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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . -I propose to give a brief history of the sugar agreement. During the last twenty years, the Fisher, Hughes, BrucePage, Scullin and Lyons Governments, representing all shades of political thought, observed the same policy in protecting the sugar industry - that of successively renewing the agreement. We are now asked to continue that policy, with which the Opposition is in entire and enthusiastic accord. The only material difference in the method of renewal is that the Lyons Government was the first to make the agreement subject to parliamentary approval, thus upholding the principle of the supremacy of Parliament. This action was first taken in December, 1932; the same method is being applied to the agreement now under discussion. In addition, the Lyons Government secured a reduction of the retail price of sugar by id. per lb. as from January,. 1933. It is only fair to point out, however, that on no occasion has either branch of this Parliament indicated its disapproval of any of the numerous sugar agreements made since 1915, although the subject has been frequently under discussion. During the last twenty years several commissions have inquired into the conditions in the industry ; yet in not one of them, was it suggested that the industry was not deserving of adequate protection, or that any major fault required correction. It is significant that nearly all the members of these and previous commissions were citizens of the Southern States, and wholly disassociated from the sugar industry. The last inquiry was that made by the Commonwealth Committee appointed in 1931,. and it was given the most comprehensive terms of reference directed to any such body. It dealt with land values, alien penetration, wages, conditions of employment, efficiency; costs and profits of growing, milling, refining, shipping, wholesaling, and retailing, the effect of sugar prices on the fruit and other industries, and allied matters. The consumers had three direct representatives nominated by their respective interests, namely, housewives, manufacturers, and fruitgrowers. This committee unanimously recommended an extension of the Sugar Agreement and the embargo for five years. All that the Lyons Government has done on this occasion is to announce another renewal of the agreement for five years, subject to parliamentary approval, at a price lower than either section of the. 1931 Committee recommended. It is noteworthy that the present capital city retail price of 4d. per lb. for refined sugar represents a smaller advance on the pre-war price level than has. occurred in regard to any other staple food except butter. I have extracted the foregoing particulars from a speech delivered in the House of Representatives by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White).

I shall give a few more salient facts regarding the industry. The growers of sugar cane in Queensland and New South Wales number nearly 10,000, and there are 35 raw-sugar mills in those two States. The capital sunk in the farms is estimated at£20,000,000, and the mills with their plants are worth at least £10,000,000. In addition to this a vast amount of capital is invested in the towns, railways, roads, wharves, and other undertakings, which depend for their existence upon the sugar industry. The sugar cane produced in this country in a normal year is about 4,000,000 tons, whilst raw sugar production is approximately 550,000 tons. The coastal freights on the sugar carried by Australian ships amount to about £500,000 a year. The industry provides £200,000 per annum for the assistance of the fruitindustry. All sugar used in manufactured goods exported from Australia is supplied at. the world's parity price. In addition to the farmers, over 20,000 men are employed in the raw sugar industry, including engineers, mechanics, chemists and representatives of nearly all the skilled trades. The industry . also finds employment for hosts of men on wharves, in ships, in refineries, and in other occupations. There is a large sugar refinery in every mainland capital city of the Commonwealth, the Pyrmont refinery in Sydney employing 1,200 men all the year round. Cane cutting is carried out on piecework, the canecutter, like the shearer, being paid by results. Two-fifths of Australia lies within the tropics. Of this vast territory only the sugar districts and some adjacent areas can be regarded as effectively occupied. In striking contrast to this fact, parallel latitudes in Northern and "Western Australia are practically empty and unproductive. Australia is the only country where cane sugar is produced by white labour. At least 90 per cent, of the farmers and sugar workers are British. The services of the industry in maintaining the ideal of a White Australia are inestimable. No bounty has ever been paid to the sugar growers in this country. There are over 1,000 miles of 2-ft. tram lines with steam traction attached to the various sugar mills; most of the tramway material is now being made in Australia. Queensland sugar mills are now making ohe ton of sugar from less than seven tons of cane. This is a world's record and is proof of the high efficiency of the industry. The consumption of sugar, per capita in Australia is greater than that of any other country. Those are tabloid statements on. which I shall enlarge in my remarks. The Opposition congratulates the Government unstintedly on its action in introducing this measure. At this juncture we desire to point out what the Labour party has done in the interests nf this industry. The first sugar agreement was made by two LabourGovernments, the Ryan Labour Government of Queensland and the Commonwealth Labour Government of 1915. and that agreement laid the foundation of the policy that has been followed since then by the Queensland and the Commonwealth Governments in respect of this industry up to the present time. Labour governments have always fought for this industry and invariably have stood for the renewal of the sugar embargo in the face of those who fought for its abolition and advocated the importation of black-grown raw sugar into Australia. Under Labour's policy the Queensland cane farmer has been protected and given security and stability in his industry with the result that at the present time he receives a fair share of the returns from the industry. No Labour government has refused any reasonable request made to it for assistance or guidance from the industry, nor has it rejected any practical scheme advanced in the interests of either this industry, or agriculture generally. In 1915 the Queensland Labour Government passed a Sugar-cane Prices Act, under which was established the Sugar-cane Prices Board, and I draw the attention of honorable senators to the fact that since that day the policy of the fixation of prices in many other primary-producing industries has become quite popular even with anti-Labour governments. Prior to the passing of this legislation the price of cane was determined by the millers, and was usually based on the price that the least efficient mill in the district could afford to pay and at the same time operate at a profit. The extraordinary development of the sugar industry in recent years is due, in great measure, to the inspiration, organization, support and continued encouragement given to it by the Queensland Labour Government, which is continuing this policy to-day. For the last seven years Australia has been producing well over 500,000 tons of sugar per annum, about 300,000 tons of which is required for ' our own use. The balance is exported and sold at world's price.

