Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 1 October 1906

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) I repeat that we are dealing with this Bill under circumstances that reflect no credit, either on the Ministry which introduced it, or the Chamber which is now discussing it. Let me point out, in the first place, how the Bill has been submitted to us. I presume that in another place the following proviso in clause 2 was inserted : -

Provided that not more than the sum of Seventy-five thousand pounds shall be paid by way of bounty in any one financial year.

I have to make that assumption, because Senator Playford has circulated an amendment which, if agreed to, will entirely alter the schedule. Apparently the House of Representatives provided that only £75,000 should be spent in any one year, without altering the schedule, which was drawn up in accordance with the original provision that the annual expenditure should not exceed £5°>000- That does not reflect much credit upon its method of doing business. I agree with Senator Pearce that the Government have supplied us with no information in support of the measure, with the exception of a printed document headed "Bounties Bill, General Statement," which may have been circulated elsewhere, but has not been circulated here. I have examined this document, which contains a list of items, many of which are not included in the schedule, though it seems to have been anticipated that they would be, and to a large number of items is applied a note to the effect that the productions are mostly tropical, and the granting of a bounty in connexion with them might better be left for consideration until the settlement of the Northern Territory and New Guinea receive special attention. Most of the items in the schedule are also tropical productions, and the consideration of granting bounties in regard to them might well be deferred until attention is given to the settlement of the tropical parts of Australia and of New Guinea.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - -Does the honorable and learned senator consider that the Senate is merely a chamber of review?

Senator CLEMONS - No. It has been sought to force that conclusion upon us, but I have always done my best to resist it. I am with Senator Pearce in thinking that it would have been infinitely preferable if the Government had determined to establish a Commonwealth Department of Agriculture for dealing with this matter. I ask who is to administer the measure? The words " the Minister " occur only once in it, namely, in clause 5, and I do not think that Senator Playford told us what Minister will have charge of the measure if it be passed. It certainly should not be administered by the Minister of Trade and Customs.

Senator Guthrie - Why not?

Senator CLEMONS - Because he has already quite enough to do, since in addition to the administration of the Customs and Excise Tariffs he has the provisions of the Commerce and Australian Industries Preservation Acts to administer.

Senator Guthrie - -The Department of Trade and Customs will grow very much. It will have to take charge of navigation.

Senator CLEMONS - I hope that navigation, if it is put into the hands of the Department of Trade and Customs, will be administered as the honorable senator thinks that it should be. I agree with Senator Pearce that before a proposal of this kind was made there should have been in existence a Department capable of giving us information in regard to its details. The stray remarks scattered through the document to which, I have referred do not justify the expenditure of a penny on bounties. I do not say that there is no item in the schedule which does not deserve consideration, but the statement to which I have referred gives us no warrant for agreeing to any proposal therein contained. It is often said that bounties may be voted for with less reluctance and with more pleasure than protective duties, because under the bounty system the public know exactly what they will be called upon to pay. No doubt that is so, though the experience of Australia is that a Parliament voting a bounty does not know into whose hands the money will go. In many cases it has certainly gone into the wrong hands, and we have no guarantee that that will not happen if we pass the Bill. If there were a Department which could properly ad minister the measure, we might have ground for believing that, having taken warning by past experience, it would exercise such care in the distribution of the bounties as to make it impossible for the money to go into the wrong hands. There is, however, no such Department. It is impossible to expect the officers of the Department of Trade and Customs, who have so much work already on their hands, to pay sufficiently close attention to the subject.

Senator Guthrie - It is only a matter of organization.

Senator CLEMONS - The honorable senator seems to think that the present Minister is capable of organizing everything; but I do not think that there is any man in the Commonwealth who is capable of properly administering the Department of Trade and Customs as it at present exists, while if that Department is asked to deal with the intricate, difficult, and delicate question of bounties as well, we shall run a great risk of bringing the bounty system into utter contempt. There is the danger that, if we passed the Bill as it is the results would be so deplorable some years hence as to create an absolute aversion to the whole system, and possibly to prejudice, in some instances, a good cause, if my honorable friends like so to term it. I am quite convinced that if the Bill were passed in its present form history would record more than one disastrous failure. I do not believe that there is an honorable senator who has looked into the details of the Bill who can honestly come to any other conclusion than that the risk in adopting it is far greater than the Commonwealth should take.

