Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 3 August 1906

Mr WILKINSON (Moreton) .- The honorable member for New England has argued that we should not grant bounties to encourage industries which are likely to be established naturally. Had' that policy been adopted in the past, I venture to say that the development of Australia would have been very much retarded. We mortgaged both our present and our future in order to develop the resources of this continent by building railways and telegraphs, and in a hundred other different ways. We did far more than private enterprise would have done under the circumstances. Whilst I admit that most of the industries enumerated in this Bill will eventually be established 'under natural conditions-

Mr Lonsdale - They exist now.

Mr WILKINSON - I propose to speak of an industry in which I was engaged in my youth. I know something about the cotton industry, and I am not one who is prone to waste the time of the House, and to feel most assurance upon matters concerning which I am most ignorant. I agree with the honorable member for Franklin and the honorable member for New England that the cotton industry, will eventually be established in the Commonwealth, irrespective of whether we grant a bounty to it or not. But the .question we have to consider is, " Will it not pay the Commonwealth to set aside a certain sum of money to encourage the early establishment of that enterprise, in view of the important part which it is likely to play in our economic and industrial development?" Australia, I think, is more favorably situated than is any other country for the production of cotton. We are near the most populous Empires in the world, the inhabitants of which are nearly all clad in cotton. I refer to the Chinese and Japanese Empires. It may be that by-and-by wool will enter more and more largely into the texture of the clothing of their people, but at the present time cotton is the fabric with which their myriads clothe themselves. If Australia 'had to supply the demand for cotton of the Japanese alone, this particular industry would be one of the most important in the Commonwealth. According to a memorandum that I have before me, they imported during the first six months of 1904 151,693,259 lbs. of raw cotton. My view is that not a pound of the cotton required! bv Japan need come from any other place than Australia. I think it was the leader of the Opposition who said last night that industries which were successful in other parts of the world might prove a failure in Australia. I interjected at the time that they might improve in Australia. We have ample evidence that there is something in that contention. In Andalusia, Spain, as well as other places, very fine wool is produced, but when the sheep from those lands were acclimatized in Queensland and other parts of Australia, they improved to such, an extent that to-day there is no finer wool in the world than the merino of Australia. Although I am not an expert, I think I can safely make that statement.

Our climatic conditions in certain circumstances will improve staples, whether animal or vegetable, that have practically reached the acme of perfection, under the climatic conditions of other parts of the world. Great and vast as our pastoral industry is becoming, with all the subsidiary returns obtained from it, I believe that in the cotton industry we have one that will by-and-by assume much greater proportions. I should like to see the pastoral and every other industry in the Commonwealth grow. In reply to the interjection of the honorable member for New England, who said a few minutes ago that the industries in respect of which bounties were proposed to be given were all peculiar to Queensland, I may say that I believe that cotton will Le successfully grown in the northern parts of Victoria, as well as over a large part of New South Wales, a certain part of Western Australia, and certainly in the Northern Territory.

Mr Knox - It will be grown in all that northern belt.

