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Monday, 1 October 1906

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - The very interesting speech which we have had from Senator Smith must carry a considerable amount of weight with the Senate, because he has given a great deal of time and study to the matters to which he has referred. We know that he has taken the opportunity dunn"- the last two parliamentary recesses to study tropical and sub-tropical agriculture, and subjects pertaining to them. There is no doubt that he is well able to express a trustworthy opinion. The granting of a bounty to some of the articles in the schedule would, in my opinion. result in no advantage whatever. Indeed, it would be little short of a crime to do what is proposed. The particular article to which I should like to refer is powdered) milk. When the 'Minister of Defence was moving the second reading of the Bill, I asked whether he had any information to give us on the subject, in addition to that furnished in the paper that has been circulated. I am in favour of granting bounties to encourage the establishment of new industries in Australia where sufficient reason can be urged for the adoption of that course. At the same time, I require some assurance that the commodities which they produce will bestow a tangible benefit upon the country. Take the case of dried milk as an illustration. I have sufficient knowledge of that article to enable me to say that it would be a pity to see it produced in Australia under any conditions whatever. One has merely to smell it in order to be convinced that it is absolute rubbish, and that its protection ought not to be fostered. To my mind, the conversion of good milk into an article of that description represents only so much waste labour. In the early days of the Western Australian gold-fields it achieved such a bad reputation that the miners would consume it only in cases of dire necessity. Quite recently we passed an Act which was intended to prevent the production of articles the consumption of which would have a deleterious effect upon the health of the community. It seems somewhat contradictory, therefore, that we should now lie asked to sanction the payment of a bounty to foster an industry in powdered milk. Further, I fail to see any particular reason why we should extend encouragement to the condensed milk industry by offering manufacturers a bounty of Jd. per lb. upon their product. At the present time I believe _that the industry is making a fair amount of headway, and consequently requires no artificial stimulus. Already no less than thirty-nine different brands of milk are being produced within the Commonwealth. This commodity enjoys a protection of id. per lb., which, in my opinion, is ample. At the present time the article which comes into competition with Australian condensed milk realizes a far higher price than does the local manufacture. Nestles' milk is universally admitted to be the very best article of the kind imported into the Commonwealth, and probably it is the best in the world. That milk commands io3. per dozen tins more than does the Australian article, and therefore it cannot be urged that our local manufacturers are subjected to unfair competition. Of course, the process by which Nestles' milk is preserved so that it will withstand all climates is a trade secret. I know that in Western Australia that article will maintain its purity under almost any circumstances. The Australian article will not do that. It will not keep in a warm climate, and until ' our chemists - I believe it is more a matter for chemical knowledge than for anything else - discover the secret of preserving milk, it is idle to talk of extending more protection to the local production. But whatever may be urged in favour of the Government proposal in respect of condensed milk, cer.tainly nothing can be said in support of the proposal to grant a bounty upon the production of dried milk. Whilst I am unable to explain the method by which dried milk is produced, P understand that the liquid is evaporated, and that it leaves a powder behind. My experience leads me to believe that by that means all the nutritive properties which were originally in the mil£ are practically lost. I now wish to say a few words in regard to the proposal 'to grant a bounty upon the production of coffee. When the Tariff was being framed, I well remember how Senator Higgs and others declared that if a reasonable measure of protection were extended to that article, Queensland in a few years would be able to supply the Australian market. Prior to that period several of the States did not collect a duty upon coffee. In New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia it was admitted free. But in order to encourage coffee cultivation in Queensland we levied a heavy duty - namely, 3d. per lb. - upon that product, and we were promised that within a few years Queensland would practically supply the whole of the requirements of the Commonwealth.

Senator Dobson - What is the amount of protection which is at present enjoyed by coffee?

Senator DE LARGIE - We granted that commodity practically the measure of protection which was asked for. In Queensland the duty upon it, prior to the enactment of the Federal Tariff, was 4d. per lb.

Senator Dobson - I think that honorable senators who intend to vote £500,000 in the direction proposed by the Bill ought to listen to the debate. [Quorum formed.]

Senator DE LARGIE - The present duty of 3d. per lb. upon coffee is equivalent to about 33 per cent, ad valorem. Surely that represents a fair amount of protection. Under these circumstances one might reasonably have expected that the growth of the industry would have been considerable, seeing that since - the Federation was established the whole of the Australian market has been opened to the coffee-planters of Queensland. I find that, between 1901 and 1904, there was no increase worth mentioning; indeed, for some years there was a decrease. In 1901, there were 130,000 lbs. of coffee produced, which decreased, in 1902, to 113,000 lbs., and, in 1903, to 83,000 lbs. In 1904, there was a slight increase, which practically brought the production back to what it had been in 190 1. It will be seen, therefore, that there has been practically no increase in the production of coffee during the years in which a duty has been imposed on. the imported article. Under all the circumstances, we might naturally have expected a great increase; but, as a matter of fact, out of the total of 1,000 tons of coffee placed on the Australian market, only 38 tons were produced in Australia. I do not think that, under all the circumstances, a good case has been made out for any further encouragement of coffee cultivation. I know that there are a number of honorable senators ever ready to vote money for almost any purpose; but it would be unreasonable to support the Bill with any hope of doing the industry any permanent good. Coffee cultivation is absolutely stagnant; and it would be a pity to attempt to force it in the way proposed. There is one industry to which we should have been well advised to give some consideration. During last session, a resolution was passed in the Senate affirming that some kind of encouragement ought to be extended to the employment of white labour in the pearl-shell industry. I see no mention of that industry in the Bill ; and this. I think, is a great mistake. The pearl-shell industry is practically monopolized by Japanese, Malays, and other men of colour; and clearly some effort should be made to introduce white labour. During last recess,

I had an opportunity to visit the northwest of Australia, and, from what I saw, I think that with reasonable encouragement white labour would displace coloured labour.

Senator Stewart - Pearl shell has fallen very considerably in price.

Senator DE LARGIE - I think that the price has gone up again. In any case, there are other articles - sugar, for example - the price of which has fallen, but the production of which is encouraged by the Commonwealth. I suppose that sugar was never so low in price as it has been during the time bounties have teen given on its production by white labour. In my opinion, the pearl-shell industry presents as good a case for assistance of the kind suggested as doesthe sugar industry. White labour has been a success in the case of sugar; and I think we could say that it would be a success in the case of pearlshelling. As to many of the articles mentioned in the schedule, I am in favour of a bonus, but I am against others, including that in the case of powdered milk. It would be a pity to encourage the production of this commodity, because, in my opinion, it is downright rubbish. I support the second reading of the Bill, in the hope that in Committee the measure will be made a much better one than it is at present.

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