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Tuesday, 1 July 1941

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) .- in reply- I listened attentively to. the opposition expressed to my motion, and the most surprising feature of it is the contradictory nature of the statements made by honorable senators opposite. First, the Minister for Supply and Development (Senator McLeay) said that it was not a matter for a select committee, but rather for a body of experts, and for that reason he opposed the motion. Then, Senator Gibson declared that the matter was not one to be investigated by a select committee, and should be handed over to the Rural Industries. Committee. Senator A. J. McLachlan supported Senator Gibson in defiance of the statement made by the Minister. Senator Gibson also said .that the flax industry had been established in this country for 30 years, and that flax had been processed in Victoria and sold on the English market at £180 a. ton. Then, Senator A. J. McLachlan said that the industry was only in its experimentalstages and that flax had not been processed in Victoria, but had been sent to' England for processing. Although I. 6poke for nearly 40 minutes when moving the motion, not one honorable senator who has opposed it has been able to point to one word in my speech which was not absolutely correct. Although honorable senators opposite claimed that I had indulged in gross exaggerations, they could not point to any portion of my speech which was an exaggeration. The reason for that is very simple. They know very well that I had stated cold facts which could not be contradicted. Senator Gibson claimed that, I had cast a slur on the

Tasmanian Agricultural Department. That is entirely incorrect. If the honorable senator peruses my speech closely he will find that I did not cast a slur on that department. In fact, I repeat now what I said previously that the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture has co-operated with the Commonwealth Government, and the ' Flax Production Committee has played a wonderful part in the development of the industry. Had the Commonwealth Government and the committee done their jobs as well as that department has done its job, there would bc no need to ask for a select committee. I resent the suggestion that I cast a slur on the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture. I did not do so, nor did I reflect in any way on the departments of agriculture in any of the four flaxproducing States concerned. Senator Gibson referred to the decorticating machines which, he claimed, were used in a new process. I know it is a new process. The honorable senator claimed that considerable experimenting was being carried out, and I am well aware of that. But he did not say why it was necessary to have four of these machines for the experiments to be carried out by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, or why they are lying idle while the flax is dew-retting. Neither did he tell us why the man who invented this machine and carried out experiments with it is engaged in a flax mil] in Tasmania and has not been given one ' of these machines. I understand that he went through all the experimental stages with the machine and then submitted it to the Flax Production Committee. These are questions which the honorable senator did not attempt to deal with. He did, however, say that the matter was one for experts. Apparently he considers that the ordinary man has not .sufficient common sense to understand that the handling of flax ten times instead of only twice increases the cost of production. The honorable senator said that all the necessary information could be supplied by the eight experts.

Senator Gibson - They are the only people who have the information.

Senator AYLETT - If the experts to whom the honorable senator refers were responsible for the lay-out of the mills, I have no desire to seek evidence from them, because' any man with common sense and good eyesight can see that the mills have been laid out in a very uneconomic manner. I ask Senator Gibson, as a farmer, if he does not realize that the costs of production are greatly increased, if any commodity is handled ten times when it is necessary to handle it only twice? Does he not appreciate that it is uneconomic to carry flax from one shed to another on motor lorries instead of having it moved by a conveyor ? If the honorable senator does not know these things we can understand why he says that the experts are .the only men from whom, advice could be obtained, and if he does know them he is merely trying to camouflage the issue. Obviously he does not know all about the industry and is trying to smother things up on behalf of some interest or other. I am. endeavouring to expose inefficiency.

Senator Gibson - What the honorable senator has indicated may be the state of affairs in Tasmania, but it is not in Victoria.

Senator AYLETT - That may be. As I stated when moving the motion, I made a thorough investigation in Tasmania, and ascertained the .exact position in that State. Senator Gibson has informed us that there are only eight experts, and that all of them are needed in Victoria and cannot be made available to Tasmania.

Senator Gibson - They could. At all events the information which they possess could be made available in book form or in any way which the honorable senator desires.

Senator AYLETT - If that be so, why is it not possible for at least one of these experts to visit Tasmania and see for himself what is being done ? ' All I can say is that if the present conditions have been brough't about as a result of the advice of experts, then we shall have to go further in our investigations.