What are the interests which oppose the sugar agreement every time a proposal to renew that agreement comes before this Parliament ?

Senator E B Johnston - The consumers of sugar

Senator COLLINGS - I am grateful for that interjection. I tell Senator Johnston that nothing is further from the truth. I hope to prove that the sugar consumers of Australia have never opposed this agreement.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - What of the housewives' associations 1

Senator COLLINGS - I expected an interjection of that nature also. I propose to deal with the refractory organizations which, it is alleged, represent the consumers of sugar, but which, by the way, do not represent them. In enumerating those people and organizations who oppose the sugar agreement, I shall begin by mentioning a gentleman named Burnett, whose address is given as No. 9 Martin-place, Sydney. I mention him although perhaps he is not really worth powder and shot. Although he is an elderly gentleman he is pretty prolific with his pen and every now and then in one journal or another he comes out with a diatribe against the sugar industry. Recently an article written by him along such lines was published in a journal in Katoomba, and a friend of mine, happening to read it, forwarded it to me with a request for evidence to rebut the arguments set out in it. After having numerous articles published along these lines in many journals, this gentleman went along to certain sugar interests and said to them : " This is the kind of stuff I am turning out, but for a consideration I am prepared to write exactly in an opposite way; that is if we can come to terms ". That gentleman is of the type of those who according to Senator Duncan-Hughes and other honorable senators, represent the sugar consumers of Australia - a gentleman who is prepared to sell his journalistic ability and his immortal soul to both sides at a certain price.

Senator Grant - Is the honorable senator game to repeat that statement outside this chamber?

Senator COLLINGS - Considering that the gentleman is very old and even his best friends suggest that he should not be roughly handled, because he might collapse under the strain, I do not pro~ pose to do anything of the kind, but I am prepared to give the honorable senator a letter of introduction to this gentleman if he desires to carry my statement to him. I am not looking for an opportunity to become a martyr, but I shall accept the responsibility at any time of refuting in this chamber the statements of such gentlemen.

Senator Grant - Why would not the honorable senator repeat that statement outside this chamber?

Senator COLLINGS - That query is really remarkable. The honorable senator knows I am a man of peaceful inclinations and that I would not willingly take on a fight of that sort. However, if this gentleman can be persuaded to adopt a fighting attitude on this issue, I shall be prepared to have a piece of him. Other people who claim unjustifiably to speak on behalf of the sugar consumers of this country are represented by such organizations as the Henry George League. This is a worthy body, but it is definitely a freetrade league, and as such - and I say this for the particular benefit of Senator Johnston, who also is a freetrader - is anti-Australian because it is opposed- to the policy which this country has adopted as its national policy, a policy which i3 supported by all shades of political opinion and members of this Government, except Senator Johnston, who gives this Ministry somewhat lukewarm allegiance. The Henry George League cannot claim to speak for the sugar' consumers of Australia; being anti-Australian in its outlook, it cannot claim to speak on behalf of any decent Australian. Other organizations of this character are the Freetrade and Land Values League and the Tariff Reform League. These organizations whenever they attack the sugar industry claim to do so behalf of the sugar consumers, but not one of them can justly claim that right. They are anti-tariffists, antiprotectionists, arch-freetraders and antiAustralian, and, as such, ,are not worthy of any notice when a matter of this nature is being considered by honorable senators. Then we have the Housewives Association. We know something about the constitution of that association, and we know that whenever that association has been able, by the exercise of pressure, to secure representation on bodies which have inquired into the sugar industry, and such representatives have been persuaded to make a trip to the cane-fields in Queensland, all of them have come back convinced that their association is wrong in adopting an antagonistic attitude towards this industry. In fact, the Housewives Association is not authorized in any way whatever, even Haider its own constitution, to speak for the sugar consumers of this country, or even for .the women sugar consumers. Another association which is antagonistic to the sugar industry is the Sugar Consumers Association, which has not even progressed so far as to draw up a constitution. This association is the year's best joke. If honorable senators knew the gentlemen who constitute this association, they would realize immediately how utterly unqualified these men are to speak about the sugar industry. All that they can do is to establish contact with certain vested interests which object to the Australian sugar industry being protected as it is by this agreement, in an endeavour to make Australia a cheap-labour country, and thus enable them to further exploit the people and to make enormous profits. There are others not .allied to the Labour party who are .in favour of the bill now before the Senate. I wish to quote the opinion of two honorable senators. One is absent, but the other, owing to the exalted position which he occupies in this chamber, will not have an opportunity to speak on the second reading of the bill. I quote the remarks of Senator Guthrie, who does not support the Opposition, but who is logical in his criticisms. His remarks in Hansard of the 12 th June, 1925, read-

I understand that it is the intention of the Government to place a total embargo upon the importation of sugar into Australia. I do not favour that policy. I realize that it is necessary to give adequate protection to the sugar industry, which is a very fine industry; but I am not in favour of total prohibition. Those people who make a great fuss about the price they 'have to pay for sugar .should realize the excellent position in which they stand compared with the inhabitants of some other countries. Recently, with other honorable senators, I visited .South Africa. We were surprised to find .that, despite the fact that the average rate of wages paid to the workers in the sugar industry in South Africa amounted to only from 8s. to 10b. a -week, compared with an average of 25s. a day in Australia, the price of sugar was no lower than in Australia. The .Queensland sugar fields are so much better managed, and their machinery is so much more efficient, that the price of sugar paid .by the consumer in Australia is no greater than is paid by the consumer in South Africa; and the South African sugar is very inferior to that which is refined in Australia.

Senator Hoare - How does the honorable senator account for that?

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