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Wednesday, 29 August 1906

Mr WATSON (Bland) .- Most honorable members will sympathize with the view o'f the honorable member that ship-building should be a most important Australian industry. It seems to me, however, that a primary consideration is the establishment of the iron industry.

Mr Mcwilliams - We can build wooden vessels.

Mr WATSON - Many fine wooden ships have been built in Australia. A number of the smaller-sized iron vessels have also been built in New South Wales with excellent results so far as workmanship is concerned, although the cost of construction was greater than it would have been had they been constructed in the old country. I do not think, however, that the ship-builders of Balmain are likely to enthuse over a proposal that £7,000 or even £10,500 shall be distributed by way of bounty" amongst them. The principal ship-b'uilding company in that suburb of Sydney has a capital of several hundred thousands of pounds, and lately built a steamer for the Manly Ferry Company at a cost of about £25,000. In these circumstances, the suggestion that they shall participate in this bounty - not that they shall procure the whole amount - seems to be so supremely ridiculous that it is not likely to be seriously considered. The best way to encourage shipbuilding would be to .adopt after the elections such a Tariff as would insure to our shipwrights a fair chance of success. But I hope that the sympathies of honorable members with shipbuilders will not cause them to oppose the granting of a bounty for the production of rubber. During the trip which a number of honorable members made to Northern Queensland, we had an opportunity, particularly in the Cairns district, to learn something about the possibilities of the rubber industry, and I came away convinced that, if that industry were once established, great results would follow. It is all very- well to speak of the enormous profits obtained from rubber trees; but it must be remembered _that ten years must elapse before any return can be looked for.

Sir William Lyne - Not so much.

Mr WATSON - It depends upon the kind of tree planted. The Para rubber tree takes from ten to twelve years to mature, while the Ficus elastica takes about ten years.

Mr Frazer - By that time the bounty period will have come to an end.

Mr WATSON - I am inclined to think that the period should be extended.

Mr Thomas - A good many people would go in for mining if they could be certain of a profit of 300 per cent, at die end of ten years.

Mr WATSON - Those who go in for gold-mining know that, at the end of tenyears, the price of gold will be as high as it is to-day ; but those who spend their capital in planting rubber trees have no guarantee that at the end of ten years there will not be a slump in the price of rubber which will render their enterprise profitless. I heard it said the other day bv a gentleman who has been connected with mining all his life, that the comparison of the word " mine " should be mine, miner, minus.

Mr Thomas - Then a bounty should be given to encourage the mining industry.

Mr WATSON - Fortunately the industry is already established, and people are willing to take risks in connexion with it. There are immense possibilities in the rubber. industry, and it would be wise for the Commonwealth and the Governments of the States to do all they can to encourage it. The statement that black labour is necessary is supremely ridiculous. I had a conversation with the expert in charge of the Kamerunga farm, near Cairns, whom the Queensland Government brought from India, and he told me that the rubber could be gathered from the Ficus elastica by the growers of the trees without any trouble.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would the operation be a commercial success ?

Mr WATSON - Yes. Speaking from memory, he told me that the cost of planting the Banyan fig is not very great. Its rubber is not quite so good as the Para rubber; but after ten years a return of 12s. 6d. per tree could be looked for. and at the end of five years more a return of £1, while forty trees could be planted to the acre.

Mr Lonsdale - Then the return per acre would be £40.

Mr WATSON - It should not be forgotten that those who enter upon this industry must wait for ten years before they get any return.

Mr Mcwilliams - Orchardists have to wait seven years before they get a return ; but it is not proposed to give the fruitgrowing industry a bounty.

Mr WATSON - The object of the measure is to promote the establishment of new industries, and to encourage industries which so far have made but little progress. I believe that if the rubber industry is established it will in a few years be of such importance as to justify a fair expenditure upon its encouragement. I am sorry that the Minister has not allowed a longer period for the operation of the proposed bounty on rubber.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member has made out a good case for the extension of the period ; but I find that the average time in which a tree matures is eight years.

Mr WATSON - I took a great deal of interest in this subject when in Queensland, and had several interviews with, one of the Ministers of that State in regard to it. I learned from those best' able to express an opinion that the reallv good commercial rubbers were produced bv trees which did not bear until they had been planted for ten years.

Mr Thomas - Is any money to be paid to the growers of rubber trees during the ten years in which they are getting no return ?


Mr Thomas - That seems to me the period when they would be- most -in need of assistance.

Mr WATSON - So far as I can ascertain, the only trees which are really of value commercially require at least ten years before they produce rubber in sufficient quantities to justify their being tapped. That being so, I think the period ought to be extended, because, if it be limited to ten years, it means that just as the trees become of value the owners will find that the opportunity to collect the bounty will have disappeared. I do not think that many are likely to be encouraged under this proposal to take up the planting of rubber ; and I urge the Minister to consider the question of extending the time.

Sir William Lyne - The only trouble is that I should have to amend clause 2, which lays down the period of ten years all through.

Mr WATSON - I do not think it at all likely that any one would take up rubber planting under a bounty system limited to ten years.

Sir William Lyne - I am afraid not, but an endeavour might be made to make use of the existing trees.

Mr WATSON - There are no rubber trees in Australia but indigenous trees, which are so scattered as to be hardly worth attention from a commercial point of view. If planting on a systematic scale were encouraged, people would start collecting, and the labour cost is very small.

Mr Mcwilliams - How many would get the bounty?

Mr WATSON - I do not know.

Mr Mcwilliams - The honorable member knows how: much there is to divide.

Mr WATSON - It would depend on circumstances. Personally, I do not see any reason why a considerable number of people should not undertake the cultivation of rubber, for which there is an immense demand. As to the suggestion to give some encouragement before the trees bear, I do not see how that could be done,

Mr Thomas - That is the only way to give help.

Mr WATSON - While in Queensland I suggested that the Government might undertake the planting of trees, and, after ten years, arrange, either directly, or as in India, by farming out, for the collection of the rubber. Apart from that, however, I think a great number of people would with proper encouragement undertake this industry.

Mr Mcwilliams - Why do they not undertake it now?

Mr WATSON - They have to wait so long for a return.

Mr Mcwilliams - They have to wait nearly as long for a return from orchards - eight years for pears.

Mr WATSON - In the case of rubber there is a wait of ten or twelve years, and, in such a period, the bottom may have fallen out of the market, and I suppose that is one reason why this industry has not been established. I was told only yesterday that about twenty years ago a person sold out a part interest in a rubber plantation in Central America, and that the man to whom he sold had last year made a profit of several thousands of pounds. It will be seen that there is money in the industry at the present time, and there is reasonable ground for supposing that there will be money in it some years hence, so that it is worth while to attempt to establish it.

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