Senator Gibson - Who doe3 the honorable senator suggest should be called to give evidence?

Senator AYLETT - In the first place I should call for the books and papers of the Flax Board and of members of the Flax Board. I should also call the managers of the flax mills, the engineers who designed the layout of the mills and the other engineers who submitted plans, but were not given a hearing. Evidence should also be obtained from the producers themselves who are clamouring for higher prices for flax because of rising costs of production. In regard to the actual costs of the production, I should be prepared to call evidence from anybody possessing information, including even Senator Gibson, who claims to be the champion of champions, in this chamber, of the flax industry.

Senator Gibson - The general manager ofFlax Fibres Limited is the man who is running the show today.

Senator AYLETT - That is the very point. The general manager of Flax Fibres Limited is not conducting the show in the interests of Australia nor as economically as it should be conducted. That is a reason why I ask for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the industry. Senator Gibson also spoke about the threshing of seed at the stacks and the threshing of seed in the mills in Tasmania. I am not going to tell the honorable gentleman that the flax is deseeded at the stacks in Victoria, but my statement of the position in Tasmania is correct and canbe verified by any one visiting that State. I repeat that the money now being wasted in carrying flax from thestacks to the deseeding mills, from the. deseeding mills to the retting-pits, and from the retting-pits to the dryingsheds and so on would be sufficient in one year to provide dutch barns to bold all the flax that we are processing.

Senator Gibson - That is not done anywhere in the world.

Senator AYLETT - I say that it is, and I challenge anybody to prove that my statement is incorrect. Senator Gibson has not attemptedto prove that one word of my speech was incorrect. In his own speech he dealt merely with generalities. He estimated the cost of erecting drying shed? to dry from pit-retting at £10,000. I point out that, this industry today is worth millions of pounds if it is handled in the right way. I ask the honorable senator, if it is not worth an outlay of £10,000, why is the Flax Board building dryingsheds at the mills to dry the flax after it comes from the pits? He must be aware that that is being done. If the sheds are not required, the select committee should inquire into the matter.

Senator Gibson - The £10,000 also includes plant.

Senator AYLETT - I understand that. Obviously a shed would be useless without plant, and the honorable senator is well aware of that. Today, the managers of the various mills are paying men who are supposed to have had experience in the processing of flax. Some of them told me that they have had years of experience in Victoria in the mills which the honorable senator himself has mentioned, but are prevented from doing anything on their own initiative. Previously I made representations to the Minister for Supply and Development for adequate storage space for flax, but my request was turned down. Some months afterwards, the wisdom of my representations was recognized, and more storage space was provided at some of the mills. At one mill a shed used for the storage of flax in order to keep it dry before it was taken to the deseeding plant is situated about 50 yards fromthat plant. The flax had to be loaded on a lorry to enable it to be carted from that shed a distance of 50 yards to the deseeding plant, although the storage shed could have been built at the end of the deseeding shed: As it was found that the flax became wet during loading and unloading operations, the board went to the expense of building a skillion roof to provide cover for the flax. Some ridiculous mistakes have been made in the construction of these mills, and there is every justification for an inquiry regarding the lay-out of the mills, the processing of the flax and the functions of the board.

The Leader ofthe Senate stated that an investigation of the matters to which I have directed attention was not a job for a select committee, but he did not tell the Senate by whom these matters should be investigated. Who has a greater right to make inquiries of this kind than elected representatives in this Parliament? I ask the Minister not to belittle members of the Senate by suggesting that they have not sufficient intelligence to carry out the necessary investigation. In view of the fact that production of flax next year is expected to be twice that of this year, and in view of the chaotic economic position, in the processing of the commodity, I claim that it is highly desirable to appoint a committee immediately. If the area under cultivation is doubled, it is probable that next year's production of flax will bc more than double that of this year, because this year's crop- was light. A committee would no doubt be able to make recommendations which would enable flax production to be placed on an economic basis as a post-war industry.

Question put -

That the motion be agreed to.

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