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Wednesday, 26 May 1926

Senator J B HAYES (Tasmania) . - It is generally admitted that a certain amount of protection is necessary in order to ensure the progress of Australia, and that if we are to . obtain goods at a reasonable price, a fair proportion of our requirements must be manufactured in the Commonwealth. In visiting the capital cities of the Commonwealth, particularly Melbourne and Sydney, one realizes the extent to which our manufactories are developing. On one occasion, when it was asked what were all the people doing, the answer was, " They are at least making something." Without fair protection, it is impossible for our factories to continue making something. I realize to the fullest degree that one of the benefits obtained under a protective policy is that we provide a home market for our primary products, which is the best market they could have. When we recognize, however, that duties are being increased, and higher wages, which increase the cost of living, paid, and when we see still higher duties proposed, we wonder whether it is not time to call a halt and consider whether we should nob start rounding off the edges of the tariff instead of increasing rates. I must confess that the schedule is framed in such a way that it can be understood only by experts. Doubtless many of the higher duties can be justified; but there are others that should be reduced. I particularly wish to direct attention to the fact that, -while some industries can get practically whatever duties they ask for, there are others which are unable to prosper because they cannot obtain a little extra protection. In instituting comparisons, I wish to refer particularly to the timber industry in Tasmania, which has for some time been seeking additional protection. I understand that, although the Tariff Board has inquired into this industry it is going to Tasmania again to make further inquiries ; but as the newspaper announcement to that effect, which is the only one that I have had, stated that the Board would only take fresh evidence, I wish to place some facts before honorable senators, to show the ' Value of the industry. Tasmania is . the smallest of the States, and these figures will show how relatively important to it the timber industry is. The following is taken from a report by the Tasmanian Director of Forests : -

There are at present under leases and permits some 300.000 acres of forest land, of which it is assumed some 100,000 acres are cut out. By assessing the balance of 200,000 acres at a yield of 20,000 feet to the acre - a total stand of commercial timber on leased areas of 4,000,000,000 super, feet in the round is reached. Suppose 50 per cent, of this is lost in conversion, a net balance of 2,000,000,000 feet super, of sawn timber would be produced. Of the balance of timbered land in Tasmania, 700,000 acres should be a conservative estimate. As the bulk of this is unexplored, let us consider 10,000 feet to the acre as the yield. This gives 7,000,000,000 feet super, in the round, which with a '50 per cent, reduction for conversion, works out at 3,500.000,000 feet of sawn timber. Therefore, on those figures, the total yield of sawn timber on leased and unleased areas would be 5,500,000,000 feet super. As Tasmania produces approximately 60,000,000 feet of sawn timber per annum, the forests would last at the present rate of cutting about 00 years.

Evidence submitted to the Tariff Board in some of the States indicated that there was a fear that our timber supplies would become exhausted ; but the people interested in the industry in Tasmania contend that there is practically an inexhaustible supply in that State. If the available timber should be cut at the present rate, it would last for 90 years, and in half that time forests already cut out would be grown again and the timber in them would be ready for use. The quality of our Tasmanian timber cannot be assailed. During the war years, Tasmanian timbers were put to every possible use, and they met every requirement. Tasmanian hardwood is used for the roughest of work, as well as for the finestof furniture. Our local market is limited. The great bulk of our timber must be sent to Melbourne and Adelaide, where it must compete with timber from the Baltic, as well as from Canadian and United States ports. The timber merchants in these oversea countries enjoy many natural advantages which our own people do not; and the wages of timber-getters there are much lower than they are here. We cannot nullify the natural oversea advantages, and I do not think that we have any desire to reduce the wages of our timber workers to the oversea rates. In that circumstance, it is necessary that we should impose higher duties on imported timbers. The Tasmanian timber industry is handicapped because it is subject to the conditions of the Navigation Act, and also because the timber is somewhat scattered, and hard to get to the mills. In fact, only small mills can operate profitably. I do not know anybody who has started saw-milling in a big way in Tasmania who has made any money at it. Conditions are quite different in the Baltic, and in Canada and the United States, where the forests are thick, and, generally speaking, the timber is floated down the rivers to the seaboard. The oversea timber there is softer to work, and only an inconsiderable percentage is lost in conversion, whereas if we get 60 per cent, of marketable timber from the round, we consider ourselves fortunate. We lose a great deal more from heart and sap than the Americans do. Most of the oversea timber is sound from bark to bark. One of the timbers that our Tasmanian timber has to compete against is what is known as Manchurian oak, which is got under probably the lowest wages in the world. The following figures show the wages of bush workers in Tasmania and countries that are competing with us for the Australian timber trade: -

Tasmania - £4 6s. a week of 48 hours.

