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Friday, 8 August 1902

Mr SKENE (Grampians) - I very much regret that the duties upon hay and chaff have been discussed in connexion with the request of the Senate that fruit and vegetables should be placed upon the free list, because the effect is to confuse the issue. Hay and chaff are produced abundantly within the Commonwealth, whereas turnips and mangolds and other vegetable products of a similar character are produced here in such small quantities that they need hardly enter into our calculations. In regard to commodities produced abundantly within the Commonwealth, my sympathies are to a very great extent with honorable members who are supporting the Government, because when the States entered into the federal compact it was understood' that a certain amount of consideration would be given to our agriculturists. It would be entirely against the spirit of the federal compact if we were to allow New Zealand to introduce her commodities into our markets with ease at all times, but the products which that colony can supply at low rates do not affect the constitutional question. The stocks available in New Zealand and the States of the Commonwealth where root crops are grown would not be commensurate with the demand. The honorable member for Gippsland suggested that the State Government of New South Wales might overcome the difficulty by remitting the duties, but that suggestion does not appeal to my mind, because it would really 'be offering an inducement to the States to act contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, and to do that, which in a private individual would be regarded as a moral, if not a criminal, evasion of the law. I do not think that the honorable member for Moira did himself justice last night. Probably he was provoked a little by the spirit of the discussion, because he must know that the New South Wales pastoralists have not come "squealing" to this Parliament for assistance. Only within the past week I visited a property in that State, for which I act as attorney, and upon which there are 100,000 starving sheep. Although, if rain does not fall within the next three weeks, probably 50,000 of them will perish, I have never been asked by any pastoralist to press this matter in the slightest degree. I know the difficulty of feeding such a large number of sheep. If to-morrow I could land £3,000 worth of fodder at market rates upon that property, which is situated upon the Murrumbidgee, I would do so.

Mr Kennedy - It is not because the supply is not available that tlie honorable member cannot do so.

Mr SKENE - It is because the railways cannot carry it. The Acting Prime Minister has been kind enough to place in my possession the actual figures which he has received from the Statistician's office, and these show that in Victoria we have 3,000,000 surplus bushels of wheat, 2,165,000. bushels of oats, and 320,000 tons of hay. I have checked these figures, and I believe that they are accurate. I repeat that the fodder is available, but the railways cannot carry it. Only the other day at Albury, I saw quite an acre of ground covered with trucks, the contents of which had to be transferred to other trucks owing to the break of gauge. The New South Wales Railway Commissioners have done all they can in regard to this matter. They, are willing to carry this produce for any distance at 2s. per ton. Probably the honorable member for Moira was deceived in consequence of having visited New South Wales in some particularly good year'. Five or seven years ago that State enjoyed excellent seasons, and the result of the visits which I then paid to it induced me to believe that in Victoria the value of the land had been altogether over-estimated. In one agricultural district in New South Wales a friend of mine requested me to send him up some farming hands. I undertook to do so, and despatched him a working manager and a thoroughly .good ploughman. He cleared about 2,000 or 3,000 acres. That was seven years ago, and during the whole of that period he has not taken off the ground in the way of crops as much as he has put into it. How can the honorable member for* Moira say that fodder can- be grown under conditions of that kind ?

Mr Kennedy - -I did not say so.

Mr SKENE - I understood the honorable member to say that it was entirely the fault of the pastoralists themselves that, in good seasons, they did not provide against bad years.

Mr Kennedy - Outside the timber belt the land in New South Wales is not fit for agriculture, and I have always said so.

Mr SKENE - From the way in which the honorable member spoke last night I thought that Victoria might well be accused of being a cabbage garden, because he dealt entirely with small areas.

Mr Kennedy - I was dealing with half the area of New South Wales.

Mr SKENE - I am speaking of country not very far west of Narrandera.

Mr Kennedy - I was dealing with country 100 miles from where I live. Only two years ago I saw 2 tons to the acre taken off Toganmain.

