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Thursday, 7 August 1902

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I consider the question now under consideration of great importance to the Commonwealth. The fruit-preserving industry is one of considerable magnitude in each of the States, and I trust that the Ministry will neither amend the Tariff in the direction requested by the Senate nor acceptany of the suggestions which have been made by honorable members opposite. Some honorable members appear to think that strawberries cannot be obtained in any quantity within the Commonwealth. Their information on this subject is on a par with most of that which they possess in regard to the products of Queensland. In that State strawberries are very largely grown, and many tons are exported to New South Wales and Victoria long before the fruit in those States begins to ripen. Only last month, when I was at home in Brisbane, I obtained some delicious strawberries from my garden, and this month there will be an abundance of them. The plants' will continue to bear for the next five months, and I regret that I am confined here and unable to get home to enjoy the fruit. Queensland strawberries are to be found at this season of the year in nearly all the fruit shops of Sydney. The Queensland growers have an advantage over the growers in other States in that, as their fruit ripens early, they secure high prices for it ; but those engaged in fruit preserving in Sydney and Melbourne will always be able to obtain all they want from that State. I rose chiefly to confirm the statements of the honorable member for Moreton in regard to the pineapple industry. That is an old and well-established industry in Queensland, and it provides employment for a large number of settlers in the southern districts and along the coast as far north as Cairns. Under the protection which we are now giving it will, no doubt, continue to nourish. The honorable member for Moreton made use of a letter signed by the Honorable A. J. Thynne, who for some years was Minister for Agriculture in a Queensland Government, and is one of the best authorities in the State upon agriculture and fruit growing, he being the founder of the Gatton Agricultural College. Some honorable members seem to imagine that the price quoted for Singapore pineapples was 2s. 6d. per dozen for ripe fruit, whereas it is 2s. 6d. per dozen quarts for preserved fruit, on which a duty of 15 per cent. amounts to 4½d., making the total cost 2s. 10½d., or about 3d. per quart landed in Melbourne. The cheapness of these preserved pineapples is due to the fact that in Java and the Straits Settlements the labourers who are employed to do the work of cultivation are paid only nominal wages. One authority states that the Javanese labourers are remunerated with an allowance of rice and the payment of 6d. per week per family employed. I visited Java not many years ago, and from inquiries I made in regard to the condition under which tropical industries are carried on there, I know that the wages paid for field labour are extremely low. Mr. Thynne also points out that fruit preservers in Australia are under a further disadvantage in having to pay more for their sugar than is paid in the Straits Settlements, the cost of sugar in Queensland being not less than £20 per ton, whereas in the Straits Settlements it is only from £10 to £11 per ton. Mr. Thynne, as president of the Chamber of Agriculture, Brisbane, writes -

This chamber is much concerned at the prospect of the destruction of an important industry, on which a large number of industrious and hardworking farmers rely for an outlet for their produce, and consider that it must be owing to want of information upon the subject that the change in the Tariff has been proposed.

Mr. CONROY(Werriwa). - I wish to know if the Minister for Trade and Customs intends to adopt the suggestion of the honorable member for South Sydney. The honorable member named the sugar contents of two or three articles, and suggested that a distinction should be made between some of these articles. We know that he occupies a position which enables him to speak with authority on this subject. He has pointed out that it is only in regard, to articles which are preserved in sugar that the higher duty is necessary in order to countervail the high duty fixed on sugar, but that so far as preserved vegetables are concerned the rate proposed by the Senate is really a very high one. Honorable members opposite would not give up. much of their principles by consenting to a duty of 15 per cent. upon the latter. Do the Government propose to make any distinction between the two classes?

Sir George Turner - No.

Mr CONROY - The honorable member for South Sydney, while not agreeing to the 15 per cent, duty proposed by the Senate, so far as it relates to goods preserved in sugar, seemed to think that 20 per cent, would fully cover everything.


Sir George Turner - The honorable member for South Sydney admits that he wants a duty of 35 per cent, on some of these articles, because of the price of sugar used in their manufacture here.

