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Friday, 20 July 1917

Mr MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - The whole question resolves itself into one of shipping, and I am one who sees no possibility of any great proportion of the wheat now stored in Australia ever getting to Great Britain. Before the war broke out, there was a 50,000,000 tonnage available for the mercantile marine, whereas to-day it is not more than 12,000,000. The United States of America and Japan are building largely. The former country has on the stocks today more mercantile marine tonnage than has been built in the whole world in any previous year. In addition, they have just issued their standardized plans for the building of 1,000 schooners up to 2,500 tons, with auxiliary screws, and according to the last American mail by November next it is expected that one of these vessels will leave every day for Great Britain. . Canada also is engaging in shipbuilding. In America, every village from Seattle to Vancouver is building shipping according to the standardized plans. Only four and a half months is allowed from the laying of the keel until the ship is launched; six weeks is allowed for the rigging and completion, and under the contract a ship has to be ready to receive cargo in six months from the commencement of the work on the vessel. According to present progress, in Australia, five years will probably elapse before we produce a single ship. Although we have been three years at war, and the question of shipping has been pressing on us, not one foot of timber has been cut in Australia for the purpose of ship-building ; and it is just about time we left off talking and started work. 1 know personally that excellent offers were made months ago to. start ship-building for our Inter-State trade. A first-class ship builder, who served his time on the Clyde, came from Tasmania to Melbourne prepared to immediately lay down the keels for sailing ships of 1,000 and 2,000 tons, with auxiliary screws, for the .Inter-State trade. This man is able to finance 50 per cent, of the cost, and he offered to go on with the work if the Government would guarantee the other 50 per cent, in progress payments, he giving a mortgage over the vessels. There are people ready to charter these boats when completed for five years, at a return of interest on the cost of construction and maintenance, and a decided profit.

Mr Riley - Has that offer been before the Government?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Yes, months ago.

Mr Fenton - Is there seasoned timber for the work?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - The timber is all right, and this man is ready to start the work. The great question we have to carefully consider is whether there is any prospect, of the wheat we have in stock being shipped at any time to England, considering that it* is stored 12,000 miles away from our markets. We know that if the war ceased tomorrow, or very shortly, not a bushel of that wheat would be shipped to England, seeing that it can be shipped at much less cost from other producing countries. I do not believe that 1,000 tons of the wheat we have will ever get to Great Britain, because there will be an enormous release from Russia and from some of the southern countries of Europe. Then, there is going to be a record crop in Canada, where wheat has been raised solely for. war purposes, and' the United States of America has an exceedingly large crop, which is only seven or eight days' sail in cargo boats from England. We, as I say, are 12,000 miles away, and the freight from Australia is three or four times as much as that from other countries. It is a serious fact that we are storing millions of bushels of wheat which is now being destroyed. Two years ago I saw a stack of wheat in Perth that was riddled by weevil, and the whole of the wheat in Australia to-day is depreciating. May I say that the management of the storage of wheat is, in my opinion, the most de- plorable fact in Australia, so far as incompetence and want of foresight are concerned? Millions of bushels of wheat are being destroyed steadily every day, and yet wheat is at a record price here - at such a price that it cannot bo bought for fodder purposes. It is a matter for very serious consideraton whether the Wheat Board should not immediately consider the advisability of releasing a considerable portion of this wheat at a reduced price, rather than allow it to rot. I defy any man to study the position of the shipping capabilities of the world to-day, and express any hope that any great portion of this wheat will ever reach Great Britain. If it is intended to keep this wheat in store, and to store next year's crop, then most emphatically something should be done to protect it. Up to the present nothing has been done. The extent of the depreciation cannot be estimated, but those of practical experience tell us that it has been enormous. When we consider that, the seas once open, the wheat from Australia will have to compete with a first-class article from three to five times nearer to the market, our prospects in this regard are exceedingly limited. Before the Government embark on any very large expenditure, they should at least assure themselves that there is more than a reasonable probability of the wheat reaching its destination. There are ships in Australia which could have been released for the oversea trade if the wooden shipbuilding for the Inter-State trade had been engaged in, and I urge the Government to lose no more time in starting the industry. This is one of the best, cleanest, and healthiest of trades, working, as the men do, in the open air, under cover, and it has always produced here one of the highest types of worker. It is an industry that should have never been allowed to lapse, and the sooner it is reinstated the better for the people of Australia and the better, especially, for our Inter-State trade. Do honorable members know that practically every port in Tasmania to-day is blocked because produce cannot be got away to Australia, and that hundreds of men are out of employment because some of the largest timber mills have been shut down? The Inter-State trade in Tasmania displays a congestion that is deplorable. When I speak of the largest mills I mean some of the largest in Australia, and a number of these, as I say, have had to cease operations. This is a matter that should receive immediate and serious attention.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.45 p.m.

In Committee:

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 -

In this Act a " silo " means a silo or elevator for the storage of wheat, and includes the necessary machinery connected therewith.

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