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Wednesday, 15 May 1957

Mr Ward d asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -

1.   Has his attention been drawn to a claim by the manager of the Tasmanian Timber Association that Australia's native timber industry was now in a critical position because too much timber had been imported from overseas?

2.   If so, is the position as stated?

3.   Is it a fact that over a period of some eighteen months unavailing appeals have been made to the Commonwealth Government asking that severe restrictions be placed on the importation of timber?

4.   Have many timber mills been compelled to close with a consequent loss of employment?

5.   If so, what is the reason for the Government's inactivity in this matter?

Mr McEwen - The answers to the honorable member's questions are as follows: -

I am aware of a claim of this nature, and following representations from State Ministers concerned, from saw-millers and from timber merchants, including importers, I convened a series of meetings in Melbourne recently in an endeavour to determine the facts of the situation. 2 to 5. It was clear from the discussions that the problems now confronting the timber industry have arisen largely as a result of local production exceeding demand, rather than from an increased or indeed an excessively high rate of imports. Some timber mills have been forced to close, but it is conceded that a proportion of these mills were "marginal" and unable to exist in an atmosphere of keen competition. Since my department assumed the responsibility for import licensing early in 1956, a number of representations calling for more severe restrictions on imports of timber have been directed to it. Embodied in these approaches was evidence that the native timber industry was capable of supplying a large proportion of Australia's timber requirements. By the end of June, 1956, Australia was confronted with a deteriorating balance of payments situation. Because genuine exchange savings could be effected, import allocations for a very wide range of items, including timber, were reduced. The reduction insofar as timber was concerned was approximately 15 per cent. I must emphasize that the reductions were not imposed in order to protect the timber industry. Import licensing is not a protection device and has been introduced solely as a means of conserving our overseas exchange reserves. At the recent Melbourne discussions I pointed out to representatives of the timber industry that were they to seek protection against the competition of imports, they should do so through the medium of the Customs Tariff. It was agreed that the matter should be referred to the Tariff Board. I have already done this, and probably would have done so earlier had I been requested to do so.

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