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Friday, 8 August 1902

Mr HARTNOLL (Tasmania) - This question presents itself to my mind in two aspects. I desire to be strictly impartial both to the unfortunate squatter and the small settler who grows turnips, and I take as my guide those perfect lines of Burns, which might at times be taken almost as a scriptural text -

M:111's inhumanity to man

Makes countless thousands mourn.

From the appeals I have heard made in the Chamber, I can well believe that the difficulties of the large pastoralists have not been overstated. I can quite understand that there is a class of pastoralists who, having been in fairly good circumstances, have now to stare ruin in the face. I know no set of circumstances which would produce dark despair more quickly to a man who has known all the comforts of life, than to be, at a moment's notice, faced with the position of having to give up his old home, with all its pleasant associations. There is, I should fancy, another class of pastoralists who will be able to weather the storm, however severe it may be. A pastoralist of this class will have to put his shoulder to the wheel again, as many of us have had to do, and by strenuous exertions he may in time recover from his difficulties. There is, I should imagine, still another class of pastoralists who spend thousands of pounds weekly in keeping their stock alive. As a result of the drought a pastoralist of this class may find his banker's balance reduced and his fixed deposits or Government debentures standing at a lower ebb than in previous years. His son may have a smaller inheritance than he had previously, and his daughter may enjoy a smaller dower than her betrothed might reasonably have expected her to get. But the actual comforts surrounding that pastoralist's life are not materially lessened. The comforts of his table are the same. The supply of delicious wines for his guests in all probability is not considerably reduced. In contradistinction to the pastoralists I have spoken of, I wish to speak of the small farmers in some of the States. In Tasmania I have seen these men go into the forest lands, having very few comforts, getting no enjoyments, rising before sunlight and bedding their horses at night by the light of a lantern day after day in extreme weather. After the forest land is brought somewhat under cultivation the first effort of a man of this class is to produce a turnip crop amidst his stumps. I have known the rabbits in a few nights to devour one-half of that which had taken months to produce. When the crop is ready for the market, the grower has to pay his neighbour 5s. a day to help him to pull and top his turnips. It costs 5s. to provide the bags for a ton of the turnips. At the most moderate rate it will cost 2s. 6d. a ton to get the crop to market. Year after year I have seen poor struggling farmers take their turnips to Devonport for export, and sell them at £1 per ton. The net price to the settler is not more than 10s. a ton. In some instances I have been called upon to help a settler through his difficulties. When the price has been exceedingly low, and no buyers have been forthcoming at Devonport, the farmer has been persuaded to send his consignment through an agent to Sydney, and I have seen the account sales showing him to be in debt, thus losing the whole production of a year. These are the normal conditions of the poor settler in the backwoods, and I speak with authority, as I know him most familiarly. During the present season the price of turnips rose to £2 per ton in Devonport, and I have known them to realize £4 per ton. These high prices have induced the settlers to rush their produce into the market, but in very many instances the middleman has reaped most of the benefit. The abnormal rise in the price of turnips has not been brought about by the special demand for food for stock, because the turnips have been needed for human consumption. Vegetables have become so scarce, owing to the drought in New South Wales and Queensland, that urgent cables have been sent to Tasmania asking that turnips might be forwarded, however high the price might be. However great the difficulties and trials of the pastoralists may be, they are no greater than those with which the ordinary small farmers have to contend year after year. It is bad farming for the grower of root crops to sell his produce, and those who are in fair circumstances would never dream of doing such a thing. Therefore, under ordinary conditions, only small farmers sell their turnips and mangolds. Under the present abnormal conditions, however, many well-to-do farmers, who generally use their mangolds and turnips for feeding their stock, have been selling them at the rate of £2 per ton, the buyer having to take them out of the ground and top them. I think that, under all the. circumstances, an opportunity is presented to give way, to some extent, to the wishes of the Senate, and that we should be evincing a compromising spirit if we reduced the duty to ls. per cental. This would give a fair amount of protection to our own producers, and would at the same time afford some relief to pastoralists who are now hand-feeding their stock. I sold the best Algerian oaten hay just before I left Tasmania on the last occasion at £3 per ton, and thousands of tons are to be obtained there at about that price. The conditions under which the hay is sold is that the farmer shall find wood and water for the buyer who sends his chaffcutting plant on to the farm. Eight shillings per ton would be required to defray the cost of the chaff cutting, and the bags required for a ton of chaff would cost 5s. Then the cost of carting the chaff to the port of shipment- would have to be defrayed, and the freight from Tasmania to Sydney would be 15s. per ton. Therefore it should be possible to land Tasmanian chaff in Sydney in first hands at £4 17s. 6d., or at the most, £5 per ton. An average crop of oaten hay would yield 1^- tons per acre. In Tasmania some of the farms are cultivated according to the most approved principles. The farmers, who pay a rent of say 10s. or l'2s. 6d. per acre fallow their land, and, therefore, do not obtain more than one crop of hay in two years. Then they have to pay for artificial manures, for putting in and harvesting the crop, and a number of other incidental expenses which would amount to, probably, £1 10s. per acre, making a total, with the rent, of £2 10s. per acre. If the farmer obtained £3, per ton for his hay, his gross return at the rate of li tons per acre would be £4 10s., and, therefore, his profit would not amount to more than £2 per acre. Those who know the conditions under which farmers have to carry on their operations, will admit that £2 per acre represents a very moderate profit. The profits derived by those engaged in commercial occupations are very much larger. Farming under present conditions is, no doubt, a delightful occupation, but it will bear no comparison with commercial life as a profitable undertaking. I think that we should deal with the requests made by the Senate in a friendly spirit, and endeavour to arrive at some reasonable compromise, and that we might very well consent to a reduction of this duty without depriving our farmers of fair protection.

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