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Wednesday, 19 November 1941

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) .- I wish to refer briefly to a matter which I raised on the adjournment of the Senate last Wednesday, namely, the desirability of taking immediate steps to act upon the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Rural Industries in connexion with the building of flax milk. The remarks of Senator Herbert Hays, whose speech followed mine, might make it appear that my comments were scarcely warranted. Although £500,000 of the taxpayers' money has been expended in the establishment of this industry, the previous Government intended to set up another big monopoly to handle the whole of the flax produced in this country. It will be remembered that the previous Government signed a contract which automatically gave an option to one company to establish a monopoly over the whole of the flax/ industry of Australia after the ivar. Two members of the Flax Production Committee which negotiated the agreement, are financially interested in that company. This matter has been fully probed by the Joint Committee on Rural Industries. It is strange that the Flax Production Committee, which was established by the previous Government to handle this season's flax crop, has completely failed to carry out its task in spite of the fact that nine months ago it was able to estimate the yield which it would be called upon to handle. Last week I urged the Government to see that every endeavour was made to ensure that the flax mills were ready in time to handle this season's crop. Approximately £500,000 has been invested in plant and machinery and an additional £1,000,000 will be required for the processing of the crop. Senator Herbert Hays stated that the chairman of the Flax Production Committee had given an assurance to the Joint Committee on Rural Industries that the mills would be ready in time ; but those honorable senators who read the newspapers will have seen that tenders are only now being called for the erection of some of the mills. In some instances the tenders do not close until the 25th November. In some districts the Flax Production Committee has not yet decided what type of mill is to be erected in spite of the fact that the crops are almost ready to be harvested. Even in the latest districts the crops will be harvested early in January. If tenders are only now being called, how can the mills possibly be ready to handle this season's crop? The Flax Production Committee has not yet even completed the processing of last season's crop in spite of the fact that the crops were a failure, only 17,000 tons being produced from 20,000 acres. The crop this year is estimated at 90,000 tons. The point I make is that if the Flax Production Committee is not prepared to get on with the job entrusted to it and have the mills and processing plants ready for the coming harvest it is the responsibility of the Minister to replace it by some more competent body. If the chairman of the committee is not competent to carry out the duties allotted to him he should be displaced. Probably had he been given a free hand the construction of these mills would not have been delayed. The Minister should make inquiries and ensure that everything possible is being done to expedite the erection of the mills.

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