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Wednesday, 16 November 1927
Page: 1422

Senator HERBERT HAYS (Tasmania) . - I move-

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till 1 1 a.m. to-morrow.

It seems to me that this is the best opportunity that presents itself to me to bring under the attention of the Government and the people of Australia, the condition of the timber industry of the Commonwealth. I feel sure that I shall be supported by honorable senators. During the last three or four years the position of the timber industry has frequently been brought before the Minister by members of this Parliament and of the Tasmanian Parliament. Since 1921, when, as the result of an inquiry by the Tariff Board, some assistance was given to the timber industry, no further relief has been granted. Last year, in reply to representations made to him, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) said that sufficient evidence had not been produced to justify the matter being resubmitted to the Tariff Board. Previously that board had reported that, in its opinion, further protection was not necessary. About this time last year a further deputation waited on the Minister, who then stated that he was satisfied that a ca se had been made out for a further review of the matter by the Tariff Board. The Tariff Board instituted an . inquiry and, I understand, submitted its report early this year. We are now almost at the end of the year, yet nothing has been done, nor do we know the Government's intentions. Unless something is done quickly, an important Australian industry will be lost. The timber industry is entitled to the same protection that is given to other Australian industries.

Its present unsatisfactory condition is largely the result of legislation passed by this Parliament. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides for the making of awards as to the rates of pay and other conditions which shall operate in various industries in Australia. Under that legislation, Australian seamen and waterside workers have been granted liberal rates of pay. In addition, the ^Navigation Act has conferred further benefits on Australian seamen and has governed the freights which may be charged by vessels plying in Australian waters. I do not say that the awards made on behalf of our sailors and waterside workers are inequitable; but the fact remains that, because of a lack of similar protection to sawmillers, the timber industry, which at one time was flourishing, is now in a parlous condition. Under our national policy of protection, almost the whole of the machinery and other equipment used by sawmillers is made in Australia, with the result that their cost has been increased by from 25 to 50 per cent. Had the same protection been given to the timber industry that has been granted to other industries it would not now be in a languishing condition.

Senator Thompson - The mining companies have protested against increased duties on timber.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - Realizing the need for further development in Australia, the Government appointed a Development and Migration Commission to inquire as to the best means of developing our industries, and of making provision for migrants. Yet it has neglected an established industry. The production of Australian hardwoods is steadily decreasing, with the result that the number of mill-hands employed in the timber industry to-day is not more than half what it was in 1924. Probably one-half of our sawmills have ceased operating; yet the quantity of imported timbers imported each year has been steadily on the increase. Australia now imports about 500,000,000 feet of timber annually, whereas in 1921 we imported only 242,000,000 feet. Notwithstanding our increased population and the consequent further demand for timber, the Australian timber industry has not benefited. The increased demand has been met by further importations. The heavy freights on timber from Tasmania to the mainland has militated against the industry. It costs from 30 to 40 per cent, more to convey timber from Tasmania to Australian . mainland ports than to bring it from Baltic ports. Timber from Canada can be conveyed to Sydney for less than it takes to carry it from Tasmania to Sydney. The freight on timber conveyed from Cairns to Melbourne is Ss. 6d. per 100 feet compared Avith 3s. lOd. per 100 feet for timber brought from Baltic ports in sailing vessels, or 5s. if shipped by steamers. Timber in 20-ft. lengths can be conveyed from Hobart to Melbourne at from 5s. 3d. to 5s. 9d. per 100 feet. The rate for 40-ft. lengths of timber carried from Launceston to Melbourne is 7s. per 100 feet; from Sydney to Melbourne it is 4s. 9d. ; from Perth to Melbourne, 7s. 2d.; from Brisbane to Melbourne, 6s. 6d. Prom Canada to Port Adelaide the freight is 6s., and from Baltic ports to Port Adelaide, 3s. 10d. Prom Tasmania to Port Adelaide it is 8s.; and for 30-ft. lengths, 9s.; and 40-ft. lengths, lis. These figures show that the rates between Australian ports range from 25 per cent, to 50 per cent, above freights from Baltic ports to Australia.

Senator Duncan - Might not that be accounted for by the difference in weight of hardwood and softwood?

Senator HERBERT HAYS - That might have some bearing on the discrepancy, but usually timber freight is determined by measurement. Recently the Minister for Trade and Commerce (Mr. Pratten) paid a visit to Great Britain and, on his return, indicated that the prospects of establishing new industries in Australia were particularly bright. The Government should also show some concern for the welfare of existing industrial concerns, . such as the timber industry. It is regrettable that the timber industry has practically been ruined as the result of legislation passed by this Parliament. If the protection given to other secondary industries had been extended to the sawmilling industry of Australia, it would have been in a flourishing condition to-day. "

SenatorFoll. - What legislationhas thehonorable senator in mind?

Senator HERBERT HAYS - Ihave already mentioned the effect on the business of the awards of the Arbitration Court, which of course have been determined by the Australian standard of living. The Navigation Act also has operated against the success of the timber industry, which is further handicapped by the increased cost of imported saw milling machinery due to high protective duties. A considerable amount of capital invested in the industry has been lost. To be consistent, Parliament should extend to it the same measure of protection that is given to other forms of secondary enterprises.

Senator Needham - Does the honorable senator suggest that the timber industry could flourish under sweating conditions ?

Senator HERBERT HAYS - No. What I am endeavouring to show is that if the standard of living observed in all industries had not been altered as the result of Arbitration Court awards the timber industry would have continued to prosper. Its position has been under consideration by the Tariff Board for a long time. The report of that body has been in the hands of the Minister for the last nine months, and yet we are not informed as to the nature of its recommendation.

Senator Thompson - What has the honorable senator to say about the position of the mining companies?

Senator HERBERT HAYS - I have never suggested that softwoods should not be used, because I admit that, for certain mining work it may be advantageous to useoregon. But we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that timber imports are increasing very substantially and that in consequence, the hardwood timber industry in Australia is suffering. Even the barriers erected in front of this building on Armistice Day were made of oregon.

SenatorFoll. - Perhaps hardwoods are not suitable for that class of work.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - That may be so; but if the timber industry is not tor. enjoy the benefits of protection equally with other industries, then our fiscal policy is a very lopsided one. The timber industry means a great deal to Tasmania. Owing to intense overseas competition it is languishing not only in Tasmania, but also in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland. Just before the Senate adjourned in March of this year I asked if it would be possible for the Government to table . the report of the Tariff Board so that those engaged in the industry might know what was likely to happen. The honorary Minister then indicated, perhaps with some justification, that he had not had an opportunity to read the report, which consisted of 100 pages, but said that it would receive attention at the earliest opportunity. In reply to a question asked the other day by Senator J. B. Hayes, he said that the reports of the Tariff Board were not received until September, which to me seemed most extraordinary, as he had previously said that they had been received in March or at the latest, early in April. I have submitted these few facts in an endeavour to place the position fairly before the Senate, and I trust that other honorable senators will express their views on this subject which is of vital importance not only to the State of Tasmania, but to the whole Commonwealth.

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