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Friday, 3 August 1906

Mr SKENE (Grampians) . - I think that the honorable member for Franklin touched the key-note of this question when he asked what might have appeared to be a somewhat irrelevant question. During the course of his speech, he inquired why we should not give bounties for the production of wheat and other products. A bounty on wheat is unnecessary, because our wheat industry is now facing the markets of the world. But the question asked by the honorable member points to the supreme test to be applied in dealing with milters of this kind. Everything depends upon a judicious selection of the industries to be assisted in this way. We are indebted for the whole of our national wealth to the exporting industries. Mere production for local consumption does not, to my mind, mean wealth. But any industry which, having been assisted to a small or even to a considerable extent, is eventually able to compete in the markets of the world, must bring wealth to the country. Although it may cost something at the outset to establish such industries, as soon as they are fairly set going on sound lines they are sure to yield a return. The honorable member for Franklin referred to the attempts which have been made in Victoria to establish industries by means of bonuses. I think that his statement that, with the exception, perhaps, of the butter industry, we have very little indeed to show for that system, is practically correct.But the butter industry was one that fulfilled the conditions that I would impose in regard to the adoption of a bounty system. It is one for which our soil and climate are suitable, so that it cannot help succeeding. The industries which have established themselves in Australia already - the pastoral, agricultural, and mining industries - are primary in more senses than one. They are primary in the order of development, and also in the sense that they require the employment of very little skilled labour. The returns given by the pastoral and agricultural industries are very easily won in Australia. I do not think that there is any other place in the world in which a crop of wheat can be sown and garnered at less expense than in this country. That is why t!h.e agricultural industry has so readily established itself here. There are other industries, which it is more difficult to enter upon, but which, if established, will eventually yield good results, and it behoves us to see if we cannot offer inducements for their establishment.' There are immense potentialities in this country if we can put labour on our land. For some of the productions to which it is proposed to give a bounty, we may look for a good home market, and. later, for an export trade. According to the Minister's figures, the value of the cocoa imported into Australia is about ,£205,000 'per annum, and, of the rice, £226,000. Those sums ave considerable, and I think part, and perhaps eventually the whole, of the money might well be paid to our own people. The importation of preserved fish is valued at /280.000 per annum, and of condensed milk at £194,000 per annum. Possibly the milk-preserving industry may, in the future, follow the lines of the buttermaking industry, so that we shall have a large export trade in preserved milk. I am more doubtful about the success of the flax and hemp industries, and the proposals for encouraging the production of rubber, -coffee, and cotton deserve much wider consideration than it is necessary to give to some of the others, because thev are tropical products. Both sides of the House have expressed adherence to the white labour policy, and we are therefore bound 'to consider how our northern territories can be developed with white labour. The leader of the Opposition said, some time ago. that he would rather see that country remain undeveloped than allow a departure from the White Australia policy, and most people would agree with him to a very considerable extent. But we have a duty in providing for, to use a phrase which has recently come into use, the " effective occupation " of our territory. In my school days the population of the world was estimated at 800,000,000, while it is now estimated at 1,580,000,000. If it continues to increase at that rate, we shall not be allowed to hold land which we are not using. We know that one of the nations of Europe, in particular, makes no secret of its intention to enlarge its navy, in order to extend its colonial influence, and to increase its commerce. Therefore, having adopted the policy of a White Australia, we may be called upon to justify our occupation of the northern parts of the Continent, and are thus placed in a position which compels us to do something for their development. The importation of raw cotton into Australia last year was valued at only £20,962 ; but there is a good deal to be said in favour of an attempt to establish cotton-growing here. I have a friend connected with the Geographical Society, who takes a great interest in the matter. Recently, in reply to a request for information as to the prospects of cotton-growing by white labour in the northern parts of Australia. I received from him a letter in which he writes -

The cultivation of our special new Australian variety of cotton..... can be very profitably worked by white labour, provided the Federal Government will import a proper supply.

He sends two sheets of. a letter received from Dr. Thomatis, Bh.D'., of Cairns, one re his coffee, of which, my friend has a splendid sample, and the other re the cotton, "which," my friend writes -

He continues to improve, and for which he has a market at is. 6d. per lb. Such a price for a cotton yielding one ton of lint (ginned cotton) per acre, seems much too "good to be true, but I have a letter from a Mr. Hedley, of Sunday 'Island, King's Sound, Western Australia, to whom I sent seed/ that even in his almost barren island, the trees yielded 'in the first nine months 112 bolls per tree, equal to i£ lbs. seed cotton, equalling 1,200 lbs. per acre, and that although they had experienced a drought for that season, the cotton trees did not appear to be affected by it. The tree comes, into profitable bearing on the second year, and is perennial.

I have also a copy of some reports issued to various Governments by Mr. John Bottomley, who says -

I left England at the close of 1903, for the purpose of collecting information for the British Cotton-Growing Association, as to whether cotton could be successfully cultivated in Queensland under present conditions. On my arrival in Australia. I was commissioned by the Governments of Queensland, South Australia, and Fiji, to report on the cotton question in those States. I have traversed the whole of Queensland and the Northern Territory of South Australia, and visited many of the islands in the Fiji group, and the results of my investigations have been embodied in reports to the British Cotton-Growing Association, and to the Federal and State Governments of Australia.

