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Thursday, 7 August 1902

Mr WILKINSON (Moreton) - A little while ago the acting leader of the Opposition expressed surprise that there should be any discrimination in the rates of duty imposed on different kinds of produce. Some differentiation should be made in the duties on this line of produce. A very good reason why we should have a lower rate of duty on some kinds of produce than on others is to be found in the class of labour engaged in production in other parts of the world.

Perhaps some of the cheapest labour to be found in the world is engaged in the production of some of the articles which are included under this heading. I speak particularly of pineapples preserved in liquor. It may be said that I speak feelingly, because I represent that part of Australia in which pineapples are produced to a greater extent than in all the rest of the Commonwealth. If the representative of a constituency is not allowed to voice its requirements because he is interested therein, the chief purpose of parliamentary representation is defeated. . If Queensland, or any other part of Australia in which the pineapple is produced, is asked to compete with the East Indies, Singapore, and adjacent countries, we shall have, under the Government proposal, a protection of only 4 Jd. per dozen quarts.- I hold in my hand a communication which was ' addressed to me by the Chamber of Agriculture in Queensland, and when I state that, it is signed by the Hon. A. J. Thynne, as President, it will be seen that it comes to us with a certain amount of authority, and in a from which deserves our consideration. The Chamber of Agriculture has made some inquiries with results which lead them to speak with some certainty on the question. I ask the committee to bear with me while I read some extracts from their communication -

Many of the fruits which are imported ure the products of the United States, Great Britain, and other countries where the supply of labour is drawn from people of European descent, but the pineapple is not . to bo included in that category. Singapore is the centre of one of the greatest pineapple countries in the world, the work of cultivation being done by the cheap servile or coloured labour, which is so very abundant. Through the trifling cost of production, Signapore is able to compete successfully all over the world, and to supply even pineapple-growing countries at a less cost than the locally grown fruit.

Speaking of the cost of labour in Queensland, Mr. Thynne says -

In this State the wages paid for the class of work done in connexion with pineapple growing are at the rate of £1 10s. per week, while in the Straits Settlements the wages paid are only nominal. , The late Mr. Ellison visited that part of the world to inquire into the pineapple business, and reported to the local society that the Javanese labourers there were remunerated with an allowance of rice and a money payment of 6d. per week per family employed.

That is why I wish to point out that the rates of protection should be greater on some kinds of produce than on others. Ever since I have had the honour of a seat in Parliament, I have endeavoured to protect white labour against coloured labour, and against the product of such labour wherever it might come from. I am therefore, consistent in advocating the retention of this duty. In another part of this communication Mr. Thynne says -

The industry of canning pineapples hasbeen recently started, and last year some 12,000 cases were preserved, and unless prevented by the incidence of the Tariff, a much larger output will be made next season.

The Tariff, as passedby the House of Representatives, was for fruits in liquids -

Pints and under quarts,1s. 6d. per dozen ;

Quarts, 3s. per dozen.

Even under this Tariff the Singapore producers can beat the local production of preserved pineapples, especially if they are allowed to import at the lower rate in tins or bottles, which are nearly, though not quite, quarts, in contents.

It is proposed by the Senate to alter the duty to an ad valorem of 13 per cent. The invoice price of Singapore preserved pineapples is - per dozen quarts, 2s.6d. (on which15 per cent. duty would be 4½d.), making total equal to 2s.10½d. per dozen.

I think honorable members will agree that it would be impossible for fruit, grown under European conditions, to compete with fruit at that price. There is no need to go into the question of how this industry willbe affected by the legislation in connexion with the sugar industry. We have endeavoured to preserve the Commonwealth for the white race, and in carrying out that policy we have to some extent handicapped all those industries which are dependent on the use of sugar. That is not a sacrifice which any of us regard as being hard, considering the object we have in view. It is only in certain latitudes where the pineapple will flourish. I suppose that its growth will be confined pretty well to Queensland, the northern part of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The growth of the fruit is certainly a primary industry, and it employs many persons in tinning and in other directions. It is with regard to, not only the pineapple, but to other fruits that I hope that the duty will be retained. Australia is destined to become a very large fruit-producing country. Fruits of every clime can be produced, and even if the duty should involve the people of the Commonwealth in extra 'cost, it will be well worth their while to make that little sacrifice in order to build up the industry. I do not look upon the present position of an industry as a reason why it should receive protection. We should keep in view the capabilities of the industry which we are desirous of building up. There are few industries which are capable of greater expansion within the Commonwealth than is that of growing and preserving fruits. I hope that the duty will be maintained as it is, and that by-and-bye the Senate will see the wisdom of its retention.

