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Tuesday, 22 April 1969

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I support the motion. I am probably in a different position from that of most other speakers in that I have had considerable experience in dry land cotton growing. I have grown dry land cotton at different times over a fair number of years and I know a lot of the problems and difficulties associated with it. By dry land cotton 1 mean cotton which is not grown under irrigation.

The Bill provides for the phasing out of the cotton bounty over a period of 3 years. This is not a sudden cutting off of the bounty. The industry is given a chance to make adjustments to the conditions under which it operates at present.

The cotton industry in Australia has seen great changes over recent years. Dry land cotton has been grown intermittently in Queensland over very many years. The early 1920s saw a considerable boom in the industry in Queensland. A lot of new land was cleared. Brigalow and other types of scrub were burnt. For the first year in many cases cotton was planted, with a walking stick type of planter, in the ashes. In many cases quite considerable results were achieved and, for dry land cotton, quite good crops were harvested, although nothing like the present results, with irrigation methods, were achieved. The two developments which changed the whole industry were mechanical harvesting and irrigation. Mechanical harvesting has been a gradual development. For quite a few years now harvesters of various types have been used in Queensland, the State that I represent. The first harvesters were fairly crude and only partly effective, but they have been developed and perfected and they have made a big economic difference to the industry.

In the early years of cotton growing all the colton had to be hand picked. The cost of hand picking accounted for quite a considerable proportion of the gross value of the crop. The hand picked cotton, however, was of extremely good quality and clean, ft had no trash, leaves or other foreign matter in it. A change came with mechanical harvesting. The mechanical pickers tend to take quite a lot of bush, quite a lot of green leaves and other foreign matter. For that reason the seed cotton cannot be kept too long in its boll form. Within 2 days at the most it has to be put through the gin otherwise the foreign matter and trash in it will stain it and its value will depreciate. That problem has been overcome with fast road transport. In the afternoon semi-trailers pick up the cotton that has been harvested and overnight take it up to several hundred miles to the gins. Next morning it goes straight into the ginning machines, is cleaned up and all the foreign trash is taken out of it.

The biggest advance has been due to irrigation. The Keepit Dam on the Namoi River has been mentioned. Apparently the land in the Namoi area is extremely suitable for cotton growing. The climate is extremely suitable for irrigated cotton. Very considerable development has taken place in the Callide Valley in Queensland due to irrigation that makes use of water from underground gravel beds. The industry in that area had a setback this year owing to the extreme drought conditions. Some of the irrigation bores failed, but we hope that will be only a temporary setback and that the industry will come into its own again in the future. Irrigated cotton has given a fivefold or sixfold increase in the weight of crop per acre, as compared with dry land cotton. This increase is very substantial. Even though the cost of irrigation may be substantial, it is amply repaid and justified by the much greater yield per acre.

A new technique for irrigation had to be developed. The farmers found that they could not simply water the cotton when they thought it needed a bit of water and get a good crop. In fact, they found that by watering at the wrong time they could destroy the crop or most of it. By hard and bitter experience they have had to ascertain just when to water. They estimate at what time the bolls or squares will be forming, and they water just before they are forming, in order to achieve the full harvest and the best possible result. Results have demonstrated quite clearly that irrigating cotton at the wrong time is a waste of water. Cotton has to be irrigated at exactly the right time and with exactly the right amount of water.

In Queensland in the mid- 1920s the State Government gave a guarantee of 5id per lb of seed cotton. That had quite a stabilising effect on the industry. The guarantee continued for several years. In the light of conditions existing at that time the guarantee made the growing of cotton quite an economic proposition. The growers were faced with high harvesting costs. As I explained, all the cotton had to be picked by hand. The harvesting atone accounted for about Hd to 2d per lb out of the guaranteed price of 5£d per lb for the seed cotton. In any industry 30% to 35% for harvesting is a fairly substantial amount. In many cases the cost of harvesting cotton was a bit too much for the growing of cotton to be economic. Incidentally, the hand picking, for those who experienced it, was quite back-breaking work. At the time of the boom about which 1 am speaking, in the mid- 1920s, the ginning capacity in Queensland extended rapidly and six towns had cotton gins which could treat quite a substantial amount of cotton. After J or 2 boom years the number of cotton ginneries dropped back to two. One was at Whinstanes, near Eagle Farm Airport in Brisbane, and the other was at Rockhampton.

