Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 25 October 1956

Mr PEARCE (Capricornia) .- It is rather sad, I think, that whenever this agreement comes before the House, honorable members divide into groups representing the northern and southern parts of Australia, irrespective of political parties. I think we should place this matter on a proper footing right from the start, and that instead of referring to the sugar industry as a great Queensland industry we should appreciate, in this national Parliament, that it is a great Australian industry which contributes substantially to the stability of the economy generally, lt is all very well for the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) to argue that this Queensland industry should help the Tasmanian fruit industry, but not on the basis that it should do so because the Tasmanian fruit industry is a great Australian industry. I emphasize that the sugar industry is of national significance because it benefits every person in Australia.

The agreement provides, in the main, for the continuation of the embargo on the importation of sugar into Australia, but we should acknowledge, at the present time, that that is not really necessary because there is not the slightest possibility of sugar being imported into Australia. The fact is that there is no surplus sugar in the world. If we did not grow cane in Australia, we should not be able to obtain sugar from any other country. Therefore, the Australian industry is supplying sugar to the people of Australia which could not be obtained elsewhere. Not only is it doing that, but it is also supplying sugar at a very reasonable price indeed. The argument that the price of sugar in South Africa is approximately £9 a ton less than the price paid by fruit processors in Australia does not mean very much when we remember that we could not land South African sugar in Australia at the price for which Australian processors are able to obtain it under the agreement.

The sugar industry, therefore, is supplying a commodity without which we should find it difficult to live, and it is doing so at a most reasonable price, to the benefit of all members of the community, whether they are in Tasmania or in the northernmost part of Queensland. The agreement is a joint one between the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government. Whilst the Commonwealth accepts responsibility to maintain the imposition of the embargo, the Queensland Government undertakes to do the six things enunciated by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) in his second-reading speech. They are: First, it agrees to acquire all raw sugar produced from cane grown in Queensland and New South Wales-

Mr Edmonds - Pure socialism!

Mr PEARCE - My socialist friend agrees with that. Secondly, the Queensland Government undertakes to make sugar available in Australia at certain fixed prices. Thirdly, it agrees to control production; fourthly, to accept a responsibility for losses arising from the' export of surplus sugar; fifthly, to pay rebates on the sugar content of goods exported; and, sixthly, to contribute to the funds of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. We must pay tribute to the part that various governments, both in Queensland and in the National Parliament, have played in the maintenance of this industry that serves Australia so well. I think of it more as a co-operative effort than as a socialist effort: though perhaps this is just juggling with terms. This co-operation between the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government, in conjunction with the various organizations, has helped to establish a very efficient industry to-day which deserves praise from every quarter. The industry is unique in that the seller of the commodity, because of his efficiency, is able to give through government channels to one section of purchasers, the pro cessors of jam and fruit, a huge concession which enables them to compete on the world markets and to keep down the price of their product within Australia. That an industry should grant huge concessions in the form of a rebate to processors so that they in turn may subsist and bolster their own industry is a unique development in the annals of primary industry in Australia.

Mr George Lawson - Members of the Australian Country party are not listening to the honorable member.

Mr PEARCE - They are so well aware of the truth of my statements that we may overlook that. It is not fair to the industry to say that the only concession which has been granted is a measly £2 4s. a ton by way of rebate to processors selling on the Australian market and an additional £24 in respect of exported manufactured goods containing Australian cane sugar, because, as honorable members are aware, the Export Sugar Committee calculates the rebate from month to month, and it is £26 7s. for the month of October. The rate of rebate is based upon variations in overseas prices and costs in Queensland. In the last three years, up to 31st August, 1955, the Australian fruit industry has received from the sugar industry no less than £929,000 in concessions, export rebates, and special assistance. No other primary industry in Australia makes concessions of that kind to purchasers of its product. While it could be argued that the price of sugar has increased in recent times, one must take account of the difficulties under which this industry has to operate. It is a tribute to the Australian sugar industry that to-day it is able to produce the second cheapest sugar in the world. The only competitor on world markets which can produce more cheaply is South Africa, which, as the honorable member foHerbert stated, on one of those rare occasions when I have agreed with him, has cheap black labour both in the fields and in the factories, and lower freight rates. Yet the Australian industry, with the exclusive use of white labour, is able to run second only to South Africa in producing the cheapest sugar in the world.