Mr. WATSON(Bland). -I trust that honorable members inthe free-trade party will give a little more consideration to this than perhaps they have given to some of the other requests. Because it seems to me that the question of 'what percentage or what fixed duty should 'be placed on fruits, particularly in syrup, depends upon the duty which is charged on sugar. So far as I am informed, I cannot agree with the figuresgiven bythe Treasurer. I understand thatthe in bond price of imported sugar is generally about £12 per ton. We do not anticipate such an expansion of the sugar industry as to materially lower the price of the article. Every one knows that the sugar duty was practically the price which we agreed to pay for the abolition of black labour. I should not have supported the imposition of such a high duty on sugar but for that consideration ; and that feeling, I think, operated materially with a large number of honorable members. While we charge local preservers the full extent of the present duty, or its equivalent in the high price of the local product, they will be placed by the Senate's proposal, not onan equality with the outside producer, but at a disadvantage tothe extent of about 35 per cent., which means, of course, that it would be absolutely impossible for them to put up any fruit. The price at which they would have to sell in order to pay for the sugar would be so enormous, as compared with the price at which the preserved article in sugar could be imported, that the whole trade must fall to the ground. It is not fair to put the local manufacturer at that disadvantage.

Mr Thomson - Does not 12½ per cent. cover that?

Mr WATSON - No, I am informed on expert authority that a dozen quarts of ordinary American table fruits are valued at 5s., on which the import duty under the Government proposal is 3s., amounting to 60 per cent., and that the duty on the sugar in a dozen quart tins is, on the basis of £6 a ton,1s., or 50 per cent., leaving a margin of 10 per cent, in favour of the local producer. Under the Senate's proposal, however, the duty on a dozen quarts, valued at 5s., would be 9d., which is equal to 15 per cent, while the duty on the sugar in the contents is ls. per dozen, which is equal to 50 per cent., leaving a difference of 35 per cent, against the local producer. Even the most ardent free-trader would not seek to put the- local manufacturer in a worse position than his competitor beyond the sea. If we desire to leave any margin in favour of the local producer, we must uphold the Government proposal. If on

Mie other hand there is a majority in favour of a reduction of the duty, then I submit that it should not be greater at the most than the equivalent 10 per ' cent, advantage, which the local manufacturer has. It is well that honorable members should know exactly what the position is. I fear that members of the Senate had not the figures before them, because, while it may appear to be a reasonable thing to impose a duty of 15 per cent, upon the manufactured article, the relative value of the sugar contents, as compared with the total value of the article, should be taken into consideration, and a proportionate allowance made. I trust that under the circumstances the Government proposal will be adhered to.

Mr. G.B. EDWARDS (South Sydney).I have to confess, in the first instance, that I am deeply interested in this item, and consequently I shall not vote upon it. But at the same time the committee is entitled to whatever information I can give honorable members, and, as a representative of the manufacturers, I am entitled to be heard upon the question. A great deal of misapprehension exists with regard to this item, which I feel quite competent to remove. So far as the discussion has gone honorable members have dealt with the item as though it included only fruits, in the manufacture of which sugar is used. As a matter of fact, the item is a very wide one, and embraces not only fruits which may or ma}' not contain sugar, but also vegetables and pulped fruit, which is the raw material of the manufacturer. These articles vary so greatly in character that it is impossible to propose a reasonable or just duty while they are included in the one item. The information given by the Treasurer as to the value of sugar in the Australian and in the home market is not in accordance with facts. The right honorable gentleman makes a greater distinction between the value of sugar here and in the home market than his Tight honorable colleague the Minister for Trade and Customs is prepared to admit in dealing with applications for drawback. W e have represented to the Minister for Trade and Customs that the value of sugar here is £18 and its value in England £10. The Treasurer says that the value of sugar in England is .£7, and its value here is £20.

