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Thursday, 27 October 1904

Sir GEORGE TURNER - I do not know that it will be possible to deal with the matter this session. It is one which requires very careful and full inquiry, but, so far as I am personally concerned, I sympathize altogether with the position, especially of Queensland, in this connexion, and I may say I am prepared to do whatever is possible to assist the sugar industry, to keep it alive, and to enable growers of sugar to work in such a way that they will be able to do without black labour, without suffering any real hardship or loss.

That puts the case in a nutshell. A sympathetic reference of that kind, followed by legislation, is all that I require. Some criticism has been offered regarding the position occupied by the sugar growers, and I am sorry to say that complaints have been made by some of the representatives of other States in which sugar is not grown, that Queensland is receiving an undue advantage.

Mr Mcwilliams - Hear, hear.

Sir George Turner - The complaint was not so much against Queensland as against New South Wales.

Mr FISHER - The honorable member for Franklin seems to think that it is unwise to encourage a native industry by extending to it a measure of protection even less than that enjoyed by others which are not to be compared with that of sugargrowing. Has the honorable member any idea of the proportion of protection afforded other industries, compared with that which is extended to the one now under notice? The hat and boot making trades are both protected by duties of 30 per cent., and the protection which the sugar-growing industry receives, does not at all events exceed that, although it is equal in every way to the industries to which I have referred. Honorable members from other States do not find the representatives of Queensland complaining that their industries are protected, while Queensland is not producing the articles which many of them manufacture. It may surprise the Committee to know that the products of some of the protected industries that are of material assistance to Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia, are being used inQueensland in large and increasing quantities.

Mr Tudor - The Victorian protectionists have not objected to the payment of the sugar bounty.

Mr Mauger - The Victorian protectionists led in the matter years ago.

Mr FISHER -I am aware of that, but I cannot forget that the, Minister of Trade and Customs has frequently drawn attention to what he describes as the serious inroads being made on the revenue of Victoria, as the result of the White Australia legislation. I venture to say that when he looks carefully into the matter, he will see good grounds for the view I have always adopted, that this expenditure, if it really be an expenditure, is justified by the circumstances of the case. I quite, agree with the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that the sugar-growers have received the most active support of the prominent protectionists of Victoria. The great body of the protectionist members of this House supported the representatives of Queensland in securing this protection for the sugargrowers of the northern State, and I express my satisfaction at their action. The principle is a sound one, and our action in passing the Act has been fully justified, because the number of white growers of sugar has since steadily increased. The matter to which I now direct the Treasurer's attention is this : that having discovered that our legislation is satisfactory, it is our duty to continue it. The time has arrived when it is advisable to give, if not legislative effect to our opinions, at least a promise to the white sugar-growers that the Parliament, having seen the wisdom of the measure in question, is prepared to continue it.

Mr Skene - This Parliament cannot bind the next.

Mr Mauger - Does the honorable member think that there is any doubt about our continuing the legislation in question?

Mr FISHER - I have some doubt, in view of the fact that the Prime Minister did not even mention the matter to-day, although its importance had been suggested to the Government.

Sir George Turner - It must be dealt with next session, in order that the sugargrowers may have fair notice of our intentions.

Mr FISHER - The Treasurer put the matter so clearlv before honorable members in his Budget statement that I did not think it necessary at the time to make any further reference to it, more especially as I knew that he held the financial strings of the Government of Australia. I am sure that the right honorable gentleman knows exactly the position in which Queensland stands. In answer to the honorable member for Grampians, I admit that this Parliament cannot bind the next. But it was entirely against my will - it was in opposition to the efforts which I made, both privately and publiclv - that a limitation was imposed on the duration of the Sugar Bounty Act. I think I may say, without any breach of confidence, that the reason why some of my fellowrepresentatives from Queensland urged that a time should be fixed, was that they feared the present Prime Minister. I think that fear was due, so far as some honorable members were concerned, to the impetuosity of youth. We should have done much better had we passed the Bill without fixingany time limit, because it would have been open to us to repeal it at any time, had the circumstances shown that its continuance was not justified. The Prime Minister, who was then the leader of the Opposition, promised that he would respect the principle of the Act, up to the 1st January, 1907, at least, when it would expire. He made a very clear statement to that effect.

Mr Mcwilliams - He ought to do so.

