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Wednesday, 14 March 1928

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - I doubt if there is one item in the schedule with regard to. which honorable senators find it so difficult to obtain reliable information in connexion with this item, which deals with the timber industry of Australia. Senator J. B. Hayes spoke just now of the mass of information which had been sent to honorable senators concerning timber. It is obvious that the inclusion of this item in the schedule has directly benefited the postal revenue. Like Senator J. B. Hayes, I have been inundated with information, doubtful and otherwise, upon this important, matter. It is not easy for me to determine how much of it to accept as sound and how much may be regarded as unreliable; but I have endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to arrive at correct conclusions concerning the industry. It ia generally admitted that the timber trade of Australia is in a serious position. Many mills have been closed and their owners are in dire financial straits; but, as Senator Carroll has pointed out, other industries are suffering' to a like extent. Why is the timber industry in its present parlous condition? Those who advocate increased duties say that, up to the present, it has not been adequately protected. It is possible that, had the importation of foreign timber been discouraged by higher duties, there would - have been a greater demand for Australian timber; but I am inclined to believe that other factors have to be taken into account. The building trade, as we all know, is passing through a phase that was not contemplated a few years ago. There has been a remarkable development in concrete construction, and builders are utilizing more and more substitutes for timber. For example, fibro-cement sheets are now being extensively used in ' certain localities because they are cheap, easy to work, and are white-ant resistant.

Senator Herbert Hays - If that is so, why have not importations of foreign timber declined?

Senator DUNCAN - I think that may be explained by the fact that for certain classes of work imported timber is essential. I have in mind particularly concrete construction for city buildings, for which there is no satisfactory substitute for

Oregon, which is used so largely for framing or casing. We seem, also, to be within measurable distance of the time when concrete will be more generally used for cottage construction work. Experts' have expressed the opinion that the subjection of Australian hardwood to wet. on one side, and dry heat on the other, in concrete work, causes it to buckle, and to interfere seriously with the construction of the building. That does not happen with Oregon.

Senator Reid - Hardwood is too heavy for that class of work.

Senator DUNCAN - That is so. These considerations impel me to suggest that by imposing an additional duty we are placing a severe handicap upon our own people without having any guarantee that the result will be the use of Australian timbers to an increasing extent. I take it that before the Government brought down this tariff they gave the most serious consideration to the requirements of the position. The dutieswhich were tabled in another place, were different from those that we are now considering. These were forced upon the Government by a majority of honorable members of another place, who perhaps had not had the opportunity to' sift the information in the possession of the Government and their advisers.

Senator Payne - The quantity of

Oregon used for casing is infinitesimal.

Senator DUNCAN - It is used' also in many other directions. Some of these duties appear to me to have been designed to assist the United States of America at the expense .of portions of the British Empire. For example, the duty on American redwood is lower than that proposed on timber from Canada and British Borneo. Thus the users of timber in Australia are practically being invited to use redwood from the United States instead of timber that has been produced within the Empire.

Senator Herbert Hays - By coolie labour:

Senator DUNCAN - Some of it may be, but a great deal of it is not.

Mr GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable senator suggest that Oregon and redwood have similar uses?

Senator DUNCAN - I certainly do not. Both have distinctive uses. I cannot see that the use of redwood is more vital to this community than the use of

Oregon; yet for some reason that I have been unable to fathom, the duty on redwood is lower than that on Oregon. It is true that we have not in Australia a satisfactory substitute for Oregon.

Senator Ogden - For certain purposes. Senator DUNCAN. - A substitute can be found for baltic pine; but hardwood can never take the place of Oregon for certain purposes. In these days of high costs it is necessary for us to bear in mind the greater expense involved in working hardwood, the increased labour charge, and the higher cost of transport due to the heavier weight of hardwood. Seeing that we are endeavouring to induce as many people as possible to reside in their own homes, it is a mistaken policy to make it more difficult for them to acquire those homes. Increased duties certainly have that tendency.

Senator Ogden - Does not that argument apply to all duties ?

Senator Kingsmill - It applies to all excessive duties.

Senator DUNCAN - As . Senator Kingsmill says, it applies to all excessive duties. I do not believe that our adoption of these proposed duties will result in considerable increase in the use of Australian hardwoods. Oregon will continue to come in, and the only effect of these duties will be- to add to the costs of the Australian home builder and those who are building up our industries. "We are not justified in placing additional hardships upon Australian industries. This tariff was designed to assist them. If it could be shown that these duties would have the effect of building up the Australian timber industry, I should be prepared to withdraw my objection to them. New South Wales produces a large quantity of timber, and sawmills in different parts of that State have been in a parlous condition for some time. If I thought these duties would help them to any considerable extent, I would support them; but I do not believe that they will. On the contrary, they will do injury to others. I, therefore, oppose them.

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