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Tuesday, 1 July 1941

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - After listening to Senator Aylett when he was moving his motion, I felt that I could not let the opportunity pass to make a few observations concerning this industry. It was during my term as Minister in charge of Scientific Development that the first proposal was made to the Government for production of flax in Australia on a large scale. As Senator Gibson has pointed out', the growers in the southern States have been carrying on successfully for seine years. However, difficulties have been experienced in processing in this country. Eoi- that reason the British Government, sent to Australia one of the world's leading flax processers to investigate not, the growing of flax - it was convinced that we could grow it - but our methods of processing. I do not wish to reflect upon the management of any of the mills, but several gentlemen wilh whom I had confidential communications on the subject assure me that the difficulty arises mainly because the management of some of the mills is "innocently, but ignorantly. inefficient". As Minister in charge of Scientific Development, I arranged with representatives of the industry to send abroad for processing a certain quantity of flax after it had been pulled. I point out, in passing, that that i |i m I ; i > i . ; . is the mast economic way of harvesting flax from the farmer's point of . view. Senator Aylett has made out a case for an inquiry into the industry; but I do not think that such an inquiry calls for the appointment of a select committee. Our farmers know how to grow flax. But Senator Aylett proposes that an inquiry be made into the growing side of the industry. That aspect has already been reported upon; and stress has been laid upon the quality of the land required for the growing of flax. The honorable senator also alleged inefficiency in the layout of some of the i mills. Our difficulties in that respect arise, probably, because of the fact that the industry is only in the experimental stage. The reason for the demand by the British Government for flax from Australia follows the decision of Russia to embark upon the production of linen. Previously, Russia, Latvia and Estonia supplied flax to the linen mills in Belfast, for which Irish production was insufficient. Now Russia will take all supplies from' Latvia and Estonia. Perhaps an inquiry is necessary, but we should hardly use a sledgehammer to crack so small a nut. The difficulty arises in regard to processing. Flax sent from Australia to mills abroad passed all tests for quality when processed, and samples were sent back to Australia. Our inability to achieve efficiency in processing, is clue partly to lack of experts. I have discussed this matter with Senator Gibson. I understand that among the multitude of committees to which Senator Darcey referred is a Rural Industries Committee which could inquire into this industry. That committee could obtain expert evidence and find ways and means to rectify the. inefficiency which has been made evident by the unsatisfactory layout of various mills. After all, that is the burden of the honorable senator's attack on the industry. The choice of retting processes is not very important. We know that different processes are followed overseas because opinion varies as to the efficiency of each process. I suggest that we should not set up a select committee to inquire into a matter of this kind when a committee capable of dealing with it is already in existence. Indeed, I know of no reason why this matter could not be referred to some branch of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

The ordinary individual cannot grapple with the chemical intricacies of this industry. Whilst I am opposed to the appointment of a select committee, I would support the honorable senator if he amended his motion to provide that this matter be referred to the Rural Industries Committee, or some similar authority capable of assessing the value of whatever technical evidence i3 available in this country. I sympathize with those engaged in the flax industry because of the difficulties which confront them. It is an industry which will be of extreme value to this country in the years to come.

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