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Wednesday, 21 March 1928

Senator ABBOTT (New South Wales) . - I wish to refer to the report of the Tariff Board which recommended a moderate increase in the timber duties. At page 27 the following appears: -

Such increases as have been recommended are intended only to save the industry by enabling a small profit to be earned, and prevent many more mills from closing down. Any further burden in tlie shape of increased wages or more improved conditions will mean that the trade which the increased duties are designed to bring to the hardwood saw-milling industry will be diverted to imported softwoods and substitutes.

There is an admission that even with that small increase the timber milling industry is really on the bread line. The 44-hour week is now in operation, and it, together with other conditions that have been brought about by the Arbitration Court, Workmen's Compensation and Child Endowment have placed the industry in a parlous condition. If there should be a further rise in wages, or if the conditions should be made harder for the mill-owner, one of our big primary industries will go out of action. On different occasions I have heard honorable senators quote figures illustrating the drift of population to the cities, and deploring the growth of Melbourne, Sydney, and other capital cities at the expense of the country districts. Here is a primary industry, which, directly and indirectly, is responsible for the employment of thousands of country people ; yet we are asked not to consent to the proposed higher duties! If those duties are not passed the mills will cease to operate, and thousands of persons will lose their employment. Thus the curse of centralization will be accentuated.' Unemployment in our rural districts is sufficiently grave at the present time. Recently I travelled through a number of timber milling areas, and learned that since December last, when these duties become operative a number of mills had reopened, and tremendous sales of Australian hardwoods had been effected. Are we not, therefore, doing something to support a most important primary industry, and, by providing employment in the country for thousands of men, keeping in circulation a tremendous amount of money? It must be realized that wages account for from 75 per cent, to SO per cent, of the expenditure of the mill-owner. What is to be done if those mills close down?

Senator Duncan - The requested amendment provides for an increase on the duties previously operating.

Senator ABBOTT - I am in favour of the increases for which the schedule provides, so that this primary industry may be maintained. It has been argued that the increased duties will hit new settlers and wage earners. I point out that those settlers are generally supplied by a mill in their own locality. Therefore, that argument is futile. If the higher duties are likely to hit the wage earners, why are they being supported by our illustrious friends who sit on the Opposition benches ?

Senator Verran - Because protection, whether it be good or bad, is a part of their policy. They are between the devil and the deep sea.

Senator ABBOTT - I assume that they are sent to this chamber to safeguard the interests of the wage earners. We must take it that they know more about the matter than we do.

Senator Verran - The honorable senator himself is here to safeguard the interests of the worker.

Senator ABBOTT - In many directions the dwellers in the country have been adversely affected by duties imposed to protect secondary industries. Surely when an opportunity presents itself we should give them the same measure of protection that we give to others. We must not lose sight of the fact that since the amended duties have been in operation mills which had closed down have re-opened. Should the higher duties be agreed to, a large co-operative timber company will immediately commence operations in New South Wales. There will also be a determined effort on the part of Australian saw-millers to overcome the objection that Australian hardwoods have not been sufficiently well seasoned. That effort, together with the standardization of timber measurements, should assist the industry greatly so that it should not be long before the number of its. employees is increased considerably.

Senator Thompson - The co-operative company of which the honorable senator ^speaks will probably close a number of small mills.

Senator ABBOTT - That may be so; but there will be greater efficiency. The timber industry has been in a languishing condition .for some time. We now have a chance to rehabilitate it. .

Senator Thompson - Should not duties 50 per cent, greater than those recommended by the Tariff Board be sufficient ?

Senator ABBOTT - The Tariff Board's report shows clearly that because of the unsatisfactory condition of the timber industry, mills were forced to close down. But during the past three months many of them have re-opened and are now the centres of thriving communities. It is not too much to ask the dwellers in the cities, for whom we have done so much, to pay a little more for their timber requirements if by so doing we can retain this important industry and keep people in the country instead of forcing them to drift to the cities, and swell the ranks of the unemployed.

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