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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) . - I take this opportunity to refer to the phenomenal increase of the imports of metals, metal manufactures and machinery, as compared with last year. A recent summary of statistics made available by the Commonwealth Statistician shows that in 1937-38 the total value of such imports to Australia was £A.46,589,693 as compared with £A34,165,024 during the previous year. Customs duties collected on metals and machinery and vehicles amounted to £A.5, 675,595 as compared with £A.4,563,601 during 1937- an increase of 24 per cent. The remarkable increase of imports during the last five years is shown in the following table: -


It might be suggested that these figures relate to goods not manufactured in Australia, but my information is to the contrary. The increases are not restricted to goods not made in Australia; indeed some of the greatest increases are in respect of goods which have been produced in Australia on a large scale for a great number of years. Manufactured goods cannot be imported in increasingly large quantities without causing losses of markets to Australian producers, unemployment, and a diminishing demand for raw materials. I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs to take prompt action to stem this deplorable drift. The information which I have given to the committee has come, in the first instance, from the Commonwealth Statistician, so that the figures which I have cited cannot be questioned. Before a vote is taken to-night I should like the Minister to give an explanation of this record increase of metal imports. If time permitted I could discuss this matter at greater length, but I think that I have said sufficient to convince the Minister that it is a matter which deserves serious consideration. Should the Minister not find it possible to make a statement to-night, I hope that he will take an early opportunity to do so.

Recently I have met in Queensland numbers of persons who are interested in the manufacture of butter boxes. I discussed this subject with James Cossart and Sons of Boonah, Hancock Brothers Proprietary Limited of Ipswich, and others. I am informed that the agitation in favour of importing timber for butter boxes is restricted to a small section of people in northern New South Wales, who claim that it is impossible to obtain in Australia suitable timber for butter boxes.

Mr Gregory - Do they refer to butter for export?

Mr FRANCIS - They refer to butter for both home consumption and export. 1 am assured by these manufacturers, and also by the Minister for Lands in Queensland, Mr. Pease, that there is no scarcity of suitable timber in Australia for making butter boxes. Moreover, I am informed that the prices at which these boxes are supplied are substantially less than are paid by those who complain of the scarcity of suitable timber in Australia. I point out further that these timber firms are being subjected to considerable expense and inconvenience in appearing before the Tariff Board, whereas an examination by the officers of the Trade and Customs Department would have elicited all the information required and proved conclusively that such proposed imports were unnecessary and that adequate protection should be assured to the Australian timber industry. I regret that it has been thought necessary to refer this matter to the Tariff Board, but, as that action has been taken, I ask the Minister to arrange that members of the Tariff Board shall proceed to Queensland to take evidence on the spot.

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