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Thursday, 27 April 1961


Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- The Opposition was shocked to hear the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) state in the House last week that the Government would not agree to ask the Tariff Board to investigate the possibility of emergency tariff regulations being used to assist the depressed timber industry in Australia. The industry proved an emergency case to the Department of Trade a few weeks ago. Mr. G. B. Leitch, chairman of the Tasmanian Timber Association, stated Tasmania's reaction to this refusal in these terms - _

Mr. McEwenhas said that the problems of the industry were due to a fall in demand, not to excessive imports which were arriving at a rate no greater than the average over the past few years. The Government has completely ignored the fact that imports last year flooded the country at a record level and huge stockpiles were held in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. This stockpiling, along with the fall in the building rate, has caused importers to reduce their importing rate. If and when the building rate recovered, these stocks of imported timber would hit the market at prices well below those at which the Australian industry could produce its timber and would promptly be replaced by further mass imports.

Later in his statement Mr. Leitch said -

The Minister completely overlooked the 50 per cent, fall in demand on its main interstate market, which meant that any further importations were surplus to requirements and must react against the local industry.

The industry cannot survive in security against the twin hammer-blows of massive imports of timber from abroad and the indiscriminate credit squeeze. Sawmills in Tasmania and other States continue to close. Stockpiles of unsold timber in Tasmania are a grim throwback to the depression years. Scores of other sawmills are on a two to four-day working week. Many have stopped logging in the bush and contractors are looking for work. Towns that were dependent on sawmills are slowly dying an economic death as mills close or slow down production and as employees find no alternative employment in the district because the mills are often the only industry that keeps these towns alive. The latest report from New South Wales indicates that 55 mills in that State have closed down completely and over 700 men are out of work. This is a tragic picture that has been painted cold-bloodedly by this Liberal-Country Party Government which is determined to continue massive imports of timber into Australia and its vicious credit squeeze policy.

I ask the Government this question: ls it determined to close down the small timber mills in Australia and to put them completely out of existence by insisting that credit for home building, as the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) stated to me last week, will not be released in sufficient volume to restore home building to the high level of last year? By insisting on this policy the Government is showing its determination to prevent many of these sawmills from ever commencing operations again.

It is criminal folly for a government deliberately to " credit squeeze " the massive home-building industry in Australia on which twenty satellite industries depend entirely for their existence. The human story of the effects of the Government's panic legislation falls on the deaf ears, the hard hearts and the swollen heads of its Ministers. The main people damaged by this wretched credit squeeze policy which has been used indiscriminately in the Commonwealth are the little men, not the big men. The big men can survive and are surviving this credit squeeze, but the little men cannot and they are going to the wall. This applies particularly in this great timber industry which has been built up after years of hard work, in which thousands of pounds are invested and which is the back bone of the home-building programme.

The second matter that I want to mention relates to question time in this House. For a considerable period I have been concerned at the short period that is allotted for questions without notice. I made some investigations to-day and found that over the last twenty years the period devoted to questions without notice has varied from half an hour to as much as one hour. Over the past eight or nine years, 45 minutes have been allowed for questions without notice, but I have found that nowhere in the Standing Orders is the period specified. The period can be whatever the Government wishes. Therefore, the present allotment of 45 minutes is entirely the decision of the Government. At the end of 45 minutes, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) asks that further questions be placed on the notice-paper.

This is about the fifth week of the current sessional period which began on 7th March, and I have been able to ask only three questions without notice. That is .about the average for honorable members. Mr. Speaker has a colossal task in trying to apportion questions evenly between Government and Opposition members. The Commonwealth has grown considerably since 45 minutes came to be accepted as an adequate period for questions. There are now more members of the Parliament, and this is one of the few occasions when they can freely put before the House problems affecting their electorates, the nation and the world. Invariably, if my memory serves me right, someone wants to ask a question when honorable members are asked to place further questions on the notice-paper.

I am firmly of the opinion that the Prime Minister should have another look at this matter and see whether it is possible to extend the period for questions by at least ten minutes or extend it to a full hour. If honorable members run out of questions the business for the day will be called on automatically. If the Government considers that an additional quarter of an hour is too much, ten minutes would do. In that time, honorable members could get in five or six more questions at least. I believe the business of the House is out of balance when, in five weeks, no honorable member is able to ask more than three questions without notice. If we get the call to ask one question a week individually we are very lucky. During the current sessional period the questions submitted have been of great importance This is election year and possibly honorable members have more questions to ask than they would ask ordinarily. For these reasons, I think that the period allowed for questions should be extended by a quarter of an hour. I am speaking on behalf of all members regardless of party.

Visitors to the Parliament find question time most enjoyable. It is the most popular part of the proceedings for them. This is the only opportunity honorable members have to ask impromptu questions, and more time is needed to do justice to the questions and to the Parliament itself. Each honorable member should be able to ask at least one question a week. If we manage to do so now, it is a miracle.


Mr Killen - How long do you suggest?


Mr DUTHIE - I suggest an hour. After all, this is parliamentary business. It is not a matter of cutting into anybody else's time.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The honorable member's time has expired.







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