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - Of course, the honorable senator does not like Sir William Lyne

Senator CLEMONS - I have divested my remarks of the personal element almost entirely. I have said that I do not believe that there exists a man, either in or out of Parliament, who could properly administer all the various functions which are sought to be imposed upon the Department of Trade and Customs. Surely I could not say anything more impersonal to Sir William Lyne than that ! There does seem to me to be a serious state of things when it is proposed to distribute so much money with so little information in our hands. The Ministry are, I suppose, committed to the Bill, simply because it is in print. I venture to say that they could scarcely assign any other reason. On their own snowing the information which has been sought and acquired is of the most meagre description. Items have been put in the schedule pell-mell, as if the object of the Ministry were simply to see how many different items they could find on which to spend, rightly or wrongly - probably wrongly - the public money.

Senator Playford - Quite a number of items was kept out.

Senator CLEMONS - Those items are mentioned on page 2 of the paper. What is the answer to the Minister's statement? It is that the articles are mostly tropical. Could any one conceive of a more inadequate answer than that the articles are mostly tropical? What is the assumption? It is that, being mostly tropical,, sufficient information has not been obtained, and the items ought to be put on one side. The fact is that almost every item of importance in the present schedule is a tropical item. What is the value of the Minister's statement that items have been postponed for consideration until the question of the Northern Territory and Papua receive further attention, on the ground that they are tropical items? A more stupid, a more self -condemnatory remark, I suppose one could not find, certainly could not wish for, as a criticism against the Bill. I have no objection to any expenditure so long as it can be afforded. But I have the greatest possible objection to any expenditure which is not economical. The whole essence of the Bill, I take it, is, will1 the expenditure of this money result in economical advantage to the Commonwealth? That, I take it, is a. fair point of view from which to discuss the Bill. If we are to look for information on that point we are first confronted with this solid fact : that the Ministry do not know. Perhaps we ought to congratulate ourselves that we have had the opportunity of ascertaining form Senator Smith important facts relative to special items, which may help us to form a conclusion as to whether the money would be spent in an economical way. No one who listened to Senator Smith could fail to gather that he, who has had close personal experience with, many tropical products, has grave doubts - in .some cases I should say that he has no doubt at all - about the efficacy of the Bill. To deal seriatim with the items in the schedule, it is quite clear that Senator Smith has no doubt that cocoa could never be grown profitably in the Commonwealth. He could not have been clearer on any item than he was on that one. He gave special reasons why an attempt to grow the article would be attended with certain failure. Yet I find that the Ministry propose for nine years to spend £2,000 a year upon its production.

Senator Givens - If cocoa were not produced the money would not be spent.

Senator CLEMONS - If the honorable senator could not say more than that in favour of the Bill he would not be using a very strong argument. I think he will agree with me that, at any rate, attempts will be made. Either the money would have to be kept by the Commonwealth, or efforts would have to be made, which would fail, the only result being that some citizens would have been induced to make an effort which they could not hope would be attended with success. I do not think that Senator Givens doubts for a moment but that some attempts would be made to get the bounty.-

Senator Givens - If the case is as hopeless as the honorable senator and Senator Smith think, I do not expect that any sensible man would make an experiment.

Senator CLEMONS - I wish I could think that.

Senator Givens - The bounty is to be only id. per lb., and that is not much.

Senator CLEMONS - I do not think that when the offer of an annual bounty of £2,000 is made there will not be some persons foolish enough to try to earn it or get it.

Senator Givens - They will have to produce a very large quantity in order to get the whole of the bounty.

Senator CLEMONS - One of my chief objections to the existing schedule is that it contains no reference to quality. In the case of cocoa, for instance, it is proposed to give a bounty of id. per lb. on dried beans. What is to be the quality of them ? So far as I can gather from the Bill, if dried beans are produced, the bounty is to be paid, although they may be commercially valueless.

