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Friday, 8 August 1902

Mr THOMSON (North Sydney) - I did not anticipate that the debate upon the advisability of removing the duties upon fodder would take place upon this item, but seeing that it has occurred, honorable members can save time by confining it to this item, and not repeating it when the request of the Senate in regard to hay and chaff is under consideration. More than one appeal has been made to the Ministry to relax these duties, which must tend unnecessarily to increase existing distress. But we are going far beyond that question here. We are asking not merely for a temporary relaxation of the duties, but for their permanent removal, so that when the present unfortunate circumstances recur - as recur they must - we shall not add to natural troubles by refusing to take steps which would afford some relief. Last night the Treasurer stated that the declared policy of the Government was revenue without destruction. I venture to say that the policy embodied in these duties is destruction without revenue. The right honorable gentleman does not expect to. derive a single penny from the duty upon vegetables, but by his action he is undoubtedly assisting in the destruction of the flocks and herds of the two great States of Australia. With what answer has the appeal made on behalf of those States been met ? When the circumstances were laid before the committee one honorable member replied with the classic word " flapdoodle," and proceeded to argue that those parts of Australia which are now afflicted with drought, suffered from a worse visitation in 1897. That is a most extraordinary method of reasoning. It is like saying to a man who has had his leg amputated - " You have no reason to complain, seeing that you had your other leg amputated in 1897." I should have thought that that circumstance made the position infinitely worse instead of better. The honorable member for Moira vouched for the accuracy of his statements regarding the cost of fodder in 1897. But the fact that a drought occurred in that year - although it really began in many districts long before that date - does not mitigate the present evils. The honorable member stated that as the owners of stock in 1897 had to pay high prices for fodder, there was no reason why they should not pay similar prices during the present drought. The honorable memberfor Macquarie however quoted figures relating to the price of fodder in 1897 which quite contradict those given by the honorable member. I wish to quote the figures given by a gentleman in the Victorian Statistician's department, who sets down the price of fodder in. Victoria at the townships near the farms - and it must be borne in mind that in many instances those farms are nearer to the back portions of

New South Wales than they are to Melbourne - as follows: - Oats, 1896-7, 2s. 2£d. per bushel; 1897-8/ ls. 7£d. per bushel. Similarly the price of hay in 1896-7 was £2 'l6s. 8d. per ton, whilst in 1.897-8 it was £2 12s. 6d. As the premises of the honorable member for Moira were incorrect, it necessarily follows that, his arguments based on them were entirely fallacious. Another honorable member, after listening to the appeal for the remission of these duties, says, in effect, to the pastoralist - "Oh, .yOU do not understand your own affairs. I tell you that the abolition of these duties will do you no good. Accept my assurance. See with satisfaction your flocks and herds disappear ; acknowledge that I understand this matter better than you do yourselves, and that your requests, if assented to, would confer no benefit upon you whatever." I venture to place my confidence in those who know and suffer. I -am quite satisfied that they understand whether or not the removal of the duties would be advantageous to them. Contrast the reception of this appeal with that accorded to other requests made during the Tariff discussion. It was represented that some industries would suffer irreparable damage if the committee adopted a certain course of action. Very often the particular industries affected employed only a few men, women, or boys. I -do not say that, therefore, the appeal should not have been made, but how much -.stronger comes an appeal when the greatest industries of Australia are endangered, and when, do what we may, enormous loss must be suffered, not only by those engaged in those industries, but by almost the entire community. What will be the result if the -breeding stock of the States chiefly affected are allowed unnecessarily to perish ? Resides the direct injury to the owners, every such loss will add to the scarcity of work in the future, and the period of that scarcity will be prolonged by further loss if we refuse to remit the duties upon the fodder which might have kept such stock alive. The -people of Australia generally are affected by the continuance of high prices which must necessarily result from a reduction in the flocks and herds of the country. If we can preserve some of that stock, however little, as the base of future increase, we shall to that extent be hastening the time when prices will return to their normal level. For these reasons the importance of this matter extends far beyond the pastoral industry and touches the interests of every consumer in Australia. What do those engaged in this industry ask 1 They do not ask for protection or for any bonus upon the export of their products. They met all the difficulties with which they were faced - and these were great and many - until they established this industry which has conferred so much benefit upon the entire continent. What is asked for is the removal of artificial hindrances, and not the gift of artificial assistance. Is that too much to ask ? The assistance can be given without any injury to those fortunate producers who have not suffered as have those exposed to the drought. At a previous stage of the Tariff discussion it was pointed out that this duty would operate only in times of scarcity, when, instead of increasing the difficulties, relief ought to be afforded. I am sorry to say that that forecast has come to pass ; and it will come true- on every occasion of scarcity. W e know that droughts will recur, and we ought to decide this question, not merely in view of present conditions, but also in view of future conditions. The objection may be raised that to afford the relief suggested will do injury to other producers who are generally more fortunate as to seasons ; but I venture to say that that fear is absolutely fallacious. In times of plenty the duties will not assist those producers, because shippers from abroad cannot face, an over-stocked market. At such times local producers will not be interfered with even if no duties are imposed. I am now alluding only to the cheaper classes of fodder in connexion with which the freight in itself affords great protection.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - Is the honorable member including maize in his remarks ?

Mr THOMSON - We are not now dealing with maize, but with vegetables, and incidentally with hay and chaff.

Mr F E McLEAN (LANG, NEW SOUTH WALES) - New Zealand is the only country producers have to fear.

Mr THOMSON - There need be no fear of New Zealand in times of plenty. Who will pay freight in order to export to a country where there is over-production 1 There might be some reason for the policy proposed . if it were desired to make the production of cheap fodders equal to requirements in times of drought. But growers will never willingly produce quantities equal to requirements when there is serious drought in other portion.? of Australia. We do not wish to encourage them to do so, because that would only lead to heavy losses in good seasons. The demands caused by drought are exceptional, and usually there is not a sufficiency of supplies; but we can surely give the opportunity by not imposing these duties - which, it must be remembered, are of no benefit in times of' plenty - to save sheep. cattle, and dairy herds. The removal of a duty of 25 per cent.,' and on some lines of fodder 2s. per cental, is equivalent to 100 per cent., and would at least enable 25 per cent, more of stock to be saved ; and the abolition of a duty of 100 per cent, would, of course, mean a much greater saving. In times of drought those who are fortunate enough to have fodder would make handsome profits.

Sir William McMillan - The middleman, but not the farmer.

Mr THOMSON -If the farmer had not parted with his stock, he would make a profit. We know that usually it is the middleman who benefits, but for present purposes we may assume that the profit would be made by the farmer. In times of plenty the farmer would not benefit from the duty owing to the great internal competition, and in times of drought he would under any circumstances get a profit, though perhaps not so much as he would if there were a duty. In any case, however, while others were being ruined the farmer would prosper. The freight on this class of produce amounts to 25 per cent, to 50 per cent., and that is as much protection as has been asked for in connexion with some of the largest industries in Victoria, and ought. to be sufficient. This, of course, is a final appeal on this question. We have appealed frequently to Pharaoh - I think the Minister for Trade and Customs well represents that long-gone gentleman. The Minister hardens his . heart and, I suppose, will continue to do so ; but it is only right for those who represent suffering States to place the facts before the Government and the committee. I anticipate, of course, that we shall not be able to soften the Minister, and all I hope is that the Senate will stand its ground in connexion with these duties. If the Senate does so it will do more for the best interests of Australia than can the Ministry by their refusal to dispense with the imposts.

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