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Wednesday, 21 March 1928

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - I rise to point to an aspect which appears to have been overlooked in this debate, and that is that those of us who are objecting to -the item are not advocating a reduction"1 in the duties in the old tariff, but what is actually an increase, since the increased duties set out in the schedule now before the committee cannot be assumed to be law until they have been agreed to by the Senate. The attitude which a number of honorable senators, myself included, take up, is that we are advocating an increase of practically 50 per cent, in duties which the Tariff Board considered adequate for the protection of the industry. In my remarks during the general discussion I made a slight mistake. I assumed that the old rate of duty was 3s. British, intermediate and general. I find that it was 3s. British and intermediate, and 4s. in the general tariff. Therefore, the amendment which I am about to submit will represent an increase of 50 per cent, under the general tariff. That should be sufficient to enable the saw-millers to carry on, without penalizing the consumers. I happened to be in telephonic communication with an architect friend of mine -in Sydney yesterday on the subject of these duties. He assured me that every architect in Sydney believed that they would very considerably increase the cost of every building erected in New South Wales, and that the position would be the . same in Queensland. That ought to correct Senator Hoare's ideas regarding my consistency, and Senator Reid's assumption' that my proposal is a shandy-gaff one.'1. 'T~ should like to follow up what Senator Chapman has said respecting the influences that have been at work in this matter. In the Brisbane Daily Mail of the 17th inst., a long telegram was published from Cairns indicating that Mr. James L. Moore had wired to the sawmillers in North Queensland informing them that Senators Reid, Foll, and Thompson were opposed to the proposed timber duties, and asking them to use every effort to induce those honorable senators, to vote for them. There may be nothing' wrong with that, but it is an evidence of energy rather than of discretion. Honorable senators are nor likely to submit to that sort of thing. I have only a superficial knowledge of the subject, but I cannot see in what way North Queensland is likely to be injured. _ It is well known that that portion of Australia grows principally decorative timbers, that are unsurpassed by similar timbers grown in any other part of the world. A celebrated Swedish professor said recently that the decorative timbers of North Queensland had no superior within his knowledge. How, then, are they likely to be injured? It is only ridiculous propaganda to say that they are.

Senator Crawford - There is just as much propaganda indulged in by the other side.

Senator THOMPSON - I have already informed honorable senators that my desire to effect a compromise was dictated largely by a letter which I had received from a very fine firm of sawmillers in Brisbane, James Campbell & Sons Ltd. The Minister (Senator Crawford) has referred to propaganda on the other side. Since the adjournment of the Senate on Friday last I have received a letter from Brown & Broad, Newstead Homes Ltd., Brisbane, a firm which carries extensive stocks and whose operations in connexion with the building of homes for the workers are probably not equalled by any other firm in Australia. It will place before honorable senators the point of view of the consumers.

Senator Crawford - They are builders, not consumers.

Senator THOMPSON - They build for the consumer. Why does the Minister try to sidestep such an obvious fact ?

Senator Crawford - They are opposing the duties so that they may make a bigger profit out of imported timbers.

Senator THOMPSON - The Minister has asked me to give him the viewpoint of the other side, and I have very much pleasure in doing so. The letter reads -

Timber Duties. - I read with some amazement a statement in the press to the effect that hardwood millers had convinced senators that, if the proposed increased duties were not confirmed, the hardwood industry would be very seriously injured. Such a contention is utterly ridiculous, and an insult to the intelligence of senators - doubtless the statement was blatant propaganda. As an evidence of the difficulty in obtaining hardwood supplies, I may say that my company has a contract with the] Postmaster-General, for the supply of hardwood crossarms. The size of the timber is 3 inches by 3 inches and lengths vary from fi' ft. 6 in. long to 9 feet. This is one of the easiest specifications any sawmiller could ask for, yet what do we find? Out of five hardwood millers with whom orders were placed, only two can supply small quantities. I send you herewith copies of letters received from these millers, which speak volumes, more especially when one hears so much piffle about the great hardwood industry being ruined by importations of foreign timber.

I shall not inflict those upon honorable senators.

Senator Crawford - The honorable senator should do so, because they state definitely that weather conditions have been responsible for the difficulty which has been experienced in obtaining supplies.

Senator THOMPSON - The letter says -

My company find it most difficult to obtain ordinary general stocks, for which it has to pay 30s. per 100 feet, and it is offering considerably more for crossarms, without results. The Government appointed a tariff ' commission, who thoroughly and exhaustively investigated the timber tariff and brought down certain well-considered proposals. The Minister for Customs apparently did not see fit to accept those recommendations, and by a stroke of the pen just doubled the existing duties and ignored the report altogether. Surely the Minister's duty was to place the Tariff Commission's recommendations before the House, and let it decide; otherwise where is the justification for the appointment of a very expensive commission. You will have to deal with this important question in a few days, and I say deliberately that the trade as a whole had confidence in the Tariff Commission, and would have accepted their decision without demur; but, if the Minister's high-handed action is confirmed, then we lose our respect and confidence in those who support such a person.

It goes on to say -

Increased Duties won't help. - My company is now, I believe, the largest home-building concern in tlie Commonwealth. It supplies and erects homes all over Queensland, from the Gulf. to the Tweed, and, if I could obtain its timber requirements locally, I would do so. I have two large sawmills in the country capable of cutting over 30,000 feet daily. They are both closed down permanently and the machinery is for sale. The sole reason for closure was because the timber supplies have been exhausted. An endeavour was made to secure supplies in other districts, and I was prepared to move the mills; but the Government would give no assurance of supplies. My company was forced to import through no fault of its own. The dreadful neglect of the present and past governments of this unfortunate State has placed timber merchants in this unhappy position.

I shall not flog a dead horse any longer. I move -

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the duties, sub-item f (3), British, 5s.; intermediate, 5s.; general, Gs.

Senator FINDLEY(Victoria) [3.381. - I rise to answer certain statements made by Senator Kingsmill, that are not in accordance with the facts. That honorable senator quoted extensively from a report of the Director-General of Forests, Mr. Lane-Poole, and endeavoured to lead honorable senators to believe that Australia has not a sufficient supply of hardwood to cope with her requirements. I cannot speak for the timber industry of Australia as a whole, but I can. speak with some authority regarding Victoria. When the statement was published that we had an insufficient supply of hardwood, the people who are engaged in the timber industry in Victoria were naturally more or less incensed. Whatever justification Senator Kingsmill might have had for making his statement applicable to the other States, he certainly was not justified in applying it to Victoria.

Senator J B Hayes - The same is true of Tasmania.

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