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Wednesday, 8 March 1961

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) . - I wish to refer again to the. timber industry in Tasmania which was mentioned during the debate to-day. Since this morning we have received certain information regarding the drastic dismissal of men employed in that industry from Mr. Tom Brabin, manager of the Tasmanian Timber Association who telephoned to-night to say that the position in Tasmania had deteriorated still further to-day. He asked that the information be conveyed to myself and to the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies) and the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). As honorable members know, Tasmania is a large producerof top-grade timber which is used on the mainland for home-building.

I mention this matter so that the Government, andthe Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) who is at the table, will know that it is no use saying that the position will right itself to-day or to-morrow or next week. The position is deteriorating at such a rate that unless the Government gets down to business and decides to do something about it my State will be so gravely affected within the next two or three weeks that it will take nine months or more to recover, if it ever does. I cannot see the sense in the Government allowing the situation to get so far out of hand that when it reverses its policy industry takes so long to recover.

These dismissals mean that an increasing number ofmen are thrown on the labour market. Employment in my State, as in other States, is rapidly dry ing up, but on this occasion I am referring particularly to Tasmania. We just cannot find work for these men. Unemployment is increasing at an alarming rate in Launceston. After all, these are timber men and you cannot put a timber man into any other kind of job. This is a life-time job. It is a great shame to think that men who are more or less expert in a particular kind of employment are thrown on to the labour market with no suitable jobs available to them.

I wish to refer now to the Tariff Board inquiry into this industry, not only in relation to Tasmania but also to the whole of Australia. The board occupied the whole of last year in hearing evidence from a wide range of ancillary industries to assist it to decide whether it is right and proper at this stage to restrict imports of timber from overseas countries such as Malaya, Borneo, America and Japan. I have read most of the board's rather lengthy report and I must commend it for the care and attention that has been given to the questions that were before it but I am absolutely shocked, as would be all people interested in the timber industry in Australia, by the completely negative reply to the question which I have raised. In other words, the Tariff Board refused point blank to do anything about the timber that is pouring in from overseas and which is produced in some cases by cheap labour. This timber is undercutting our own and helping to depress the industry to an alarming degree. Imports of this timber are increasing each year. It would be bad enough if the imports remained at their present level, but they are increasing and competition is becoming keener. Obviously it is the Government's intention to depress the industry to such an extent that out of sheer poverty it will reduce costs in the building industry. The Government wants hundreds of men to be dismissed so that costs can be reduced.

The Tariff Board's decision does a great disservice to one of our biggest industries. In all sincerity I wait to ask some questions about this matter ¬Ľnd I hope that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) will reply through the Minister lor Primary Industry. I ask: First, has the Tariff Board the final say in an issue of this nature? Secondly, does the Government hide behind the Tariff Board? Thirdly, has the timber industry any right of appeal to the Government or to any other authority against the decision that has been given by the Tariff Board? Fourthly, does the Tariff Board assume the government of this country so far as the timber industry is concerned? I wish to know whether the Tariff Board is a law unto itself, or can any of its decisions be overridden by the constituted legal authority of Australia. If they cannot be overriden, then the Tariff Board runs the country at this point in its economy. I claim that this is completely undemocratic because it disfranchises the people of Australia who elected the Government to govern, not to hand over to outside boards, commissions and the like the right to make decisions. How stricken, how depleted and how depressed has this industry to be before it will obtain relief either through the lifting if credit restrictions, which are hitting it at the moment, or through the imposition of import restrictions on the imported timber.

I ask these questions in all sincerity because this is a matter of great concern to a big industry in Tasmania, but I am sure that I speak also for the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) in whose electorate 45 mills have closed down. Has not the time arrived for the Government to realize that the Tariff Board is doing a disservice to Australia by continually refusing to restrict the importation of this cheap timber which is undercutting our mills out of existence and putting hundreds of good Australians on the labour market?

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