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Wednesday, 29 August 1906


Mr MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) .- I shall oppose the Bill, because I thoroughly agree with the honorable member for Grey and others that not the slightest effort has been made to afford the Committee the information which should be furnished before such a large sum of money as that now contemplated is voted. It may be a trifling matter for the Minister to propose to spend £500,000, but in view of the fact that the proposed appropriation would impose further heavy burdens upon the States which are already subjected to a severe financial strain, I do not think that the proposal is warranted. The honorable member for Moreton made a most interesting speech, but unfortunately for him, almost everything he said in favour of granting a bounty for the production of cotton, amounted to a condemnation of the proposal. He showed us that forty years ago a bounty was given in Queensland, and that when the bounty ceased at the close of the American civil war, the production of cotton was practically abandoned. I do not know whether the honorable member expected that the American war would be continued, or that the bounty would be granted for an indefinite time, in order to maintain the industry. The honorable member also told us that men of enterprise like Dr. Thomatis, of Cairns, had succeeded in profitably producing cotton without the assistance of a bounty. I have read with the -greatest interest the reports upon the work carried on by Dr. Thomatis, and, in my opinion, it is to men of his character, and not to bounties such as those now proposed, that we have to look for the successful establishment of new industries. The Bill has been prepared with so little care, that it actually contains a proposal for the payment of a bounty for the encouragement of the growth of chicory. Some years ago, one of the enterprising farmers of Tasmania went in largely for the production of chicory, and found that the produce from his farm was more than sufficient to meet the demand for that article in the Commonwealth. As a result, he has. for some years, been trying to get rid of the chicory plants which are now nothing more than troublesome weeds. If the Minister had made any inquiries before framing the Schedule, he would have ascertained that it was absurd to propose to grant-a bonus for the production of chicory. The question with which we are mainly concerned is, whether the finances of the Commonwealth are in such a condition as to warrant the expenditure of £500,000 upon the objects defined by the Bill. _ If we were to fully discharge all our obligations in connexion with transferred properties and in other directions, we should absorb the whole of our surplus, and, in all probability, have to face a deficit. In all likelihood, we shall before very long have to look to new means of raising revenue, and yet we are being asked to practically throw away £500,000. It would be absurd for 11s to spend money in encouraging the development of the cotton-growing industry without paying regard to what is passing in other parts of the world. Quite recently it was announced that the principal English cotton manufacturers had formed a large fund with the object of growing the cotton necessary to meet their own requirements in India, West Africa, and Egypt, where the cheapest labour in the world is available. They propose to make themselves independent of the American cotton crop, .and to place themselves beyond the influence of American manipulators of the cotton market. If the cotton-growing industry in Queensland were developed to the extent that some honorable members seem to think is probable under the stimulus of a bonus, the product would have to be sold in the markets of the world in competition with products of cheap labour in the countries I have mentioned. Therefore, we should probably find ourselves compelled to abandon the industry, or to introduce cheap labour to enable our planters to carry on.


Mr Ronald - Isi there no possibility that labour-saving machinery will render planters independent of the cheap labour?


Mr MCWILLIAMS - For the last thirty years very large rewards have been offered in the United States of America for the production of machines capable of superseding the cheap labour which now has to be employed in the cotton-fields. Although the planters have equipped themselves with the most up-to-date appliances, they cannot dispense with cheap labour, and the lowest wages current in America are paid to the negroes and mean whites employed upon the cotton plantations in the southern States. Honorable members have not been furnished with the information which they have a right to demand in connexion with the various products which are to be made the subject of bounties. I thoroughly agree with the view of the honorable member for Grey, that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, in order that the whole question may be thoroughly investigated. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo has given us some information with regard to the olive oil industry. When I recently visited Mildura, I found that the residents were cutting down their olive trees, not because they were not bearing, but for the reason that it was found to be more profitable to grow grapes. Moreover, there is not a sufficient market for olive oil. The honorable member for Cowper, who, as a business man, has had some experience in handling olive oil, told us that the failure of the local industry was due to the want of a sufficient demand for the product. If the industry were stimulated by means of a bonus, the producers would have to seek a market overseas, and would have to compete with the products of cheap labour countries such as those of southern Europe. The Minister has thrown the Bill upon the table as he would throw a bone into a hen-yard. He is apparently content that honorable members should pick the measure to pieces, and is willing to accept any remnant that may be left. I think that it is time that we took a firm stand against, an expenditure such as that proposed. If the Bill is passed in anything like its present form, a gross injustice will be done to those States which have as much as they can do at present to bear the burden of Federal expenditure. I shall support the proposal to refer the measure to a Select Committee.







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