Later, in the 1930s, cotton harvests were somewhat intermittent. They were dependent entirely on seasonal conditions. The growers had no system of irrigation. Queensland had its Cotton Board which acquired the cotton from the growers and dealt with the spinners on behalf of the industry. That situation obtained for some considerable time - right up to the early years of World War II. In those days most of the Queensland cotton was grown in the Dawson-Callide Valley, which is adjacent to where I live. In more recent times development has taken place at Cecil Plains on the Darling Downs. The land in that area is irrigated. The growth of the industry there has been so spectacular that the ginnery which for so many years had been in use at Whinstanes in Brisbane was moved to Cecil Plains, lt is operating there now. lt is unlikely that there will be much future expansion in dry land cotton. Dry land cotton is grown to a small extent only and, generally speaking, it is uneconomic. It has to be planted in such a fashion that it can be harvested mechanically. Mechanical harvesters are used on dry land cotton as well as on irrigated cotton.

It is generally agreed that the most spectacular development in Australia has been in the Namoi area. I understand that about 80% of the total amount of bounty is paid to the growers in that area. The Ord scheme has been mentioned. Having seen the Ord area, T see no reason why cotton growing there cannot be expanded. The area could produce a lot of cotton in the future. Another way in which the bounty has benefited Australia greatly has been in the saving of foreign exchange. Four years ago cotton imports cost Australia $16m per year. For the last complete year cotton imports cost the country only $2m. One can imagine the saving in foreign exchange that has been achieved because of the bounty paid over that period. The increase in the production of the Australian crop has been spectacular. In 1964 the cotton industry throughout Australia produced 12,000' bales. In 1968, 4 years later, production had increased to 150,000 bales. The estimate for next year is 168,000 bales. It has been mentioned already that Australian spinners require about 130,000 bales. Some of this requirement must be imported because we do not grow a suitable type of cotton. Consequently, quite an amount of Australian produced cotton has been available for export and sale overseas.

Last year it was found necessary for the Parliament to amend the Cotton Bounty Act to make it clear that the cotton bounty could be paid on export cotton as well as on locally consumed cotton for which the original Act had been designed. When the bounty was originally applied nobody envisaged that there would be such a spectacular expansion of the industry and that we would become a cotton exporting nation. As the bounty is a fixed sum each year there has already been a reduction in the amount paid to growers per lb of seed cotton because of the vastly increased production. In 1964 the bounty was more than 14c per lb; in 1965 it had gone down to 13.8c per lb; in 1966 it was 8.9c per lb; in 1967 it was back up to 1 0.1c per lb; in 1968 it was down to 5.6c per lb; and in 1969, based on the estimated production and with a ceiling of $4m on the bounty, which is in the course of being phased out, it will be down to 4.9c per lb. In 1970, with a ceiling of $3m on the bounty, the amount per lb will be down to 3.5c, and in 1971, with a ceiling of $2m, the bounty will be down to 3.2c per lb. The bounty is being phased out gradually to avoid any undue dislocation of the industry and to enable it to proceed in an orderly way.

I should like now to cite the production per acre in Australia. Yields have increased from 180 lb of seed cotton per acre in 1964 to 987 lb pex acre in 1968. The increase comes from the big irrigation areas which arc now producing. To show how the yield of 987 lb per acre compares with the yield achieved in other countries I mention that in the United States of America the yield is 511 lb per acre, in Mexico 613 lb, in Brazil 246 lb, in Russia 757 lb, in India 118 lb, and in Uganda 60 lb. Industry representatives estimate that on existing areas and under normal conditions the current upper production potential is about 180,000 acres in Australia. 1 presume that most of that would be irrigated land because, as I mentioned earlier, it is uneconomic to grow cotton on dry land. I point out also that there is no reason why the Australian cotton textile industry should not be able to seek out export markets for manufactured cotton goods and thus earn export income on a manufactured article instead of exporting raw cotton or cotton lint. Rising costs in other so-called cheap labour countries could help us in this regard.

Because of our efficiency and cheapness of production there is no reason why we cannot enter world markets and export manufactured cotton goods. Who would have believed a few years ago that Australia could export rice to the world markets, compete with other countries and build up a fairly substantial export in that product? I see no reason why we cannot do the same in cotton textiles. I believe that this is quite possible and that it should be our objective. I believe that the bounty has put the cotton industry on a sound basis and that the Government is right in starting to phase out the bounty. 1 qualify this by saying that if at some future time it is found that increased costs of production or other factors make it impossible for the industry to carry on, consideration may have to be given to the re-introduction of some form of assistance or bounty. The removal of the bounty is not final; it is being removed for the time being. I believe that the Govern ment is pursuing the right policy. I along with others, wonder why the Opposition has proposed an amendment when it has only one speaker to support the amendment. Apparently the Opposition does not have much faith in the amendment. 1 oppose the amendment and I support the Bill.

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