Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 2 December 1927

Senator J B HAYES (Tasmania) . - I intend to refer to only one matter, and I feel sure that I have only to mention it to make the Government sec that the anomaly which I shall point out should be rectified. I refer to the tariff schedule, in so far as it relates to the timber industry. The only timber item included is rough Oregon. Honorable senators know that foreign timber is coming to Australia in ever-increasing quantities. It is now being imported at the rate of over 1,500,000 feet a day. From the United States of America we get Oregon and hemlock; from the Baltic States cheap pines already dressed, and from Borneo and other islands hardwoods, such as Manchurian oak; all of which come into direct competition with Australian timbers. The only protection contained in this schedule is that provided in regard to rough Oregon. Hemlock is almost akin to Oregon, and I am informed that if our overseas competitors sent us hemlock instead of Oregon, they could evade the extra protection now' proposed. It seems unthinkable no extra protection is to be given against Baltic timbers that come here already dressed, and are sold in direct competition with our best flooring boards, weatherboards and linings, for which the timbers produced in the various States are eminently suitable. If I know anything about the purpose of our protective tariff, it is to enable "us to pay reasonable wages to Australian workmen, and to compete with the manufacturers of low-wage countries. In the Baltic countries the wages are £2 8s. a week as against £4 6s. in Australia. Baltic timber is brought here for 3s. lOd. a 100 feet, while it costs from 5s. to 7s. a 100 feet to ship timber from Tasmania to the mainland of Australia. Furthermore these Baltic timbers are already dressed for use in buildings. The Government has proposed protection against rough Oregon, so that if it has to be dressed before use the work will be done by Australian labour, but the dressing of the cheap Baltic stuff that is coming in is done by cheap foreign labour. That is obviously unfair. An expert who has looked through the tariff schedule, has pointed out to me that the proposed duty on rough Oregon under a specified size is lis. per 100 feet, and that if it is dressed in a certain way before it is shipped, the duty will only be 8s. 6d. a hundred. Surely a mistake has been made. The schedule must have been drawn up by an officer having an imperfect knowledge of the case. If a duty of 8s. 6d. had been placed on rough Oregon, although it would have been insufficient, and if a higher duty had been charged for Oregon dressed, it might have been more reasonable.

Senator Grant - Does the honorable senator suggest that this timber should be kept out of Australia?

Senator J B HAYES - No. I suggest the imposition of a sufficient duty to enable us to use our own timber. A very high authority, the Conservator of Forests in Tasmania, points out -

Thu position, 'as regards Tasmania, of the timber industry and its bearing on the whole forestry problem is very, very grave. At the present time, I should say that somewhere about half of the sawmills of Tasmania are closed. There is nothing that knocks the timber industry back as local importations of foreign timber, and makes it harder for us to get a grip of these forests at all.

The total numbr of mills in Tasmania, according to figures given by the same expert, is 178, of which 76 are are working ' whole or part . time, and 102 are closed. The number of employees under normal circumstances is 2,825, and" the number now employed is 1,145, the unemployed numbering 1,785. Similar conditions prevail in connexion with the tim ber industry in the other States. Mr. B. D. Hay, Forestry Commissioner of New South Wales, states -

Speaking for New South Wales, 1 can say without hesitation that our local industry has been seriously depressed since the war ended. During the great part of the war period it was exceptionally brisk, because imports failed, and we had to rely upon and utilize our own material.

Mr. E.H. F. Swaine, chairman of the Provincial Forestry Board in Queensland, states -

No figures can remove the fundamental truth that very large quantities of semihardwoods, hardwoods, and pine-top logs can be marketed only at a loss in competition with imported Oregon and Baltic, and that in consequence Australia is undermining its timber assets by enforced destruction of unprofitable forests.

Senator Grant - The honorable senator does not suggest that foreign timbers should be shut out.

Senator J B HAYES - No; but our own timbers are infinitely superior for many purposes, for which cheap Baltic and hardwood, milled by coloured labour, is now used. I realize that for some purposes pines are necessary; but for most jobs our Australian hardwoods are ideal. Unfortunately, in the large cities one finds house after house being constructed without a stick of Australian timber. The tariff was surely designed to protect Australian industries from the competition of cheaplabour countries. If the Government will only consider the' matter, it will realize that the anomaly to which I have drawn attention should be. rectified.

Suggest corrections