Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 12 August 1902

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I take up the parable just where the honorable and learned member has left it. To my way of thinking, he has furnished an argument which completely cuts the ground from under his feet when he advocates the imposition of a protective duty upon wheat. What did he tell us in reference to his own State 1 He pleaded for the retention of tins duty because of the beneficial results which have accrued from the operation of a similar duty in Queensland. He has admitted that the soil at Darling Downs is splendidly fertile, and has quoted figures to show how excellently it is . adapted to wheat-growing. But when we come to analyze his figures, we find that notwithstanding these advantages, and despite the operation of a protective duty, Queensland has made very little progress in wheat-growing during a number of years. He tells us that, although the duty was imposed in 18S.7, the production of wheat in Queensland is only 1,100,000 bushels, the same quantity as is produced by little Tasmania, where the soil is not nearly so fertile and the sky not nearly so kindly. This is the splendid result of the operation of a protective duty for 15 years. In the neighbouring State of New South Wales what has happened? In 1892, when the yield of Queensland was 400,000 bushels, that of New South Wales was 3,900,000 bushels. Last year, however, the yield of ' New South Wales was more than 16,000,000 bushels, showing relatively a greater increase than Queensland, notwithstanding the splendid advantages enjoyed by the latter. Upon the facts the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs has made out a very feeble case indeed for the retention of this duty. If the increase which he has quoted represents the total result of the policy of coddling which has been adopted in Queensland, it seems to me that it would be better to leave the farmers of that State alone. If they were left undisturbed I believe that, with all the advantages which they possess, they would beat the present rate of progress.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - The duty was imposed in 1892, since which the production has increased fourfold.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In New South Wales there has been more than a fourfold increase without the aid- of any duty whatever.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - But it was the Dibbs duties which gave wheat production its first stimulus in New South Wales.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable and learned member does not know the circumstances, otherwise he would not make that statement. As a matter of fact the production of wheat increased very little under the operation of the Dibbs Tariff. During the latter portion of the period covered by those duties there was an actual decrease in the wheat yield, and also in the area under cultivation. The increased production in New South Wales has chiefly resulted from the adoption of a liberal land policy. As a matter of fact, concurrently with the abolition of the Dibbs duties the production of wheat in New South Wales began to increase, and it has continued to do so ever since. The honorable and learned member for Brisbane has said that we ought to discuss this question upon its merits, without regard to the present .situation, because we are dealing with it for all time. That is quite true. But honorable members were told by the Minister that it is only in times of scarcity and stress that the farmer receives a decent price for his produce, and that the ordinary rates derivable under a protective Tariff do not make wheat-growing remunerative. He admits that the profits which the farmers are making must be taken out of the pockets of the squatters and the consumers of wheat. I protest against the way in which he stated the case. He declared that it was one between the farmers and the squatters. I hold, however, that it is rather a case of one set of agriculturists against another set. Agriculturists in New South Wales cannot get fodder for their stock, and it is they who are crying out the loudest for a remission of these duties. This afternoon the Minister laid down the doctrine that it is a fair thing to allow one section of the community to prey upon another. Evidently he thinks that such a policy will make the nation grow rich. It is the old the.ory which is summarized in the expression-" Rob Peter to pay Paul." The Minister declares that it is a grand thing to give the farmers a chance of obtaining an increased price from other people. I hold that that is not the' way to make the Commonwealth prosper. It is an old, pernicious doctrine, which the facts of national existence have worn threadbare, and which should have been buried long ago. The honorable member for Moira pointed out that if the price of wheat were increased by lOd. per bushel - the amount of the duty - the amount involved .would be very small, seeing that a man consumed only 5£ bushels annually. Is that a fair way of looking at this question? I am not arguing for a reduction of the duty upon wheat only. The duties upon fodder affect a man not only in the price which he has to pay for bread, but in the cost of almost everything that he eats and wears. In Sydney, to-day, people are paying more than 2d. per quart more for their milk than they were paying some time ago, and in large families that is an item more serious than is the increase in the price of bread. So it is with other things. Yet the honorable member would have us believe that the total effect of paying a higher duty is to be measured by the extent to which the cost of bread is increased. Nothing has been said this afternoon which would justify us in turning aside from our purpose in endeavouring to secure the remission of these duties.

