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Thursday, 3 November 1927


Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW - (Queensland - Minister for Defence)

That the bill be now read a second time.

Honorable senators will, I feel sure, agree that a measure which has for its object the launching of a national forestry policy is long overdue. I shall not weary the Senate by quoting statistics; but may say that in 1926 our imports of timber totalled 495,500,000 feet, valued at £5,000,000. Australia, which is little more than a century old, and has but a handful of people buys the bulk of her timber from America, a country three centuries older and with a population of over 110,000,000. This is not because that country has set her house in order so as to supply her own requirements, but because this older off-shoot of the British race has not yet exhausted her virgin forests on the Pacific slope, so that she can still meet her requirements and at the same time sell a surplus overseas. Australia, on the other hand, is dependent on imported lumber.

Our consumption of imported timber is approximately 84 feet per head of population. It may be said that possibly we are exporting largely to other lands. The timber we import is soft-wood, whilst our own forests consist for the most part of hard-wood timbers. An exchange of one for the other would be economically sound; but how does our hard-wood industry stand? The export figures are: -

 

The total exports approximate 122,000,000 feet valued at a little under £1,500,000. Our export timber trade to-day represents but 24 per cent, of our imports of timber and' i3 practically confined to Western Australia. The larger mills in that State are gradually closing' down, and it will not be very long1 before the last of the virgin jarrah country will be cut out and the export of this timber will cease. We shall then have to pay entirely in other goods or gold' for the timber we require. The value of timber is increasing every year and with the cutting- out of the supplies on the American Pacific coast prices may be expected to rise to great heights before 1950, which is the date estimated by forest authorities when the export of Oregon, western yellow pine and redwood will cease. Why is Australia dependent on foreign countries for her supplies ? If Australia- must have soft-woods, why do not our exports pay for our imports? The answer is that as far as reliance upon our timber reserves is concerned, the area of forest lands in Australia »vas small when the first pioneers set out to till the land. It was under 25,000,000 acres in a continent of 1,900,000,000 acres. Since then the virgin forests have in all commercially accessible parts been cut over to supply an export trade or to make farming lands. Local population was insufficient to absorb the smaller sizes al,d scantlings, so that a very small proportion of the original forest wealth of Australia was converted into sawn timber. Only the best trees were cut down ; the second-class logs were left to rot, and periodical fires burnt up the new growth which should have replaced the older trees that had been removed or had died. To-day the forests of Australia present for the most part a sorry spectacle or "cemeteries of trees," as Sir Frank Heath called them. For our present population the area of forest land should be ample. The Interstate Forestry Conference set this area down at 24,500,000 acres, or over 4 acres per head of population. Et is now generally recognized in older lands that it takes 0.86 acres per head of fully developed and scientifically managed forest to supply the needs of a modern civilized community. It is clear that for our present needs we should require only some 5,000,000 acres of forest; and had our predecessors only developed a forestry policy, the remaining 20,000,000 acres would have been still yielding us a precious export trade. If every acre of our forest heritage were brought into its maximum condition of yield, there would be enough timber to supply the needs of a population of 28,000,000 people. This- population, at our present rate of increase in Australia, may be expected to be reached in 70 years. This, then, is the time to bring our forests into a condition of maximum productivity. I. yield to no one in my admiration of Australian timbers - the jarrah in Western Australia; the redgum, mountain ash, messmate, blackwood-,, bluegum and red ironbark in the south ; the grey and narrowleafed ironbark, tallow wood, spotted gum,, and turpentine in the eastern States, as well as those splendid cabinet woods, cedar, maple, white beech, crowsfoot elm and black bean, to name but a few, in North Queensland. Australia is indeed fortunate to possess such magnificent woods. "With them we can build the finest of houses, and can decorate the interiors with the most beautiful woodwork, and finally we can furnish our homes with cabinet woods which can only be rivalled by mahogany. Unfortunately our supply of soft-wood timber is limited. Our forests of hoop pine, bunya, kauri, celery top and huon from Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania are so ne"arly exhausted that the cut of Australian soft-woods represents but a tiny percentage of the import figures.

