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Thursday, 4 May 1961

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,I want to direct the attention of the House to the position that has arisen throughout the Commonwealth of Australia in the timber industry generally. Although I intend to deal mainly with the situation in Tasmania I recognize that this is a national problem. I believe that that statement has been substantiated, at least in part this morning, by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) who, in directing . a question to the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), pointed out that New South Wales timber mills had been forced to cease production, employees had been thrown out of employment, and the situation generally in that State had gone from bad to worse. So the problem is not confined to Tasmania. It applies to

New South Wales and I know that it also applies to Queensland. Most certainly South Australia is feeling the introduction by the Commonwealth Government of a policy deliberately designed to curtail production in the timber industry.

Let me take the Tasmanian situation In order to indicate to this House how far this, position has drifted. I shall cite one or two figures to indicate that the seriousness of the situation certainly warrants the comments that have been made by Tasmanian members. I have no doubt that the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies) will be able to quote later figures than mine, but let me deal with the position at the end of March. At that stage, practically every mill in Tasmania had been forced to reduce its production by between 40 per cent, and 50 per cent. Seven mills had already dismissed 178 men and 666 employees were then working part-time. A further 125 men were to be dismissed by the end of April. Mr. Deputy Speaker, that represents loss of employment by almost 1,000 men in seven mills in Tasmania.

It should be clearly understood by the House and appreciated by the Minister although, unfortunately, I do not believe it is appreciated by him, that those whowork in the saw-milling industry largely live in isolated areas. The great majority of mills in Tasmania are situated in isolated areas. I have no doubt that this is so in New South Wales and Queensland also. If men are dismissed from the timber industry in a remote area, obviously they have very little opportunity of obtaining alternative employment. That is the situation in Tasmania to-day. As I said last week when speaking on the subject of unemployment, the present conditions in this industry havebeen deliberately created by the Government. They are a direct result of thepolicy outlined in the economic statement or little Budget of November, 1960. The Government's policy was clearly designed, at the time, to reduce the output in thetimber industry. It was designed to prevent people from obtaining finance from banks, and other recognized institutions in orderto build homes for themselves.

Yesterday, the Minister for Trade indicated to the House that a substantial drop had occurred in, timber imports from overseas. The figures referred to by the Minister, however, do* not. give the full facts. Obviously the Minister has given figures relating to only a proportion of the timber that has been brought into Australia.. I prefer to use figures shown in the " Timber Supply Review ", a publication issued by the Forestry and Timber Bureau of the Commonwealth Department of the Interior. I have before me a copy of that journal bearing the date July-December, 1960. On page 12 are given figures showing the total quantities, in thousands of superficial feet, of timber imported into Australia from overseas. Figures are given for logs, undressed timber, weatherboards, other dressed timber and box shooks. Of course, all imported timber, whether in the form of logs or of weatherboards, dressed or undressed, must have some material effect on the Australian timber industry generally.

For- the three months ended December, 1959, total imports amounted to 72,626,000 super, feet. In the same quarter of 1960, the amount showed an appreciable increase, the total being 108,199,000 super, feet. Then, for December, 1959, we see a total of 157,054,000 super, feet. There is a gradual increase in every quarter over the preceding quarter. Turning now to June, 1960, we see total imports of 210,167,000 super, feet, an increase of more than 50,000,000 over the preceding quarter. For December, 1960, the figure given in the official document published by this Commonwealth instrumentality is 252,987,000 super, feet.

Now, let us look at the figures cited by the Minister in this House yesterday. He said that, for the December quarter of 1960, imports - and I should think he was referring to total imports - amounted to only 108,000,000 super, feet, although this official document shows that not 108,000,000, but more than 252,000,000 super, feet of timber was imported in the December quarter of 1960.

I suggest, therefore, that we have not been given the true story concerning timber imported into this country. Obviously these imports have seriously affected the output of timber in Australia. These greatly increased imports, together with the Government's credit squeeze policy, have had a severe effect on our timber industry. After, giving the figures that. I have cited to the House, the "Timber Supply Review" adds the following comment, which I think I should read to the House: -

In total the quantity of timber imported during the half-year under review was a record. If the last three six-monthly periods are considered as a series there appears to be such a strong upward trend in imports that it would be disastrous to the native timber industry if the trend continued.

This is the Commonwealth's own publication. What has the Minister for Trade done in connexion with the matter? He has refused to give any assistance at all to the Australian timber industry. I said earlier, and I repeat, that it is not only the Opposition in this Parliament that has directed the attention of the Government to the serious situation; honorable members of the Government parties have themselves done so.

A direct result of the Government's credit squeeze has been a decrease in the number of homes being built. I have before me a newspaper article headed " Big Drop in House Building ", which says -

Fewer new houses and flats were begun in the March quarter than in any similar period since the end of 1958, the Commonwealth Statistician (Mr. S. R. Carver) reported yesterday.

There were 19,928 compared with 23,594 in the December quarter and 22,569 in the March, 1960, quarter.

In other words, while timber imports have increased each quarter, the number of homes being constructed has decreased. It is completely futile for the Minister to argue that the industry is not in a serious situation, or that there has been a fall in imports which has had the effect of solving the industry's problems. We of the Opposition say that if there has been a fall in imports it has been due to a lack of demand.

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