Sir WILLIAMMcMILLAN (Wentworth). - Personally, I do not intend to continue the debate any longer. It is curious, however, that whenever honorable members on this side endeavour, as on the present occasion especially, to discuss a question as quietly and calmly as possible, -with a view to the public interest of Australia as a whole, the Minister for Trade and Customs immediately gets up with his usual stage thunder, and shrieks the most extreme protectionist doctrines. We on this side have absolutely avoided in this discussion the question of free-trade versus protection. What is the whole sum of the arguments of the Minister for Trade and Customs 1 It is that wheat has been the same price in England as it is here. The Minister forgets the salient point that in England nothing is done by the Government, as a Government, to artificially raise the price, whereas we are discussing, not whether wheat shall be dear or cheap according to the exigencies of the season and peculiar conditions of the country, but whether the Government, by imposing an absolutely prohibitive duty, shall make the food of the people extremely dear. It has been clearly proved in the last few months that the duty is practically prohibitive ; and the simple meaning is that if it is continued the price of wheat must reach about 4s. per bushel before any importation can take place. In ordinary seasons Australia is a large exporting country. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs talked about the wonderful protection which was given to the Queensland growers; but that. was a protection of only 4d. per bushel, and the honorable and learned member thought it sufficient, though he is now ready to vote for the Government's present proposal of ls. 6d. per cental. AVe are not dealing with this question on the basis of Inter-State duties, one against the other. We have now free-trade throughout Australia, and the wheat-growers of Queensland are absolutely dependent, so far as the price of their product is concerned, on the surplus in ' Australia ; if there, is a surplus, they must take the price ruling in the markets of the world. The honorable member for Gippsland, the other night, showed the exact position taken up by honorable members on the other side of the chamber when he said - " I will not be a party to men who have created an industry under statute being robbed of their fair gain." But that statute was a statute of Victoria ; and are we to deal with the statutes of a State when we are making a Tariff for Australia % I thought we were dealing with a national Tariff. Victoria has scarcely one-third the population of the Commonwealth ; and if in that State there be an industry employing only a portion of that third, are we to give protection to the extent of prohibition to those persons merely because a local statute has been enacted 1 This question has been dealt with by some honorable members on the lowest provincial grounds. It has been dealt with, not as a matter for the people of Australia, but a matter for the constituents of a few electorates. I do not like to repeat arguments over and over again, but I may remind the committee that the duty is a farcical one in good times. We know that under ordinary circumstances there will be a continuance of the exportation of surplus wheat ; and yet, in -times like the present, when the farmer is getting good prices, it is proposed to impose a prohibitive duty. The proposal is unreasonable, and I shall divide the committee on the question. In New South Wales wheat was free, and in Queensland the duty was 4d. per bushel, and 4d. or 6d. per bushel in Western Australia. On the ground of common justice, I contend that ls. 6d. per cental is an absolutely unfair and inequitable duty. Even if we take an average of the rates previously imposed in the different States, the duty at the outside ought not to be more than 9d. The Victorian duty was not altogether against the outside world, but against the other States, and yet it is proposed to adopt that purely provincial rate as the duty against the outside world. To fix so high a. rate against other countries, which are separated from us by thousands of miles, and are handicapped by a variety of charges, is most irrational, and shows the utterly inconsistent method which has been adopted in the framing of the Tariff. I am perfectly satisfied that the Government proposal is against the interests of the different States, and of the majority of the people of Australia.

Mr. CONROY(Werriwa).- In view of the proposal of the honorable member for Wentworth, I shall not press the amendment which I indicated. I am still of opinion that these commodities ought to be free ; but itis clear that the opinion of the committee is against me, and thatI cannot hope to succeed. For a similar reason, doubtless, the honorable member for Wentworth has not proposed to place the articles on the free list.

Suggest corrections