Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 9 May 1961

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- The Supply debate gives a chance to range over a wide field of subjects related to the work of the federal Parliament. The main theme of the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby) apparently, was the need to harness for the benefit of Australia the water which is now running away to the ocean. I regard that as his most sensible suggestion. This Government has been in office for twelve long years - twelve years too long for the economy of Australia - but apart from the Snowy Mountains scheme, which was initiated by a Labour government, this Government has done practically nothing to irrigate Australia's inland by tapping rivers and sending water into parched areas.

The honorable member's speech was amazing, coming from the supporter of a government which has been in office for about twelve years. The Opposition feels that Australia desperately needs a national irrigation scheme. More assistance should be given by the Federal Government to State governments for their own irrigation schemes in order to increase production. This Government, in an airy-fairy way, talks about increasing our export trade by £250,000,000 a year. How can that possibly be done without more and more production of basic foodstuffs and how can more and more foodstuffs be produced without opening up more and more arable land? How can we exploit that land without water? Millions of gallons of water are flowing into the oceans, and large areas of land remain dry, parched and unproductive. The Opposition feels sure that at the next general election, it will be elected as a government and will then have an opportunity to examine this problem.

In Tasmania, a big irrigation plan is now being investigated by the Rivers and Water Supply Commission to utilize the water from the big Poatina power scheme, which is costing £30,000,000, in the Western Tiers, about 40 miles from Launceston. The idea is to bring this water northwards, in a zig-zag line, across the highest contours towards Launceston and through some very good land. The productive capacity of this land could be increased by 400 per cent, with irrigation. Here is a scheme that has everything. It is progressive and important. It would utilize water which runs into the South Esk River and then into the Tamar River.

If the Federal Government is sincere in its expressed desire to increase exports it must examine this scheme and see whether it could give a £1 for £1 grant to Tasmania to help get the scheme into operation within the next ten years. It is of no use merely to talk as the honorable member for Griffith talked just now. Millions of words have been spoken in this Parliament about the utilization of our water resources, but very little has been done. It is time that we made this a nonparty, national issue. We should inaugurate irrigation schemes throughout the parched areas of western New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria and even in my own State.

I want to refer, now, to the timber industry. On this side of the House, we intend to keep this issue before the Government until it is shamed into doing something for that industry, and also for the home-building industry. My colleague, the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies), who is with me at the present time, made a splendid speech on Grievance Day, last Thursday, and the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) also spoke on this issue. When we Tasmanians take up a matter we do not let it rest; we do not just have one go at it and then give up. We keep moving on the problem all the time until the Government either gets sick of hearing us or does something about it. It will probably try to get us out of the Parliament. My colleague, the honorable member for Braddon, had this to say -

The Australian Broadcasting Commission, a government instrumentality, conducted a survey on 24th April which showed that the situation in the timber industry is very grave and is worsening daily. This survey revealed that in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria alone, 103 timber mills have been closed and more than 2,300 workers have been dismissed.

That is the picture of the eastern side of Australia and of the tragic decline in this very fine industry. We have raised the matter in this Parliament at question time, during the adjournment debate and on Grievance Day and in the debate on the Supply Bill, but we have received absolutely no encouragement from the Minister for

Trade (Mr. McEwen). He said, in effect, " We will see if we can get an emergency tariff regulation to restrict imports for a certain period to carry the industry over this particularly bad time ". All the facts were given by the industry to the department, but the answer was, " No. The evidence is not sufficient for us to take this to the Tariff Board." So the timber industry was knocked back again with a sledge-hammer blow, and the position has become worse since then. I have information from the manager of the Tasmanian Timber Association, Mr. T. Brabin, some of which is very vital to the question on hand. It shows that about 2,000 timber workers in Tasmania have been affected by the slump in the timber industry. That would be 40 per cent, of the force of timber workers on our island.

Mr Chaney - Did you quote the figures for Western Australia?

Mr DUTHIE - No. I have not the figures. There have been 2,300 timber workers actually dismissed in three States. In Tasmania about 800 have been dismissed and there are nearly 1,000 on part-time with two days off a week, taking home £8 a week instead of £15 a week. So nearly 2,000 of our timber workers are affected by the credit squeeze on this industry; that is about 40 per cent, of the work force in the industry.

