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Tuesday, 19 May 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - Although the PostmasterGeneral (Senator A. J. McLachlan) says that the Government desires the tobaccogrowing industry of Australia to be placed on a sound basis, he has announced with considerable pride that it has effected certain reductions of the import duty. I cannot see how the figures cited by him can afford the Government any satisfaction. The Labour party, of course, cannot. support the request made on behalf of Senator Hardy, to alter the phraseology of the sub-item, while leaving the rate of duty untouched. We do not wish to do anything whatever to encourage the use of imported tobacco leaf, and we shall strain every nerve to increase the use of Australiangrown leaf. I propose to recapitulate the relatively recent history of the excise duty on tobacco. In September, 1935, the excise on tobacco made wholly from Australian leaf was reduced by8d. per lb. to 3s.10d. per lb., and that on plug tobacco made wholly from. Australian leaf for use by Australian aborigines, by1s. 4d. to 3s. 2d. per lb. At the same time the excise duty on. cigarettes was reduced by 6d. In 1930-31,. as the direct result of the increase of duty on imported leaf, a substantial dropoccurred in the quantity of it used in Australia, and a marked increase occurred. in the quantity of Australian leaf used. Compared with the previous year, imported stemmed leaf used in Australia dropped from 18,000,000 lb. to 13,300,000 lb., and the quantity of Australian stemmed leaf used increased from 1,200,000 to 3,100,000 lb. The Labour party, of course, was delighted with this result. Notwithstanding that the quantity of Australian leaf used in the manufacture of tobacco trebled, the demand for Australian tobacco could not be fully met. The tobacco manufacturers admitted that the supply of Australian-grown leaf was limited, and in 1931-32, a splendid crop of good quality Australian leaf of more than 12,000,000 lb. was obtained, which shows clearly that the Australian tobaccogrower responded nobly to the complaint that insufficient local leaf was available. Happenings at that time show clearly what the Australian tobacco-growers would be capable of doing if a fair measure of protection were accorded the industry. But here we come to the aspect of the subject of which the Minister was so inexplicably proud. In February, 1932, before the first big crop was harvested, the duty on tobacco manufactured from imported leaf was drastically reduced by 2s. 2d. per lb. I have not forgotten a previous debate in this chamber on that subject. The Leader of the Opposition of those days told the then government what would happen as the result of that drastic reduction. His predictions were fulfilled, and the Opposition of to-day knows that similar unsatisfactory results will follow if further protection is taken from the industry. Coincident with the reduction by 2s. 2d. per lb. of the import duty on tobacco leaf in February, 1932. the excise duty on all tobacco was increased by a similar amount. In respect of tobacco made from imported leaf, the increase of the excise duty was offset by the corresponding reduction of the import duty on that leaf, but in respect of tobacco made from Australian leaf it meant an additional impost of 93 per cent. That is the kind of thing which the Minister now says was necessary to put the industry on a proper footing. At the time charges of speculation in land were made. Land " go-getters " put on the market land which they said was suitable for tobacco production, and, by dishonest means they sold it at exorbitant prices. If the Government is in agreement with the policy which we on this side stand for, and is prepared to take effective steps to limit speculation in land, the Opposition will enthusiastically support it.

Senator Brennan - This Parliament cannot do that.

Senator COLLINGS - This Parliament cannot do anything that it does not want to do ! The things that it is inclined to do it can do if it takes its courage in both hands.

Senator Brennan - Can this Government legislate to control land values?

Senator COLLINGS - The Commonwealth Parliament can, and does, rise superior to all obstacles which stand in the way of its policy and the interests of those who support it. And even if it has not the power which the Government thinks is necessary, why does not the Government tell the people the truth, and seek that power ? The only reason why it does not do so, is that the predatory vested interests of those people from whom the Government draws financial support stand in the way.

Honorable senators interjecting,

Senator COLLINGS - I know how difficult it must be for honorable senators who are not vitally interested in the tobacco-growing industry to absorb the facts which the Opposition is placing before them. I have in mind those who are engaged in the growing of tobacco. I have seen them and their families at work; I have seen their barns stacked with leaf; I know how the kilns have to be watched dayand night - and as the temperature within the flue must not be allowed to fall or rise beyond a certain degree, the eye must be kept glued to the thermometer. The colder the night the greater the need to watch. I have also visited the manufacturing establishments in New South Wales and Victoria, and have seen the employees at work. I can visualize those workers in their homes at the end of the day. In short, I have a fair conception of what this industry means to Australia. If the Government were moved by a desire to do what is best for Australia it would give every encouragement to this important industry. The additional impost on tobacco made from Australian leaf materially raised the price of the local product, while not altering the price of the imported tobacco, with the result that the demand which had set in for Australian tobacco was checked, and the use of imported leaf encouraged. Further, these drastic alterations of duties were made at a time when there was a tremendous glut of tobacco leaf in the United States of America, and leaf was sold at prices far below the cost of production.

Senator Brennan - Paul Jones told me all that yesterday.

Senator COLLINGS - It is essential that I should protect myself from the Minister's mis-statement. I am not quoting from a document handed to me by Paul Jones.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The language is the same.

Senator COLLINGS - The Opposition opposes Senator Hardy's request for the reason that it is not interested in what is done with the imported leaf. I admit that many smokers claim not to like tobacco made from Australian leaf, but I am not concerned about that either. If we want this industry to be established, we must give to it effective protection. In South Africa the manufacturers of homegrown leaf were told that they would have five years to conform to legislation, after which no importation of tobacco would be allowed, and if the Commonwealth Government were prepared to adopt a similar policy it could rely on the support of the Opposition. In that way the Australian industry would have a chance, and we should get away from the idea' that Australian leaf needs to be blended with imported leaf.

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