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Tuesday, 2 April 1957

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .- The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) always fascinates me. He builds his argument like the little swallow builds its nest. First of all he must have a blank wall of opposition to anything that comes from this side of the House, and then, like the little story we read in the school books, there is only half a nest anu. in this case, there is only half an argument. While he is talking about putting problems in perspective, correcting statistics and levelling off the economic stresses and strains, we ask him to have a look at the commonsense arguments put forward by honorable members on both sides of the House in regard to the parlous position in which the timber industry in this country finds itself >

Is it a good thing, despite the Minister's statement that 8,000,000 super, feet of timber is lying at grass in New South Wales, that 80 mills are out of production and that 500 workers are unemployed? These are not my figures; they are statistics provided by Mr. Kraegen, of the Country Sawmillers Association. I am surprised that the case of the country sawmillers has not been fought in this House by the Australian Country party. Is not that party interested in the timber industry? On the north coast of New South Wales from Grafton down to Muswellbrook, and on the south coast from Thirroul to Bega, small timber mills, which have been operating since long before World War II., have been closed down. My information from a reliable authority is that ghost towns have been created in little areas in the bush in New South Wales that have a school, a few houses, a local shop and a post office. These little places are being slowly eliminated. Does the Government and the Australian Country party think that is a good thing? Are they prepared to see these little country towns go out so that we can get cheap timber from Borneo and Malaya?

Let me consider the case of hardwoods. I am no authority on the timber industry, but neither is the Minister, quite obviously. However, I know a fact when I see one and I go out after information when 1 can get it. Let me tell the Minister that there are hardwoods in this country infinitely superior to those coming from overseas. The real nub of the situation in regard to the timber coming into this country is that the timber combines are bringing it in to suit their own purposes. It comes here as ballast, the cheapest form of haulage, and it is a direct and vital thrust at the Australian timber industry. We are not foolish enough to think that we can do without imported timbers, but there has been a complete switch round of timbers and the hardwoods of this country could be employed much more in housing. It is not a question of cost. If the imported timber is kept within a reasonable proportion of the timber grown and processed in this country, what is wrong with that? My objection to the Minister is that he can see nothing but the economics of some scheme that has been talked about in the Cabinet room. His attitude is that everything will be all right if he can continue to use the trowel of conversation upon problems that keep popping up through the nonsensical stuff peddled from that side of the House.

The real thing is the unemployment in the industry, the deep anxiety of these people. Employers and employees are united in this protest. They point out that lots of things are wrong with the timber industry. The Minister talks about heavy royalties in New South Wales. It is to the eternal credit of the McKell Government, and later the Cahill Government, that they rehabilitated the timber resources in New South Wales. Their re-afforestation work has been nothing short of magnificent. The same thing applies in other States. If we are within a measurable distance of knowing what our reserves are and how they can be expanded, why give the industry a punch in the nose - that is what it amounts to - by saying, " Oh, you can get some cheap stuff for the time being from Borneo and Malaya "7 The whole thing is too big for that. As the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) said so soundly and truly, bringing the matter right back to earth, not enough houses are being built to absorb the timber production of this country.

What is the Government going to do about it? lt is always talking about to-morrow, but will things improve to-morrow or the day after? The evidence suggests that they may not, and probably will not. We are always hearing dissertations and reading white-papers from the Government side of the House on our natura] resources. 1 always regret that one of the most vital portfolios in any Government, that of National Development, which is responsible for the utilization of our resources, is not held in the popular House, or the Lower House, so that we could get our teeth into the subject.

We, on this side of the House, have a committee of which the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) is secretary. We have been trying to find out things about the timber industry for a long time now. It is a question of wresting the information from the Government. I will say that the Minister gave us information to-day which was not formerly in our possession. The honorable member for Bass asked, reasonably, whether the Government will give this industry some protection, through a Tariff Board inquiry, by some emergency action, or by an expanded housing programme. The Minister took a mean advantage by reading what was an appendage to the Prime Minister's speech on housing. The Prime Minister did so badly that it is no wonder he wanted some one else to read the appendage.

In the limited time left to me I would support what the honorable member for Bass said in regard to the timber industry. Timber is one of our vital natural resources. Until recently we did not know how much we had, or what uses we could make of it, particularly in our furniture industry, as veneers. We have done some shocking things with our natural timbers. We destroyed whole forests in the early days through ignorance, and to-day, because reafforestation is costing large sums of money, some people are squealing. I do not care how high royalties go. We must relate the growing child to the growing tree. We must have a national housing plan. That would be some improvement. If in the meantime, the industry dies for want of orders, what will the Government's answer be? The honorable member for Bass draws the same picture of the situation in Tasmania as we draw in New South Wales. Little towns are dying because mills are going out of production, or are not operating full-time. When things are booming, the farmer has his little mill and considerable numbers of men rely on these little country mills for employment. The Dorrigo district of New South Wales is practically finished as far as the smaller mills are concerned, and it is the same story all along the north coast, as well as the south coast. This is a very serious situation indeed. Our know-how becomes obliterated under this blitz on housing. If we must correct our economic imbalance before we start to build houses again, something much more serious will happen to the timber industry. The honorable member for Bass should be congratulated for bringing up this matter. It is not a State matter. It should not be a party political matter but it is politics, and high politics at that. The manner in which the honorable member made his points deserves a better reply than the one the Minister gave him. Are there no suggestions beyond the ones the Minister gave us? Can we not do something immediately to restore some sort of confidence within the timber industry? Men employed in the industry, who come to see myself and other Opposition members, tell us frankly that the industry is in the doldrums. The trouble is not due solely to the housing position. Conditions in the industry have been getting progressively worse. Importations of timber are also a threat to the industry. There is need for great afforestation work. Then as new forests mature we may be able to export our surplus soft woods to . adjacent countries. But to-day we are importing timber and, as the Minister for Primary Industry has pointed out, our local timbers are being undersold by 25s. per hundred super, feet. We have workers to feed and an industry to sustain. It is our duty to support it, but we are doing nothing about it.

If the reports are true - and there is no reason to suspect that they are exaggerated - the timber industry in this country is going through a bad time. The Minister's suggestions for its cure are too nebulous and too hypothetical to please the Opposition. We would like to see a Tariff Board inquiry as soon as possible. We would also like to see more fire put into the Australian Country party's support of local rural industries. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) should say something about the timber mills in his electorate.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - He said it in the housing debate.

Mr HAYLEN - I withdraw that remark, because one of the really bad things that happened to me last week was that I was not in the House to hear the right honorable gentleman speak.

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