Senator Guthrie - According to paragraph a of clause 3 the beans must be of a merchantable quality.

Senator Playford - It would be dealt with in the regulations, if it were not provided for in the Act.

Senator CLEMONS - I do not gather much comfort from the phrase "merchantable quality," because that would cover the most inferior article which could be produced.

Senator Guthrie - With inspectors of food about?

Senator CLEMONS - Unfortunately, too many articles of very inferior quality are produced and sold here.

Senator Guthrie - Only imported articles.

Senator CLEMONS - I am dealing, unfortunately, with articles which we both grow and produce. One of the great disadvantages under which Australian industry labours, is that too little attention is paid to quality and too much attention to cheapness. I offer that criticism with regard to every item in the schedule. In every case the bounty is to be paid irrespective of any condition as to quality, except that which Senator Guthrie has discovered, and that is that the article shall be merchantable.

Senator Guthrie - The articles will be sold subject to State regulations. For instance, every State has a regulation that only fish of a merchantable size shall be sold.

Senator CLEMONS - I am quite satisfied that the question of quality is almost wholly eliminated from the Bill. The bounties would be payable subject to compliance with regulations. Surely, in the case of a Bill which purports to grant bounties, one of the most important points to be considered is the conditions under which they shall be earned. The Bill contains no such provision. Of course the Governor-General may make regulations, and apparently the most important matters to be dealt with under the Bill will have to be provided for by regulation.

Senator Playford - In the matter of cocoa, all that the grower would require to do would be to produce the beans.

Senator CLEMONS - Would that be the end of the matter?

Senator Playford - We propose to give so much per lb. for the beans.

Senator CLEMONS - But surely the Minister knows that the beans vary very much in quality?

Senator Playford - They vary like everything else.

Senator CLEMONS - Of course they do, and yet no provision is made for such variation.

Senator Playford - The beans are to be merchantable.

Senator CLEMONS - That condition is, of no value.

Senator Playford - The regulations will make all the necessary provision.

Senator CLEMONS - The term " merchantable " is applied at the present time to the most inferior articles sold in the Commonwealth. The moment an article is sold it becomes merchantable. My complaint against Australian products is that insufficient attention is, paid to the matter of quality. My criticism with regard to the absence of provision as to quality applies to the whole of the items in the schedule. In nearly every case the bounty is to be paid at the rate of so much per lb., and in other cases where the bounty is to be paid upon a percentage scale the market value is to be taken. No safeguard is provided, because so long as the articles are marketable at all, no matter how inferior they may be, the bounty will be paid. I do not presume to have that accurate technical knowledge with regard to most of the articles in the schedule that would justify me in making any definite or decisive statements with regard to them. I have to look for information wherever it is available, and I say frankly that I shall pay considerable attention to what has been stated by Senator Smith. I may point out some facts which are well known and meet with practically universal acceptance. A good deal is known about the production of coffee, and the economic value of the industry. Every honorable senator must know that for many years great efforts were made to grow coffee profitably in Ceylon, and that the industry although carried on by means of the cheapest labour, perhaps, in the world, failed.

Senator Playford - Disease in the coffee plants caused the failure.

Senator CLEMONS - The question of labour must be considered in connexion with every one of these items.

Senator Playford - The question of labour had nothing whatever to do with the failure of the coffee industry in Ceylon.

Senator CLEMONS - I did not say that it had. I stated that coffee had been grown in Ceylon under the cheapest labour conditions in the world. Yet it is proposed that we shall endeavour to grow it under what we hope will prove to be the dearest labour conditions. That in itself seems to me to be sufficient to condemn the whole scheme. How do the Government propose to provide against such a contingency as that which has arisen in Ceylon? We have no Federal Department of Agriculture, and I should like to know who would advise the coffee-growers in the event of their plantations being attacked by disease. Apparently, it is intended to encourage persons to engage in the industry, and to leave them to their fate in the event of their plantations being attacked by disease. Some of the remarks which I have made with regard to coffee might also aptly be applied to the cultivation of rice. Is it expected that the cultivation of rice can be profitably carried on in the Commonwealth? No one could have listened to Senator Smith without coming to the conclusion that that industry has absolutely no chance of being carried on profitably in Australia. Yet it is proposed to expend £3,000 per annum in granting bounties for the growth of rice.