Mr FISHER - I would ask the honorable member whether anything has happened since the passing of the Act that would justify the Prime Minister in refusing to agree to its extension beyond that date. I have never doubted the right honorable gentleman's statement that he would respect it to the date named. When the sugar duties were under discussion, he stated that he would agree to a certain course, and that he believed, so far as hecould see, that this legislation was worthy of a fair trial. It has had a fair trial, and the results have justified the action of this Parliament in passing it. It has been stated that the production of sugar by coloured labour has increased in Queensland. Although I have not been able to put my finger on the statistics necessary to prove my contention, I have no hesitation in saying that that is not a correctstatement.

Mr Mcwilliams - Can the honorablemember explain the figures which have been put before us?

Mr FISHER - I understand that the Treasurer is now awaiting a letter of explanation ; but I can advance a supposition which I think is reasonable. My idea is that the difference may be accounted for by the fact that probably producers who employ white labour when they register give, not the area which they have under sugar cane, but the area of their whole farms, part of which may be under other crops.

Mr Mcwilliams - But the quantity of sugar produced by black labour is increasing at a greater rate than that produced by white labour.

Mr Ewing - The figures are absurd.

Sir John Forrest - It is anticipated that the increase in the production by white labour this year will be only about 7,000 tons, while the increase in the production by black labour will be about 32,000 tons.

Mr FISHER - Another explanation that may be put forward to account for the large increase in the amount of sugar grown by black labour, is that last year and the year before were bad seasons in the southern part of Queensland. In my own district, owing to the severe drought, some black labour plantations had practically no crushing at all, and the cane was allowed to stand over till this good year. In some cases there has been no -crushing for three years.

Sir John Forrest - Notwithstanding the bounty, the production has decreased in New South Wales.

Mr FISHER - That proves my contention that the sugar-growers require consideration at the hands of Parliament. I shall leave it to the honorable member for Richmond to place before the Committee the case of the New South Wales growers, but so far as Queensland is concerned I would point out to the right honorable member for Swan that instead of the bounty having made sugar-growing a very profitable industry, the farmers engaged in it have a very keen struggle to earn a living.

Sir John Forrest - In 1903 the increase in the production of Queensland by white labour was about 12,000 tons, but this year it will be only about 7,000.

Mr FISHER - I think the figures go to show that the industry is not so profitable as some honorable members imagine it to be, and that the limit has practically been reached, so that unless the bounty is continued there will be a decrease.

Sir John Forrest - Perhaps the results will be better than the ' anticipation ; they' have not been so far very satisfactory.

Mr FISHER - I differ from the right honorable member there. The number of white growers has increased by 621 persons in two years.

Sir John Forrest - Take last year.

Sir George Turner - The increase last year was 94.

Sir John Forrest - There was a greater advance in the first year, after the granting of the bounty, tha*n in the second year.

Sir George Turner - That was only natural. There was a big jump in the first year, consequent on the giving of the bounty.

Mr FISHER - The subject is very technical, and even those who are most closely acquainted with it feel that it is a difficult one. A most experienced Customs officer who has recently visited the sugar-growing districts has made a most satisfactory report upon the operation of the bounty. He says that he found no occasion to complain of the honesty of the white growers, and in only one case has it been found necessary to take the matter into Court. The appointment of inspectors has been of great assistance to the white growers, and the complaints which have been made have arisen rather from want of knowledge than from a desire to evade the Act. The point I wish to make, however, is that the 2,142 white families engaged in the production of sugar are worth more to the State of Queensland than large plantations which employ only a few white persons and a large number of coloured persons. But unless Parliament continues the bounty these 2,142 white families will find it impossible to carry on.

