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Wednesday, 29 August 1906

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) . -The Minister of Trade and Customs has acted most unreasonably in this matter. A case has been made out for the presentation of certain information, and the Minister confesses that he is unable to afford it.

Sir William Lyne - I do nothing of the kind.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am speaking of the matters to which reference has just been made. The honorable gentleman has stated that he cannot supply the information sought by the honorable member for Wentworth.

Sir William Lyne - And no one else can.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the Minister mean to tell me that no one can tell what is the ordinary life of the rubber tree?

Sir William Lyne - That information has already been given in Hansard.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then what information was sought?

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member for Wentworth wanted me to say the amount which I should annually require to disburse by way of bounty upon each product specified in the schedule to the Bill.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am afraid that, even at the risk of incurring the Minister's anger, I must make a few observations.

Sir William Lyne - Do anything to delay the passing of the Bill.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Prime Minister made some most unwarrantable charges last week when he declared to a press representative that Opposition members had been wasting time the whole of Friday morning.

Mr Deakin - So they had.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am surprised that the Prime Minister should talk so recklessly, and make statements which are so absolutely devoid of foundation. He is becoming even more reckless in his statements than is the Minister who is in charge of this Bill, and I think that it is about time he took himself in hand. He is evidently losing his senses, of he would not make wild charges against honorable members who are seeking to establish some reasonable basis for the disposition of the money proposed to be granted under this Bill, and for its allocation when it shall become due. I find that the Minister of Trade and Customs knows absolutely nothing about this matter. This bounty system is to be administered by al Minister who tells us that he knows nothing whatever about tropical industries. Yet he should have concentrated in his Department the whole of the technical Knowledge required for a proper and wise distribution of this money. So far from the free-traders upon this side of the Chamber having originated this demand for knowledge, I would remind the Prime Minister that it emanated from two protectionists who, from long experience of the bounty system, foresaw that the money might as well be thrown into the sea unless its expenditure were wisely supervised.

Mr Wilks - The honorable and learned member for Bendigo said the same thing.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am speaking more particularly of the honorable member for Echuca and the honorable member for Gippsland. . They know a great deal more about this subject than does the Minister of Trade and Customs, or the Prime Minister, and they have preferred a request for information concerning some plan which ought to be formulated before this money is expended. Let us put the matter upon a purely business basis. If a proposal were made to annually spend £75,000 of private funds in any trade or business operation, what would be the first step taken ? Would, not a committee of management be appointed to deal with the allocation of the money, and to ascertain all particulars connected with the industry in which it was to be embarked? Would not a complete scheme be drawn up showing how the money was to be expended, and what return was likely to result from it? In other words, in any private business undertaking the expenditure of £75,000 annually would necessitate the expenditure of £3,000 or £4,000 in the same period for expert advice and supervision. But when we come to deal with' public money it seems that its expenditure is to be controlled only by a Department which is confessedly in total ignorance. I am now making no accusation against the officers of the Customs Department. They cannot be expected to possess the necessary expert knowledge upon all these matters, and, therefore, I say that, prior to the voting of this money, we should inaugurate a branch of tropical industry, no matter how modest its dimensions may be. There should be some system of supervision organized before the money is even allocated, much less expended. As I pointed out on Friday last, the industries, the establishment of which it is proposed to encourage, will have to come into competition with similar industries outside of Australia. In Java, for instance - as Senator Staniforth Smith has pointed out - there exists a most highly organised bureau of tropical industries, and the best experts in the world are engaged in teaching the people how to grow and develop the products of those industries. Our own people must come into competition with these coloured people who have not attained the degree of civilization and comfort which we have set up in Australia. We are asked to embark upon an industry without the special knowledge which they possess, and which is provided for them by a Government whose very existence depends upon the encouragement of these tropical enterprises. That being the case, ought we not to do something to insure the 'success of this experiment ? What have we to show for the money which has been expended in the form of bonuses throughout Australia up to the present time? What has Victoria to show for the expenditure which she has incurred in that direction? There is not a Victorian representative in this Parliament who will not acknowledge that, outside of the butter bonus, that expenditure has been absolutely fruitless. If we turn to Queensland, what do we find ? The cotton industry has gone down. For the past forty years - off and on - bonuses have been granted with a view to encourage its establishment, but these have failed in their object because they were allocated in the same haphazard way that the Minister proposes the money made available under this Bill shall be allocated. In other words, they have been doled out with a political object, and not for the purpose of benefiting business enterprises which have been bond fide entered upon by those engaged in them. That is the outstanding feature in the history of tonuses all over ' Australia. Under this Bill, we are apparently going to repeat the same process, only upon a much more extensive scale. We are told that the Minister and his officers will exercise supervision over the amount of bounty to be distributed from time to time. If we are going to sanction the payment of money for this purpose by all means let us start under the most favorable conditions. Let us see, for example, that the kind of cotton grown is the best, and that it is cultivated in the places most suited to its production. And so with the proposals in regard to the production of coffee and milk. Let us see that the environment of those industries is such as will commend itself to those who have had long experience and . possess the most expert knowledge concerning them. That experience and knowledge is available to us; but apparently we are going to make no effort to avail ourselves of it. Of the sum proposed to be appropriated under this Bill, £3,000 or £4,000 per annum ought to be expended in obtaining the most expert knowledge that can be secured with regard to these industrial enterprises. The speech made the other day by the honorable member for Echuca appeals StronglY to me. The honorable member pointed out that in America - that go-ahead, successful country - a man who has the slightest difficulty in any of these enterprises receives the assistance of an expert who teaches him how to overcome it. The expert teaches him what is the best kind of seed to sow, and how to tend it, and bring it to maturity in the most successful way. Here, nothing of the sort seems to have been thought of. All that we know is that we are on the eve of a general election, and that the Government find it convenient to throw out halfamillion of money 'to the far-back farmers of Australia. So far from helping the farmers of the Commonwealth, if we induce them to enter upon these enterprises, and they fail when the bounties terminate, we shall strike a. blow at the best interests ' . of the country, and do no good to the people we have allured into these industries. Are we going to see that some success shall result from these efforts? I presume that in granting bonuses the intention is that they shall not be a constantlyaggregating quantity, extending in perpetuity, but that at some time or other those to whom they are given must be left to make their way in competition with the industrial enterprises of the world. If these industries are to be kept alive by the bounty system, and if, owing to defective cultivation or want of the latest and best knowledge concerning them, they are to collapse the moment the bounties cease - and that is the history of the bonus system in Australia - we shall do a great wrong to the people who will be induced to enter them, and shall do no good to the Commonwealth. All that I ask is that business methods shall be applied to the allocation of these moneys, and the inspection of the industries to which they are devoted. If we are going to pay away this large sum every year, let us see that it is expended under the direction of the best available expert talent. If we expend a proportion of it in acquiring that expert assistance, we shall make a wise beginning, and insure a wise termination to the whole series of experiments about to be made. This is the plea I put to the Minister. I ask him to tell the Committee whether he or his officers have in mind a plan with this end in view. We might as well throw this large sum into the depths of the sea as distribute it without any guarantee that the best expert knowledge will be available to see that it is well expended.

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