Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 25 November 1941

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (barker) . - The committee should carefully examine the effects ;of this proposal upon the gold-mining industry in particular, upon the mining industry generally, the oil industry, and afforestation, because three important activities are affected by the operation -of the new compromise. I ,use the term "-compromise1" in the strict .sense of the word.. What the committee of members has produced as the result of its (deliberations over the week-end, 'and what the Government has agreed to accept, certainly improves the bill ; but I -cannot 'allow this opportunity *0 pass without directing attention to the inevitable 'results if the Government persists -with this legislation. At the outset, I inform honorable members .that I -hold -no interests whatever in companies. There is in Australia an urgent necessity to discover oil, and an urgent demand for gold. In addition, there is an -equally urgent demand for many kinds of minerals, including copper, zinc, asbestos, rutile, zirconium and other metals which aire essential to the munitions industry. This bill affects their future.

I -propose to survey 'briefly the effect of Commonwealth legislation upon the goldmining industry. You, Mr. Chairman, who represent a Western Australian constituency, will understand fully the implications of my comments upon this matter. Before the outbreak -of war, it was the practice to exempt the gold.mining industry from making contributions to revenue. After September, 1939, one of the first actions of Parliament, which I opposed strenuously at the time,, which I then believed to be wrong, which is wrong now, and which will be wrong long as it operates, was to -impose a tax upon the increment of the price of gold, arising out of the war. If the Government had been (consistent at that time, it would have imposed a tax upon every other- increment, especially on respect of metals, which arose -out of .the increase of prices as the result of *the war. But nothing of the sort was done. is 'extracted from the earth, it can never be replaced. When .the price of gold increased, Abe 'opportunity to work the poorer shows, (the marginal show.s, was /greater than lever .before. AH that .the Government succeeded -in .doing, by introducing -the special gold increment tax, -was to prevent some -of the -poorer shows from "being worked at a time when they could have been more profitably operated than a.t any other ,period.

Surveying the .gold-mining industry -as a whole, we have to relate to it the matter of the -exemption of calls on gold-mining companies, partial allowance for which is now made under the compromise. As a rule, the big companies which are paying dividends do not make calls. That would be a most unusual procedure. The calls are being made by companies which are struggling to remain on their feet. It may be contended that a .good deal of roguery goes on in the gold-mining industry. I should not be surprised if that were true. 'So far as I am aware, there are only two places in the world where that has not occurred. One is Virginia, in the United States of America, the birthplace of George Washington, who always told the truth, and the other is this House of Representatives, where honorable members are not permitted to tell anything but the truth.

The effect of the compromise will .be to reduce the amount of capital that will be invested in the gold-mining industry. Definitely, that is bad for the 'Commonwealth in time of war. Problems associated with dollar exchange, the maintenance of our exchange rate with the United' -Kingdom, and the purchase of our requirements in the United States of

America can be dealt with most easily and most economically by the greatest possible production of gold. In the desert areas of Western Australia, and in tho still unexplored interior, even in the old shows in Victoria. New South Wales and Queensland, the production of gold is going on apace. Where labour can be obtained for this purpose, the Government should encourage rather than discourage the production of gold. When the legislation was introduced in 1939, I should have taken no objection to it if the Government of the day had decided to subject gold to the same rates of income tax as apply to other metals. If this Government were to introduce proposals to place gold-mining on the same income tax basis as other mining, it would be consistent and I should not oppose such action. But, in this instance, the industry is struck by the increment tax, and its development, expansion and capacity to win gold from the marginal shows will fee seriously affected by the compromise.

To date,, oil has not been found in payable quantities in Australia. For the purpose of waging this war, the discovery of flow oil in Australia would be of infinitely greater importance than even the discovery of another Kalgoorlie or Ballarat. Almost without exception, every investor who has put money into oil shows in Australia has lost it. He had as much chance of reward) as has the man who supports the Golden Casket or Tattersalls. I am not defending the operations of companies which I have criticized in the past, but I am stating a case for Australia's need of oil supplies in time of war. The Commonwealth has gone to the length of subsidizing companies,, and has passed special measures, in order to promote the discovery of oil in New Guinea. Experts from the United States of America have been sent to the electorate of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) in order to- determine what are the prospects there. Therefore, instead of discouraging investment in shows of this description, the Government ought to be rather thankful that there are in Australia people who are prepared to risk their money in prospecting for flow oil.

The history of the discovery of oil in other countries is very interesting. When we think of the millions of pounds expended by Weetman Pearson, in Mexico, before the discovery of the flow oil which was so largely responsible for the maintenance of oil supplies to the United Kingdom in the period from 1914 to- 1918, we realize- what risk there is in the matter. If we compare the expenditure in Mexico with what has taken place in Australia, we must admit that we have made very little, progress. Ti would be a very fine thing if an even more liberal idea were held by the Government in regard to- expenditure by taxpayers in endeavours to find flow oil in this country.