Mr WILKINSON - That is so. The Commonwealth is within a zone which, so far as its climatic conditions are concerned, will admit of the growth of cotton in twothirds of the territory. I am speaking, not as a Queenslander, but as one who desires to see established in Australia an industry that iwa 11 assume proportions of which we have at present but a very "slight conception. I have a number of reports from men who have engaged in the cotton industry. I have already mentioned that, as a youth, I had something to do with it, and I know that .cotton can. be produced with a minimum of labour. It is not costly to grow. The chief difficulty is experienced at the time of picking. I should be one of the last to advocate the establishment - especially by Government subsidization - of any industries which would take away our children from school. When, cotton was being grown in Queensland some years ago certain arrangements were made by the Council of Education - not the Department of Instruction that we now have in that State - to allow children a certain time off in given seasons of the year. That is a principle in which I do not believe. Mechanical science and invention have solved more difficult problems than those relating to the picking of cotton. I confess that knowing what I do about the growth of cotton. I thought it was almost impossible to secure a machine that would pick it without also picking- the withered leaves from the bottom of the pod, and allowing them to mix with the cotton, which would thus be rendered useless. According to a recent report from America, however, the difficulty of picking cotton by mechanical means has been solved, and cotton can now be picked by those means at a very much cheaper rate than is possible by the employment of low-paid negro child labour. Australian inventors have shown before that their mechanical genius is quite equal to the conditions with which we have to contend. We have already invented several machines that have been adopted in other parts of the world. In the Mallee country the cost of clearing by ordinary means was so great that the land would have been practically useless, but for the invention of the stump-jumping- plough. Stripper harvesters and other machines peculiar to Australia and Australian conditions have also been invented. Given proper encouragement we shall find amongst our own people not only the enterprise, but the mechanical genius necessary to enable us to cope with all the difficulties that are likely to confront us in the establishment of the industries enumerated in the Bill. As to the quality of the staple, the honorable member for Franklin paid a well-deserved compliment to Dr. Thomatis. of Cairns, with respect to the celebrated " Car 0vanica " species of cotton which he has produced there. The virtue of that cotton is that it is a perennial j its fibre; is long and fine, and it commands at present a high price. So far as I have been able to judge, however, its yield' is not so great as is that of the ordinary shrub cotton grown in other parts. It is certainly finer, and is, I believe, a cross between the Peruvian and Sea Island varieties. Last season we produced in Queensland cotton which, according to the reports, was of excellent quality. Honorable members, doubtless saw a paragraph published in the press during the present week, to the effect that some of the cotton produced in Queensland last season was sent to the Liverpool market, and that bids were made for it, although it was ultimately withdrawn from sale The brokers stated that it was worth from rod. to nd. per lb. The average price obtained for cotton sent from America to England is from 4½d. to 5½d. per lb., so that the incident shows that the quality of the staple has not deteriorated under Australian conditions, but that, like merino wool, it seems to have improved. Objection has been raised to the encouragement of- the cotton industry, because, on a former occasion, when the Queensland Government subsidized it to a considerable extent, -a satisfactory result was not achieved. I have on previous occasions tried to account for the failure of the venture, and I hope I shall not be accused of tedious repetition if I briefly recount the causes. I have been asked privately, and also in the House, how it was that the industry was not established' at that time. Mr. Daniel Jones, the expert associated with the Agricultural Department of Queensland, has given his reasons, one of them being that we were not sufficiently acquainted with the conditions of culture essential to success. But to my mind the chief reason was that in those days we planted all sorts of seeds, and secured a mixed staple that would appeal to the experts in the cotton manufacturing centres of the old world just as successfully as would a bale of unclassified wool. There are other honorable members who know more about wool than I do, but I think they will agree that the value of our clip would be considerably reduced if, instead of properly classifying our product we adopted the system which- was adopted in the case of cotton. We had the Uplands. New Orleans, Sea Island, Egyptian, and other varieties growing. The farmers in those days walked along the drills and sowed a mixture of all kinds, with the result that we secured a mixed crop, which was not worth nearly as much as it would have been had we sown particular varieties. Further than that, in those days we had no experts to advise us. We had insect pests which we did not know how to combat. Long and tedious delays were also experienced in securing the returns from the crop sent to the old country, because it was conveyed, not in steamships, as would be the case to-day, but in sailing vessels. At that time we had but little railway extension. The cotton crop had to be brought, bv means of bullock waggons and horse drays, into centres, where it was ginned ; nowadays it would be conveyed to those places by rail. The delay to-day would be infinitesimal as compared with what it was before, and I am satisfied that, under present conditions, a very much smaller return would pay the farmer. In those days, the bounty given by the Queens- land Government was distributed in such a way that, although indirectly it doubtless enabled the purchasers of raw cotton to give a slightly increased price, the farmers themselves did not receive the benefit of it. It was given chiefly to landlords, and it led to the accumulation of large estates, rather than to the encouragement of small holdings devoted to the growth of cotton. All of these conditions helped at the time to bring about the failure of the industry. The conditions to-day are entirely different, and I think we should now embark upon the enterprise under far more favorable conditions. Whilst we are free to admit that the industry must grow, it may take thirty, forty, or fifty years to do so naturally, whereas, as the result of the stimulus proposed by the Government, it might become a big industry in the course of five or ten years. Is it worth while spending this money to bring about in ten years that for which we might, under normal conditions, have to wait fifty years ? We are wise in providing this little nest-egg, so that we may reap the advantage of the industry at an earlier date than we should otherwise do. In dealing with this Question, some honorable members appear to have lost sight of the possibility of manufacture. We are ' now importing a certain quantity of cotton to be mixed with wool in the manufacture of certain goods. We have a small quantity of machinery for the manufacture of cotton, and it has been demonstrated that, within the Commonwealth, cotton can be manufactured of a quality Quite as good as anything that has been produced in any other part of the world. I may be. twitted with the fact that although cotton manufacture was encouraged in Queensland by means of a bonus, it proved a failure. I am compelled to admit that that was so, though the time at my disposal does not permit me to fully explain the circumstances. It is sufficient to say that the enterprise got into the hands of men who were anxious, not to encourage the industry, but to make money by the sale of their property. Machinery which used to employ about 100 hands, who were not ill paid, is now lying idle, covered with white lead and grease. That machinery ought to be working, and, if in use, would give employment to some of those who are now living on the charity of the State. The Queensland duty on cotton-piece goods at the time this experiment was made was the same 'as the present Commonwealth duty. I should like to see the rate raised, to 'give more encouragement to the growing and manufacture of cotton by our own people. The inhabitants of the northern parts of Australia, like other peoples living in hot climates, are largely wearers of cotton, and the possibilities of the cotton industry there are therefore enormous. Capital has been made of the fact that the cotton expert of the Queensland Agricultural Department has stated that the cotton-growing industry should succeed without the aid of a bounty. I have already admitted that it will do so, but it will take longer for that to happen than it is wise for us to wait. He has shown that the cost of production is about ^£3 16s. 2d. per acre, and letters received from persons engaged in the cultivation of cotton last season inform me that £9 per acre has been netted, by their enterprise.

