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Wednesday, 16 November 1927


Senator FINDLEY - Senator Duncan first accuses the workers in the timber industry with having adopted " go slow " methods, and then he says that he would like- to know whether the charge that they have done so is correct. I have heard1 of " Yes-No " protectionists ; Senator Duncan's speech was a masterpiece of ambiguity. The sawmillers of .Australia have presented an unanswerable case for further protective duties.


Senator Ogden - That is the honorable senator's panacea for all evils.


Senator FINDLEY - I do not say that, but if I had to choose between the policy of free trade and that of protection,. I should unhesitatingly declare for protection. There are no half measures about me. I can respect honorable senators who believe in free trade: their attitude is at least logical; but I have no time for the revenue tariffist who wants revenue, but is not prepared to encourage the establishment of industries in Australia.


Senator Grant - That is the policy of the Government.


Senator FINDLEY - To that policy I am opposed. The report of the Tariff Board states the reasons advanced by those engaged in the timber industry for a greater measure of protection. It says -

Owing to the wages and conditions of labour in Australia, it is necessary that adequate protection be given local industry and timber in particular, so that competition from countries with lower wages, longer hours, and coloured labour can be met. The problem of prescribing a protective tariff for this industry has never been given the mature consideration that an industry of such magnitude and of such great national importance justly demands.

I agree with that view, and so does every protectionist. The further reason was advanced by those engaged in the industry that -

In Australia our forests are largely overmatured, and require cutting, both in order to save further waste through decay, and also that the forester may assist nature to gradually replace those decadent forests with young and vigorous growth, to ensure a sustained yield of timber.

That the Government recognizes the truth of that statement is evidenced by its introduction of a bill to encourage forestry. The report goes on to say -

Forestry opens up the country and assists immigration; without forestry there will be no small farms. Next to food, wood is the article of which an abundant supply is essential to the nation. This industry under normal circumstances offers employment to 35,000 Australian workmen. Without reasonable protection, a large number are unemployed. On many of our railways ,84 per cent, to 93 per cent, of the revenue is from timber. Many of our main ports have been built up as a result of export wharfages on timber. If these ports were forced to close, the backbone of many of the farming districts would be gone.

The case as there set out before the Tariff Board is, in my opinion, unanswerable. The protection of the timber industry is a matter of vital importance to every one in Australia.


Senator Duncan - The honorable senator would be the first to complain if increased costs resulted in higher rents.


Senator FINDLEY - I was surprised to hear Senator Herbert Hays say that legislation passed by this Parliament had strangled the timber industry. He said that were it not for arbitration awards and wages boards determinations, the industry would to-day be in a flourishing condition. If I were advocating the claims of an industry, I should not say that those engaged in it were not entitled to the same measure of protection as were workers in other industries. For the timber industry to be established on a sound footing, adequate protection, both to proprietors andworkmen must be given. Otherwise, the proposals of the honorable senator are not worthy of our serious consideration. Are honorable senators aware of the industrial conditions that obtain in other countries from which Australia imports large quantities of timber? The lowest wage paid in Canada is 25s. a week for coloured labour. I understand that Asiatics constitute 26 per cent. of the employees in. the industry there, and that the United States of America also employs a considerable proportion of black labour. The lowest wage in that country is 40s.8d. a week. In Sweden the minimum wage for timber workers is 7s, 7d. per day. In Australia it is 83s. a week of 48 hours. Since we have declared in favour of protection we should doall we can to prevent this continuous flow of imported timber to Australia, particularly from those countries which employ black labour.We have given the highest measure of protection to the sugar industry, because we realize that without protection it. would be impossible for Australian sugargrowers to compete against the product of black labour countries. Having protected the sugar-growers we have also declared that the workmen engaged in the industry shall be given a fair deal. Tasmania is not the only state that is affected by this depression in the timber industry.


Senator Ogden - It is affected more seriously than are the other States.


Senator FINDLEY - I doubt that. The industry is a fairly important one in Victoria. I am familiar with many of the timber districts in that State, and I know how the progress of those areas is linked up with the prosperity of the timber industry. The report of the Tariff Board, from which I have just quoted, goes on to state -

Particulars were obtained from millers in Victoria, and it was ascertained that51 millers have in stock at their mills and sidings 5,500,000 super feet of timber. In normal times they would have 1,000,000 super, feet, and this 4,500,000 surplus is held despite the fact that of the 01 mills represented by the 51 millers, 28 have closed for varying periods, and only four are working with a full staff. Throughout Victoria there are 240 mills, and it can, therefore, be said that the timberheld and unsaleable, except at a loss, equals one-tenth of the annual output of sawn timber.

Returns were received from69 mills, and of these -

Thirty-two are closed;

Thirteen are working with less than half their staff;

Twenty are working with a depleted staff;

Four only with a full staff.

In ordinary times these mills employ 1,824. men. They now employ675. These figures are for69 mills, whereas there are 240 mills in Victoria.

Twenty millers have given figures of their sales. These are -

 

The PRESIDENT' (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - Order! The honorable senator has exhausted his time

SenatorOGDEN (Tasmania) [4.25].- Whilst I agree with Senator Findley that the timber industry is an important one in many of the States, it is relatively more important to Tasmania. I am not a disciple of high protection. I am a low tariffist. Unlike Senator Findley and Senator Needham, I do not believe that high protection is a panacea for all our industrial evils. I know, of course, that it is a convenient doctrine for Labour to advocate, because high protection makes it possible for wages to be increased without regard to the source from whence the money conies. I am, as I said, a low tariffist, and whilst I am diffident about further increasing the cost of timber by raising the duties, I am forced, by the general tendency to impose high protective duties on other industries, to support the proposal in order that the timber industry may get its share of the plunder. What will be the effect of an increased duty on timber? Immediately the millers cut it, it will pass into the hands of the merchants, who will increase the price to the consumer. Although we may raise the duty another 5s. or 10s. per 100 super. feet, I question very much whether the millers will reap much advantage from the higher duty. I regret that we cannot discuss this issue apart from the party aspect. Senator Needham raised the question of wages. It is not necessary for me to defend Senator Herbert Hays, because I think he clearly indicated that there were other considerations. If we have not only Arbitration Court awards, higher costs, and other conditions of employment, which naturally increased the cost of production in an industry, and that industry is not given access to the Tariff Board and a higher duty, the awards of the Arbitration Court become an injustice to that industry according to our present day philosophy. That was, I think what Senator Herbert Hays intended to convey. But the awards of the court also had relation to other conditions. I know that in Tasmania timber workers had to get wet pay. If in the morning there appeared to be a prospect of a shower the men did not go to work, and yet they had to be paid.


Senator Grant - That is a good idea.







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