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Tuesday, 7 May 1957

Mr McEWEN - I think I have spoken on this issue on a couple of occasions. I recall saying that my advice from the Tasmanian saw-milling industry and the Minister for Forests in Tasmania was that seventeen small mills had closed in Tasmania. I said also that I had been told that, as a consequence, 500 people had lost their employment and further, that there had been some diminution of the extent of the timber industry in Australia generally. But as against that, I did mention what my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, told me - that last week, in the State of Tasmania, about 100 people were registered for unemployment benefits. It would appear that where there has been some disemployment in the timber industry, there has been an opportunity for other employment. The adequacy of the protective tariff for the Australian timber industry was referred by me to the Tariff Board, literally within 48 hours of my being asked by the industry to do so. At the same time, I asked the Tariff Board to treat the inquiry with the utmost expedition, having regard to other urgent matters, and I am assured by the Tariff Board that there will be no avoidable delay in this matter.

Many people who are quite properly interested in the well-being of the industry suggest that import licensing could be used to solve this problem, because we could, by import licensing, almost prohibit the importation of any timber into this country. There are classes of timber - softwoods,

Oregon and furniture timber - which, I am assured, this country needs, but, on the other hand, the timber that appears to come into competition with the industry in Australia is coming in from Borneo, Malaya and places like that. However, I remind the House now, as 1 have done previously, that our total imports of timber to-day are at just about the same level as they were pre-war, notwithstanding the tremendous increase in our consumption and population since then. In my opinion, it would be a pretty poor thing for this country to take the line that under-privileged people in countries like Malaya and Borneo, who want to buy, and indeed do buy, our foodstuffs - our flour, dried milk, butter and similar products - should be deprived of the opportunity to earn money in Australia to increase their standard of living. It is not the policy of the Government to exclude completely from our markets this kind of people, whose friendship and well-being we must have in mind. It is not the policy of the Government to prevent them from having an opportunity to earn money in this country.

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