Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 16 March 1928

Senator CHAPMAN (South Australia) . - Senator Hoare has accused some honorable senators of inconsistency. I desire to point out the inconsistency of the party to which the honorable senator himself belongs. Senator Hoare favours increased duties on timber, which will have the effect of increasing the cost of houses throughout Australia, including South Australia. But what is the attitude of the Labour party in South Australia in regard to this matter? Some time ago the leader of that party in the State Parliament asked the Premier of South Australia whether he would make representations to the Prime Minister in connexion with the iniquitous timber duties, which were raising the cost of houses to the people of South Australia. We, therefore, have the Leader of the Labour party in the State Parliament opposing further duties on timber, whereas in the Federal sphere the representatives of the same party, not satisfied with the increased duties proposed by the Government, voted for still higher duties. A political party cannot speak with two voices for other than purposes of political propaganda. I am also at a loss to understand the attitude of Senator Foll towards this item. The honorable senator confesses that he does not believe that the increased duties will have the desired effect; yet, because he has received a number of telegrams urging him to support them, he proposes to do so.

Senator Foll - I said that I should vote for the higher duties in order to give the saw-millers an opportunity to prove whether their mills could be kept going.-

Senator CHAPMAN - The honorable senator said that .he did not think the increased duties would have the effect claimed for them.

Senator Foll - Nor do I think that they will.

Senator CHAPMAN - Honorable senators may not be aware that about a fortnight ago the interests concerned in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales issued a circular to the country saw-millers urging them to communicate with their representatives in this Senate' pointing out that unless the higher duties were agreed to the mills would have to close. A),

Senator Reid - Unless the honorable senator has definite information that that circular was issued, he should not make the statement.

Senator CHAPMAN - Honorable senators should know the real source of the communications they have received. I remind honorable senators who may fear that they will lose support in their electorates if they do not vote for the increased duties on timber, that housebuilders, farmers and home-seekers are watching their actions. It is true that, since 1920-21 the importations of timber have increased considerably; but that was not a normal year, because, owing to conditions immediately due to the war, the importations of timber during that year were considerably lower than they were in pre-war years. The Tariff Board would not accept the importations for 1920-21 as a proper basis for comparison. A more correct idea as to the importations of timber will be gained from the following table : -

It will be seen that the average importations during 1912 and 1913 were about the same as they were between 1923 and 1927. During 1926-27 the importations of timber dropped considerably below the quantity imported during the previous year. To meet the slightly increased importations, the Tariff Board recommended a small increase in the duties. If we consider this question from the percapita stand-point, we find that the importations have decreased considerably since 1912, the figures in 1912 being 93.33 per cent., dropping to 67.16 per cent. in 1924- 25, increasing to 82.68 per cent, in 1925- 26, and falling to 75.50 per cent, in 1926- 27.

SenatorGreene. - My figures show the reverse.

Senator CHAPMAN - I have given the Tariff Board's figures. During the same years the native timber produced was as follows: -


From that table it will be seen that the production of native timber has not varied to any extent. I have already shown that importations have been practically stationary, comparing the normal years 1912-13 with 1924-27. With a considerably larger population there should have been a bigger demand, and the only explanation of the fact that there has not been a greater increase in the use of timber is that housebuilders, instead of using timber, have used substitutes. Honorable senators who claim that further duties on timber will force builders to use Australian hardwoods, should realize that their action will tend to a still further use of substitutes. Already the people of Australia pay over £1,000,000 annually as duties on timber. It is unreasonable to expect them to pay the further £700,000 per annum which these duties would impose. In its report the Tariff Board says -

Witnesses in favour of the request for additional duties admitted, however, that hardwood could not be used as a substitute for Oregon for many purposes, and that no matter what duty was imposed Oregon would still be imported. There are many purposes for which hardwood is not suitable and for which oregon is essential, amongst which might be mentioned -

Falsework for bridges;

Scaffolding ;

Facing boards for concrete work;

Operations where very long lengths are necessary.

Considerable evidence was tendered as to the respective selling prices of hardwood scantlings and those of competitive oregon.

From the figures submitted it would appear that in some cases, even with the additional duty asked for, the hardwood would be at a disadvantage in the matter of. price as compared with oregon. As in the case of other timber it is obviously not practicable to provide a duty that would meet what are regarded as the needs of the various local saw-millers concerned, operating as they do under different circumstances and conditions.

Towards the end of its report the Tariff Board has a good deal to say regarding the inefficiency of many of the timber mills. It points out that there are many ways in which the industry by its own efforts can improve its conditions. I have never seen a more scathing comment on any industry than is contained in the Tariff Board's report on timber. We are not justified in imposing high duties to encourage inefficiency. Instead of asking for assistance in the nature of increased duties, thus placing a further burden on the people of Australia, the timber industry should organize to help itself.

SenatorREID (Queensland) [2.45]. - All sorts of statements have been indulged in during this discussion, but Senator Chapman has just made a charge which I do not think should be made in this chamber. He asserts that a letter has been sent out to all the country saw-millers advising them to deluge the Senate with telegrams saying that they will have to close unless we pass these duties on timber. No responsible man should make a statement of that kind without absolute proof of its correctness. Like other honorable senators, I have been deluged with telegrams. On the second reading I quoted from the report of the Tariff Board and the Queensland Forestry Department, and I said that unless evidence was brought forward to convince me that I was wrong I should not vote for the increased duties on timber.

Senator Thompson - Subsequently the honorable senator received his telegrams.

Suggest corrections