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Thursday, 3 December 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - I feel that it is essential for some honorable senator to rebut the statements made by opponents of this item. I was intensely interested to hear both Senator McLeay and Senator Badman use exactly the same term this morning when discussing this item, although Senator Badman was absent from the chamber when Senator McLeay was speaking. Both honorable senators said : " Not that I always believe that we should accept the Tariff Board's report ". Such a statement causes me some amusement.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - There is nothing original about that.

Senator COLLINGS - Of course, there is nothing original about it; but while honorable senators are unanimous that they do not always believe that the Tariff Board's reports should be accepted, each reserves to himself the right to select the time when he will not accept the recommendation. Personally, I am in a different category, because I do not believe that Parliament should allow the Tariff Board to be superior to the sovereign authority which created it; and I regret that Parliament has done so. The Tariff Board's reports should not be taken too seriously; they are valuable only to the extent of the information they contain. Unfortunately, in some respects, the Tariff Board possesses greater powers than are possessed by this Parliament, and in consequence of the decisions leached at the Ottawa Conference the board now exercises more extensive fiscal power than was originally intended.

Senator Badmansuggested that I have the unfortunate habit of always posing as a friend of the poor. There is nothing wrong with the poor, excepting their shameful poverty for which they are not responsible. This morning Senator Badman, who complained that he could not get his taste accustomed to Australian tobacco, suggested a reduction of the duties on the imported leaf. This afternoon, he complains of the quality of Australian timber. We have had debates on timber in this chamber on previous occasions, and the subject is very interesting to everyone, and particularly the representatives of Queensland. Surely it is not seriously contended that we can scientifically plan to relieve the distress of the poor by varying the duties on timber provided in this schedule? The honorable senator suggested that if oregon timber were used instead of Australian hardwoods the inconveniences, difficulties and poverty which the poor are subjected to might be relieved. If thepeople of this country were sufficiently intelligent to realize the way in which to relieve the sufferings of the poverty stricken, such futile suggestions would not be made. What does the timber industry really mean to Australia? In previous debates on this subject it was urged that oregon possesses special virtues, but the only virtue that would stand up to a test - I do not think it would do that if it were impartially considered - is that it is indispensable in mines because it gives an earlier warning to the men working underground of a creep or possible collapse. The Government has recognized its alleged superiority in that respect by admitting, free of duty, oregon used for mining purposes. I recognize that South Australia is in a somewhat peculiar position in the matter of timber supplies, and I understand the position in which senators representing that State find themselves. But their last condition will be worse than their first if those controlling South Australia's activities fail to recognize the value of the native timber, not only to that State, but also to the whole Commonwealth. The following survey of the world timber situation is interesting : -

Perhaps more than any other primary product, timber shows great promptness in contracting output in face of declining demand. Forests will keep. Similarly it expands output less rapidly when demand rises. It is particularly liable to increasing competition from innumerable substitutes. Rational forestry methods are liable to increase the readiness of timber supplies to contract with declining demand. Water transport is an essential for the carriage of timber and is in fact the only economical means. This largely explains the advantage which North America possesses in the export timber trade. North America is the only net exporter of timber, for Europe's exports are almost balanced by her imports. Russia, Finland and Sweden supply the exports -Great Britain, Hol laud and Germany buy the imports. Asia has much timber, but icebound rivers prevent export. South America is too far from Europe to compete with North America, and can export only valuable cabinet woods. Of the producing countries to-day, all except Russia are consuming annually almost double their annual growth. Russia is only in the early stages of exploitation of her timber resources, and consumes one-third of her annual growth, but any expansion of her timber trade is likely to be in the direction of her own internal market. Australia is capable of supplying her own hard and soft woods, but difficulties of transport give her very little protection against North America.

When Senator McLeaywas quoting allegedly startling figures, and referring to the extravagant protection afforded under this schedule, he overlooked the fact that America, and especially North America, has wonderful natural protection against Australia, in that after the timber is felled in the forest it is placed in the rivers and conveyed practically free of cost to the seaboard, whereas in Australia roads have to be constructed into the forests, and the timber felled has to be hauled at great expense to the sawmills.

Paper pulp imports into Australia amount to some £4,000,000 annually, and most of the coarser paper could well be produced at home. I understand that a pulp factory has been established in Tasmania by the Murdoch newspaper group for the supply of their " Fine Printings ",. but this industry is yet in its developmental stages.

Surely honorable senators who are opposing these duties do not believe in strangling an important Australian industry. I have shown the vital importance of the timber industry to Australia, than which there are few countries which could more readily accomplish what is desired. Some honorable senators suggest, in the first place, that oregon should be admitted free of duty, and then ask for concessions on other timbers, and generally endeavour to whittle down by degrees the protection which the Government desires to afford to the Australian limber industry. Those supporting a reduction of duties overlook the damag ing effect of their action upon the industry and upon the livelihood of me.n engaged from the time the timber . is felled in the forest until it passes to the saw mills. In striking a blow at the Australian timber industry they are affecting most seriously our policy of re-afforestation which is so essential to this country, and thereby causing, amongst other things, soil erosion which adds so very seriously to the disabilities of primary producers. Notwithstanding this, there are some honorable senators who, owing to a lack of sympathy with the people engaged in timber-getting, disregard basic facts, and in doing so act to the detriment of an industry which is essential to the welfare of this nation.