Mr McWilliams - Cannot . sugar be produced bv white labour without a bounty 7

Mr FISHER - No, because without a bounty the white grower has to compete directly with the black grower. The only difference between them is the bounty. The white grower pays £3 per ton in excise duty, and receives a bounty of £2 per ton, while the coloured grower pays the excise duty, and gets no bounty. Experts who have gone into the matter have shown that . the 'bounty is equivalent to the difference between the wages of coloured labour and those of white labour. Therefore, if we intend to encourage the production of sugar by white labour we must continue it. I regret that so much opposition has been shown by members representing other States to this expenditure by the Commonwealth Queenslanders have not complained of the effect of the Federal Tariff in reducing their revenue, although they have hard a hard struggle to make ends meet. They maintain that as they invested a large amount of public. as well private money in. the Central Mills prior to Federation, purely for the encouragement of the production of sugar by white labour, the Federal Parliament should not desert them in their hour of need, because other States do not receive a bounty. It is no fault of Queensland that Victorian growers are not obtaining a bounty for the production of beet sugar by white labour. When the question was under discussion, I was ready to agree to a provision under which a bounty would be given for the production of sugar from beet; but, as a matter of fact, there is nothing to prevent Victorians who produce beet sugar by white labour from getting a bounty, and there are no climatic reasons why beet should not be grown here. As a set-off to the statements which have been made about the cost of the bounty system to the Commonwealth, I would like to remind honorable members of the loss of revenue which Queensland suffers under the Federal Tariff. In 1902, boots and shoes, to the value of £55,910, were sent from the other States to Queensland, while in 1903 the value was .£81,583.

Mr Tudor - Has the honorable member the figures for 1 900 ?

Mr FISHER - I do not desire to go back so far, but if I did, the contrast would be all in favour of my position. Queensland is paying to encourage indirectly the industries of the other States, but she makes no complaint about it. I hope, therefore, that the representatives of the other States will not attack the sugar industry, which is really the only industry from which Queensland' gets an advantage under the Tariff. In 1902, Queensland imported from the other States confectionery to the value of £7,275, whilst in the following year the imports of that class of goods reached the value of £23,808. We were told that the jam industry would suffer in consequence of the sugar duties, but I am glad to say that that industry appears to be developing, especially in Tasmania.

Mr Mcwilliams - The jam manufacturers receive a rebate of five-sixths of the value of the duty paid upon the sugar used by them, when their jams are exported.

Mr FISHER -- That is quite correct. Whilst I was presiding over the Department of Trade and Customs, I did everything possible to facilitate the operations of the manufacturers of jam and other articles, and I granted the fullest drawbacks possible upon jams that were sent out of Australia. My action in that matter- aroused a little hostile feeling in my own electorate, but I felt sure that I was taking up a sound position. The manufacture of jam is an industry which is entitled to the fullest encouragement, because it has a tendency to assist our fruit-growers, by providing them with an outlet for the products of their orchards. It must be remembered that although one-sixth of the duty upon sugar used in making jam which is exported beyond the Commonwealth, is lost to the manufacturers, there is a protective duty upon imported jams, which is of some advantage to them. It will be satisfactory to the honorable member for Franklin to know that practically the whole of the jam consumed in Queensland is imported from the other States. Only £^840 worth of jam is imported from parts beyond the Commonwealth. The people of Queensland show a marked partiality for Australian products. They do not stop to inquire whether, by indulging their preference they will cause a loss of revenue. They have the satisfaction, of course, of knowing that, in many instances, they are consuming jam made by manufacturers who use Queensland sugar. In 1902 the imports of jam from other States were valued at £44,385, and in 1903 at .£53>598- The imports of dresses and tailor-made goods from the other States in 1902 were valued at £29,043, and in 1903 at £52,715. Unfortunately, owing to the hard times through which Queensland has passed, its population has not been expanding so rapidly in recent years, and the purchasing power of the community, owing, largely, to the very severe drought, has been decreasing rather than otherwise. They have, however, been steadily transferring their favour from foreign goods to the Australian article.

Sir George Turner - That tendency is increasing.

Mr FISHER - I am glad to say that it is. We do not wish our people to purchase imported products for the sake of the revenue derived from the payment of the duty upon them. In 1902 Queensland imported from the other States, hats valued at £ir,965, whilst last year the imports were worth £17,673. Having regard to the fact that a 30 per cent, duty is levied upon imported hats, this increase in the importation of goods from the other States alone made a considerable difference to the State Treasurer. I know nothing of the reasons which influence merchants in buying Australian as distinguished from foreign goods, but I take it for granted that they would not purchase them unless they were convinced that they received good value for their money. They must derive considerable advantage from the fact that their orders can be speedily filled by the local manufacturers, and that, therefore, they are not under the necessity of keeping excessively large stocks. It is only by encouraging our industries that we can hope to make Australia a great country.

Mr Page - How long, oh, Lord, how long?

