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Tuesday, 6 December 1938

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- A new and important industry will be established as the result of this legislation. It will be a basic industry, which will obtain all of the raw material it needs in this country. Even though it will require vast quantities of our timber, we need have no fear that those resources, as the result of this added demand, will be in danger of being exhausted. The importation of largo quantities of newsprint has an adverse effect upon our trade balance. The raw material at our disposal should be utilized to produce newsprint to meet the local demand, provide employment, and assist the development of Australia -generally. Until recently, newsprint was manufactured only from softwoods, but, in consequence of exhaustive and successful experiments, it can now be manufactured from hardwoods of which there are large quantities in various parts of Australia. {Quorum formed.] I pay tribute to those who, since 192S, have persistently tackled this problem and have now overcome the extraordinary difficulties, because, in doing so, they have made possible tho establishment of a valuable Australian industry. Tasmania, which has largo quantities of suitable timber and is able to produce electrical current at a comparatively low price, will be able to play a very important part in establishing the newsprint industry, the success of which now appears to be assured. I understand that between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 will be expended before the industry is firmly established in Australia, and that producing units will eventually be conducted in three States where production can be carried on economically. In the past, it has been the practice to establish most of our industries in New South Wales or in Victoria, but the establishment of this industry in Tasmania will assist decentralization. I congratulate those responsible for establishing the paper industry at Burnie at a cost of over £1,000,000, without assistance from this Government.

Mr Frost - Newsprint is not being produced at Burnie.

Mr FRANCIS - That is so, but paper is produced without assistance by means of a bounty.

Mr Curtin - Newsprint is admitted free under the British preferential tariff.

Mr FRANCIS - It is not protected to the same degree as other industries are protected, but a bounty is to be paid for a period. I direct the attention of tha

Minister (Mr. Perkins) to the fact that, in 1937, and again in May of this year, the Tariff Board strongly recommended that there should be a reduction of tho general tariff from £4 to £2 a ton. As this subject was dealt with at length in previous reports, and is also mentioned in the latest report, I should like to know why the Government has not given effect to the recommendations of the board in this respect." The Government has been silent. Those concerned, particularly proprietors of country newspapers, are becoming irritated and annoyed.

Mr Gregory - The proprietors of country newspapers say that they will be at a great disadvantage.

Mr FRANCIS - Yes. Why should they be placed in such an unsatisfactory position? -In dealing with the subject, the Tariff Board said -

The references to landed, costs have been chiefly confined to newsprint at present imported, duty free, under the British preferential tariff. The duty of £4 per ton on newsprint imported under the general tariff practically excludes all competition from nonEmpire countries. A reduction of the general tariff rate of £4 a ton to £2 a ton was strongly urged hy Australian newspaper interests during tlx; main paper inquiry in 1930. Sir Keith Murdoch then pointed out that the extreme margin thus provided offered an opportunity for British and Canadian interests to increase their prices. At the present inquiry, Mr. Caldwell, representing the Joint Committee of Tariff Revision, submitted figures to show that the c.i.f. price of Scandinavian newsprint was £3 15s. below that quoted from the Empire countries. This quotation may not bc indicative of the difference in world prices for newsprint from Empire and non-Empire countries but the position remains, as the board pointed out in its report of the 25th March, 1037, viz., the excessive margin of £4 invites price fixing to the detriment of Australian consumers.

I direct the attention of the Minister to the concluding words of that paragraph. The excessive margin is causing a good deal of anxiety in the minds of those newspaper proprietors who are not in the combine. Those controlling country newspapers in Queensland - there are some in my electorate - are particularly anxious to know why the excessive margin of £4 should be permitted, as it does invite price fixing to the detriment of Australian consumers. On previous occasions I have asked the Minister and his predecessor why effect has not been given to this recommendation, but a satisfactory reply has not been received. The Tariff Board's report continues -

The Board lias already explained in its report of the 25th March,. 1937, that this margin is subject to negotiation between the Australian Government and the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada. The. Board still holds the view that this preferential margin is much wider than is justified and is liable to bo abused.

If the preferential margin is wider than is justified and is liable to be abused, why has the Government not taken up the matter with the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada and made a recommendation to this Parliament on the matter? The report continues -

It may prove that a reduction of this preferential margin would force a reduction in the landed cost of Empire paper and thus necessitate greater insistance by means of a bounty. However, it would be better that this should be so than the calculation should be based upon a price made possible under cover of an excessive preferential margin of duty. The Hoard re-affirms its view that the preferential margin of duty should be limited to £2 a ton.

Why has that recommendation of the Tariff Board not been acted upon? Generally speaking, I do not favour a reduction of duties, because I believe in adequate protection being afforded to Australian industries, but I should like some information on the subject of this bill. I suppose that the Minister will say that the duties decided upon at the Ottawa Conference have to bc adhered to. But surely some departure could be made from the duties then agreed upon by the contracting governments. Will this Government make strong representations to the British and Canadian authorities in order to see if some adjustment can be made in this respect ? The present system is most unfair, particularly to the proprietors of country newspapers. If a variation were made in the direction suggested by the Tariff Board, those who are not members of the combine would be treated more fairly. I should like the newsprint industry to be launched in a more satisfactory manner than is now proposed; but I am glad that there is a prospect of our hardwood timbers being used to manufacture first-class newsprint under conditions satisfactory to those concerned. I am particularly anxious, however, that, some explanation be given concerning the excessive margin of £4, which must bc to the detriment of Australian users. I congratulate those responsible for launching this new industry and wish them every success.

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