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Friday, 20 June 1930

Senator E B JOHNSTON - I am about to tell the Minister. It is clear from the general tenor of the board's recommendation that it did not believe the Commonwealth would interfere on the industrial side. It properly thought that the Commonwealth Government would mind its own business. Although the rural workers' award of Queensland has been abolished, the Commonwealth Government now proposes to interfere in that domain, and acting contrary to the Tariff Board's recommendations.

Senator Daly - The board did not report to that effect in 1929.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - It did in 1926, and, according to the report of 1929, it did not in any way modify the recommendation it made in 1926. In the 1929 report it is clearly laid down that in the event of a subsidy or a bonus being granted, there should be no interference with respect' to industrial conditions. In the 1926 report the board states -

In its consideration of this matter, the board was seized with the importance of making the payment of any bounty subject to such conditions as would ensure that any money paid by the Commonwealth Government in that direction shall actually be received by the growers of the seed cotton.

The bounty on seed cotton is desired, not only by cotton-growers and the ginners, but by the Government of Queensland, which Government chiefly desires to avoid the present cost to it of the system of guaranteed prices, the expenditure in connexion with which has gradually increased from £5,317 in 1920-21 to £55,000 in 1924-25. The cottongrowing industry is at present practically exclusive to Queensland, and the probability is that the State named will always produce from 80 to 90 per cent, of the cotton grown in Australia. This, of course, means that the whole of the people of the States, if the bounty system is adopted, will be called upon to pay from £130,000 upwards each year to assist the industry of one particular State. In the State of Queensland there are certain conditions operating which in the opinion of the Tariff Board make the qualifications which it has suggested very necessary.

The board, in referring to what occurred in connexion with the sugar industry, expressed the opinion that it did not wish similar conditions to prevail in the cotton industry. Its report continues -

The Tariff Board can foresee -that in the event of the bounty being granted, it is almost inevitable that the Queensland Government, if in its present mind, will bring the cotton industry under the Arbitration Act with a view to fixing increased wages.

Since that time rural awards in Queensland have been abolished, but the Commonwealth Government now proposes to provide for Commonwealth industrial control, contrary to the recommendation of the board. The report continues -

For example, judging by its past action, the Queensland Board of Trade and Arbitration would almost certainly fix 2d. per lb. as the minimum rate for picking seed cotton; seeing that the rate was first adopted and is strongly desired by the Australian Workers Union. At present in many districts cotton-pickers will accept lid. per lb., and at that rate earn up to 18s. per day. Further, cotton-growers would probably be subjected to a variety of expensive restrictions such as are found in other .Queensland awards.

The effect of this obviously .would be to increase the costs of production, with .the result that the money paid as bounty by the Commonwealth Government, and which was intended to assist the growers, would go to meet the increased wages, and thus the object which the bounty was designed to achieve would be defeated.

Notwithstanding that, the Commonwealth Government is introducing legislation contrary to the board's recommendation. The report further states -

For the reasons given, the Tariff Board is of opinion that there should be attached to the payment of any bounty such a condition as will effectively prevent State interference with the cotton industry -

I suggest that federal interference is even more objectionable, because the Commonwealth has no right to interfere in State matters. It is further stated that - either in the form of increased wages or railway freights, &c. (except any increase as may be the result of an alteration in the basic wage) during such period as the Commonwealth Government may be supplying funds, through the bounty system, to assist the industry to carry on and develop. In the opinion of the Tariff Board, any such interference might vitally prejudice the successful operation of the bounty.

I trust that the committee will accept the amendment moved by Senator Payne, because the proposals of the Government embodied in this clause may vitally prejudice the successful operations of the bounty system in connexion with this industry. The report further states -

If provision for the suggested condition can not by reason of legal difficulties be made in the Bounty Act or Regulations, the Tariff Board suggests that it be arranged by agreement between the Commonwealth Government and each State Government concerned, as has been done in the case of the sugar agreement. In view of the recommendations by the Tariff Board the committee should give the most careful consideration to the clause now under consideration. We should not ignore the recommendation of the board, particularly as a good deal of the work in connexion with the production of cotton is conducted under what is known as the family system. If this provision is adopted we do not know how far its operation will extend. For instance, the Government, in .rendering Certain, financial assistance to those engaged in the wheat-growing industry, might insist on certain industrial conditions being observed in that industry. Although a Labour Government was in office in Wes. tern Australia for six years, it never provided that an industrial award should be made to cover the agricultural industry in that State. Notwithstanding . the decision of the Queensland Government to abolish industrial awards in the agricultural industry and some of the rural awards, this Government now proposes to interfere in an industry which is carried on largely by the cottager and family man. I trust that the amendment moved by Senator Payne will be adopted.

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