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Thursday, 28 June 1906

Mr LEE (Cowper) . - I wish to direct the attention of honorable members to a matter which does not appear to receive the consideration it deserves. The question of the acquirement of the Northern Territory by the Commonwealth should engage our serious attention.

Mr SPEAKER - I take it that the honorable member is referring to the matter dealt with in notice of motion No. 1 for Thursday, 5th July. If so, I cannot permit him to discuss it.

Mr LEE - I had intended to refer to the necessity of the Commonwealth taking immedate steps to acquire the Northern Territory. However, I shall reserve my remarks for the present. I am pleased to hear that the Minister of Trade and Customs has seen fit to modify the proposed regulations under the Commerce Act. On the 22nd May regulations were published in the press which it was stated were shortly to be gazetted. I am glad that the Minister has proved amenable to the pressure brought to bear on him by honorable members, and also to the representations of those interested in various industries. I fancy that he would have experienced a great deal of difficulty in carrying out the proposed regulations, which would certainly have caused an utter dislocation of the trade of the Commonwealth. For the first time it would have been necessary for all potatoes to be washed prior to exportation. It was proposed to insist upon potatoes being "sound, clean, and suitable for export."

Mr Page - That did not mean that they should be washed.

Mr LEE - As potatoes are usuallycovered with the dirt in which they are grown, they could not be cleaned unless they were washed. We were told by the Attorney-General when the Commerce Bill was under discussion that there was no serious intention on the part of the Government to grade butter, but under the proposed regulations a most complete sys tern of grading was provided for. For instance, it was intended to judge the butter, and to indicate its quality by means of a scale of points. If the butter had to be sent to an exhibition, that proposal would have been quite apropriate, because when points are awarded in accordance with the various merits of the exhibit, the conclusions of the judges have an educational value. The judges at shows award so many points for flavour, so many for manufacture, so many for colour, and so many for packing. These points are marked on theboxes, and' they indicate to all those under whose notice they are brought the respects in which the exhibit excels or is deficient. The information thus conveyed is very useful. Under the Government proposal the points awarded to the butter were not to be indicated by marks on the boxes, 'but merely in the certificates, and therefore no persons beyond those immediately interested in the produce would have been any the wiser.

Mr Page - The Attorney-General said there was to be no Federal grading at all.

Mr LEE - Exactly ; but I am pointing out that grading of the most complete character was provided for in the proposed regulations. It was further provided that all butter shouldbe at the appointed place three days before it was exported. Such a regulation would have seriously interfered with the operations of those interested in the trade. It was further stipulated that the butter should be at a temperature not lower than 40 degrees or above 70 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of inspection. Under these conditions, it would have been necessary to carry on the work of inspection at the various factories, and as there are 300 butter factories in New South Wales, an army of two or three hundred inspectors would have been required. It was also proposed that! all butter should be shipped within fourteen days after the Government certificate was granted. I have known butter to lie in

Sydney for three weeks until space was available in an outgoing vessel, and if any such regulation as that indicated had been in force, it would have proved obstructive, and probably have involved intending shippers in very heavy loss. It would have taken the produce out of the control of owners. I would point out that the business methods of those who are now engaged in the butter industry axe far in advance of the proposed regulations. Arrangements have recently been made on behalf of the Byron Bay butter factory - the largest in Australia - to have the butter frozen at the works, and to have it transferred without any appreciable reduction of temperature to refrigerating chambers in the coastal steamers, with the object of transshipping it direct to the ocean-going steamers, by which the produce is to be conveyed to the London market. Would the Government be justified in interfering with arrangements of this kind, which are being made for the benefit of the producers? If the butter is to be graded at the factories, all the produce that fails to pass the test as of. first quality will be placed upon the local market instead of being exported. I have, however, heard some export merchants say that they would not care what the Government did in the matter of branding. The moment their produce reached London they would assert their rights as owners, and remove the brands if they were likely to interfere with the sale of the butter. I have heard some honorable members speak of the superiority of New Zealand butter over that manufactured in the Commonwealth. No doubt it is of a higher quality, but that is not owing to the grading. It is due to the provision of the Dairy Supervision Act in force in that Colony, which requires that the milk shall be aerated. That is one of the great secrets in the manufacture of butter. By aerating the milk, you get rid of all the gases which militate against its being, kept in a fresh condition. The Fresh Food and Ice Company of New South Wales insist upon all their milk being aerated or cooled before it is sent to Sydney, and they are thus en.abled to keep it sweet for a very long time. The New Zealand people have an excellent system of dairy supervision, and go right to the root of things when they insist that the milk shall be aerated. The Commonwealth authorities merely propose to deal with the finished article, and any such system of supervision must be defective. The control of the dairying industry should be in the hands of the States authorities, who, by employing experts to visit the various factories, and to set matters right where they are going wrong, could perform much useful work. The Commonwealth authorities are not in a position to undertake any such supervision., I compliment the Minister upon his intention to insist that packages of goods intended for export shall be correctly marked as to the weight of their contents. The extent to which short-weight packages have been exported from Australia has been disgraceful, and no State has offended in this respect to a greater degree than Victoria. For a considerable time, the butter exporters of that State sent out reputed i-lb. tins which contained only 14J ounces of butter, and, owing to their being able to sell their product at a cheaper rate on account of the short weight, they drove all other Australian competitors out of the trade. I am sorry that the Minister proposes to depend so much upon State officials in carrying out the regulations under the Act. I think that we should enforce our legislation by means of our own officers, and not depend entirely upon State officials. I would suggest that any of the States Governments, or any of the shippers, should be allowed to have a registered brand with which tomark their produce if they so desired. Eventually, the Commonwealth brand may be recognised everywhere, and be the favorite one. But we should not harass an industry with the idea of popularizing our brand. This industry has grown up in nearly all the States without Government assistance. In New South Wales the farmers have not received a £5-note from the State to encourage the butter industry. In fact, at their own expense, they have taught the other States. Their industry was an object-lesson for the State of Victoria, which sent its experts over to New South Wales to inquire into the factory system. We all know what splendid results have been obtained, and in what a systematic manner the butter producers of this State turn out an article which would do credit to any country in the world. InNew South Wales, notwithstanding all the obstacles in the way, the butter industry has been built up to such a degree of perfection that at the Earls Court Exhibition,, in London, the butter produced by the Alstonville factory, on the Richmond River, in the electorate of the VicePresident of the Executive Council, beat all the other butter factories in the British Em- pire. I believe that if the Minister had expert inspectors, and if, when they passed remarks upon butter, they gave their reasons - stating whether the cream had been allowed to stand too long, or indicating other faults which they might observe - the inspection would have an educational value. I am quite satisfied, from what the Minister says, that his desire is to improve the quality of the butter. The only way to improve it is to have regulations of such n character that the inspection will be educational ; so that the farmers, instead of fighting against a system which they regard as an interference, will look upon it as helping them in their work. We have already been told by Ministers that there is to be no brand on the boxes. I think we can take their word. I gather from "these statements that the Minister has listened to the protests which have been put forward by Mr. Meares, the very able manager of the largest co-operative com.pany of its kind in Australia.

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