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Thursday, 27 October 1904

Mr EWING (Richmond) - I should not have spoken upon the present occasion but for the fact that the question of sugar has been made a very prominent one during the course, of this discussion. I do not propose to debate the question of the effect of the excise, but merely wish to deal with the effect of the bounty. In that connexion, I should like to address a few words to the protectionists upon the other side of the Chamber. I .understand that there are a few of them left.

Mr Bamford - This is where the honorable member ought to be.

Mr EWING - Politeness prevents me from saying where the honorable member ought to be. I have no wish to deal in detail with the figures which have been presented by the Treasurer ; but desire ,to point out what a magnificent success the bonus has been up to the present. Rarely has there been such a certain and rapid fulfilment of the protectionist doctrine.

Mr McDonald - What about the freetrade section of the House?

Mr EWING - I do not propose to deal with them. I shall confine my remarks to the principles underlying the proposals in respect of sugar. Rarely has an expenditure of £100,000 called into existence within the course of two or three years national wealth to the extent of £600,000. I do not agree with all the Treasurer's figures in detail. Taking those figures, and arguing solely from them, I find that in 1902, 83,000 tons of sugar . were imported, whereas for 1904-5 it is estimated that only 42,000 tons will be imported. . There will thus be a decrease in our importations of 41,000 tons, representing a value of, say, £600,000. That is to say, the expenditure of £100,000 by way of bonus has, if we argue as honorable members have done all through the debate, increased the national wealth by £500,000.

Mr Chanter - The Treasurer declares that less sugar ,is being grown in the district represented by the honorable member than was grown there two years ago.

Mr EWING - The Treasurer is often as inaccurate as is the honorable member. I am dealing only with the Treasurer's figures, and not with his statements. Surely the honorable member does not hold me responsible for those delightful poetical effusions of the right honorable member? His imagination may be inaccurate, but his figures are generally correct. I repeat that we have expended £100,000 by way of bonus, and as a result have increased the national wealth by £500,000 within two or three years. This result is so splendid that it must be satisfactory even to the socialistic gentlemen opposite. Some honorable members have pointed out that the black labour employed in New South Wales at the present time is greater than it was two years ago.- Although I am a Government supporter, for the noblest of all reasons, namely, that I desire to keep worse persons out of office-

Mr Watson - That is a nice compliment to the Government.

Mr EWING - According to the Treasurer's figures, the quantity of black labour employed in New South Wales to-day is greater than it was two years ago. Frankly, I do not believe that statement.

Mr Bamford - Is the honorable member referring to New South Wales only?

Mr EWING - Yes. The Queensland representatives have already dealt very fully with the position in their own State. From my own knowledge of the sugar-producing districts of New South Wales, I do not believe that more black labour is being employed there' to-day than was employed there two years ago.

Mr Fisher - It is the old cry that black labour is increasing.

Mr EWING - Yes. Honorable members must recollect that when we passed the Pacific Island Labourers Act, New South Wales was threatened with a serious augmentation of black labour. The legislation to which I have referred arrested that. What did we expect to happen from a national stand-point within two years ? That period is not worth considering in the life of a nation. There are some representatives who believe that to impose an excise duty of £5 per ton upon sugar, and an import duty of £6 per ton, would work satisfactorily. If we acted in that fashion, it is obvious that our sugar-growers would be protected only to the extent of£1 per ton. The mere statement of the case ought to be sufficient to dispose of any idea of that description.

Mr Bamford - That is only proposed in the case of black-grown sugar.

Mr EWING - But I understand that the honorable member is desirous of continuing the bonus. Behind the whole question lies the fact that, within a year or two, Australia may produce all the sugar that she requires for her own consumption. The price may then fall, as the result of internal competition. To some extent I feel that we are beating the air in regard to this matter. Last night the Prime Minister informed the House that the Tariff Commission would deal with it. The honorable member for Wide Bay pointed out what everybody knows is the serious aspect of this question, namely, that a sugar crop lasts for seven years, whereas a bonus at present is provided for only two years. That is the position in a nutshell. What is to be done during the remaining five years ? If the Commission is to deal with the matter at once-

Mr Groom - Will they deal with it as an urgent question?

Mr EWING - Yes ; I presume so.

Mr Bamford - The Tariff Commission will not deal with the sugar bounty.

Mr EWING - Why not? No subject is of more importance.

Mr Groom - I understood the Treasurer to say that that matter was outside the scope of their inquiries. The Prime Minister has declared that the Tariff Commission must not raise the fiscal question.

Mr EWING - The honorable and learned member ought not to pay attention to the small gossip which he hears.

Mr Groom - These statements were made in the House.

Mr EWING - If the honorable and learned member listened attentively, he would not be astonished at some of the statements which are made in this Chamber. If the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs really desires to obtain further information on the subject, I shall be happy to enlighten him. At the close of the speech made last night by the honorable member for Moreton I asked the Prime Minister whether this industry, among others, would be taken into consideration, and his answer was, " Yes, unquestionably." It now becomes our duty to see that it is taken into consideration.

Mr Bamford - There are other questions than the Tariff issue involved.

Mr EWING - No doubt that is so. The Prime Minister informed us that he would deal with this matter as soon as he could do so, and that is as far as we are likely to get. As the honorable member for Herbert has said, there are other questions than the Tariff issue involved. We know as a matter of fact that the Federal Parliament determined to deal with this matter, not on any commercial or fiscal basis, but from the stand-point that the bounty is the price paid for a White Australia. That was the national purpose, the broad ideal, which we had before us in passing the legislation bearing on this subject. I have no desire to give the Committee a dissertation on the policy of a White Australia. My views upon the question are already well known ; but one scarcely feels disposed to allow a question of this kind, which affects an industry in which a number of his constituents are engaged, to pass unnoticed. I agree with the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs that this matter should be dealt with by the Government in the immediate future, and that it is our duty to see. that they deal with it in that broad and reasonable way which has characterized all their actions.

Mr Fisher - And the honorable member agrees that a statement in regard to the intentions of the Government should be made at this stage?

Mr EWING - I shall endeavour as far as I can to co-operate with honorable members opposite in bringing about a solution of the difficulty as speedily as possible.

Proposed vote agreed to.

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