Senator Dobson - We might as well pitch the money into the gutter.

Senator CLEMONS - Exactly the same thing might be said with regard to a number of these articles.

Senator Guthrie - Is it not possible that rice mav be grown on the Murray?

Senator CLEMONS - - What ? Under fair labour conditions for white men? Rice can be grown only under special conditions, and by means of the cheapest labour. What is our ambition? To pit Australian workmen at 7s. or 8s. per day against the menial labour of the East at 6d. or, perhaps, 3d. per day, in an industry in which they will have no opportunity to make profitable use of their extra skill and higher intelligence? Skilled labour in Australia mav prove to be cheap if employed in industries where the workmen have an opportunity of displaying their skill and intelligence. But is it to be assumed for one moment that Australian labour, receiving fair wages, can possibly compete in rice-growing with the cheap labour of the East? It is in connexion with matters of this kind that we should recognise our limitations. It is our desire that white men should receive a proper rate of wages, and we should recognise clearly that, in certain departments of industry, the white man cannot compete with the cheap labour of the East. I believe this to be the fact where the special skill of the white man has not full scope, and .1 take it that we are indulging in quixotic legislation in endeavouring to stimulate the production of rice, coffee, and cocoa.

Senator Pearce - In the production of which it is almost impossible to make use of machinery.

Senator CLEMONS - Quite so.

Senator Guthrie - We might as well put up the shutters altogether.

Senator CLEMONS - Certainly, it would be better to put up the shutters than attempt to grow rice and coffee by the employment of labour at fair rates of wages for white men. With regard to the general question, I again ask what is our ambition? If it be assumed that white labour could compete successfully in such industries, I should hesitate seriously to doom white men to engage in them.

Senator Playford - The planting and pruning of a few coffee trees would not be nasty work.

Senator Mulcahy - The question is whether the industry could be profitably carried on.

Senator CLEMONS - We have to consider the conditions under which tropical products have to be grown. Although we might, in the course of a few generations, acclimatise our people sufficiently to enable them to engage in the cultivation of tropical products, we have not yet reached that stage, and we should be reluctant to embark upon any scheme with the object of inducing the white labour of the Commonwealth, for the sake of some pecuniary gain, to expend its energy in our tropical regions. I have" grave doubts whether by such means we should do any good to ourselves or to the people of this country. I admit that in a few generations we might have men acclimatised and accustomed to some of these industries, but I doubt whether we have them now. On the economical side, also, I do not think we can expect to develop a profitable industry, in coffee, cocoa, or rice. With regard to other items mentioned in the schedule, I think that it is quite possible that there is a good opportunity in Australia for the growth of flax. At any rate, in that case we should be following the example of a country which certainly 'is not tropical, namely, New Zealand, where a considerable amount of success has attended the efforts made to grow flax. We may hope to attain similar success in Australia. As to the item " Fish, canned or tinned," I think the money proposed to be spent will be entirely wasted.

Senator Guthrie - Why ? Have we no fish in our seas?

Senator CLEMONS - I do not think that round the coast of Australia we have such fish as can be canned or tinned pro,fitably.

Senator Mulcahy - We passed a vote some time ago to provide a trawler.

Senator CLEMONS - Yes ; and I begin to see why. The beautiful statement which has been circulated in connexion with this Bill contains more than one reference to the trawler. It was probably prepared before the item for the purchase of the trawler was put in the Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill, which has been passed. I can now see a connexion between the trawler and the fish industry. which it is proposed to encourage by fi bounty. But I do not see that we can hone to derive any advantage from granting a bounty on canned or tinned fish.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator would rather import them?

