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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr CHANEY (Perth) .- I want to comment, first, on the remarks of the honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Barnes). I was rather amazed at the honorable member's suggestions.

Mr Peters - They were brilliant!

Mr CHANEY - The meaning of " brilliant " varies in the minds of different people. I suggest that the honorable member goes back to sleep. I was amazed to hear the honorable member for McPherson advocate a policy of total prohibition of the export of iron ore. We must be awake to some of our responsibilities as a nation. If Australia, being mainly a primaryproducing nation and trying to develop secondary industries, found itself completely cut off from supplies of raw materials from other countries because those countries feared competition from Australian industry, we would be in a sorry state. We must adopt the attitude that competition is always healthy, and we must realize that there are countries to which iron ore is vital, and on the future of which availability of iron ore supplies must have a profound effect. I think that at present we should relax our prohibition on the export of iron ore. I am quite sure that nobody knows exactly what amount of iron ore exists in Australia.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We ought to know that before we agree to export it.

Mr CHANEY - I suggest we could make an arrangement similar to the one that was made with regard to manganese. Having set aside certain reserves of iron ore, we could say that we would permit the export of 50 per cent, of all new deposits discovered. That would be a sufficient safeguard. This is a matter to which the Government should give serious consideration.

However, I did not propose to talk about iron ore. I want to mention a matter that I have brought up previously in this Parliament. I refer to the position of the Western Australian timber industry. In June and July of this year the Tariff Board once again undertook an investigation of the Australian timber industry. It has not yet submitted its report to the Minister, alhough the Minister assured me about a month ago that he would see that the Tariff Board was seised of the urgency of the matter and that he would endeavour to have the report expedited. I hope that before this House rises the report will be tabled, and I hope that if the Tariff Board recommends certain measures to protect the Australian timber industry those measures will be taken. If it does not recommend protective measures, I hope the Government will still take some action, because it is vitally necessary.

In Western Australia where, as honorable members know, the timber industry is mainly concerned with hardwoods, royalties and rail freight charges have a profound effect on the cost structure of the industry. On 1st September of this year rail freights were increased in the miscellaneous field by some 20 per cent., and, under what is called the A rate, by 15 per cent. The miscellaneous rate is that which applies to timber carried from the timber mills to Parkeston for shipment on the transcontinental railway, while the A rate is that charged for timber carried from the mills to Bunbury, which is the main port for the export of timber from Western Australia. This increase in freights is vitally necessary because the railway system has been showing repeated losses year after year, and the State Government is trying to eliminate these losses. Although they are necessary, however, they have had a severe effect on the timber industry.

The State Government has also intimated that it proposes to raise the royalty rate by ls. 6d. on 100 super, feet, and strong representations have been made to induce the Government not to do this. State governments should realize that it is of no use to seek protection from the Commonwealth Government for an industry if the State Government is going to milk the industry once it gets on its feet or even before it reaches that stage. These royalties are imposed purely to boost State revenues, and they can do serious damage to the industry.

Since the last Tariff Board report on timber there have been increased imports of softwood and other woods from overseas, particularly from the United States of America, Malaya and Borneo. It is an amazing fact that the latest figures available show that freight costs on timber carried from Bunbury to South Australia are almost as high as on timber carried from the west coast of the United States of America to Adelaide. The proximity of the South Australian market is of no benefit to our timber industry because of the high cost of coastal shipping freights in Australian waters.

Timber imports have gone up by leaps and bounds. I shall cite a few figures to show what has happened in the period from December, 1958, to June, 1960.

Mr Stewart - Were you not in favour of the lifting of import restrictions?

Mr CHANEY - I am in favour of a protective policy for an industry on which a great part of the State is dependent. This is not a matter of establishing a factory to make stockings or pullovers or tobacco tins, or something else that can be purchased elsewhere at a lower price. I am speaking of an established industry which has been operating in this part of Australia for a long time. If the honorable member looks at the matter intelligently he will appreciate the argument and the value of the argument. The figures I shall give cover the three sources of imported timber. In December, 1958, imports from North America amounted to 82,000,000 super, feet. From Malaya we imported 17,000,000 super, feet, and from all other countries 45,000,000 super, feet. Total imports amounted to 144,000,000 super. feet of sawn timber. In June, 1959, the quantity imported from all sources was only 124,000,000 super, feet. This showed a drop of 20.000^000 super, feet. In December. 1959, the figure had increased to 138.000.000 super, feet, which was still below the figure for December of 1958, but in June, 1960, it had increased to 187.000.000 super, feet.

This increase of imports has had a grave effect upon the Australian timber industry.

The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) pointed out to me on a previous occasion that Western Australia was suffering from a self-inflicted wound. He said that in the days just after the war Western Australian suppliers had refused to provide timber for South Australian merchants, and that those merchants had had to look elsewhere. Since they found supplies forthcoming from other sources, they now say, "Western Australia treated us badly once before, so it cannot expect favorable consideration from us now".

Mr Thompson - That was in relation not only to oregon but also to other timbers.

Mr CHANEY - Yes, such as meranti and other timbers from Malaya, which are a bit easier for carpenters and joiners to work than are the Western Australian hardwoods. But if the people in South Australia realized how badly the Western Australian timber industry is suffering because of inability to sell its product, they would not mind taking our hardwood, even if it meant a bit more effort in working that timber. I urge the Tariff Board to bring down its report, and I ask the Government to take action to preserve the timber industry in Western Australia, and also in Tasmania and other States.

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