Mr CONROY - The statement was made by the honorable member for Bland, and he subsequently corrected it. If I understood him rightly he said that a duty of 17£ per cent, would fully cover any difference in regard to the price of sugar here and abroad. After the House had already assented to the duty of 9d. and ls. 6d. per dozen on the smaller-sized bottles, the Ministry accepted a proposal for the imposition of a duty of 2d. per dozen extra on bottles up to 10 ozs., whether empty or filled, so that really upon these small bottles the merchants have now to pay lid. per dozen instead of 9d. That is one of the anomalies that crept iri, and it is a very serious disability. I trust that the Government will yet see their way clear to accede to some of the requests made by the Senate in regard to this item. It would be a relief to the mining community to accept the proposal in regard to preserved vegetables.

Mr Kirwan - The duty amounts to 150 per cent.

Mr CONROY - In some cases it does. It must be a revelation to many honorable members to hear the Minister for Trade and Customs, as well as certain honorable members representing Victoria, declare first of all that' high duties are imposed in order to lower prices; and, secondly, that wages depend upon the prices of articles. What they really say in effect is that they favour the imposition of these duties in order to lower wages, for many of them have really the same effect as the lowering of wages would have So far as the bulk of the population is concerned. Whenever a proposal is made against increasing the taxation imposed upon the great bulk, of the people it. is a general subject for laughter on the part of honorable members opposite. They have not been accustomed to see any one stand up to defend the mass of the people from the rapacity of the few. If we agree to this request, we shall in effect assist the workers. Is not 3s. in the £1 a sufficiently heavy tax for honorable members opposite to support ? Of course it is not. The Minister for Trade and Customs says that the .Government desire a duty of 35 per cent., which is equal to 7s. in the £1. It is only the workers who use these things ; and what does it matter to honorable members opposite that the workers should be called upon to contribute the extra amount? The Minister for Trade and Customs is very ready to take 7s. in the £1 from the workers in order that the Government may be able to give 10s. in the £1 to syndicators under the Bonus Bill. I think I have sufficiently fulfilled my duty to my constituents, and the bulk of the poor people of the Commonwealth, by fighting on their behalf, and expressing my disapprobation of these outrageous duties.

Mr. SKENE(Grampians). - It seems to me that the honorable member for - South Sydney has made out a fairly strong case for some distinction being drawn between the various articles included in this item, and I should like to hear something on the point from the Ministerial side. Ministers seem to think that there is no reason why a distinction should be made. We know, however, that there is a heavy duty on sugar, and surely that should afford some ground for considering whether a distinction should not be drawn in regard to articles which are preserved in syrup ? If, as the honorable member has said, there are certain vegetables which are simply hermetically sealed in water, they must occupy a position very different from that of fruits preserved in syrup.

Mr McCay - Does not that simply amount to a statement that every one is agreed that the duty should be retained on half of these articles, and that there is a difference of opinion as to what should be the duty on the remaining half ?

Mr SKENE - Even from that point of view I have not heard anything from the Government side as to the arguments advanced by the honorable member for South Sydney. By way of drawing the Minister in charge of the 'Bill, and diverting the discussion to a point which I think ought to be cleared up, I shall move an amendment upon the lines laid down by the honorable member. I have no information on the subject, save what I have gained during the debate, and as I think the honorable member for South Sydney has made out a fairly good case, I should like to hear something as opposed to it.

Sir John Quick - But the Senate has not made any distinction.

Sir George Turner - The Tariff was debated for weeks in this Chamber, but no one asked that a distinction should be made in this case.

Mr SKENE - I should like to hear the matter discussed. I move -

That the amendment requested be made, but with the modification that fruits in syrup be inserted as a separate item with the following rates of duty : - Half-pints and smaller sizes, ad valorem, 9d. per dozen ; pints and over halfpints, ad valorem, ls. (id. per dozen ; quarts and over pints, ad valorem, 3s. per dozen ; exceeding a quart, ad valorem, ls. per gallon.

Sir GEORGE TURNER - The amendment is rather inconsistent with my motion that the requested amendment be not made. The only way to get a fair vote will be for the honorable member to enumerate the articles which he wishes to except from the 15 per cent. duty.

Mr Skene - I do not care how the amendment is worded. My idea is to separate fruits preserved in liquid from fruits preserved with sugar.

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