control production; fifth, to accept responsibility for any losses arising from the export of surplus sugar; sixth, to pay re bates on the sugar content of goods exported; and, finally, to contribute to the funds of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee.

That is a broad outline of the contents of the agreement. I shall now give some ot the details of it. The Queensland Government undertakes to sell sugar in all State capitals of Australia, and Fremantle and Launceston at £82 ls. a ton for the next five years. A retail price of lOd. per lb. will be charged for sugar throughout Australia, irrespective of where it is sold. This will provide a profit margin of 13J per cent, on the wholesale price. Prior to this agreement, the price of sugar was 9d. per lb. and £72 1 6s. a ton was paid by the users of sugar. This agreement provides for an increase of about £10 a ton on the wholesale price of sugar.

Another part of the agreement - and this is an alteration of the condition contained in the sugar agreement of 1951 - concerns the method of financing the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. Previously, the Queensland Government paid this committee £216,000 a year, as my colleague the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) said. The reserve fund of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee at 1st September, 1951, was just over £1,000.000. but due to heavy payments on export sugar, rebates and substantial grants to the processed fruit industry amounting to £240,427 in the last three years, the fund has been reduced to about £150,000. Consequently, the sugar industry contribution to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee will be increased to approximately £370,000 as against £216,000 last year.

We from the two States in the south. Tasmania and Victoria, entirely agree with that alteration to the agreement. It is most necessary. To be quite fair, I must mention that the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee in the last three years expended £50,000 of its funds on an advertising campaign to help jam-makers sell their product on the Australian* market. I will return to that point in a moment. It also voted £73,500 for export assistance on the 1954 jam pack to assist processors to market jams overseas. In the previous season, 1953, the committee decided to allocate an amount up to £75,000 to guarantee Tasmanian berry fruit processors against export losses. Those three payments were most acceptable. The last one was made as a result of constant pressure on the committee from Tasmanian members of both parties. It helped our berryfruit industry considerably, though it has not saved the industry. I am afraid, from disastrous decline.

Mr Wight - Why should the sugar industry subsidize the fruit industry?

Mr DUTHIE - Of course it should; it has all the advantages. It has been protected. Not one pound of sugar will be imported into Australia under this agreement! The industry has the whole of Australia to itself.

Mr Wight - Australia is getting the cheapest sugar in the world.

Mr DUTHIE - We are not getting the cheapest sugar in the world. The Cuban sugar and African sugar is cheaper than ours.

Mr Wight - Not landed in Australia.

Mr DUTHIE - No. not landed in Australia.

Mr Pearce - Who is on whose side?

Mr DUTHIE - Yes, I am wondering. The sugar industry enjoys special consideration. The sugar producers enjoy a monopoly of the Australian market through this agreement. The import of sugar is banned and as a result, the Commonwealth and the Queensland Government control the price of sugar to the consumer. I will not go into the other matters raised by the honorable member for Herbert on that point; 1 simply state the fact, and that answers the honorable member for Lille\ (Mr. Wight).

So far I have spoken on the contents of this agreement. The sugar-growers, the mill owners, and all their workers in Queensland deserve, and must have, security and a profitable price; but I shall say something about the effect of this agreement on the manufacturers of jam, fruit processors, cordial manufacturers, the canned fruits industry and the growers of berry fruits that are canned for the home and overseas markets.

Thousands of people in Victoria and Tasmania are affected by this agreement. Some very disturbing factors come before us. Over the last six years the production of jam, one of our biggest manufactures, has declined to an alarming extent. 1 admit that that has not been due solely to the increased price of sugar. The cost of sugar in home-consumed jams has risen 100 per cent, in that period of six years, but other factors that must be taken into consideration are the cost of tinplate, labour and freight charges, which affect manufacturing costs, lt would be quite unfair for us to sa> to the Queensland people that the increased price of sugar, great as it is, is the only cause for the decline in the consumption of jam in Australia. A definite buyer resistance to jam has been evident in this country in the last few years because of the increased price of jam and has caused grave concern to the Government and to the manufacturers of jam. 1 shall give some facts about that, and ) shall show the way in which fruit processing costs have increased since 1950. In 1950. wages were fixed by the Arbitration Court at £9 3s.; in 1956 they were £12 18s., an increase of 41 per cent. In 1950, tins cost 40s. 8£d. a gross and in 1956, 58s. 5d. a gross, an increase of 43.5 per cent. In 1950. sugar cost £40 12s. 9d. a ton and in 1956 £82 ls. a ton, an increase of 100 per cent. Undoubtedly, the largest single factor in the increased price of jam to the consumer is the increased price of sugar. Let us not bc unfair to the Tasmanian and Victorian people, either. The price of sugar to jam manufacturers has increased by 100 pet cent, in six years and it is no good trying to wipe out that fact by airy fairy words. lt is a fact, and it has affected the jam industry to an alarming extent, as I shallshow.

Mr Wight - What about the other things that have gone up? Everything else has gone up.

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