Senator HARDY(New South Wales) [2.43 J. - As I am connected with the industry, the existence of which would bc seriously jeopardized if the request moved by Senator McLeay were adopted, I submit that I have a right to express my views on this subject, although I do not propose to exercise my vote. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) who said that the timber industry is entirely different from any other industry established or encouraged under our tariff policy. For instance, if a. colliery closes down, the raw material remains in the ground for hundreds of years, and does not deteriorate. The same can also be said of iron and steel, and some of the components of . cement; but in the timber industry the position is entirely different because a crop which is the sole raw material of the industry has to be gathered each year. If we do not assist those engaged in the handling and production of timber, we shall be adopting as a part of our national protective policy a course which will ultimately lead to the destruction of our forest areas. If honorable senators visited some of our big forests they would see the benefits of re-afforestation and realize the force of my words. The timber matures, and as maturity is reached the undergrowth increases. If the forests are not cut, or, in other words, if the crop is not garnered, fires spread throughout the timber areas, reafforestation ceases, erosion takes place in the catchment areas, resulting in the silting up of the rivers, and, finally, disaster faces the country. The Government itself has recognized the danger of -this by appointing an .erosion committee and allocating for its use the sum of £500,000. The various State forestry departments throughout the Commonwealth have also given a good deal of attention to this subject. Now this is the point that must be stressed : If the saw-milling industry in Australia is destroyed owing to the lack of reasonable protection, no State in the Commonwealth can carry out its forests projects; the result will be the ruination of national forest assets. That aspect alone justifies the continuance of the existing duties. Apart altogether from the recommendations of the Tariff Board, we must make sure that the native forests upon which the saw-milling industry depends can expand each year. Figures show that the collection of royalties over the whole of the States last year amounted to £6S0,000. If the States are deprived of that revenue there will he a complete cessation of all State forestry operations, because no State can possibly carry out its programme. I urge honorable senators to remember that it is not simply a matter of discussing whether, for construction purposes, a piece of oregon is more suitable than a piece of hardwood; they should take a national view of the timber industry, and decide whether they are prepared to continue to protect our national assets. There is one point I wish to make in reply to a question by Senator McLeay, as to whether the industry can carry on under lower duties without hardship and consequent restriction of forest development. The industry could not carry on under those conditions. The information contained in the Tariff Board's reports of 1932 is not worth a snap of the fingers to-day, because the board then based its recommendations on an entirely different set of facts and conditions. To-day, the great majority of the importations of oregon are in the log, whereas, in 1933, only an insignificant quantity of logs was imported. If honorable senators carefully peruse the evidence given by the Tariff Board in 1932, as I have done, they will be in a better position to discuss this subject. I challenge any honorable senator to produce any evidence, whether from softwood interests, or from South Australia's interests, to show that the Tariff Board considered the effect in any way of the entry of oregon logs into Australia when it was recommended that a 10 per cent, ad valorem duty be imposed. The growth of importations of Oregon logs is shown very definitely in the following figures: In '1930-31, only 4,000,000 super, feet of oregon logs was imported into Australia - that was a mere bagatelle; in 1931-32, when the Tariff Board was considering the duty on such importations, 3,861,000 super, feet of oregon was imported. In 1933, the year in which the Tariff Board's report was made available to the Government, 11,000,000 super, feet of oregon was imported; but in. 1934, the importations rose to 54,000,000 super, feet. What was the reason for this large increase of imports? The only reason was that the duties imposed on

Oregon logs were so low that importations which, up to date, had been economically impossible, became economically possible. The next year, importations of logs rose to 106,000,000 super, feet, an increase of over 100 per cent. Again I ask, what was the reason for this rapid increase and the sudden departure of traders from their practice in previous years? The only reason is that the duty of 10 per cent, ad valorem was so low and so insignificant that it became possible to import logs in large quantities. In 1935-36, a record quantity of 136,000,000 super, feet of oregon was imported. Before the Government took action to increase the duties on logs, honorable senators could have seen in any capital city in the Commonwealth, the floods of Oregon logs coming in. Band mills were erected, and the timber sawn from Oregon logs was being dumped on the market at prices against which the Australian sawmillers could not compete. The death knell of the Australian sawmiller was being sounded. It is not a question of comparing a piece of 4-in. by 2-in. oregon with a piece of 4-in. by 2-in. hardwood; where the Australian saw-miller balances his budget is in the clear product of the log that goes into the floors, or is made into weatherboards, sashes, doors, and mouldings. Oregon logs, imported allegedly for construction purposes, are cut up into clear grades, and this timber, which does not cost more than 15s. or 16s. a 100 super. feet, is sold in cut-throat competition with the product of the hardwood mills. That is not reasonable competition. I listened to the debate on this item in the House of Representatives, where I heard the allegation made that thousands of men had been thrown out of employment as a result of the imposition of the new duties on logs. In spite of all the installations of band mills, the total number of men actually engaged inbreaking down round logs into squareflitches would not be more than 200. If anybody . can toll me of one man who has, through that cause, lost his job in a bandmill since the Government imposed the new duties, all that I can say is thatI have no right to be interested in the timber industry. The new duties are reasonable. I have no objection to the matter being referred back to the Tariff Board again, but I do object to the duties being reviewed by this Senate without first placing before the board the true facts in relation to this matter. In 1932-33, when the Tariff Board's report was made, winch has enabled certain honorable senators to indict the Government because it raised the duty by 400 per cent., logs, which are the major part of the import trade to-day, had not oven been considered.

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