The Queensland Government has the responsibility, not only of carrying out the terms of the agreement, but also of keeping the price of sugar to the Australian people as low as possible. I am alarmed at the increased charges that have been levied on the industry by the Queensland Government. I am thinking in particular of freight rates. In Queensland the average distance over which cane is carried from farms to mills is about 20 miles. Adopting this mileage as a basis, we can gain some indication of the effect of increased freight rates upon the sugar industry over the last ten years, which increases, after all, are passed on to the Australian people in increased sugar prices. In 1955, there was a rise in the freight rate to lis. a ton of cane for 20 miles. This year, that rate has been increased by 5s. 3d., or about 50 per cent., to 16s. 3d. a ton. In the period from 1943 to 1946, when the freight rate was static, the freight on cane transported by rail for 20 miles was 3s. 3d. To-day, as I have said, it is 16s. 3d. I think that there were nine increases in the freight rate during the intervening period.

An analysis of the figures discloses the interesting fact that the freight rate on cane transported from grower to mill has increased by 400 per cent, in ten years. In the same period the freight rate on raw sugar has increased by 208 per cent. While the freight rate on the cane, from which is manufactured a commodity the basic cost of which must affect every household in Australia, has increased by 400 per cent., the freight rate on manure, if I may make such a comparison, has been increased by 261 per cent. The latest increase in railway freight rates shows that freight on cane has increased by 5s. 3d., on raw sugar by 2s. lid., and on class A goods by only 2s. lid., the same as on sugar, and only about half of the increase applied to the transport of cane. This represents an imposition upon the industry, and I believe that it is brought about by the principle enunciated by the Queensland Minister for Transport and shown very clearly in practice, that the freight rates on the Queensland railways are governed by the competition that the railways receive from other forms of transport. As honorable members are aware, railway transport between the cane-fields and the mills is not subjected to much competition. The railways have a monopoly, and so the freight rates rise. This rise has contributed, in no small degree, to the increase of the price of refined sugar, legislative authority for which is sought in the bill which is now before the House.

I ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), in his efforts to keep this industry upon a stable and efficient basis, to endeavour to ensure that rises in freight rates, which perhaps are inescapable generally in Queensland, and 1 am not arguing against them, are spread evenly, because after all I cannot understand why freight on sugar cane should be increased by 400 per cent, when the freight on immure is increased by only 261 per cent. There should be a levelling of freight rates, which would permit a reduction in the rate applied to cane, and would contribute to the future efficiency of the industry. Neither this Government nor the Queensland Government wishes to impose further burdens in the form of rising prices on the people of Australia, who are the main consumers of sugar. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) said that he was interested in the jam manufacturers but not in the domestic users of sugar. After all, the domestic users of sugar will feel the hardest impact, and we cannot go on indefinitely loading them with increased prices for a commodity that is indispensable in the family budget. Every endeavour must be made on all sides to keep the price of sugar stable, if possible. One way in which the Queensland Government can assist in this direction is by adopting an equitable scale of freight rates. The announcement that the freight rate on sugarcane was to be increased by 50 per cent, came as quite a shock to me, because the additional charge must inevitably be reflected in the price paid by the housewife for the commodities containing sugar. I hope that honorable members who have some influence with the Queensland Government 'will be able to convince it without rancour - and I speak without rancour - that it should conduct an investigation so that the burden of increased costs, if they are inescapable, will be spread more equitably over all goods that are carried by the railways. The imposition of additional freight rates on sugar hits the whole of the Australian community in the long run and makes it difficult for this industry to survive.

Although the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) and the honorable member for Wilmot have spoken for their State - Tasmania - and the industries that are conducted there, I hope that the result will not be any difference of opinion between the users and the producers of sugar. We are proud of our fruit processors and fruit canners. They are doing a splendid job, and are producing a worthwhile commodity at a reasonable price for the households of Australia. At the same time, we must pay a real tribute to the sugar cane producers, the millers, those who handle the product and the governments that have co-operated in this scheme to produce a needed commodity at a reasonable price.

Nothing is to be gained by remarks such as those made by my friend, the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth), who sneered at the sugar industry and said that Victoria needed cheaper sugar. I point out to the honorable member and to other honorable members that, if Queensland did not produce sugar, under present conditions we could not obtain sugar for Australia. There is no place from which we could purchase it, let alone purchase it at a cheaper price overseas. It is all very well to talk about the cheap sugar produced in South Africa, but by the time that sugar was brought to Australia, the price would possibly be about £10 a ton dearer than Australian sugar on the domestic market. We would be paying about 2d. a lb. more for it in the fair State of Victoria than we are paying now.

Let us put all those arguments to one side. Every one is getting the benefit of this industry, whether he lives in Tasmania, Victoria or Queensland. It is a worthwhile industry and by co-operation right through the piece this Government is able to play a part in giving a much-needed commodity to the people at a reasonable price and at the same time contributing to the general economic stability of the nation.

Suggest corrections