America - £3 14s. a week of 57 hours.

Canada - £3 14s. a week of 48 to 54 hours.

Sweden- £2 8s. a week of 48 hours.

Those figures have been compiled from official publications. The wages in

Borneo, J apan and the Philippines, where Manchurian oak is grown, are a great deal less than any that I have quoted, and in those countries black labour is almost universally employed. Another important factor is that in Australia only from 10 per cent, to 12 per cent, of the employees engaged in the industry are classified as labourers, whereas in the American timber industry 60 per cent, of the employees are classified as labourers.

Senator Grant - Can the honorable senator tell us what quantity of Manchurian oak is coming to Australia?

Senator J B HAYES - I am sorry that I cannot give the honorable senator the actual figures, but I have been informed by leading, sawmillers in Australia, and also by some timber merchants that it is ousting Australian oak from the market. As I have already indicated, the incidence of freight has a most important bearing on the successful carrying out of saw-milling operations. The following figures are interesting: -

Launceston to Melbourne, up to 20 feet, 5s. 3d. to 5s. 9d. per 100 super, feet; 40 feet, 7s. per 100 super, feet.

Hobart to Melbourne, up to 20 feet, 5s. 3d. to 5s.9d. per 100 super, feet.; 40 feet, 7s. per 100 super, feet.

Devonport to Melbourne, up to 20 feet, 5s. 3d. to 5s.9d. per 100 super, feet; 40 feet, 7s. per 100 super, feet.

Stanley to Melbourne, up to 20 feet, 5s. 3d. to 5s. 9d. per 100 super, feet; 40 feet, 7s. per 100 super, feet.

Burnie to Melbourne, up to 20 feet, 5s. 3d. to 5s. 9d. per 100 super, feet; 40 feet, 7s. per 100 super, feet.

Canadian ports to Melbourne, up to 60 feet, 6s.

American ports to Melbourne, up to 60 feet, 5s. 5d. to 6s.

Baltic ports to Melbourne, up to 30 feet, 3s.10d.

Burnie to Port Adelaide, 30 feet, 9s.; 40 feet,11s.

Canadian ports to Port Adelaide, 60 feet, 6s.

American ports to Port Adelaide, 60 feet, 5s. 5d. to 6s.

Honorable senators will see from those figures that it costs considerably less to bring timber to Melbourne from the Baltic ports than from Tasmanian ports, while it costs only half as much to land timber in Adelaide from the Canadian and American ports as it does from Burnie. It is for this reason that we are continually asking that increased duties should be paid on imported timber.

Senator Grant - Is the honorable senator dealing with timber of the same kind?

Senator J B HAYES - Our timber is a little heavier and much stronger than the imported timber, so that smaller sizes can be used in constructional work. I am sorry that I have not available . all the details of the existing duties, but the whole thing may be accurately summed up by saying that our extra freight duties account for every penny, of protection that we are supposed to get from the duties, and that the increase in wages alone is sufficient to prevent us from competing successfully with foreign timber. There are 192 sawmills in Tasmania which, under normal conditions and with full-time working, would employ 2,219 employees. Of that number only about 10 per cent, or 12 per cent, would be unskilled workers. Approximately, however, only 80 mills are working - whole or part time - and are giving employment to only about 700 men. Australian bushmen are among the best workers in the world, and, at present, unfortunately, considerably more than . half the number usually employed in the industry are not working. Additional duties are required if these men are not to be forced to seek employment in uncongenial avocations, or remain unemployed. In 1920-21 the timber imports into Tasmania - itself a timber-producing State - amounted to over 500,000 super, feet, and in 1924-25 to over 3,500,000 super, feet. The figures dealing with the imports into the Commonwealth are convincing evidence that the Australian market is being flooded with foreign timber. In 1920-21 we imported 192,000,000 super, feet of undressed timber and 51,000,000 super, feet of dressed timber, or a total of 243,000,000 feet. In 1924-25 our imports rose to 316,000,000 super, feet of undressed timber and 87,000,000 super, feet dressed timber, or a total of 403,000,000 super, feet. In other words, we are importing over 1,000,000 super, feet a day, whilst the Tasmanian output is only 60,000,000 super, feet a year, and timber is rotting in the forests. The machinery in many of our mills is rusting. During the four years referred to our timber imports increased by 160,000,000 super, feet. It is evident from these figures that there is a strong case for additional duty. The Tasmanian saw-millers - this is a point I wish to emphasize - have given a guarantee that if they can get sufficient duties to enable them to meet foreign competition in the Australian market, they will not increase the Australian price provided, of course, wages are not increased. They do not anticipate an advance in that direction. All they are asking for is sufficient tariff protection to enable them to keep their mills in operation so that the capital invested in the industry will not be totally unremunerative. It is important that Australian timber should be cut because trees stand only for a certain time before they rot. Timber is a national asset and it should be used.