Senator CLEMONS - I would rather import them if we cannot obtain them ourselves. It is better to do that than to do without them. At the present time it is extremely difficult to get fresh fish in Australia. ~The fishing industry should be largely improved before we begin to think of canning or tinning. Senator Playford ought to know, if any one in the Senate does, that it is quite unnecessary to offer a bounty for the production of olive oil. That commodity is being produced profitably in South Australia already, the oil produced there is most excellent in nuality, and it obtains a ready sale. I do not suppose that a gallon of it is wasted. The whole question is simply one of how much can be produced. However much has been produced in the past has .always been readily sold. If this bounty be given, I quite agree that practically it will be like the bounty given to the sugar-growers of New South Wales. It will be given to those people who have always been producing the same article without a bounty. If mv information be correct, it takes a considerable time before olive oil can be produced after plantations have been commenced. That "is to say . if a man went into the industry to-day, he would not get much of a crop until six or seven years had passed. The result will be that for the next six or seven years the £9,000 a year paid in bounty will be divided amongst those persons, mostly in South Australia, who already produce olive oil.

Senator Guthrie - No; amongst those who are starting to plant.

Senator CLEMONS - If I understand the schedule, in every year the amount of £9,000 may be paid on account of oils, and that payment may begin at the end of next year. The money will therefore be divided among those persons who produce olive oil during that year.

Senator Guthrie - No; a portion of the money is to be paid to the producers of other oils.

Senator CLEMONS - I venture to say that nearly the whole of the money will be divided amongst persons in South Australia who have already been producing olive oil profitably. I shall certainly oppose this, as I shall oppose most of the other items. What possible justification is there for dividing £9,000 a year amongst the producers of olive oil ? They have not asked for it, and are making a good profit without a bounty.

Senator Guthrie - £9,000 is the maximum on account of oils, and it is not to be paid entirely on account of olive oil.

Senator CLEMONS - I admit that provision is made for the distribution of a portion of the money amongst the producers of other oils, but what reasonable expectation have we of any appreciable part of the bounty being distributed within a reasonable period amongst the producers of other oil than olive oil ? I say that it will not be so distributed, and time will prove the truth of my remark. I can well believe that it might be an excellent thing for Australia to grow rubber; and if we cannot induce people to embark in the industry without a bounty, we may seriously and safely consider whether it would not be economically desirable to grant a bounty for the purpose. But I shall be no party to grant a bounty on account of kapok. I know how it is used. I know that there is no more fertile source of disease. I am sorry that kapok is used at all, and I shall be still more sorry if anything is done to encourage the growth of it in Australia. I suppose the second reading of the Bill will be agreed to. 'But when it gets into Committee, I certainly intend to oppose most of the items. I shall oppose them, because I think die expenditure is wholly unwarranted, and because I doubt whether, even if we had the information which we ought to have, we should be justified in spending so much money in the hope of an economical production in the future of the articles mentioned in the schedule. I believe that it is extremely dangerous to pass the Bill in its present form, because, in my opinion, one of its results will undoubtedly be to create disgust and contempt, and a strong objection to the whole system of bounties. The policy may be good, but the Ministry ought not to imperil it bypaying bounties under such an illconsidered Bill as this, upon which failure is written with regard to many of its items. We can all realize that, in discussing in the future any proposal to pay bounties on account of industries that might properly demand or deserve them, we snail be confronted with the illustration of failure that will be derived from this Bill. I do not believe that the most sanguine supporter of it believes for a moment that it will be a success. I further oppose it because I do not think that we are at present justified in indulging in an expenditure of £500,000, at the rate of £75,000 a year, for such a purpose. We have not that money to spare; and we certainly have not got it to spare in a case as to which we have not sufficient information. I hope that if the Bill gets into Committee, it will be very much amended. I shall vote for Senator Dobson's amendment, because it is one that I think has no other object than to say to the Government, "Let us acquire sufficient information in order that we may know whether you are going to spend this money wisely, and also whether you have means of insuring, that the expenditure will be properly carried out." That is merely a business way of approaching a very big subject; from lack of business methods in its preparation, I think the Bill is, and should be, doomed.

Suggest corrections