Mr Cash - Can they not get work elsewhere?

Mr DUTHIE - There is no work for them elsewhere. As I have previously said, this is one of the most decentralized industries in the Commonwealth, being the economic mainstay of many towns throughout Australia. If the timber mill goes the town goes. At this stage these men have nowhere else to go for work on the two or three days on which they are stood down in each week. No other jobs are available in their communities. They are entirely dependent on timber; and that is the tragedy of the situation. If these men were in the big cities the position might be different and they might be able to find part-time work, but even that would be difficult.

I have some facts about the effect of the credit squeeze on Tasmania's production and export of timber. Tasmania's total production in the twelve months ended December last year was 166,000,000 super, feet. Where does most of that timber go? Eighty-one per cent, of it goes to Victoria, which takes 58,000,000 super, feet, and the other States take 13,000,000 super, feet. Victoria, then, is our key market. What is the situation there? Whilst Victoria has increased its purchases of overseas timber by 19,000,000 super, feet it has decreased its purchases of Australian timber by 2,000,000 super, feet from Tasmania and by 4,000,000 super, feet from other States. In other words, this is the amazing situation: Up to the end of November, 1960, the period of high housing activity, Victoria increased its imports of timber by 19,000,000 super, feet whilst its imports from Tasmania dropped by 2,000,000 super, feet. So, honorable members can see the terrific effect of the credit squeeze and unrestrained imports on our State in just those items. Victoria, which normally takes 81 per cent, of our timber, has suddenly increased its imports from overseas by 19,000,000 super, feet. The figures show that in the year ended 30th June last Victoria purchased from overseas 63,000,000 super, feet of timber compared with purchases of 82,000,000 super, feet in the year ended 31st December last. Those are official figures.

I might mention, too, how exports of Tasmanian timber to the mainland have deteriorated since import restrictions were lifted last February. As a matter of fact, imports of timber into Australia increased from about 157,000,000 super, feet to 210,000,000 super, feet within two months after this Government lifted import restrictions entirely in February, 1960. Our island State, so dependent on Victoria to buy its timber, also felt the credit squeeze severely. How did that affect Victoria? In housing alone the figures are absolutely frightening to any Government that is really seriously concerned about the situation. I will take housing permits for just one period in the metropolitan area of Melbourne. Whilst for the month of March last year 1,676 permits were issued, in March this year, twelve months later, that figure had dropped to 691.

Mr Reynolds - Was that in March?

Mr DUTHIE - Yes. It was a 60 per cent, drop in twelve months as the result of importations and the credit squeeze combined. Let us now add the nonmetropolitan other areas of Victoria. In those areas housing permits for March, 1960, totalled 2,455, but the figure dropped in March this year to 1,128, or by more than half. That is how Tasmania has been caught in what I call the scissors movement - the lifting of import restrictions resulting in Victoria buying 19,000,000 super, feet more timber from overseas, and the credit squeeze which has hit the housing industry in Victoria so badly that it is now taking less than half the Tasmanian timber that it was taking four or five months ago.

There are one or two other matters which I wish to mention on the timber position. The effect of the large imports of timber from overseas was reflected in the complete collapse of the market for Tasmanian myrtle in August last year, and many of our mills, cutting myrtle, have had to halve the number of their employees. One mill, a myrtle mill only, had to put off five married men of a work-force of seven. Furniture manufacturers are going to the lighter timbers - I am speaking of Melbourne mainly. The darker timbers have gone out of fashion and this is one reason why myrtle has practically slumped out of the picture. But the main reason for the original collapse of the myrtle market in August last year was the lifting of import controls and the bringing in of similar type timbers from cheap-labour countries like Malaya, Borneo and Sarawak. Interestingly enough, coupled with the credit squeeze in our State there is a stockpiling of timber because of the slump in housing in Victoria, which is our main market. We have 18,000,000 super, feet of timber piled up in the timber yards in Launceston, Hobart, Burnie and Melbourne. About 3,000,000 super, feet of it is stockpiled in Melbourne and another 15,000,000 super, feet in yards in Tasmania. We have 18,000,000 super, feet of timber not sold. There is no market for it, and it represents six weeks full production for all the mills in Tasmania.

