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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator FOLL (Queensland) . - Saving followed closely the course of this debate, it has been most gratifying to me, as a representative of Queensland, to hear the industry championed by representatives of every other State, showing that there is a general recognition of the fact that the industry is not merely a Queensland interest, hut is something of vital concern to Australia as a whole. There has been, however, a concerted attack on the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, whose strength and prosperity seem to be regarded as a reason why the sugar agreement should not be ratified by this chamber. May I point out that even if the sugar agreement were cancelled, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company would probably still continue to refine sugar, though it would be handling the product grown under cheap labour conditions overseas, instead of sugar grown under conditions which allow for the payment of a decent wage in Queensland and northern New South Wales. By cancelling this agreement, which would lead to a collapse of the industry in Queensland, honorable senators would not smash the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Its ramifications to-day are almost world-wide, and it is so efficient and has so many interests in other countries that it would still be very largely responsible for the distribution and refining of sugar consumed in Australia. Of course we could take action under the tariff to smash practically any industry now established in Australia. If we were to throw open the door to allow the unrestricted entry of goods produced by cheap, foreign labour, Australian industries would not be able to compete. When the last tariff debate was in progress, Senator A. J. McLachlan, I believe, stated that any ill-advised action on the part of Parliament could " smash the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, and the entire Newcastle Iron and Steel Works. Practically every industry in Australia is in the same position; it requires to be protected by the Government. Members who have toured the sugar-growing areas in recent years have seen them in a condition of almost complete development; but I knew parts of Northern Queensland before any sugar was planted there. Much of that country was jungle, and the scrub was so dense that it was almost impenetrable. One wonders how man ever managed to reach some of those areas, much less clear the scrub and establish farms in the way that has been done. For years many families which pioneered this industry lived in humpies and sheds . and planted sugar cane between the stumps of what had been the virgin bush. But they persevered and have been a material factor in bringing the industry to its present state of development. I have never heard a more foolish suggestion than that by Senator Duncan-Hughes, that if the sugar industry failed as a result of certain action by this Parliament, it might be rebuilt on some new foundation.

Senator Sampson - That inference was certainly there.

Senator FOLL - The industry is not one which belongs only to Queensland; it is a great Australian industry. I have listened to many debates on the sugar industry, but this one has been the most comprehensive that I have ever heard.

Some honorable senators have referred to the rates of wages paid in Queensland, inferring that the employees in the sugar industry receive a princely remuneration. The following figures, which I have collected, may serve to disabuse their minds in that regard. The basic wage in New SouthWales is £3 8s. 6d. for a man, wife and child; in Queensland, £3 14s. for a man, wife and three children; in "Western Australia, £3 10s. 6d. for a man, wife and two children. In Queensland additional allowances of 4s. 6d. and 10s. a week are made for central and northern districts respectively. The basic wage on the gold-fields areas and in other portions of the State of Western Australia, exclusive of the southwest division, is £4 4s. 4d., which is more than 10s. higher than that ruling in Queensland at present, excluding the northern parity. After having listened to the remarks of some honorable senators, one might be led to think that the employees in the sugar industry were receiving a princely salary out of all proportion to the value of the work which they do. The employees on the farms, in the mills and particularly in cane-cutting, obtain only seasonal employment, lasting for a few months each year.

Senator Collings - That is the point to be remembered.

Senator FOLL - Owing to the difficulty of finding work, they cannot generally secure other occupations when the cutting season closes. Hence they have to attempt to keep themselves and their families on what they earn during the few months in which they are engaged in the industry each year. Very often married men with families are compelled to apply for unemployment relief when they are not working on the canefields. I venture to say that few, if any, honorable senators would care to go to the far northern districts and cut cane for the wages at present being paid. The cane-cutter must be an expert; an ordinary farm labourer cannot suddenly be ordered from his customary duties to undertake cane-cutting. In addition, a man must be able to stand up to the peculiar conditions of the industry. The basic wage in Queensland has not been increased since the 1st July, 1931. The working hours in that State are 44 a week, the same as in Western Australia, although in the latter State the weighted average is 45.5 hours. The following table taken from the quarterly summary of Australian statistics for June, 1935, Bulletin No. 140, pages 69 and 70, gives the weighted average wages and working hours each week in all industries, over 14 divisions of industrial groups : -


Many of the comforts which people in the southern States enjoy are denied to the cane-growers and workers of North Queensland. Medicines and some other goods are much dearer there than in the industrial centres of Sydney and Melbourne, because of the heavy freight charges from the place of manufacture. One thing which has pleased me more than anything else is that almost every person who visits North Queensland, and sees for himself the way in which the sugar industry is conducted, and the conditions of its workers, returns from those areas a champion of the industry, and an advocate of the maintenance of the existing standards. The people of Queensland, and of North Queensland especially, are always glad to see members of Parliament seeking for themselves information in relation to the industry. An examination of statistics, and of the accounts of millers and canegrowers, will reveal that there is not that profiteering which is suggested in some quarters. In the canefields of North Queensland are to be found many hundreds of typical Australian primary producers, who are trying to make homes for themselves and their families in the Australian bush. I believe that to-morrow morning, when the news goes forth that the sugar agreement has been renewed for another five years, the people in that part of Australia will be given fresh heart to go ahead with the development of Australia, and they will be grateful to theCommonwealth Parliament, and to the Senate in particular.

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