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Thursday, 1 December 1938

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- The purpose of this bill is "to provide for the payment of a bounty on the production of newsprinting paper." . The

Opposition intends to support the measure, but it will make certain suggestions at the committee stage to protect the interests of the workers engaged in the industry, and also to safeguard the position of proprietors of small newspapers not financially interested in the company proposed to be formed. The production of newsprinting paper in Australia has received a great deal of attention for many years. The Labour party in the Commonwealth Parliament and also in the Parliament of Tasmania has taken a great interest in the subject, and has done much to bring the project to its present stage. It is proposed to establish this industry in Tasmania, one of the smaller States of the Commonwealth which claim that they suffer disabilities in consequence of federation. If the indus; try is successfully established, it will contribute to the decentralization of our secondary industries. It is desirable that these industries shall be distributed as evenly as possible throughout the whole Commonwealth. Instead of having the majority of them located in Sydney and Melbourne, it would be a good thing for the country if they were spread more widely throughout Australia. Some should be established in the more important country towns so as to provide a diversity of employment, and to enable the young people to become apprenticed to trades instead of 'being thrown on the unskilled labour market.

The establishment of the newsprinting industry is of first-class importance. When the first unit comes into operation, it will provide employment for 266 persons, and, when the industry is fully established, employment will be provided for 800 persons. Thus it will be an industry which any State might he glad to have. I have to congratulate those, enthusiastic advocates of the proposal, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost), the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney), and the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who have been indefatigable in their efforts to have the industry established.

When the Scullin Government was in office, I had a good deal to do with the negotiations between- the Government and the representatives of the companies that were then considering the establishment of the newsprinting industry in Australia. Difficulties were encountered because there were two rival companies which were unable to agree, and it seemed at that time that it would be an uneconomic proposition to begin the manufacture of newsprint. At a conference of Premiers, called by the Scullin Government/ a secretariat committee was appointed to deal with unemployment and production. That committee recommended to the Government that in order to obtain the necessary capital for this industry, it should set aside £875,000, out of which advances, to be secured by debentures over the assets, would be made to a company or companies, on a £1 for £1 basis, and on a definite undertaking by it or them to commence production. In 1925, the Tariff Board recommended that a bounty of £4 a ton should be paid on newsprint manufactured in Australia, besides a duty of £1 a ton on imported newsprint. In 1929, the Bruce-Page Government introduced a bill providing for the payment of a bounty of £4 a ton, and it was also decided to impose a deferred duty.

During the 1929 election campaign, the then; Leader of the Federal Labour party (Mr. Scullin) promised that his party would, if returned to power, grant the assistance promised by the BrucePage Government, namely, a bounty of £4 a ton. It can be seen, therefore, that this proposal has been supported by all parties, and by governments of differing political colour.

On the 24th June, 1930, the Scullin Cabinet approved of a proposal to pay a bounty of £4 a ton over a period of five years from the commencement of production of each class of paper, but no action was to be taken for the time being respecting the deferred duty. If new duties were imposed the bounty was to be reduced. Legislation was not proceeded with because the negotiations for the amalgamation of the various interested companies were not sufficiently advanced. The Scullin Government was always hopeful that the industry would be successfully established in Australia, and it gave an assurance to the interested parties that it would do all it possibly could to help.

We now have before us a definite proposal, and I have much pleasure in supporting it. The two rival companies have reached an agreement, and the new company, to he known as The Australian Newsprint Mills Proprietary Limited, is to commence operations with a capital of £1,300,000 in £1 shares, of which £250,000 in preference shares will be held by the Tasmanian Government, on which it will receive 4 per cent. The Tasmanian Government has taken up these shares because it realizes the great importance of the industry to Tasmania.

The bill now before us contains a proposal to pay a bounty of £1 14s. a ton on newsprint on the basis of the present cost of £16 6s. a ton up to a limit of £108,000, which would be the outlay on a production of 64,117 tons. On a production of 27,000 tons, which will be the output of the first unit, the annual bounty payments will be approximately £46,000. However, there will be no bounty payments until production commences, which will not be until the end of next year, or early in 1940. The bounty will operate for a period of four years, and we are assured that the matter will before the end of the four years be referred to the Tariff Board for investigation and report as to how the industry should be assisted in the future.

The first stage will be the erection of a mill with one machine capable of producing 27,000 tons of newsprint annually, and a mechanical pulp mill capable of supplying 75 per cent, of the pulp required. There will be immediate employment for 266 persons, and employment for 850 persons when the company is in full production. I notice that, when the managing director of the company was giving evidence before the Tariff Board, he estimated at 350 the number of persons who would be immediately employed. Now, the number is given at 266. I hope that we shall not find, when the industry is under way, that the number of persons employed will be considerably below even the amended estimate.

The Government has overcome a great deal of hostility to this proposal by granting a bounty on newsprint manufactured in Australia without imposing a duty on imported newsprint. There is no doubt that there would have been organized and justified opposition to the measure by those newspapers which are outside the company interested in the manufacture of newsprint. They were very concerned lest, by the imposition of a duty on imported newsprint, their costs should be greatly increased. Indeed, it was estimated that the extra cost to some of them would be between £10,000 and £20,000 a year. The Minister is to be complimented on having avoided that opposition, and I have been assured by the representative of the unaffiliated newspapers who came to Canberra that they have now no objection to the measure.

Though the Labour party is a strong protectionist party, it has always advocated certain safeguards for the consumers and the workers. . While it stands for the effective tariff protection of Australian industries, it would also introduce measures to prevent profiteering, and to assure .industrial protection to the workers engaged in industry. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) elaborated this point in the following statement : -

The party that I lead wishes it to be known definitely and decisively that its support of protectionist principles is motived by the desire to serve the best interests of the nation and in every important consideration the best interests of workers engaged in industry.

We have regard for the rights of the consumers, the welfare of the workers, and the stability of the industry. We do not believe in the imposition of duties in order to permit a great monopoly to exploit the public on one side and oppress its workers on the other.

Although there is no immediate provision in this measure for the imposition of duties on imported newsprint, the Minister has stated that, in the event of newsprint prices falling materially below £15 a ton, the Government will impose a duty which would be substantially lower than that recommended by the Tariff Board. The proposed duties would be 5s. a ton when the price fell below £15, 7s. 6d. a ton when it fell below £14, and 10s. a ton when it fell below £13. I am assured by those who know that the duties are not likely to operate for the next few years. Indeed, the history of newsprint prices in Australia make it extremely doubtful that the price will ever fall below £15 a ton again. During the war, of course, Australian users of newsprint paid up to £80 a ton for newsprint, as against the present landed price of £16 16s. It is clear, therefore, how important it is to Australia that this industry should be established, so that Australia may be able to supply its own newsprint requirements at a reasonable cost, irrespective of the prices pre,vailing in other parts of the world. Moreover, I have no doubt that when Tasmania is able to produce all the newsprint required in Australia, there will be no need for that State to obtain financial grants from the Commonwealth. Before that can happen, however, the industry will have to be flourishing to a much greater degree than is envisaged even" in this proposal.

Mr Barnard - We want population,, not grants.

Mr FORDE - I agree with the honorable member. If Tasmania had a few more secondary industries, there would not be the need for it to come cap-in-hand to the Commonwealth for annual grants. It is well to remember that, if there should be a war, what applied to the Australian sugar industry in the last war will also apply to the newsprint industry. During the war, when the price of sugar overseas was up to ls. 6d. a lb., the Australian people never had to pay more than 6d. a lb., and that price lasted only until the Government had been recouped for certain losses that it had had to incur on certain sugar purchased from abroad.

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