When we put these facts to the Government we are simply laughed at. No attempt is made to correct the situation. If the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) was really in- terested in the problems of the industry he would call into conference representatives of the various sections of the industry and ask for advice. The Treasurer has said that he intended to release more money for housing, in an attempt to assist the timber industry, but this appears to me to be a completely empty statement. The housing industry has shown no sign of improvement. I suggest that the Treasurer should make available some specific amount for housing purposes. He should not give a mere blanket statement that more money will be released, and then let the matter rest. He should go right to the private banks and ensure that they carry out his directions. They are not being carried out at the moment, and so this great Australian industry is being allowed to decline. As my colleagues say, the Government could not care less about what is happening to the timber industry.

Unless the situation improves within a few weeks, it could become chronic, and the industry would then take months and months to recover. We fear that this is what will happen, because of the lack of concern displayed by the Government. As my colleague, the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies) has just reminded me, not one Liberal Party member from Tasmania has spoken in this Parliament on the collapse of the timber industry in that State. Whether any Liberal senator from Tasmania has mentioned the subject in the Senate I do not know, but I have not heard of any such senator doing so. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) is the member for Denison. I remind honorable members of that fact in case they have forgotten it. There are a number of timber mills in the electorate of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder). Why has the honorable member not pressed the Government to take action to save the industry from complete collapse?

Mr Cash - You know he is overseas.

Mr DUTHIE - He did not go overseas before the credit squeeze started to hit the timber industry. He left during ,.the last week or two, and he had plenty of time before going overseas to bring this matter before the Government.

In the few minutes remaining to me I wish to refer to the coal industry in Tasmania, which has been similarly adversely affected by the credit squeeze, by mechanization and by the use of fuel oil for purposes for which coal was previously employed. On Thursday night I was gagged three times in this chamber while trying to make a few remarks on this subject. I hope I will be allowed to make them now. There are some people who do not realize that Tasmania has coal mines. Actually there were twelve mines in the State in 1955, but the number has now been reduced to ten, some of which are on reduced production. In 1955 there were 284 employees in the coal industry in Tasmania, all of them in my electorate. The number has now been reduced to 220. This shows a reduction of 21 per cent, of the work force in Tasmanian coal mines. Production in 1955 amounted to 299,221 tons, while in 1958 it had fallen to 276,268 tons.

The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones), the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) gave a splendid résumé on Thursday night of the situation in the coal-mining industry on the mainland of Australia, particularly in New South Wales, where 8,000 men have left the industry in five or six years, many of them not knowing where to go for another job. In Tasmania the same trend is apparent. There has been considerable industrial expansion in Tasmania during the last four years, 72 new industrial establishments having been set up, but coal consumption has remained practically stationary. In 1938-39 the railways used 51,000 tons of coal, but in 1958-59 the amount used by the railways was only 24,000 tons. This was a good deal less than half the consumption in pre-war days. This, of course, follows the pattern established by the various railway undertakings throughout Australia. They have all tended to use more diesel power and less steam power. In New South Wales, for instance, in 1950-51 the railways used 1,487,000 tons of coal. By 1958-59 the figure had dropped to 1,039,000 tons. It is estimated that by 1965 the annual consumption will have fallen to 632,000 tons. This will represent a reduction of 855,000 tons on the consumption fourteen years earlier. It is no wonder that the coal industry is in trouble when consumption has dropped so significantly in only one section of industry.

There has been some talk of setting up a thermal power station in the Fingal Valley in my electorate, in which most of the mines are situated, between Avoca and St. Marys on the east coast. More than half the population of 3,500 in the Fingal Valley are directly dependent on the coal mines for their living, and about half the remainder are indirectly dependent on the coal industry for trade and for wages. Closure of the mines, which could come about within four or five years if the present deterioration continues, would mean the virtual death of the Fingal ' Valley, one of the most beautiful valleys in our island. The superintendent of the two mines operated by the Cornwall Coal Company, Mr. J. Brennan, said recently that the closure of the mines would not only hurt the Fingal Valley, but that it would also mean that Tasmania, in wartime or in peace-time, would be completely dependent on overseas sources for its commercial fuel - leaving out of account, of course, hydro-electric power. He also said that coal could continue to be extracted from the Cornwall mine for another 100 years, and that in the whole of the Fingal Valley there were sufficient reserves for 350 years. An urgent request has been made by civic leaders in the valley, municipal, State government and industrial, and by representatives of the Miners' Federation, that the possibility of establishing a thermal power station in the valley should be considered. This would save the coal industry from dying out completely in the next few years, thus bringing economic disaster to thousands of business people and to the industry's employees who are trying to buy their homes. It would keep the mines alive and give security to miners and their families and to business people generally.