I come now to minerals, of which a great variety is required by the munitions industry of Australia. Some of them are very difficult to obtain; they have to be- discovered. Some are in great demand, and very short supply. The world production of tantalite - a mineral found in Northern Australia - before the outbreak of the present war was 110 lb., the production; of Australia being 108 lb. This- mineral is one of the greatest agencies- for the toughening and hardening of steel, and its production in large quantities is urgently desired by Great Britain and the United States of America. One could name many other minerals which probably are more familiar to some other honorable members than they are to me. Every one of them should be mined, and stored against the day when it may be required; for at this stage none of us can say how long the present conflict may last.

The last subject with which I shall deal is afforestation; this, in conjunction with the discovery of oil,, affects my electorate.. In the southern portion of the division of Barker there are considerable forests of pine, planted mostly by Government enterprise over- the last 40- or 50' years or more. Large areas, were planted also by private enterprise. The wood is now being used for purposes for which, only two years ago, experts declared it was utterly impossible to use it; it has been found suitable for the- manufacture of matches, munition boxes, and certain other things which I shall not mention. Those who put' their money into that kind of plantation knew that they could not expect a return from it until the pines were ready to cut 35 years after planting. By and large, men who put money into a venture of that description do not expect a great reward in this world, because the average age of such investors is above 35 years. In all too many cases, no reward has been reaped. The value of the pine in my district is 5s. 3d. per 100 super feet; that is what the merchant is willing to pay for it. But under the system of prices fixation adopted by the Commonwealth, with which the private forest owners do not quarrel, the price has been determined at 3s. 6d. per 100 super feet. In that respect alone, one-third of the income which those who are selling to-day would have derived is denied to them by Commonwealth legislation designed to benefit Australia as a whole. The important problem confronts us of replanting areas which are being cut out to-day. Usually, the land is left out of plantation for five years after the pine has been taken off. Then a further 35 years must elapse before a dividend is received. If the Government says to potential investors, " From now on, only to the extent of one-third of your actual investments will we regard you as benefactors " that will not be to the ultimate welfare of this country. Australia is more deficient in timber than is any other continent. Only l£ per cent, of the total area of South Australia contained natural forests at the advent of the white man, and the area which is to-day covered by natural and plantation forests is very little greater. That is indicative of the conditions generally throughout Australia. It was a part of my job last summer to knock around the Otway ranges, and the Strzelecki ranges on the other side of Port Phillip Bay. Huge areas of native timber have been destroyed, in some instances by pure vandalism and in many places as the result of short-sighted Government policy. Perfectly good forest land has been turned into dairying country in the Strzelecki ranges, where the hills are so steep that a crow could not descend them unless it wore breeching. These natural forest lands are worthless for dairying purposes. The immediate, and to a greater extent the ultimate, future of this country, depend on the re-afforestation of these areas. The growing period for Pinus insignia, or Remarkable pine, which has the. shortest period of growth of any timber, is 35 years. The growing period of the hardwoods that have been destroyed in the Otway and Strzelecki ranges must be anything up to 200 or 300 years. Reafforestation in respect of hardwoods cannot be undertaken except by a government instrumentality; I am not so foolish as to believe that investors would engage in hardwood cultivation with the prospects such as they are. But in the southern States of Victoria and South Australia, and the southern portion of Western Australia and Tasmania, the planting of pine of various sorts could be undertaken privately. The Government should therefore give every encouragement to the re-afforestation of certain areas, and the extension of forests to what is to-day swampy and sandy country, with a high rainfall. The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) may retort that, with high rates of tax, aiding a man in a high income group would practically mean subsidizing him in respect of afforestation or the opening up of mines. Nevertheless, these points have to be considered. Sooner or later, the Government must tell this Parliament whether the policy is to be one of abandoning all hope of future advancement, with minimum planting of timber, development of mineral resources, and prospecting for petrol and oil, in order to help that which is urgently necessary for the prosecution of the war, or of looking only to the immediate effect on the budget of this country. The Treasurer may not have had the time to give to this matter the attention which I feel sure he will admit that it deserves. 1 am not in any sense criticizing the Government. My sole desire is to evoke some thought on the subject. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) understands the gold-mining industry, and, I have no doubt, the valuable timber industry of Western Australia, much better than I do. He knows how long it has taken for the great jarra h and karri forests to grow, and realizes that, unless tended and preserved, these great natural assets will deteriorate. I merely ask that during the recess the Treasurer and those associated with him shall go carefully into this aspect of the matter, and weigh against the immediate requirements of revenue the ultimate welfare of this country; the encouragement which is or is not to be given to the investor; the development which is or is not to take place; and the assets which are to be drawn upon in time of war, or are to be increased even at such a time for the ultimate welfare of this country. There is, too, the protection of the surface of the soil; for whether we are at war or not, the matter of soil erosion has to be considered in the denuded areas which I observed last summer, particularly in southern Victoria. This is one of the most important matters that we have to consider. I believe that it can be effectively tackled only by some method of re-afforestation. If a person or company is prepared to expend money in planting such areas with timber, the Commonwealth Government in the long run, upon complete consideration, must recognize the wisdom of giving every encouragement possible to such enterprise, because what is done will be for the ultimate as well as the immediate benefit of this country.

Suggest corrections