Forestry is a cold, hard business. It is a form of agriculture where the crops are spaced at long intervals instead of being annual; it is farming on long rotation. We can do nothing without wood. All the substitutes invented only demonstrate that wood is still as necessary as ever. The more civilized a country - the more it is developed, and the higher its standard of living - the greater is its .consumption of wood, and nearly 80 per cent, of this is soft-wood of the pine, spruce, or fir families. A properly managed forest will give a sustained yield of timber equal to the growth of the forest annually. If we cut out our forests faster than they will grow, it is clear that we shall quickly exhaust them. Lack of appreciation of this fundamental fact has brought Australia to her present unenviable forestry position. It is not only in regard to soft-woods that the shortage is felt. The shortage of sound hard-wood for such purposes as railway sleepers is becoming very serious, and is hampering development. Another aspect of forestry which has been overlooked -is the influence of woodlands on the conditions of environment. Inland, in the less well watered regions, vast areas have been denuded of their scattered forest formation to improve the_ grazing and to make way for wheat. The lessons of history have been disregarded, and already the evil effects are being - felt in Australia. The general j-elative humidity is lowered, desiccating winds make husbandry difficult; or at their worst, cause soil erosion to such an extent as to make any form of agriculture impossible. In the words of a famous French forester : " Democracy finds forests and leaves deserts." In the mountain country, too, the result 01 de-forestation is exceedingly serious. The springs and rivulets that feed the greater rivers are converted from perennial streams to rushing torrents. Whole mountain sides are washed away once the forest is destroyed, and its spongy soil laid bare to the winter rains. The silt carried down ruins the lowlands and the people suffer. Sudden, violent floods are the rule in such country. Protection forests at tlie heads of the rivers are as important as in the great wheat belt. It is of little use our making provision for a timber supply for 28,000,000 people if the land which must yield the main agricultural produce of the population is, in the meantime, rendered sterile.

The Commonwealth Government, alive to the national importance of the forestry 1 question, has taken certain steps .to inquire in what direction the responsibilities lie. Reports by a qualified forester have been obtained as to the forest resources and potentialities of Papua, New Guinea, the Federal Capital Territory, Jervis Bay and Norfolk Island. The Northern Territory remains to be investigated. Following on recommendations made in the report, the Administration of Papua has formulated a policy and the financing of it is now under consideration. In the Territory of New Guinea we have the same obligation, and it is expected that a policy will be laid down soon on lines similar to that adopted by Papua. In this way a reserve of timber will be built up in the tropics. Norfolk Island is too small to do much more than supply its own requirements. The island boasts a valuable timber tree in the pine that bears its name, and in this respect the island will prove a valuable source of seed supply for the mainland. The Federal Capital Commission has appointed a technically trained forester to take charge of the work at Canberra; pine planting is now being extended and the hard-wood forests are being assessed. The next obligation which the Central Government shouldered was the Australian Forestry School. Ever since 1917 the interstate forestry conference has urged the establishment of one school to train all the foresters of Australia. For various reasons effect was not given- to the unanimous recommendations of the state foresters. As finality seemed as far away as ever, the Federal Government offered to establish the institution itself in the Federal Capital Territory. To this proposal the States agreed. Pending the erection of the buildings at Canberra, the generous offer of the University of Adelaide to house the school there in the meantime, was accepted. The buildings at Canberra are now completed. The first students entered the permanent institution on 11th April last. The provision of an Australian Forestry School involves a substantial expenditure, not only on buildings and equipment but also in respect of salaries paid to the principal and his staff of lecturers. It is felt that by this means alone can the future forest administrators and field staffs of Australia be trained in their work. It is only in this way that a school of Australian forestry thought can be built up. Apart from its own Territories, this is the first step taken by the Commonwealth Government to assist forestry throughout Australia. Another direction in which the Commonwealth can help is in organizing and coordinating research work into the various problems of sylviculture and forest management. We have at present no accurate data as to the yield of our forests in timber. We cannot say that such and such a timber should be grown in a pure stand, or whether it requires a mixture of species to attain - its best development. Finally, we cannot say how many years it takes for a tree to mature. The rotation of our crop is unknown. To remedy all this it is proposed to establish a research branch to investigate all the problems of forestry. To provide the necessary machinery to carry out the duties and obligations I have outlined, it has been necessary to create a forestry bureau. In the Prime Minister's policy speech at Dandenong, the establishment of such an organization was announced. This bill has been introduced to pro vide for a continuity of that policy. The current year's appropriation for the Commonwealth's forestry activities is £5,708. As the school develops and the research branch is established, the cost will increase. It will take some years to train the research men, and until they are ready, little progress can be made. It is for this reason that the clause regarding scholarships has been inserted in the bill. We must subsidize research students if we are to get results. Although the functions detailed in the bill could be carried out without legislative action and despite the fact that the bureau and the. school have already been established, it is felt that the founding of a national policy by the Commonwealth Government is a step of such importance that it should receive the assent of Parliament, so that the policy once laid down may be pursued by successive governments on such lines as will promote the development of forestry throughout Australia.

Motion (by Senator Needham) proposed

That thu debate be now adjourned.


Senator Ogden - I should like to know, Mr. President, if it will be possible for honorable senators to have a rough proof of the Minister's speech tomorrowmorning ?

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - Since the transfer to Canberra there has been a fairly general request that rough proofs of speches of honorable members of both Houses should be made available every morning. Efforts are being made to have such proofs made available much earlier than is the case at present. In the course of a day or so we shall be in a position to know exactly whether that can be done.


Senator Findley - With all respect to you, sir, I think that the question asked by Senator Ogden was hardly Understood by you. I gathered that he asked whether a rough proof of the speech which has been delivered to-day by the Minister (Senator Glasgow) could be made available to all honorable senators to-morrow morning.







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