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Wednesday, 26 October 1904

Mr WILKINSON (Moreton) - The honorable and learned member for Angas has referred to the Queensland sugar industry, and there seems to be some misapprehension in his mind, and in the minds of other honorable members, in regard to the production of sugar by black labour. It. has been argued from the statistics which have been presented to the Committee, that the legisl; . ;on of the Commonwealth has somewhat i ai le.. in its object, but I think that the contrary is the case. The fact that the sugar produced by black labour in Queensland exceeds in tonnage that produced by white labour, does not, mean that our legislation has been a failure, it means that the black labour is employed on soil which has come recently into cultivation, and is therefore more productive than soil which has been worked for a long period. In the tropical jungles of northern Queensland, the soil is practically virgin, and the crops are twice, and sometimes three times, as heavy there as in the southern portions, where the land is cultivated by white' labour, and has been worked for twenty-five years or 'more. In the Bundaberg and Maryborough districts, and even in the Mackay district, where white labour is chiefly employed, sugar has been grown for a generation past, and the land has been cropped year after year, the growers, with the usual improvidence of the Australian cultivator, putting nothing back into the soil to compensate for what they have taken out of it. The Treasurer has shown, however, that the number of white growers is increasing very largely. Prior to Federation Queensland tried to encourage the cultivation of sugar cane by small holders, and for that reason £600,000 or £700,000 of public money were expended on the establishment of the Central Sugar Mills. The legislation of the Commonwealth, however, has done more than that of the States to gain the end in view. Notwithstanding that more sugar is produced by black labour than by white labour, the area cultivated by white labour has increased by something like 20,000 acres, while that cultivated by black labour has decreased by something over 2,000 acres. Reference has been made to the loss of revenue which must occur after 1907. This is a contingency which we must be prepared to face, and the honorable and learned member for Angas will find that the representatives of Queensland in this Parliament will be ready to vote for the continuance of the excise duty on sugar. At the same time, most of them will also be inclined to support the retention of the bounty.

Mr Glynn - One would cancel the other.

Mr WILKINSON - The bounty has for its object the gradual abolition of coloured labour.

Mr Glynn - Coloured labour will be abolished by that time.

Mr WILKINSON - I do not think that it will. As I interjected when the honorable and learned member was speaking, a great number of Chinamen have come to Queensland from the Northern Territory of South Australia. They are not only taking up small areas of sugar land, but are in some instances employing white labour, and claiming the bounty, and they are also entering into competition with those engaged in other industries. Especially have they become a serious menace to the fruitgrowers. Although the honorable and learned member for Angas regards the duty on sugar as prohibitive, I ask him to remember that Australian - grown sugar has to compete with sugar grown in Europe by bounty-fed cultivators, and carried here in steam-ships subsidized by the Governments of the countries in which it is produced. Then we have, almost adjacent to our shores, the island of Java, where cheaper labour can be obtained1 than was ever obtained in Queensland. In the State from which I come, the lowest wage paid to a kanaka is £6 a year,, with two suits of clothes and rations, consisting chiefly of sweet potatoes and the cheapest kind of meat and other provisions. Altogether he costs from £16 to ^20 per annum, excluding the cost of his importation. In Java, however, not only one man, but a whole family, can be got to work in the fields at 6d. per week and so much rice. Therefore it would be impossible to produce sugar in Australia without protection from foreign competition. Furthermore, our producers have not overtaken the local' consumption by something like 42,000 tons. We are not only endeavouring to increase the area of land under cultivation, but we are endeavouring to grow sugar with the aid of white labour, instead of with the aid of black labour. The Commonwealth agreed to pay a stiff price to secure a White Australia, and it is too late' in the day now to grumble at it. 'Having seen the evil which has existed in Queensland, I am satisfied that the price is nottoo high. At any rate, it is insignificant compared with what the coloured labour question has cost America, where millions of: money were spent, and thousands of lives were lost, in arriving at a settlement which is by no means final.

Mr Ewing - Will not all these industries necessarily be inquired into?

Mr Reid - Yes, certainly.

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