Mr Kingston - I cannot allow any more drawback than the customs duties or excise paid.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not arguing upon.that point now. What I am saying is that, when it suits Ministers in support of a particular policy to do so, they are prepared to quote prices of sugar which they will not accept, even in a more modified form, from those who are applying for a drawback upon sugar used in manufactures. The honorable member for Moreton seems to me also to have been misinformed when he says that Singapore pineapples can be landed in the Commonwealth at 2s. 6d. per dozen.

Mr Wilkinson - No. I say that is the invoice price at Singapore.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There would only be the freight to be added, and I do not think the price quoted by the honorable member 'can be correct, because there are hundreds of merchants in the Commonwealth who would be glad to buy at that price, even with the duty of 15 per cent, added. Though I am interested in this matter, I say that on the whole these duties are excessive, and are not required by the manufacturer. Speaking as one interested in the manufacture of these goods, perhaps more largely than any one else in the Commonwealth, I say that we shall make a signal blunder if we deal with them en bloc. They ought to be separated. So far, the honorable member for Bland seems to me to be the only member of the committee who understands the bearing of the sugar duties upon this question. Some of us who are interested in these manufactures have been willing to vote for heavy duties upon sugar, in order to preserve a white Australia, though it seriously handicaps us in our business. 1 may say that my own firm is £.2,000 worse off this year than last year on account of the sugar duties. We have agreed to that, as the price of a national benefit, and we ask that our position may be recognised in other respects. But, so far, we have been unable to get any equitable decision, or any really just treatment, from the Minister forTrade and Customs in the matter of drawbacks. I say, as a manufacturer, that we do not require this heavy protection. We require only an opportunity to trade with the world in the natural fruits of the Commonwealth, on something like free lines. But seeing that we have, for national a d political reasons, consented to a duty of n6 per ton on sugar, we should not be expected to assent to a reduced duty of 1 5 per cent., as now requested by the Senate, upon canned table fruits put up in sugar and heavy syrups, because the sugar contained in these goods must pay a customs duty of £6 per ton, or at leasta duty of £3 per ton under the excise regulations, and that being so, we cannot compete with goods put up at the other end of the world with the cheap bounty-fed sugar grown on the Continent and purchased in London for something like £8 or £9 per ton, while we have to pay £18 per ton. I recommend the Government - and if they do not adopt the suggestion I shall ultimately move in that direction myself - to separate these itemsproviding that the duty upon table fruits put up in syrup shall remain at the rate agreed to by the House of Representatives, and then when we come to deal with things like vegetables, which do not contain sugar, and pulped fruit, which is the raw material of some manufactureswithin the Commonwealth, I shall contend that a 15 per cent. duty,as suggested by the Senate, is ample protection for those lines. I remind the committee that we have just passed an item including concentrated or dried vegetables at a duty of 15 per cent. If that is a sufficient protection for dried vegetables it is surely a sufficient duty to place upon vegetables put up in water in cans.

Sir George Turner - Asparagus and mushrooms.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the Treasurer is well advised he must know that this also includes large quantities of mashed turnips and other simple vegetables, which are largely consumed on our mining fields and in outside districts. On many of these goods we might very well agree to a dutyof 1 5 per cent. This item also includes pulped fruit, which is actually the raw material of manufactures, and cannot in any way come into competition with the fruit grown within the Commonwealth. We can grow all the peaches, apples, apricots, and fruits of that kind we require in the Commonwealth.

Mr Batchelor - What sort of pulped fruit is imported?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The only thing I recollect at the present momentis strawberry pulp.

Mr Kingston - We can grow strawberries here.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The right honorable gentleman is quite right ; we can grow strawberries here ; and pineapples might be grown under hothouse frames in the arctic regions.

Mr Kingston - Is the honorable member comparing our capacity for growing strawberries in Australia with the raising of pineapples in the arctic regions ?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The simile might be somewhat hyperbolical, but I can tell the right honorable gentleman that I am speaking of what I know when I say we cannot get strawberries in Australia.

Mr Kingston - If the honorable member comes to South Australia I can get him plenty of them if he will quote a reasonable price.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If that is so, the people of South Australia must be lacking in enterprise, because we cannot get strawberry pulp in Australia at a reasonable price. What would be a reasonable price here should not be greater than a reasonable price on the other side of the world, plus the cost of importation.

Mr Kingston - Fancy importing strawberry pulp into Australia !

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The right honorable gentleman expresses a certain amount of contempt about this, as he has done about many other things of which he knows nothing.

Mr Kingston - I have learnt something about drawbacks.

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