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Wednesday, 13 December 1905

Sir JOHN QUICK (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - Yes, for the season. The rates are not very high, seeing that the labourers keep themselves.

Mr McWilliams - The men could get better wages down south.

Sir JOHN QUICK - Of course they could. I was informed by Dr. Maxwell, who is the great authority on the subject, that thirty-five acres of cane, giving an average yield of fifteen tons to the acre, at a value of £8 a ton, would return a farmer an annual income of £208. He thinks that necessity alone will bring about the subdivision of the large plantations, and that thatnecessity can be created by increasing the Excise duty. That opinion is the secret of his recommendation of the increase of the Excise duty, an experiment which he proposes should be extended over five years. From the facts which are embodied in his report - I had an interview with' him before he wrote it - I think that we must regard this second period of five years only as an experimental, and not as a final, period. The effect of extending the bounty, however, will be to increase the number of white growers, and production by white labour, and probably the subdivision of the large plantations will be brought about by a higher Excise duty. The imposition of a higher excise is pro posed as a. mild pressure to bring about that subdivision. If it be brought about, I think that it will be possible to establish the white sugar industry in the Mackay and Bundaberg districts, as it has been established in the Logan district ; but I do not think any one can with safety indulge in predictions regarding the tropical Cairns district. We must be content to await developments, and to see the effect of our legislation. At first I was disposed to favorably consider the application of a sliding scale for the gradual reduction of the bounty ; but I do not think that we have sufficient data on which to frame such a scale. It is no use fixing in the dark the period when the bounty shall end. It may be that after five years we shall be able to say, " The sugar-growers in the Mackay, Bundaberg, and Logan districts are no longer entitled to a bounty." I do not say that that will happen, but the drift of events is in that direction. I should like to draw attention to the fact that the quality of the cane, and the number of tons required to produce a ton of sugar, varies in the four districts, so that the bounty is distributed unequally. In the No. 4, or Logan, district, and in New South Wales, the bounty amounts to 4s. per ton of cane, because ten tons of cane are required to give a ton of sugar. In the No. 3, or Bundaberg, district, the bounty is 4s. 4d. per ton of cane, because nine tons of cane are required to give a ton of sugar. In the No. 2, or Mackay, district, the bounty is 4s. 8d. per ton of cane, because eight and a half tons of cane arerequired to give a ton of sugar ; and in the No.1, or Cairns, district, the bounty is equal to 5s. per ton of cane. It has occurred to me to suggest to the House that it would be well to consider whether the amount of the bounty, instead of being regulated, as at present, by the sugar contents of the cane, should be regulated by the labour and climatic conditions of the districts.

Mr McWilliams - Has cultivation nothing to do with the sugar contents?

Sir JOHN QUICK - No. I think it depends entirely on climatic conditions and the quality of the soil. There is a greater variation in the industrial conditions of the different districts than there is in the sugar contents of their cane, and a fair and just distribution of the bounty would pay regard to economic and industrial conditions. It might be found, if consideration were paid to that difference, that the grower in the Cairns district should receive twice as much bounty as the grower in the Logan district. I am not prepared to submit a scheme of distribution, but I think that a more equitable distribution could be arranged on the lines I suggest than that which takes place at present. I think we should extend the bounty for another five years, and, further, that we should increase the. Excise duty in order to offer some inducementtoemployers to substitute white for coloured labour. There is no guarantee that a further extension of the bounty will not be required in the case of No. 1 district ; but there is some hope that, at the end of five years, we shall be able to discontinue it so far as it applies to the southern districts.. It seems to me that the only hope for white labour in connexion with the sugar industry of Queensland lies in the gradual subdivision of the plantations, and closer settlement on. smaller holdings. I shall support the Bill, which, I think, will do an act of justice to Queensland and to the sugar planters who have established their plantations, under the protection of a State law, and in the just expectation that that law would not be altered to their irreparable injury, and in a way involving the confiscation of their estates.

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