Senator Thompson - Are the Australian saw-millers in a position to supply the class of timber that is imported?

Senator J B HAYES - No.- We have only a limited supply of pine, including King Billy, celery top andHuon pine. Generally speaking, Australian timber is hardwood. We have nothing like the Baltic pine, but our hardwoods can be used for allpurposes for which Baltic pine is imported, and we say that it is better in quality. This imported timber is being supplied at prices that are staggering to the Australian saw-millers. Baltic pine 6 in. x 7-8in. costs 18s. per 100 lineal feet, as compared with hardwood dressed to 4 in. x 7-8in. at 23s. per 100 lineal feet. The Australian timber is a little dearer, but we contend that it is very much better, and that it will be no hardship for the Australian market to be asked to use it. Another point to which I direct attention is that practically all the money which Australian saw-millers get from timber goes in wages. I know of no other industry in which such a high percentage of the revenue goes into the pockets of the employees, and when we remember that nearly everything which the saw-miller uses is protected, there is a strong case for the additional duties. He has to pay duty on machinery, and on the iron rails necessary for the construction of tramways into the forests, as well as higher wages to all classes of employees. He has no control over any of these items of expenditure; they are fixed for him by law. This industry means a great deal to Tasmania, and I trust that, after the Tariff Board presents its report, Parliament will agree to an increase in duty so as to enable the saw-mills to continue working.

Senator McLachlan - How is it proposed to enforce a guarantee that sawmillers will not increase prices if additional duties are imposed ?

Senator J B HAYES - The sawmillers in Tasmania are members of an association, and as there are only 192 mills in the State, it should not be difficult to get an individual undertaking from them.

Senator Kingsmill - What about the other States?

Senator J B HAYES - The sawmillers in Western Australia are in a better position. They have an overseas market, whereas the Tasmanian mills depend entirely on the Australian market. The Tasmanian mills have to compete with hardwood mills on the mainland which have not to pay high sea freights, and, therefore, are in a position to take lower profits. However, we do not mind that competition so much as the competition from foreign timber which is brought to Australia in ships manned by seamen at ridiculously low rates of wages. I feel sure that, in a few weeks, the Government could get an undertaking from the Tasmanian mills not to increase Australian prices in the event of an additional tariff being imposed.

Senator McLachlan - The Government also proposes to go in for a housing scheme, and if the price of timber goes up, houses will cost more.

Senator J B HAYES - But the sawmillers are prepared to give an undertaking that the price of Tasmanian timber will not be increased, and there will be the additional satisfaction of knowing that a better class of timber will be used.

Senator Findley - Does the honorable senator suggest that better timber will be used in the future?

Senator J B HAYES - I had in mind the American and other imported timbers. Australian hardwood is infinitely better for building purposes than, say, Baltic pine. Baltic weatherboards will not stand the weather so well as Australian hardwood weatherboards.

Senator Findley - Is it not a fact that the fear of the borer is handicapping the Australian industry?

Senator J B HAYES - That problem has been thoroughly investigated by experts of the Tasmanian Forestry Department. The borer does not threaten Tasmanian hardwood. Sometimes it is attacked by the pin-hole insect, but that is harmless. In any case, the system of inspection in Tasmania is so thorough that no trouble may be anticipated with the borer.

Senator Thompson - Does the Tasmanian Government impose heavy royalties on timber areas ?

Senator J B HAYES - No; the royalties on hardwood are from 5s. a thousand super, feet downwards.

I endorse the action of the Government in advancing money to the States for road-making purposes, but I do not think that it is consistent to increase the duties on road-making machinery at the same time. I shall probably exercise my right to vote for requests to alter several items in the schedule.

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