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Thursday, 25 October 1956

Dr EVATT (Barton) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I do not intend to detain honorable members for more than a few minutes, because no doubt they arc most eager to hear the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) in reply. I should like to say a few words, however, on the general approach of the Australian Labour party to the sugar industry, and then to refer to the industries in Tasmania and elsewhere in which sugar is used for processing fruit and other products. Our attitude towards the sugar industry has been the same through the years. One of the greatest achievements in Australian history has been the establishment of the sugar industry, especially in Queensland and the northern part of New South Wales, on the basis of European labour. The struggle, of course, is finished in one sense, but at one time in the history of Queensland there was grave anxiety because of the possibility that the industry might not be established on the basis I have mentioned, lt has been done, not entirely but very largely, through the work of the pioneers in Queensland of the Labour movement, and the pioneers representing other political points of view. It is quite obvious that the coast of Queensland, particularly of north Queensland, would not have been so secure as it was during the last war. had it not been for the settlement of Queensland, which in itself constituted a great contribution to the defence of Queensland, and which is inseparably connected with the sugar industry. Therefore, the development of the industry has been something of a romance, which has affected the whole of Australia. It has been very well organized. I can recall some of the struggles which led to the great contests in the courts of the land. The organized employees, at first, had great difficulty in maintaining their positions vis-a-vis the refining company, but gradually they came into their own. If Government supporters, and especially those who sit in the corner, were consistent, they would be hostile to the way in which the industry is organized. Sugar can be grown on certain land only, and production is controlled. If it were not, the industry could not be successful.

Mr Duthie - That is socialism.

Dr EVATT - That is so. From many points of view, it is an example of an industry which is, to a large extent, socialized, but Government supporters accept that because the system works. I do not want to do any more than make that point. When the industry was not organized, it was in a parlous economic position. Intervention by the Queensland Government, especially the Labour government of Mr. Ryan and his successors, and the great cases which were fought through the High Court and taken, ultimately, to the Privy Council, were all necessary in order that the industry should become organized. The Labour party, therefore, favours the renewal of this agreement, on just terms, and after careful examination of it has been made. We believe that it is necessary in the interests of the industry, of overseas commerce, and of the development of the north of Australia, which is a vital element in our defence.

I come now to the point which was, quite correctly, made by my colleague, the honorable member for Wilmot, and other honorable members representing Tasmania on this side of the House. It is not right that the subsidies, or grants, given to the processing industries should be linked in this way with the sugar industry, although sugar is, of course, the vital product. The Australian people want to see all primary industries successful. There is no need for this tug of war between two industries each year. The grant-in-aid should not be dependent upon the arrangement as to sugar, although, of course, sugar is the commodity in respect of which the ultimate aid is given. There is a false contest every year, and all Australians will agree that this apparent conflict should not exist. That is, I think, the point of view of my friend, the honorable member for Wilmot. These points are not made in any sense of opposition to the basic features of the sugar agreement. It is easy to introduce politics, as some honorable members are tempted to do, but both industries should be encouraged.

Notwithstanding all this, the sentiment of Australians, and especially of the Labour movement, in regard to the sugar industry is long-standing and very real. We have, in Australia, something that. 40 years ago, would have been thought possible - a great sugar industry, with massive production, operating under strict organization and controls of the kind to which Government supporters opposite, and in the corner, normally object from beginning to end. Those controls are accepted without question because they are to the benefit of the people. That being the point of view of the Opposition, I thought it right, at the end of the debate and without interfering with any further comment that the Minister may make, to express it.

The work of the pioneers in the sugar industry of Australia should not be forgotten. In Queensland, because kanaka labour was used, there were disgraceful and terrible working conditions. Those who, with courage, foresaw that that would do injury to Australia, and to the sugar industry, were great men in their time and undertook a tremendous struggle. One has only to look at the Queensland press of those days to realize the attacks that these pioneers had to combat in order to improve conditions. The improvement in the industry has been brought out by men in public life who have represented a number of political parties, but it cannot be denied that among the pioneers were the earliest members of the Labour movement in Australia. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds), who has put the case for the Opposition, represents, with his colleagues from Queensland, the continuation of that tradition.

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