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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (South Australia) . -Sometimes, when one listens to speeches in this chamber, one is impressed with a sense of unreality; I have had that feeling very clearly this afternoon. I do not object to Queensland senators, or any other senators, standing up for the sugar or any other industry. It is fair to admit that there are two points of view to this matter, but, while one point of view should be presented, one does not expect to sit in this chamber for hours and hear nothing of the converse side. From what we have heard this afternoon, we might be pardoned if we assumed that the whole of the defence of Australia was dependent upon the sugar industry, and that the sugar industry was the greatest industry of the greatest State of Australia; that there was very little opposition to it to be found in any State of the Commonwealth, and that what opposition did exist was, in fact, hopelessly biased if not, as it has been represented, malicious and deliberately untrue. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Henry George League cannot claim to stand for any decent Australian. I am not a Henry Georgie ora single taxer but to attempt to wipe out in this way a body such as this, which consists of most excellent, respectable and honest men is simply ludicrous. Such a description of such a body is an overstatement that robs the more correct statements of the Leader of the Opposition of a good deal of their weight. On the other side we should have the arguments of those who, while disagreeing on minor points, are not prepared to swallow the agreement lock, stock and barrel. Senator Hardy and others referred to those who wish to destroy the industry. Is there an honorable senator here, or do we know of any one, who wishes to destroy the industry? Such assertions are as far from the mark as are those of high protectionists, who, for their own purposes, suggest that supporters of a minor reduction of the duty on some item of iron and steel wish to destroy the industry conducted by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Surely we can maintain a sense of proportion in such matters! The agreement embodies many details of a difficult and contentious subject, and it should be permissible for honorable senators who feel that, in some respects, it could be improved, to express their opinion without being exposed to the accusation of being biased, and, indeed, of making inaccurate statements. There has been a good deal of the propaganda mentioned by some honorable senators. I have received letters and circulars from district councils and similar bodies all over South Australia, directing attention to the objections to a renewal of the sugar agreement.

Senator Collings - Only because those responsible for issuing them are not conversant with the facts.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Col lings) is not likely to give them the facts by making such statements as" the Henry George League does not stand for decent Australians." If he visited Eyre Peninsula, or some of the MurrayRiver districts, he would not get a hearing.

Senator Collings - They do not believe in a White Australia .

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - Every honorable senator recognizes that the maintenance of the sugar industry is bound up with the White Australia ideal; but it does not follow that we should give everything that is sought simply because, if we oppose a renewal of the agreement, we shall be accused of acting in opposition to the maintenance of that policy. While there has been a lot of propaganda in South Australia, and, I believe, in Victoria - some of what has reached me has come from Victoria - I have not been bombarded to the same extent as I have been for years with propaganda from Queensland.

Senator Collings - The honorable senator has received the poison and the antidote.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - The propaganda which the Leader of the Opposition supports came out first; but it could not have been very poisonous, because it has been in circulation for many years, and, relatively, has had very little effect. I have been bombarded with Queensland newspapers week after week and month after month. Many articles appearing in these newspapers - and, indeed, in some of the pamphlets with whichwe have been regaled of late - are published without the names of the writers. One is authorized by Mr. Craigie, a member of the House of Assembly of South Australia, who may, of course, be wrong in some of the statements he makes; but he has devoted a great deal of attention to statements which he has published over his own name,, and they are open for any one to disprove.

I regret that the sugar issue relates very largely to Queensland, because that tends to obscure the issue in a way which does not occur in connexion with other industries. It should be possible to deal with this problem without being charged with attacking Queensland. Many honorable senators were members of the Senate when the present agreement was ratified three years ago. I then listened to a long debate, including an extremely able speech on the subject by Sir Hal Colebatch, who rarely spoke without lending a great deal of weight and interest to any discussion in which he participated. He was a first-class debater, and his speech on this subject seemed to me to be one of his best. Three years ago the present Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan), after conducting negotiations with the sugar interests in Queensland, returned with a tentative arrangement embodying a reduction of the retail price by¼d. per lb. That was considered unsatisfactory by the Government, and the Minister again visited Queensland, and eventually a reduction of id. was decided upon. A fairly strong attack was made upon the agreement, and there was a good deal of doubt in the minds of some honorable senators as to the way in which they should vote. I followed the debate with great care, as I was in some doubt as to how to record my vote. There is no doubt in my mind to-day. At that time I considered that a reduction of½d. was insufficient ; but that any reduction should be on a tapering or graduated scale, rather than that there should be a severe, or as the Leader of the Opposition would say, a savage cut. We were then passing through extremely difficult times and at the end of the debate I decided to support the Government. My remarks on that occasion are to be found in Hansard, volume 137, of 1932. I said-

I suggest that the proper course, and the one generally adopted in other cases, is to have a gradual scaling down. The scaling down, in this instance, is not so great as I would desire, but it represents a definite reduction, which means something to the consumers . . While I propose to support this bill, believing that, on the whole, it is not radically unfair, I do not commit myself for the future, in relation to sugar or anything else.

I now take the matter up at that point and suggest that that scaling down should be continued. There is no reason why the price should remain where it then stood. I supported the Government's proposal for a reduction of only ½d. because I thought that, on the whole, we should not radically interfere with the industry, although I did not think the concession was adequate. I adhere to what I then said because I do not think the present price is warranted, or that we should discontinue a gradual scaling-down policy. The actual reduction then made was only 11 per cent. and it was claimed by many that it might fairly be 22 per cent., which, it will be remembered, was the percentage reduction of interest on Government securities and mortgages.

SenatorCollings. -There had been a decrease of the number of income taxpayers and of the amount of tax paid by those engaged in the industry.

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