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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The honorable senator has taken a. long time to tune in.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - On the last occasion that a measure of this kind was before the Senate, I spoke immediately after the then Leader of the Opposition, and it seemed to me that the honorable senators who spoke subsequently spent most of their time in criticizing my remarks. I, therefore, decided not to give them the same opportunity on this occasion.

Senator Collings - The honorable senator has left his run a bit late.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - I am opposed to this bill from beginning to end. I am an uncompromising opponent of the sugar embargo and of high tariffs.

It is interesting to note that the agreement for the continuation of the embargo against the importation of sugar for five years was signed by Dr. Earle Page, and commended in this chamber by Senator Hardy. The remarks of the Minister for Commerce in the House of Representatives and of Senator Hardy in this chamber show how entirely different is the policy of the Country party in Western Australia from that of the Country party in the eastern States. In the House of Representatives, Messrs. Gregory and Prowse have expounded the policy of theCountry party in Western Australia, and since I have been a. member of the Senate I have supported that policy. So far as

I know, all the members of the Country party from Western Australia are opposed to the sugar embargo and to high tariffs.

Senator Dein - What alternative to the sugar embargo would the honorable senator suggest?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - I would substitute a moderate tariff to be reduced from time to time. Like Senator Allan MacDonald, I have visited north Queensland, where I have admired the richness of the soil, and the efficiency with which the sugar industry is conducted. I have nothing but admiration for the fine class of people who are engaged in the industry there.

Senator Collings -Yet the honorable senator wants to scale them down.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - I do not think that the growers of sugar are getting a fair proportion of the tremendous profits which I believe are being made out of the growing of sugar. Every person in Australia is a consumer of sugar and I have no hesitation in saying that every household in this continent is being exploited in regard to this necessary commodity.

Senator Collings -What would be the benefit to the average household of a reduction of the price of sugar by½d. per lb.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Householders have been compelled to pay double the world price of sugar. They are being exploited to an amount of £6,000,000 a year. Professor Giblin estimates at £5,100,000 the cost to the people of Australia of the sugar embargo, and Senator Crawford to-day took a more conservative view when he estimated the amount of £5,000,000. Mr. Craigie, M.L.A., an acknowledged authority in South Australia, estimates the amount as £7,000,000. There is widespread dissatisfaction among the people of Western Australia on account of the high price of sugar, and I regret that it was not reflected in the debate this afternoon until Senator Duncan-Hughes disturbed somewhat the little mutual admiration society which, up till then, had been advocating the acceptance of the agreement.

I have received a very large number of letters and telegrams from public bodies throughout Western Australia forwarding resolutions that had been unanimously adopted in opposition to the Government's proposal. These resolutions, I may add, were not carried at hole and corner meetings, but at representative gatherings, and they should have added weight because they represent the opinion of local governing bodies which do not, as a rule, express opinions concerning political matters. They have done so in this instance because the price of sugar vitally affects the interests of both urban and rural communities in every part of the Commonwealth. Among the communications which have come to me are the following -

I have been instructed to forward you, as hereunder, a copy of a resolution passed by my board on the 9th instant, and trust you will be successful in securing the support of your fellow members in opposing a renewal of the agreement -

Copy of Resolution.

Mr. Graymoved and Mr. Dawson seconded that this board emphatically protest against the renewal of the sugar agreement, and request our representatives in the Federal Parliament to use their best endeavours to prevent the exploitation of the. people of the State by definitely opposing a renewal of the agreement.

At a meeting of the above board on the 7th instant, a resolution was carried unanimously protesting against the continuation of the sugar agreement. It is hoped you will use your vote and influence against the ratification of the agreement when it comes before your House, and I would be pleased if you will acquaint your Western Australian colleagues of the board's desire.

These resolutions faithfully represent the general feeling in Western Australia in opposition to the existing high price of sugar, and are an emphatic protest against the proposal of the Government to renew the agreement, not only for the life of this Parliament, but also for five years from the 1st September, 1936. As a representative of Western Australia, I protest strongly against the renewal of the agreement over the life of a Parliament which has not yet been elected. Other communications which I have received are as follows -

Busselton Municipal Council wish you enter emphatic protest against renewal sugar agreement. Town Clerk.

Melville Road Board.

At the last meeting of this board consideration was given to the ratification of the Sugar Agreement, and I was directed to advise you of the resolution in this connexion passed by this board, which is as follows: -

Recognizing the importance of the sugar industry to Australia, and that some protection is necessary, but in view of the allegedly exorbitant profits being made by the industry, this board is of the Opinion that a royal commission should be appointed to investigate the facts and make recommendations as to reasonable protection and the selling price of sugar and this board protests against any renewal of the agreement until the commission is appointed and makes known its decision.

I trust you will give this matter serious consideration, and act accordingly.

I forwarded a copy of the last communication to the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) for his information. I did not endorse the suggestion that a royal commission should be appointed, but I asked the right honorable gentleman to refer the proposed renewal of the agreement to the Tariff Board for investigation and report. Every other Australian industry desiring to secure even a small measure of tariff protection is required to appear before the board and give evidence in support of its claim. Not so the opulent sugar industry. It is permitted to enjoy the whole of the Australian market absolutely without fear of competition. I regret that the Prime Minister, in acknowledging my letter, did not give an undertaking that he would comply with my request to refer the agreement to the Tariff Board. Instead he enclosed a copy of a pamphlet, dealing with the industry, prepared by the Minister for Trade and Customs.

Senator Collings - A very good pamphlet,

Senator E B JOHNSTON - I also have a pamphlet, puttingother views, which I intend to quote before I resume my seat. The following additional communications were also forwarded to me : -

Wagin Municipal Council.