Mr SKENE -But one cannot suddenly enter into big operations of that character. I find fault with the honorable member for having accused the pastoralists of coming " squealing " to this House for assistance when it is not the case. Of course, there is no doubt that the dairy farmers do not grow sufficient fodder, even in good seasons. I well remember reading an article by an American writer who addressed himself to this subject. He said, " We often hear farmers calling out for a better class of dairy cow ; but if the cow could speak she would probably ask for a better class of dairy farmer." Admitting all that, however, we are faced with an abnormal condition as regards dairy farms. It is all very well to say that because the dairy farmers neglect to adopt a certain course, and because the Constitution says so and so, we can do nothing for them. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. We say the State Government should do this, and the Federal Government should not do that, and nothing is being done. I hold that no matter of mere sentiment should be allowed to stand in the way of admitting root products such as mangolds, turnips,&c., from New Zealand free of duty. There is plenty of hay and chaff inVictoria which could be exported to New South Wales if the railways could carry it.

Mr Watson - Victoria is still exporting hay and chaff beyond the Commonwealth. A thousand bales have been sent away during the past six weeks.

Mr SKENE - I desire honorable members to take a reasonable view of this matter, and to admit fodder which cannot be raised in Australia, but which can be plentifully supplied by New Zealand, free.

Sir WILLIAMMcMILLAN (Wentworth). - I think that this subject has been most ably and exhaustively debated by both sides of the Chamber, and I merely rise now so that I shall not give a silent vote, We are not discussing this question from the point ofview of the refusal ofthe Government to grant a remission of the fodder duties. As was pointed out by the honorable member for North Sydney, we are debating it from the stand-point of the future. In regard to the remarks of the honorable member for Gippsland, I am sure that riper reflection will induce him to change his opinion, and to recognise that it would be very dangerous for us to declare that whenever any State desired to interfere with Commonwealth legislation, it could do so by refunding duties imposedby this Parliament. The whole principle upon which uniformity of trade throughout Australia is based is one of equality. We are told that the States have a legal right, but no matter what legal right there may be, I do not think that any State ought to break the spirit of the Constitution. Most of the speeches from the other side have been of a very provincial character ; and the extreme weakness of the honorable member for Gippsland's case is shown when he asks why the Government of New South Wales do not refund the duty, or, if necessary, directly import fodder for the starving flocks and herds.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I only gave that as an illustration.

SirWILLIAM McMILLAN. - But surely that would have the same effect as a remission of the duty.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I pointed out that in the one case the pastoralists who are suffering from the drought would get the whole of the benefit, and in the other case the large cities of the Commonwealth would reap the advantage.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - Thatdoes not affect the position of the honorable member, which is that even in times of drought the farmer who watches his opportunity ought to have the advantage of the market. But if the State steps in as much injury is done to the farmer as by a remission of the duties.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - The State would not step in, for instance, in Melbourne.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - I do not intend to say anything further on that point. We are new to many great constitutional questions, which must be debated very keenly, and which may in some instances come before the High Court, and in the future, possibly, cause strained relations amongst the States. We ought to be careful before we commit ourselves as to what is a fair course to be adopted by any State on the broad basis of federation. The honorable member for Gippsland says that the desire is to take advantage of the drought, in order to get a modicum of free-trade - that the sole object is to break down the entrenchments on the other side. But for a moment we might broaden our view of the whole situation. It is granted, I think, that when we impose a duty, we do so for the general benefit of one large class of the population. At the present moment, not only the squatters, but the dairy farmers and agricultural settlers throughout the length and breadth of Australia are calling out for relief. But is it not a fact that, notwithstanding the interests of the little district represented by the honorable member for Moira, and notwithstanding the interests of Tasmania, it is proposed to impose a duty against the interests of the great majority of the people, whom, under the guise of the Tariff, we are supposed to assist. Of course, I am now referring only to the two articles, turnips and mangolds. I believe that the great body of agriculturists of Australia, combined with the pastoralists and others interested in stock, are entirely against a duty which will shut out New Zealand turnips and mangolds. If that be the case, the question is being regarded from the wrong point of view. The honorable member for Gippsland talks about the necessity of farmers growing produce for winter, and I believe that in this connexion there is a great weakness in our farming community. But even in the dairying districts there are large numbers of farms which, with the grazing land, have very little fit for proper cultivation, the latter costing from £20 to £40 per acre.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - It is very poor dairying land that is not agricultural land.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - It is nevertheless a fact that a great deal of the dairying land is fit only for grazing. I do not mean to say that an effort should not be made to cultivate, but when we consider that much of the land used by agriculturists and dairy farmers is second class, and only fit for grazing, it is ridiculous to talk about raising these particular commodities in the far interior Here we have a body of citizens whom, presumably, we are trying to protect, but who do not want protection.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Most of the dairying land is of the very best.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - It is difficult to dissent at times from the honorable member for Gippsland, who is so strong and impressive as to make me almost doubt my reason. In this country we desire the farmer to supply milk not merely during five, six, or seven months of the year, but, as in the older countries, all the year round. But we cannot, with an autocratic wave of the hand, tell the former that he must also cultivate other commodities. As a matter of fact, farmers do cultivate oats and other products. This time of scarcity is no mere incident, but will recur again and again in two of the largest States ; and at the very time the farmer is being urged to make sheds for cattle and increase his supply of milk during the winter, he is being deprived of the means of doing so.

