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Wednesday, 31 July 1946

Mr JOHNSON (Kalgoorlie) (Minister for the Interior) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This measure is designed to extend the functions of the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau to enable it to advise on matters affecting the supply of timber. The war and its aftermath have decisively demonstrated Australia's present inability to meet all our essential timber requirements from our own resources, and have given prominence to well-founded doubts as to bow long even our present standards of timber production can be maintained. A planning and co-ordinating authority is required to investigate the position, and advise the Commonwealth Government with regard to forest resources, timber production, imports and exports for Australia as a whole.

Under the National Security (Timber Control) Regulations, the Commonwealth Timber Controller had wide and necessary powers in relation to timber which was always in short supply. As the war position eased, it was possible to relax many restrictions on the use of timber, but the planning and co-ordinating side of the work of timber control has had to be continued to provide for the requirements of the many activities sponsored by the Commonwealth Government in connexion with housing, public works programmes, &c, "and to arrange, as far as practicable, the equitable distribution of available supplies between the States.

The Director-General of the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau has for some time held the' appointment of Controller of Timber under the National Security (Timber Control) Regulations, and timber control was transferred from the Department of Works and Housing to the Department of the Interior as from the 1st July, 1946. The planning and co-ordinating' service- developed during the war has the confidence and cooperation of State forest authorities and local sawmilling and timber importing interests throughout the Commonwealth.

The logical development to meet peacetime requirements is the inclusion of advisory functions with regard to these matters in a Commonwealth Forestry and Timber Bureau. A definition of timber is included by clause 3. Other amendments to the principal act are the change of the name of the Forestry Bureau to the " Forestry and Timber Bureau ", and the designation of the Inspector-General of Forests to " Director-General, Forestry and Timber Bureau ". Clause 5 of the bill details the additional functions relating to timber which it is proposed to place with the Forestry Bureau.

Timber is proving a limiting factor in the rate of development of certain postwar projects of national importance, such as housing, public works programme and the standardization of railway gauges. Facts regarding production, stocks, imports, exports and interstate movement of timber from month to month are needed to serve as a basis for planning. During the war, it has been demonstrated that this information can be collated and analysed by a very small staff without reuiring industrialists to make burdensome returns.

Although the forests of Australia, for the most part, are under the control of the States, certain factors on which the successful. exploitation by the sawmilling, industry of any forest region are dependent, are controlled by the Commonwealth. Accessible forests were heavily over-cut both before and during the war. It is now necessary to go further afield for logs if the rate of production is to be maintained. This may involve either higher prices or subsidies. Problems of this nature should be dealt with regionally, and should be investigated and reported on before the supply position becomes acute and dislocation of industry develops. Constructive planning by State forest authorities and a Commonwealth organization working in collaboration is required. In order that such problems may be considered in correct perspective, a knowledge of current production and consumption throughout the Commonwealth, with due allowance for imports and exports, is required, and this can be supplied only by a properly constituted and sufficiently staffed timber and forestry bureau.

A second important factor having a large influence on the economy of working the forests of any region is access, and present indications are that the Commonwealth may have to assist in the provision of funds for any major programme of road or tramline development. State forest authorities are already asking what the Commonwealth intends to do to extend the zone of supply in certain States to meet post-war demands, and at present there is no authority which can reply to them.

In the future there will be intense competition for softwood supplies from all countries having exportable surpluses, and it is evident that timber will occupy a prominent place in international trade agreements and that, in addition to control exercised through tariffs, considerable planning and co-ordination will he needed to regulate the quantities of timber to be imported into the main consuming centres and to ensure an equitable distribution of available imports in the national interest, with due regard to the stability of the local saw-milling industry.

Despite the fact that Australia will need to import nearly one-third of its total timber requirements after the war, there is scope for the development of a valuable export trade in high-quality hardwoods and figured- cabinet, woods. The extent to which hardwood exports will be possible will depend largely on our success in organizing {he import of sa tis. factory supplies of general utility softwoods. Australian hardwoods properly marketed will command a high price in overseas countries, in many cases more than double the value of equal quantities of timbers we may import to replace them for building purposes in Australia. Moreover, a number of Empire countries such as New Zealand, Ceylon, South Africa and even the United Kingdom will be seriously embarrassed unless they can obtain hardwood supplies from Australia for public works, railway requirements and special industries.

Reserves of good quality timber remaining in the forests of Australia are not sufficient to maintain the saw.-milling industry at its present level of production indefinitely, and it is important therefore that new industries requiring timber as a raw material should be considered in relation to the general problem of timber supply. For example, it is open to question whether Australia can afford to extend the use of mature logs of good quality to the manufacture of such products as paper and wallboards, when these _ commodities can be made from thinnings, poor quality logs and sawmill waste. At the present time the Commonwealth is directly concerned in any new projects of this nature, as approval is required to the raising of capital, the importing of machinery and the erection of new works; but even under pre-war conditions the Commonwealth was directly concerned in as far as such projects required either bounties or tariff protection before being started.

It is desired to make it clear that the proposed additional powers and functions of the Forestry and Timber Bureau will not interfere with the powers of the Minister for Trade and Customs, to impose import and export duties. The bureau, however, will be in a position to advise the Minister in that regard. I commend the bill to honorable members and urge its speedy passage.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Anthony) adjourned.

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