Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 21 March 1928

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - When we are considering a proposal which means, roughly, doubling the rates of duty on timber and a substantial increase in the cost of a universally required article, we can well say, notwithstanding what the Minister has said, that an hour spent in discussing the matter is an hour usefully employed. ,.The Government's proposal means more than doubling the rate of duty on the great bulk of the timber imported into Australia. It means an increased levy of something like £835,000, or, deducting the duty on New Zealand timber, £770,000, on the users of timber in Australia. I feel it is like throwing chaff against the wind to. try to moderate these duties. I recognize that public opinion is still strongly in favour of the political superstition that all a country has to do to bring prosperity upon itself is to increase its customs duties and raise prices. Must not an end come to all this ? A few years ago the duty on imported timber was 2s. per 100 super, feet. The present proposal is to make it 8s., an increase of 400 per cent. Eight years ago the timber producers were clamouring for and were given rates of ls. 6d. and 2s., but the sole effect of giving those rates was to whet the desire of others to take advantage of the increase. The vicious circle came into play at once. Prices all round have been raised again and again, and the result has been that people making use of timber have had to pay more for it without any corresponding return for the extra price paid.. I suppose we shall continue this mad policy until we are brought to a dead stop. This country will have a rude awakening when it is found that the prices we get overseas for our surplus produce will no longer sustain our habits of high living and high prices. Already we as a people are living beyond our means and. the effect of this tariff will b.e to encourage us to indulge still further in that vicious practice. Let us call a halt before it is too late to avert the crisis that must come when the return we get overseas for our surplus produce will no longer sustain us in our course of high living-.^ Even now the price of wheat has fallen to little more than 50 per cent, above its pre war value. Yet we are being asked in this case to impose a duty which is 400 per cent, higher than that which operated eight years ago on this ""necessary commodity. Senator Findley has asked us to believe that 'Victoria is a timber State, but the Customs returns indicate that it is the second largest timber importer in the Commonwealth. During 1926-27 New South Wales imported 150,000,000, super, feet of undressed timber and 18,000,000 super feet of dressed timber. In the same period Victoria imported 92,000,000 super, feet of undressed timber 2and 54,000,000 of dressed timber. Of the total importations of dressed timber, New South Wales imported 23 per cent, and Victoria fi« per cent.

Senator Findley - These figures only serve to prove my statement that importations of timber are keeping the Victorian mills idle:

Senator LYNCH - If Victoria is a State overflowing with timber which is ready to be put on the market, why is it that it is the second largest importer of timber? I could understand South Australia being a large importer of timber, but not Victoria. No reliance can be placed on the authority quoted by Senator Findley. The figures I have given blow the honorable senator's statement kite high. Victoria is not a timber State. It is not even in a position to supply its own timber requirements. Senator Kingsmill has quoted the statement made last year by the Forestry Commission of Queensland that within the next 25 years that State, which is admittedly one of the timber States of the Commonwealth, will not be able to pro- duce supplies of softwoods to meet its own requirements''1 and must import £30,000,000 worth. The timber pro: duc.ers of Australia' who have been enjoying an average duty of 4s. per 100 super, feet, double the rate prevailing about eight years ago, are now anxious to double the rate again and make it 8s. per 100 super, feet. A complacent Government is allowing them to do so. I call it a complacent Government because apparently it is ever willing to listen to the tales of those who want high duties and is never ready to | supply information to those who will Have to bear the burden of the higher duties imposed. When a Tariff Bill was under discussion in this Senate some years ago honorable senators were supplied by the then Government with the fullest details. That Government had some regard for Parliament and a proper idea of how a tariff should be discussed and settled. Against every item it showed the proposed duty, the British preferential rate, the former rate, the duty recommended by the Tariff Board, the amount of imports for the year, the revenue collected and the ad valorem duty paid. All this information could be seen at a glance.

Senator Thompson - The present Government is probably afraid to supply that information.

Senator Crawford - That statement is unwarranted.

Senator LYNCH -When we were last dealing with the tariff, I protested against the frivolous way in which the Government was treating the Senate by not supplying honorable senators with information. As a result of my protest we had placed in our hands not a Government publication but a statement by Mr. Ambrose Pratt, issued and published in the manufacturing interests of Australia. It is a partisan publication. It is a pity that the method which, as I have indicated, was adopted by a previous government, has not been copied by the present administration. This tariff has simply been heaved at us, and we have been asked to swallow it. There is an old saying that one man can take a horse to water but .ten men cannot make it drink. This country will not become prosperous by piling up rates of duty. The diminishing acreage under wheat tells its. own story. Paper is cheap, ink is cheap, cleri- eai labour is cheap, and ministerial arguments are the cheapest of all. There is no reason why we should not get more information than that which has been heaved at us on this occasion. What has the Senate done that it has not been supplied with the detailst o which it is entitled ? When we are asked to double the duties on timber, and" call upon the users of timber to pay an additional £750,000 for their requirements, Senator Findley, of course, says " Hear, hear " ; but surely there is in the community an overwhelming number of silent patient citizens who will not applaud. Will the imposition of extra duties on timber have any different result from that which was achieved by doubling the duties some years ago. It is time we faced the matter squarely; it is time we made people live within their means and compete without the shelter afforded by a tariff 100 per cent, and not 400 per cent, higher than that which previously operated. I feel that my voice is like that of one crying in the wilderness, and that this insanity will continue until a rude awakening comes. Even now, however, we can see gleams of sunlight on the murky horizon. There are in this country some who are awakening to the fact that this drift must not continue. We know that the cost of building houses for the Victorian State Savings Bank is about double what it was in the early nineties just before the- financial crash came. According to Senator Findley rents have- not risen, or if they have the increase has been trifling. As a matter of fact rents in Australia have risen by 15 per cent, since 1921, while in the same period the average wage paid in Australia has only risen from 94s. lid. to 99s., an. increase of 4 per cent. We are asked to agree to an increase of duty amounting to 100 per cent. The Government should supply the committee with all information at its disposal instead of compelling honorable senators to fish around to obtain it. I have given the other side of the picture in connexion with this industry, and have shown that although wages have increased by only 4 per cent., the Government wishes us to support timber duties equivalent to, 100 per cent. Where is the warrant for this? When is consideration to be given to the man on the land who rises early in the morning and works until late at night and who does not receive any benefit from tariff duties ? How is he to get on ? In various ways he will have to pay these increased duties. It will not. be long before the burden becomes so heavy that these men will devote their energies to other activities where the conditions of life are much easier. If they do I shall not blame them; but when they do, production will diminish and the prosperity of the country will be seriously impaired. Why should they be compelled to work long hours whilst other sections of the community are sailing along smoothly and receiving protection and assistance which is denied to them? Notwithstanding the arduous nature of their work, Governments, of which this is a sample, have the audacity to impose high duties which these sturdy workers on the land will have to pay. The Government increased these duties without a scintilla of evidence in support of its action. Where are these ' industries which we are being..,asked to support ? The only trace we can find of many of them is in a back room in some city building.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The honorable senator has exhausted his ' time.

Suggest corrections