At the last meeting ofmy council, held on the 2nd instant, the question of the ratification of the sugar agreement was discussed and the following resolution was passed: -

This council protests against the continuation of the sugar agreement and that the Federal Senators and Representatives be requested to use their vote and influence against the ratification of the agreement.

I would be glad if you would enter this protest on behalf of my council.

Greenbushes Road Board.

I have been directed to inform you that the Green bushes Road Board has passed the following resolution: -

That the Greenbushes Road Board strongly protests against the extension of the existing agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the sugar interests, and considers that in order to stop the unfair exploitation of the people, the terms of any new agreement should be so definitely framed us to ensure to the public a. substantial reduction in the price of sugar.

Northam Road Board.

At a recent meeting of the above board indignation at the action of the Prime Minister in extending the sugar agreement for a further term of five years, was expressed and a motion of protest against the ratification of the agreement was carried unanimously.

I was directed to convey the above information to you with the request that you do your utmost to defeat any motion for the ratification of the agreement.

The board has written a letter to Mr. E. J. Craigie, of the South Australian Parliament, supporting him in his efforts to prevent the sugar agreement being continued in its present form.

Mr. Craigienow suggests that we write to Mr. H. Gregory and yourself to express the board's opinion as well.

The board is of opinion that the continuance of the agreement in its present form constitutes an imposition to Western Australians, and I hereby authorize you to use its name in protesting strongly against the ratification of same. The population of this district is 3,794.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The resolution passed by the ArmadaleKelmscott Road Board was the outcome of a circular issued by the parties opposed to the renewal of the agreement. It was the result of organized propaganda.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Even if the honorable gentleman is right, that does not touch the point at issue. Rather does it indicate that when matters vitally affect the people, their representative public bodies lose no time in giving expression to the resentment felt at the action of this Government. The Armadale-Kelmscott resolution correctly interprets the feeling of the people of Western Australia, and I have also received a large number of other similar resolutions.

When the former Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) visited Western Australia some years ago, I was privileged to attend a number of meetings at which he delivered addresses. On every occasion the right honorable gentleman was questioned about the attitude of the Government to the sugar industry, and being a masterly tactician, he skilfully evaded committing his Government to any definite line of action contrary to the sugar embargo.

Senator Brown - Has the honorable senator received a communication from Wyalcatchem ?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Apparently Senator Brown is disposed to treat this subject with levity, but I can assure him that in Western Australia, the price of sugar is a very live issue. Every person in the community is vitally interested in it; none more so than members of the Housewives Association. It has been shown that the people of Western Australia are penalized to the amount of £450,000 a year owing to the embargo against the importation of sugar from other countries, and I tell the Senate that in our present economic position - the people of Western Australia depend almost entirely for their prosperity on the sale of primary products - we cannot afford to pay that price.

I am entirely opposed to the renewal of the agreement and if my vote could effect its rejection, it would be cast in that direction. Western Australian producers would be able to sell more of their surplus commodities to adjacent countries if in return they were permitted to purchase the goods which those countries produce, including sugar.

Our complaint against federation is that the industries of Western Australia are prejudiced by embargoes and high tariffs. We are compelled to purchase nearly all our requirements from highly protected industries in the eastern States, and we are obliged to sell our surplus primary products in the open markets of the world.

Senator Dein - Are they among the federal disabilities under which Western Australia is suffering?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Yes, definitely.

Senator Dein - But Western Australia has received compensation in the form of Commonwealth grants.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Unfortunately the Commonwealth Grants Commission has laid down that federal disabilities of this nature are not to be taken into consideration in arriving at the amount of grant to be given to each State.

I do not believe in prohibitive tariffs or embargoes, and I contend that neither is necessary for the preservation of the Queensland sugar industry. It was well established and was expanding satisfactorily long before the first agreement providing for an embargo was made. One of the most regrettable features of the agreement and the embargo is its effect upon the industry itself. Its terms definitely restrict the area to be cultivated for sugar-cane and thus prevent an expansion of the industry.

Senator Brown - Surely the honorable senator would not like the industry to revert to the Kanaka conditions?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Certainly not. I am entirely opposed to the employment of black labour in any Australian industry. The maintenance of a White Australia policy is ohe - of the leading planks in the platform of the Western Australian Country 'party. I repeat that an embargo is not necessary for the preservation of the sugar industry in Queensland. I paid a visit to that State not long ago, and as one who has been engaged for many years in promoting land settlement, I was much impressed with the vast area of suitable land in the tropical fertile coastal belt. I deeply regret that, as the result of the sugar policy adopted by the Commonwealth and the State, fresh assignments for the cultivation of sugar cane are not now obtainable. I realize, of course, the difficulties of those who are responsible for the industry, but I point out that the same problem would arise in any other primary industry. If, for instance, following the fixation of a home-consumption price for wheat, world prices rose much above their present level, there would be a tremendous increase of production, thus making it difficult for the organizations to control the output of the wheat industry. In my opinion this great sugar industry would thrive and expand much more quickly if it were given the opportunity to do so. . I am satisfied that the wonderfully- fertile lands on the beautiful Queensland coastal fringe will always carry a big population, a large proportion of whom will be engaged in the production of sugar.

In regard to the remarks which have been made by various honorable senators concerning the distribution of £7,000,000 in bonus shares by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company last year I agree entirely with the view that this is a very efficient and well-run organization. If comment has been made on this distribution without taxation and on the fact that the profits of the company this year exceed £900,000, it arises from the fact that the industry is protected under this embargo. The profits of other companies have been referred to, but these concerns do not get, by special legislation, monopolistic benefits from this Parliament, such as are given to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

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