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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr Webb b asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Trade, upon notice -

1.   Is the sale of Western Australian timbers overseas being restricted so that the Commonwealth and South Australia will have sufficient railway sleepers?

2.   Are licences being granted to import timber from dollar and sterling areas for purposes for which Western Australian timbers is suitable?

3.   Is it a fact that huge stacks of timber are being accumulated and some saw-mills are being closed down, whilst others are reducing output, and that, as a result, men are losing jobs?

4.   If the position is as stated, will he take steps to ensure that Western Australian timber is used to the fullest extent, or, alternatively, that restrictions on the overseas sale of this timber are lifted?

Mr McMahon - The answers to the honorable member's questions are as follows: -

1.   No control is exercised by the Department of Trade on the export of timber. I am advised by my colleague, the Minister for the Interior, however, that a control is maintained on the export of timber from Australia according to the varying needs of the different States. I understand that, as far as Western Australia is concerned, the control is purely nominal, except in the case of railway sleepers. Western Australian saw-millers hold orders for the supply of the essential requirements in railway sleepers of the Western Australian, South Australian and Commonwealth railways, and control of the export of railway sleepers from Western Australia has to be maintained to ensure that independent buying agencies from overseas do not deplete the available production to the extent that the essential requirements of these railway systems cannot be met. I am informed, however, that despite the export control, approval has already been given to the export, during 1956-57, of about one-third of the estimated production of railway sleepers in Western Australia.

2.   The productive capacity of the Australian timber industry falls short of the level of requirements for this very essential commodity, and the honorable member will appreciate that it is necessary to supplement local supplies with imported timber.

3.   It has been brought to my notice that the Western Australian timber industry is experiencing some difficulty in disposing of its timber.

4.   With regard to limitations on the export of local timber, I have already stated my understanding of the position on these controls. As far as timber imports are concerned, the availability of local supplies is taken into account for the purpose of conserving overseas exchange in determining the permissible level of imports. It is not possible, however, to give the Australian timber industry any direct protection through the administration of importlicensing.

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