I do not intend to make many quotations from his. report, nor to consider his suggestions as to what might be done by means of black labour, because we wish to employ only . white labour ; but, in a report to the late Premier of South Australia, he says -

Many years ago several attempts were made to establish cotton-growing in Queensland, but after a trial lasting for several years, the industry was abandoned, and at the present time is non-existent. Although cotton had been grown in the early history of Queensland, it was not until the time of the American civil war that the industry became important. In 1862 14,344 lbs. of cotton were exported, of an average value of is. nd. per lb.; and from that date up to 1871 8,000,000 were exported. A large bonus, granted by the Government on every bale of cotton exported, helped to stimulate the industry. Later on it was decided to abolish the subsidy, and very soon cotton ceased to be cultivated. Then the idea of manufacturing their own cotton fabrics in the State came to the front, and lead to the second period of cotton-growing. The Queensland Parliament sanctioned the payment of a. large sum of money to the first factory which turned out a quantity of cotton manufactured goods. With' this inducement a company was formed, and a factory established at Ipswich ; and thus with the prospect of a market at their doors, the farmers at West Moreton again included cotton among their crop. This revival, however, was short-lived, lasting only from 1890 to 1897, when financial difficulties brought the operations of the cotton manufacturing company to an end ; and by this misfortune cotton-growing was stopped for a second time. It was proved, however, that cotton could be grown, and experience was gained as to the soils to be selected. Errors were made in planting on rich alluvial ground, where the plant grew vigorously, but produced wood rather than cotton fibre. One difficulty attaching to the cottongrowing industry is the amount of labour demanded in picking, and although the work is light, it involves an outlay of much time, and this renders the crop only profitable when cheap labour is available for the" purpose. Hence the Federal laws, which prevent the introduction of cheap coloured labour, seriously affect the question of re-starting the industry. But hopes are entertained that cotton may be grown in districts where the white farmer can cultivate it on small holdings, capable of being managed by a white family with occasional hired labour. I have spent about six months in Queensland, acting on the Commission appointed last January by the State Government for the purpose of ascertaining whether cotton could be successfully grown by white labour. An officer of the Department of Agriculture accompanied me', -and we both traversed the State, interviewing farmers, examining soils, &c, and the results of our investigations were embodied in a report which the Government forwarded to the British CottonGrowing Association of Manchester. We came to the conclusion that' cotton could be successfully cultivated by the farmers in small and easily worked areas (from 5 to 10 acres) as an adjunct: to other crops; but that it could not be successfully grown in large plantations in the absence of cheap coloured labour. That is the view I still hold. I found, however, that in Queensland the farmer wished to be guaranteed a minimum price for several years before undertaking the cultivation of cotton. The Queensland farmer is quite aware that to cultivate cotton successfully' it is necessary to receive some measure of protection from the coloured labour of the tropical countries. If tropical Australia is to enter into competition with- other countries in the production of cotton, the conditions must be equalized as respects labour, or he must receive protection by the granting of a bonus or the fixing of a minimum price. The successful establishment of cotton cultivation in the Northern Territory at the present time will depend to a large extent on the prevailing economic conditions, especially on the possibility of cultivating other and more profitable crops than cotton, as well as on the supply of labour and ihe facilities for transport.

As there is a possibility of something being done in the direction of cotton-growing in our northern districts, we are bound to offer encouragement to the industry. We cannot satisfactorily attempt to hold our northern country if we are not prepared to do something for its development. I agree with what other speakers have said as to the need for protective legislation. The establishment of a Federal bureau of agriculture was proposed at a very early stage in the history of this Parliament by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo. The Minister, in introducing the measure referred to the need for obtaining assistance from the Departments of the States, and, so satisfied have I always been that it is necessary to work in co-operation with the States, that I moved an amendment to the motion of the honorable and learned member, to the effect that pending the establishment of a Federal Bureau of Agriculture, assistance should be sought from the States Departments. I also think that some means should be provided for obtaining expert opinions as to the localities in which various products could be grown to the greatest advantage. It would be useless to leave it open to farmers to. embark upon the cultivation of crops in localities entirely unsuitable as to soil and climate. Unless something is. done in the direction I have indicated, a large amount of money will be wasted.. We shall have a repetition of the experience gained in Victoria in connexion with vineyards which were planted in unsuitable localities solely with the object of obtaining the bonus offered by the Government. Considerable areas near Melbourne were planted with vines, under the encouragement of the bonus, but. grass is now growing amongst the vines, and sheep are grazing in the vineyards.. The State should be divided into districts suitable for the growth of specified products, and the bounty should be payable on l\, inrespect to operations carried on under conditions which would offer a reasonableprospect of success. I think, that we have a very important work to perform in- regard to the industrial development of the Commonwealth, and particularly in regard to the occupation of the Northern Territory, but I trust that before any definite steps are taken the whole question will be very carefully thought out. . If reasonable care is taken in connexion with the regulations, good results may be brought about.

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