Mr Ewing - They were working on small areas.

Mr WILKINSON - In Australia there are not large plantations such as are to be found in the southern States of America, and I hope that cotton-growing will always be done here on small areas, so that, instead of having large numbers of men living in barracks upon big estates, without home ties, and caring not how the country is ruled, so long as they have food, clothing, and shelter, we may have numbers of small holdings, each supporting a comfortable home, and may thus rear a sturdy yeomanry, always ready and willing to use their rifles in defence of their property and of the Commonwealth. The great need of this country is homes, and, by the establishment of small holdings, we shall increase the number of homes, and the work of the farms will be dane largely by the owners and their families. I hope to go into this matter in greater detail when the Bill gets into Committee. There are also immense possibilities in the development of other industries which the Bill seeks to encourage. When speaking in this Chamber a short time ago-, I referred to the possibility of profitably producing castor oil in Australia. I am not entirely enamoured of the proposal to encourage the production of China oil, because I do not think that we can compete against the coolie women of India, who are employed to follow the drills, and, by pulverizing" the soil with their fingers, to extract the nuts and remove little lumps and. stones. There is no reason, however, why the castor oil industry should not thrive in Australia. The castor oil plant is sometimes grown as an ornament in gardens in Victoria, and grows wild in the northern parts of New South Wales and in Queensland, the seed germinating almost anywhere. The crop is not difficult to harvest, since the fruit grows in bunches, and is easily hulled by .the thrashing process, while the percentage of oil in the berries is very large. I do not see why Australia should not meet her own requirements in regard to castor oil, and I am glad that the Government are offering a bounty for its production. I am also in favour of the proposed bounty for the production of fibres. A short time ago, the Queensland Government distributed a large number of plants to encourage the production of sisal hemp, and those who are experimenting find that the crop is likely to prove profitable. It has " been argued that these industries will be established by natural development, and, no doubt, that is so ; but it will pay the Commonwealth to stimulate production, so that we mav get returns ten, twenty, or thirty years sooner than would otherwise be the case. I have much more information here, but have occupied the house sufficiently long at this stage, and will therefore conclude by promising my hearty support to the measure, and expressing the hope that its passing will result in the greater development of our agricultural and rural industries.

Suggest corrections