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Friday, 16 March 1928

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - During the tariff debate we have heard of geographical protectionists, revenue tariffists, scientific protectionists and fiscalists of other types, but I do not think that Senator Duncan is in any of those categories. He may be regarded as a will o' the wisp protectionist.

Senator Duncan - I am a commonsense protectionist.

Senator NEEDHAM - When we were discussing the duties on socks and stockings yesterday, he was a most pronounced protectionist; but immediately we reached the item of timber he adopted a different attitude. He favoured the use of redwood, which I understand is imported from British Borneo, where Chinese coolies are engaged in the timber trade. It is remarkable to find that Senator Duncan is an ardent protectionist when some items are under consideration, but is willing to leave the Australian timber industry to the tender mercies of those who employ Chinese coolies.

Senator Duncan - That is not what I suggested. It is a pity the honorable senator cannot understand what I said.

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator laid particular stress on the use of substitutes for Australian timber.

Senator Duncan - I was not condemning the use of Australian material, but was pointing out the reasons for the present depression in the timber trade.

Senator NEEDHAM - I understand from information I have received, that importers stress the use of substitutes in modern buildings; but statistics do not. support their arguments. In 1920-21 the per capita consumption of timber had risen from 136 to 160 super feet. The consumption of foreign timbers increased from 33 per cent. in 1920-21 to 48 per cent. in 1925-26, and the reduction in the consumption of native timber was from 66 per cent. in 1920-21 to 51 per cent. in 1925-26. When I was discussing the timber duties yesterday, I quoted the quantity of timber imported into Australia during a period of six years, the values of which are very interesting. In 1924-25 we imported timber valued at £4,448,000, and exported timber to the value of £1,630,000: In 1925-26 our importations were valued at £5,305,600, whilst our exports were valued at £1,377,000.

Senator Foll - Our imports were of softwoods, and our exports of hardwoods.

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes. Our exports decreased by £253,000, whilst our imports increased by £857,600. That position should be entirely reversed. The object of the timber duties under consideration is to place the timber industry, which is now in a languishing condition, on a proper basis. Although we propose to increase the duties on timber, we should concurrently pursue a systematic policy of afforestation and re-afforestation. So far as I understand from the information at my disposal, a majority of our conservators of forests favour high duties and a vigorous policy of re-afforestation.

Senator Foll - Do these authorities recommend high duties and also the protection of our forests?

Senator NEEDHAM - They advocate adequate protection in the form of Customs duties, and a vigorous policy of reafforestation. Large quantities of timber are imported from countries where the wages paid are much lower than those ruling in similar industries in Australia, and where the conditions of labour do not approach those which obtain in Australia. Sweden has supplied large quantities of timber to Australia, although the quantity received during recent years has diminished somewhat. In 1922-23 we received from overseas approximately 30,000,000 super feet, in 1923-24 46,000,000 super feet and in 1924-25 45,000,000 super feet. The wages paid in the timber milling industry in Sweden are £2 8s. a week - I do not know the number of hours worked by employees in that industry, but I am certain that they are not 44- whereas the basic wage fixed on 1st August, 1927, was for Sydney £4' 9s. 6d., Melbourne £4 7s. Brisbane £3 18s. 6d., Adelaide £4 6s., Perth £4 0s. 6d.. and Hobart £4 6s. 6d. These rates do not obtain in Brisbane or Perth because the awards of State tribunals provide for higher wages. The awards for the timber industry in the several States are as follow New South Wales - Males, £4 5s.; females, £2 6s. Queensland - Males,' £4 5s. ; females, £2 3s. South Australia - Males, £4 5s. 6d.; females, £1 19s. 6d. Western Australia - Males, £4 5s.; females, £2 5s. lid. No awards have been declared in Victoria or Tasmania, but in those states Federal rates are observed. These figures show that in Australia wages are higher, the hours of work are shorter, and the conditions of employment are better than in other countries. This is a state of affairs which we should strive to maintain, and honorable senators therefore should have no hesitation in voting for the increased duties which, it is believed, will materially assist in placing the timber industry on a more satisfactory basis.

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