Even on the figures quoted by the Hydro-Electric Commissioner, Mr. Knight, the cost of feeding thermal power into the States hydro-electric grid would add only one-hundredth of a penny a unit to the cost of power. The question I want to ask is this: Would it not be worth increasing the cost of power to this minute extent in order to save a whole valley from economic extinction? That is the question we have to answer. Will we let the valley die, or will we establish a thermal power station, costing £10,000,000, which will add one-hundredth of a penny a unit to the cost of power in Tasmania? We believe that Commonwealth assistance should be given in the actual building of the power station. The station would need to have a capacity of 100,000 kilowatts. I hope that when the Premier of Tasmania makes his request to the Commonwealth Treasurer, that honorable gentleman will earnestly consider making a grant in order to save the Fingal Valley from economic extinction.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr DUTHIE - When the sitting was suspended, I was dealing with the timber and coal-mining industries in Australia, particularly in Tasmania. I had traced the dangerous decline in the timber industry in Tasmania resulting from the twin hammer blows of unlimited imports of timber and the indiscriminate credit squeeze which has also hit the housing industry a bodyline blow. In Tasmania, 40 per cent, of the work-force in the timber industry is affected. In Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania 110 timber mills have closed down and 3,000 timber workers have been dismissed.

Mr Chaney - We produce timber in Western Australia, too.

Mr DUTHIE - I have not the figures for Western Australia, but I believe that nine or ten mills in Western Australia have closed as well. According to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), this is prosperity, this is successful Government planning. This is solving our problems, according to the right honorable gentleman. Towns dependent on timber and saw-milling for their existence are dying a slow economic death throughout the Commonwealth. The credit squeeze has been a disastrous blow at decentralization because it is stifling country industries. The Government's stubborn refusal to halt the decline is symptomatic of a government living in an ivory tower of unconcern and indifference, arrogant in its parliamentary majority and callous in its outlook to human suffering that unemployment causes. The Treasurer talks about " our solid prosperity ". He uses such phrases as " stabilizing the economy " and " our plans are successful ". He made such statements addressing a women's meeting in Melbourne at the week-end. But the right honorable gentleman is unrealistic and contemptuous of the situation.

Mr Makin - I think that is what was thought by those at the meeting.

Mr DUTHIE - That is very probable. It requires a lot of research to find any prosperity in Australia to-day. The Treasurer has stated that the credit squeeze will continue for another twelve months.

Mr Barnes - The Treasurer did not say that.

Mr DUTHIE - He did. He made a statement after we left the House last Thursday. That is an example of a government thumbing its nose at the people and the Parliament. It is the action of a Government convinced that it will be returned at the next general election with the support of the Democratic Labour Party. The textile industry is another industry that is reeling under the credit squeeze. The federal officers of the Australian Textile Workers' Union, Mr. R. H. Erskine, M.L.C., and Mr. Arthur R. Loft, told us to-day that at 7th April last, the percentage of the work-force dismissed from the textile industry was 25.6 per cent, and the proportion working part-time was 30.6 per cent. That position is as bad as it was in the depression years in that industry. The Australian Labour Party believes that selective import controls should be restored and the credit squeeze should be relaxed. This Government is fighting inflation and high imports by crippling Australia's internal economy and cutting off spending power. It is like using a mobile concrete mixer to beat up an egg or employing a 20-ton hammer to crush a peanut. It is savage, clumsy and criminal. When the number of unemployed reaches 100,000, this Government will lean back with great satisfaction and say, " Hooray, we have now stabilized the industry ".

Suggest corrections