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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr McEWEN - My colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, has just informed me that, according to his records, at the present time there are fewer than 100 persons registered for unemployment benefit in Tasmania. I have been kept informed as well, by a conference with the Tasmanian Minister for Forests and also by representatives of the Tasmanian sawmilling industry whom I met several weeks ago in Melbourne. They stated then that a number of small timber mills in Tasmania had closed and that there was a certain displacement of labour as a consequence. According to the advice that has been given me, no persons are unable to get a job.

I informed the persons who called upon me on successive occasions that, to the extent that they attributed this situation to competition from imported timbers, I would refer the matter to the Tariff Board for inquiry and report, in accordance with the policy of this Government and previous governments. In this case, that was done practically the next day. The Tariff Board was asked to expedite the hearing, and to make its finding as quickly as possible.

As to the claim that the situation has arisen from an excess of imported timber in Australia, I was able to produce evidence to show clearly that imports of timber into Australia now are at almost exactly the same level as they were before World War II., and that production of timber in Australia is about exactly double what it was before the war. It does appear that the Australian timber industry, with great credit to itself, has been able to gear itself to a substantial increase of output and, to the extent that I have indicated, to take care of Australia's timber requirements, notwithstanding our vastly increased building programme, so that Australia is not dependent upon imported timbers.

Nevertheless, it appears also that the gearing of the Australian timber industry to increase production has brought the industry to a productive capacity in excess of the current demand for local timber in Australia. That situation does not exist solely in the timber industry, and is not likely to be confined to any small group of industries. Perhaps I might add, without being critical, that a responsibility rests normally on every industry to try to estimate the demand for its product a year or so ahead. The Australian timber industry has not, I fear, been acutely conscious of that need.

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