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Tuesday, 2 April 1957

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .-i heartily endorse every word spoken by my colleagues. the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), and the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). As a fellow Tasmanian with the honorable member for Bass, I feel that what has happened in our State alone is justification for action on the part of this Government. At the outset I wish to say, however, that the sum total of the speeches of the honorable Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) and the Minister in charge of the House (Mr. Holt) means that precisely nothing will be done for this industry as a whole. We have the airy-fairy promise of the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) that there will be a Tariff Board inquiry. Even if that inquiry starts at this moment, the board's report will not be ready for eighteen months or two years, judging by the time the board has taken to produce other reports. That is all that this industry has to look forward to, after all its representations to this Government and the hours spent in working out details and getting together facts. The only thing that it has to hold on to is the promise of a Tariff Board inquiry which will take eigtheen months or two years.

The debate on housing has illustrated and confirmed the fact that about 120,000 new houses a year are needed in Australia to overcome the present lag and meet everyday requirements. Last year, over the whole continent, only about 65,000 new homes were built That is how far we are behind. Last week, the remarks of honorable members on housing emphasized the fact that anything that restricts the timber industry or the building of houses is like a dagger thrust at the very heart of the Australian economy, and particularly as it affects the saw-millers. Out of that debate, also, came the conviction that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) are both appallingly and tragically out of touch with the problems of Australia as they relate to timber and to housing.

As I listened to the Prime Minister last week, I was convinced that he knows nothing about the accommodation plight of the immigrants that he has brought into this country. In some instances, six families are living in one house, and the Prime Minister calls that justice to the immigrants! Honorable members on this side of the House do not agree, but because we protest we are spoken of as criticizing immigration. What rubbish! People who talk like that have an axe to grind, and are trying to make political capital out of the situation. Obviously, also, the Prime Minister knows nothing about the difficulties of young married people in obtaining a loan to start building a house, or about the fact that many of them are living in garages or with their in-laws, whilst some are forced to live apart because they cannot find the wherewithal to start a home. He probably does not know that although homes can be bought to-day for a terrific price, they are very hard to find for rental. The Government, judging by the Prime Minister's statement, is out of touch with the day-to-day problems of this industry.

In Tasmania, 21 mills have closed down altogether and 29 or 30 have reduced their output. More than 700 men have gone out of the industry. The following figures have not been mentioned previously this afternoon. In Victoria, 3,000 men have left the building industry, including the timber industry, and have registered at employment offices as being out of work, but more than 8,000 others did not register and are trying to find work on their own account. That means that in Victoria about 12,000 men have gone out of the building industry in the last few months. How can we afford to lose men from the industry at that rate - many of them skilled artisans? In northern New South Wales, 83 mills have closed and 800 men are out of work. The same situation with housing has developed in Western Australia. Men are out of work and families have been forced to seek unemployment benefit. That is the human side of the story, and we, as an Opposition, believe that the Government has lost sight of it. All that Government supporters can talk about is statistics, reports and boards. The human factor in the industry is entirely overlooked.

All the aspects that I have mentioned show the grim pattern of a slowing down of a vital industry. Once any phase of the building industry slows down, we are in for trouble. I claim that there are four causes for the slowing down. The first cause is a shortening of credit, which was touched on by my colleague, the honorable member for Bass. The shortening of credit hits us in two ways. It means, first, that we have not the money to start homes or to complete homes. We cannot get the necessary deposits. The second phase is that homes are not built if credit is not available, and that means a decline in timber requirements because demand is governed by credit - consumption is governed by the finance available. We talk about mouths being fed, but it all comes right back to finance being available to buy the necessary items.

The second cause is the high level of imports from Malaya and Borneo, in particular, which are now being landed in this country. My colleague pointed out that the Minister for Trade recently misled the House in an answer he gave to a question. The Minister said that imports from Malaya and Borneo had- not been increased; they were the same as pre-war. But the facts are - we have checked this - that 4,700,000 super, feet were imported from those two countries in 1938-39 and 50,000,000 super, feet were imported last year. That is the increase in imports from those countries. The quantity of imports, which totals over 332,000,000 super, feet from all sources, is a factor in slowing down our timber industry because our total Australian production of 1,300,000,000 super, feet is only about 50,000,000 super, feet short of our requirements.

The third cause is the demand for quality by the merchants now, and, I suppose, by home-builders, too. In Tasmania, sawmillers have had to face up to that situation.

Merchants are not buying timber in the quantities that they did. They are saying, " We want quality now. We can get good stuff from Malaya and Borneo. If you chaps give us quality, we will take the timber". I admit that, during the years since the war, when houses were built at a great rate, the timber going to the merchants was not of a high quality. Second-grade timber was being sold as first-grade timber. Timber-millers are realizing, up to a point, that quality is necessary and must become more important. But that is not the real reason for the great slowing down that is taking place in the industry.

The fourth reason for Tasmania's crisis is shipping. We have had such an irregular and haphazard shipping service for timber that, in the past, it has caused large quantities to pile up. At one stage, 10,000,000 super, feet were awaiting shipment.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Who has been responsible for that?

Mr DUTHIE - The main reason is that the Government refused to form an Australian shipping line, owned by the people, to operate in competition with private enterprise.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The State government has not given the Commonwealth much help.

Mr DUTHIE - Private enterprise let us down horribly regarding timber shipments. It is waking up now, but it is too late.

The next point I wish to mention is that 9,000 fewer houses were built in Australia last year. That means that timber requirements were reduced by about 200,000,000 super feet. The point was mentioned by the honorable member for Bass. In Tasmania, 80,000,000 super, feet of timber is waiting to be sold. That is equivalent to the timber used in 3,700 homes. The effect on the whole of our economy of a slowdown in any part of the industry is serious indeed. We have a declining housing programme at the same time as we have high importations of timber. These two factors in combination at the one time create a combustible situation in this great industry. If credit is declining and imports are kept at the same level, thousands will be out of work. That is the situation we have now. The Government does not intend to do anything about the situation, except to call for a Tariff Board report which will take a year or so to complete.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -

That the business of the day be called on.

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