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Monday, 1 October 1906

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I am very glad that Senator Neild can " lav the flattering unction to his soul " that he told us when the Tariff Bill was under consideration that all the coddling we might give, and all the protectee duties we might impose would do no good in the way of assisting our industries, and so on.

Senator Col Neild - I did not say anything of the kind.

Senator PLAYFORD - I shall not pursue that subject, but come to two points on which i think it is only right that I should say a few words. Senators Dobson, Pearce, Smith, and others have all complained that we are putting what they call the cart before the horse, that before bringing in a Bill to grant bounties upon the production of certain articles, we ought to have established a Department of Agriculture. Let me trace the history of that proposal. When Mr. McLean, the late Minister of Trade and Customs, attended the Premiers' Conference at Hobart, he made a most interesting speech, in which he asked whether the States would support the creation of an Agricultural Bureau by the Commonwealth,. Waxing eloquent on the subject, he pointed out how much more advantageous it would be to have a central Agricultural Bureau, similar to that in the United States of America, than to have a number of agricultural colleges scattered throughout the States. If my memory does not play me falsely, every Premier who spoke deprecated the suggestion. The States Premiers asked, " Why should the Commonwealth establish a Department of Agriculture, with agricultural colleges, collect information on agriculture, and issue bulletins explaining how to grow particular products, and so on, when we already have such institutions in operation, and are prepared to do all that is necessary in the matter? " The result of their protest was that the late Ministry dropped the idea, and the present Ministry have followed their example. If there is one honorable senator who is always telling, the Commonwealth Government to take the advice of the States, and go to them for information, it is Senator Dobson. He is constantly alluding to the necessity of our consulting the States. In his amendment, he proposes that further proceedings on the Bill be postponed -

Until Ministers have consulted the Government of each State, and ascertained if they will administer the Bill if it becomes law, and lend the aid of their experts to carry out its objects

In this matter, we have consulted the States, and they have all said, " No, do not establish a Department of Agriculture."

Senator Dobson - The Government have not consulted the States about this Bill.

Senator PLAYFORD - We have consulted the States quite enough. If the honorable senator imagines tor a moment that we could have a .Department of Agriculture and agricultural colleges without incurring a very large expense, he is greatly mistaken. That very large outlay, 1 believe, can be saved. I agree with the States Premiers that, at present, there is no necessity to establish such a Department, because the States are maintaining agricultural colleges, to which, experts are attached. I believe that Queensland has done more in that respect than has any other State. When I was there not long ago, I had a conversation with some of their experts, whom I found to be most highly -intellectual and cultured men. Victoria maintains agricultural colleges, New South Wales issues a monthly journal, which gives an account of the doings at its various agricultural colleges, and contains the most interesting papers I have had the pleasure of reading. In South Australia, we have agricultural colleges. What they do in Western Australia, I do not know. What they do in Tasmania, I cannot say ; I suppose they have made no provision at all.

Senator Dobson - We have a Council of Agriculture, with experts attached to it.

Senator PLAYFORD - It is said that a Department of Agriculture is needed for the purpose of- administering the measure. I contend that it is not wanted, and that, if established, it would be highly expensive. I contend that the object of the Bill can be carried out at very small Cost Honorable senators are curious as to who will administer the measure - whether it is to be the Minister of Trade and Customs, the Minister of Home Affairs, the Minister of External Affairs, or the Minister of Defence. If the task fell to me, I should appoint a highly-intellectual expert - the best I could get - place under him a clerk, and give the whole management into his hands.

Senator Dobson - The Minister was praising the States experts, but he is now proposing to pass them over.

Senator PLAYFORD - Not at all. I should take advantage of any information or assistance they could give. No doubt both would be readily forthcoming, because the States Governments would be only too pleased to avoid the necessity of establishing a new Department, which would cost thousands of pounds, and would have to be maintained at their expense.

Senator Col Neild - Does the Minister think that one expert, with a clerk, would be able to manage the whole business ?

Senator PLAYFORD - Undoubtedly he would, with the assistance of the States, officers. Suppose that a man planted so many acres with coffee trees, and intimated that when they came into bearing he would make a claim for the bounty. Could we not enlist the assistance of some State officer on the spot who could report upon the plantation and indicate whether a bona fide effort was being made to establish the industry? Could he not report to us as to whether the land was properly cultivated or whether the trees were merely placed in holes here and there, whilst the soil between the holes was left undisturbed?. Now I propose to deal with the statement made by Senator Smith that we obtained no expert advice with regard to the industries which it is proposed to encourage. The honorable senator started with cocoa, and finished with kapok, and I shall do the same. He stated that cocoa could not possibly be grown in the Commonwealth - that the climate was not suited for it, and that it was utterly absurd to include it in the schedule.

Senator Dobson - There are only a. few acres in the Commonwealth upon which it could be grown.

Senator PLAYFORD - We shall see. In the first place we did take expert advice, and the gentleman to whom we referred for information was Mr. Howard Newport, of

Cairns, an officer of -the Department of Agriculture, Queensland. He is well acquainted with the conditions under which tropical products "are cultivated, and knows thoroughly what he is talking about. What does he say ? He does not support the statment of the honorable senator, but gives testimony of an utterly different character. He points out that the cocoa tree requires a humid climate, a plentiful rainfall, and a rich alluvial soil. Its successful culture is therefore to some extent restricted, that is, as to climate and soil, but Mr. Newport says that in eminently suitable localities along the northern rivers of Queensland there is ample land to produce all the cocoa required in the Commonwealth. That statement at once disposes of the assertion that we have taken no expert advice, and also controverts Senator Smith's statement that cocoa cannot be grown in the Commonwealth.

Senator Dobson - The Minister should cable to Mr. , Cadbury, ' and ask him if he would buy such cocoa as the 'Commonwealth could produce.

Senator PLAYFORD - I am not going to cable to Mr. Cadbury, on any one else. Now I will pass on to kapok. I could controvert the statements that have been made with regard to the intermediate items, but I think that sufficient time has already been occupied by this discussion. Senator Neild had a good deal to say about kapok - that it was absurd to grow this product which was used for making bedding. Senator Smith stated that kapok was produced in various parts of the Malay Archipelago, that the tree yielding it was a considerable size, and was used for posts for carrying, and that it was not worth our while to consider the question of encouraging its cultivation in the Commonwealth. We import kapok to the value of £20,000 annually, and I think that we might as well grow sufficient to meet our own requirements on the spot. Mr. Newport says -

Kapok, or silk cotton, obtained from the pods of the perennial tree Bombaxpentandra. The trees grow quickly, and require no attention once established. It takes two to three yeaTS to come into bearing, but the harvesting of the crop is simple and suited to white labour. The cleaning or preparation of the kapok requires some machinery, which, however, is not intricate or expensive. The returns average about 50 lbs. of cotton per tree, worth, uncleaned, from ijd. to 3d. per lb., and cleaned, from y\. to iod. per lb., according to the degree of cleanliness. None is produced in the country at present, and the imports are considerable. The culture is much easier than that of cotton, and has the advantage of being easier of harvesting unci preparation, and in being a permanent crop.

Why should we not spend a few pounds in encouraging the cultivation of this very desirable tree, and retain among ourselves the thousands of pounds which we now send out of the country?

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