Mr Salmon - And we are attempting to take the duty off his products.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - I do not pretend to be an expert, although I have learned a little lately. But there is a difference between the stuff grown for fodder and that grown for the market.

Mr Kennedy - What is the distinction?

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - I know that in isolated portions of Australia this produce is raised for feed, but the great mass of the people, whose interests we ought to conserve, simply grow fodder for consumption on their own farms.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Every item raised for home consumption has a market value.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - This product will not stand any duty ; and here we have an instance of the cruel cunning - I can use no other expression- by which the duty has been raised practically to the point of prohibition. I am interested in some of the. items, my attention, as a matter of business, having been drawn to the importations from abroad during the last five or six months. This drought' is not an ordinary visitation, but one of the most fearful ever experienced in Australia ; and when to the price of the commodity in Australia is added the freight and other charges, we get just to the point at which it is too risky to import, and this or any duty on a low-priced product becomes absolutely prohibitive. I agree with the honorable member for Grampians that we should differentiate between this and other fodders. The present duty, as I have said, deals with only two articles, turnips and mangolds, which are the lowest kinds of fodder. We are considering fodder of a succulent character, which is necessary along with the preserved fodder. In times of drought such as the present, the only fodder we can grow is hay and other dry stuff, and the turnips and mangolds, which cannot now be supplied in Australia, are absolutely necessary in order to keep the stock in perfect health.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Did the honorable member ever calculate the cost of feeding stock on imported turnips?

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - I do not know that I have, but I know the cost of feeding stock, because I have been paying £100 a month on that score. I am not dealing with this question in view of the present drought. The condition of drought has become largely chronic, and will recur in two of the largest States, which contain probably a majority of the population of Australia. At the present time the population of New South Wales is 1,350,000, and that of Queensland something over 500,000 ; and the conditions, climatic and otherwise, of these States are much on allfours with those of Western Australia. When we add the population of Western Australia to that of the two eastern States, we have represented more than half of the whole people of Australia.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - There is sufficient agricultural land to supply the whole of Australia.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - I am endeavouring to take abroad view of the position. The populations which are increasing in the greatest ratio are those of New South Wales and Queensland, and in a very few years these will be the preponderating States. We are framing, not a provincial Tariff, but a national Tariff for a Commonwealth with a coast-line of 8,000 miles.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - The honorable member is forgetting that Queensland was a protected State.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - Surely honorable members can broaden their view beyond isolated areas, where turnips are grown under favorable circumstances. What we have now to consider is two-thirds or four-fifths of the whole of Australia. I am not pleading on account of the present drought, or merely on account of New South Wales, but I do say that the richest and most populous part of Australia to-day is the part to which we can refer as a ground for this concession. One thing about the Tasmanian farmer, and others of the class to which he belongs, is that they can always make a living, but when you come to deal with the pastoralist you have to face conditions in which men may be wiped out altogether. That is the condition of thousands of men in Australia at the present time, and they are engaged in industries which form the backbone of our material wealth. When party feeling ran high in this Chamber it might have been reasonable for representatives of the farmers to fight hard to gain a majority, but in view of the circumstances in Australia as a whole, I contend that we should rise above mere provincialism, and be glad to take advantage of the opportunity which the Senate has afforded us to give way a little.

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