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Wednesday, 20 March 1957

Mr McEWEN - During the last month or so, I have received a number of representations from the State Ministers for Forests, from the Australian saw-milling industry and from timber merchants, including importers, concerning reported problems in the industry generally. This made sufficient impact on me to cause me to think that it warranted a series of conferences. The week before last, I met all the State Ministers for Forests. Following that, 1 met the representatives of the Australian saw-milling interests from every State and, following that, 1 met representatives of the timber merchants. From those meetings I gleaned pretty substantially the facts of the situation. Broadly, the facts are that there is an accumulating surplus of unsold timber in Australia, but it has been disclosed that this arose very substantially from the fact that the timber-producing industry has geared itself to a dimension of production that very substantially exceeds the market at present in sight. The surplus is not explained by an increase in imports. Indeed, Australian production of timber is now double the pre-war production, whereas Australian imports of timber are almost exactly the same as pre-war imports. Arising out of this situation, I have agreed to refer to the Tariff Board for inquiry and report the question of the adequacy of present protective duties on Australian timber. 1 have made it clear that, not only in accordance with the Government's policy, but also in accordance with Australia's international obligations, it is not possible to use import licensing as a protective device to protect the Australian timber industry. That is attended to by the appropriate instrument, the Tariff Board, which has been created by this Parliament, and I have already referred the issue to the Tariff Board.

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