Mr FISHER - We must exercise a little patience. I would' point out to the honorable member for Maranoa that during the last few years we have been labouring under difficulties other than those created by the drought. Practically all the States Governments stopped borrowing, and made up their minds to live within their means, at a time of the greatest trial and difficulty. Had the change been brought about at an ordinary period, its effects would not have been so keenly felt. We now have the satisfaction of knowing that we have begun to live within our income, and I believe that we shall very shortly march ahead.

Mr Page - They have had thirty yearn of borrowing in Victoria, and they still want more.

Mr FISHER - So long as they keep on wanting more, they cannot make true progress. The Commonwealth has laid down a sound principle in regard to its finances, and although I do not for one moment urge that the States should not borrow any further, I. think that their operations in that direction should be very limited. I hope that I shall be supported by the honorable member for Richmond and others who are acquainted with the facts of the case, when I suggest that, if we cannot, during this session, pass a measure to amend the Sugar Bounty Act in the direction of providing for the continuance of the bounties, we shah at least be favoured with a clear and definite statement by the Prime Minister that the matter will receive favorable consideration during the next session. Nothing less than that would be of any use to the sugar-growers. As I pointed out to the honorable member for Franklin, the white sugar-growers do not seek a large degree of protection. All they desire is that the bounties shall be continued as some set off to the disadvantage under which they labour, in having to pay higher wages to the white employes who have replaced the kanakas -in the cane-fields. Every one will admit that it is far more desirable that we should settle white farmers and their families upon small farms than that we should encourage the establishment of large plantations upon which coloured labour is employed. I trust that the Government will give early consideration to the question of taking over the quarantine Departments of the States. We are empowered under the Constitution to take over the quarantine Departments by proclamation, and we should exercise our authority forthwith. When I was in office, as Minister of Trade and Customs, I convened a Conference to consider the possibility of transferring the States Quarantine Departments to the Commonwealth. It was unanimously agreed by the Conference that it was desirable that the Federal Government should take over the Quarantine Departments' at the earliest possible moment. The difficulties in the way are not very great. Large powers are conferred under the various States Acts, and these could be exercised by the Federal Executive, under regulations which would be binding on the whole of the States. The Minister in charge of the Department would then have an opportunity to acquaint himself with the necessities of the case before being called upon to introduce a Quarantine Bill into this Parliament. My short experience has led me to believe that it is advisable for the Minister to make himself acquainted with the details of the work of administering his Department, rather than to lean too much upon specialists' advice in preparing a Bill. That is a reason why I think that the Quarantine Departments of the States should be taken over by proclamation without delay. I desire to correct a statement which has been repeatedly made by the State Treasurer, an 1 others in Queensland, that one of the regulations under the Sugar Bounty permits of the bounty being paid in respect to sugar grown upon land planted by coloured labour after the 28th February, 1903. I have sent a written reply stating that that provision is not contained in a regulation, but in the statute itself. When members in responsible positions know the facts, they ought to state them clearly. It is idle to appeal to the prejudices of the people by declaring that the Commonwealth Government will not do this, that, or the other thing. I hope that the Government will never exercise any power which is not delegated to them by statute. Section 2 of the Sugar Bounty Act of 1903 reads -

There shall be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is hereby appropriated accordingly, to every grower of sugar cane or beet within the Commonwealth in the production of which sugar cane or beet white labour only has been employed after the 28th day of February, 1903, or for a period of twelve months immediately preceding the delivery thereof for manufacture, a bounty, at the rates provided by this Act, on all such sugar cane or beet delivered for manufacture after the commencement of this Act, and before the 1st day of January, 1907.

Provided that no bounty shall be paid in respect of the production of sugar on land which has been cultivated by other than white labour after a bounty has been paid in respect of the production of sugar thereon.

Provided that nothing in this section shall authorize the payment of any bounty for any sugar cane or beet in respect of which any planting has been done by other than white labour after the 28th day of February, 1903.

That puts the matter so clearly, that he who runs may read. I do not propose to enter into a discussion of the political phases of this question. I merely say, " There is the law, and that Taw must be administered." In conclusion, I trust that this question will be approached, not with the fear that a loss of revenue may be sustained by the, States which are not engaged in the production of sugar, but from a national standpoint. We have always been led to expect that wherever a great Australian industry could be assisted, and especially where white people could be settled upon the soil, this Parliament would extend just, if not generous, consideration to them.

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