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Tuesday, 30 August 1921

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I am a little surprised, and somewhat sorry, that Senator Pratten has proposed this request, because it is rather inconsistent with his general attitude towards the schedule. Protectionists complain very often that unless wo adopt a Protectionist policy there is a possibility that our population will be returned to the positions of hewers of wood and drawers of water; but if the honorable senator's request were to be adopted here, and accepted elsewhere, we would be taking up the position that we would hardly let our bush population be even hewers of wood.

SenatordeLargie. - They would merely be burners of wood.

Senator KEATING - Yes, burners of their own wood and converters of imported logs into usable timber. The importation of timber in the log free of duty was a policy we followed for many years in the States and in the earlier days of the Commonwealth, and while it prevailed there was throughout Australia an utter lock of recognition of the serviceableness and value of our own native timbers. Reference has been made by Senator Pearce and Senator' Payne to the north-west coast of Tasmania. Honorable senators have seen Tasmanian blackwood used very largely for figured, ornamental; and furnishing work, and for interior fittings of houses, and it is always recognised, when it is so worked up and used, as a most valuable timber ; but since the establishment of the Commonwealth I have seen within sight of the north-west coast of Tasmania blackwood logs, which would be serviceable if cut up for household decorations and furnishing purposes, ruthlessly burnt on the' ground, not in the manner Senator Drake-Brockman has described, as refuse of timber mills, but simply burnt in. the log in the process of clearing land for agricultural purposes. I have seen logs up to 10 feet long, with a. diameter of from. 2 ft. 6 in. to 3 ft. as they can be seen at the present day, used in chock-and-log fences. In those days when blackwood logs were put into those fences and ruthlessly burnt as I have described, timber in logs was coming into Australia from overseas countries duty free for milling purposes here.

Insuch circumstances, what chance had this veryvaluable asset of the Commonwealth?H owever, later on came the war, and, although a considerable amount of blackwood had been used previously, it was but a fraction of what was actually produced in Tasmania. There has been more blackwood burnt off and ruthlessly destroyed than has been marketed from that State. But since the war there has been a little recovery in the output for commercial purposes, and the timber has been used fairly freely for such purposes as have been indicated by Senator Drake-Brockman. There has grown up amongthe people of Australia a greater appreciation of their own native timbers, and I think it is desirable that their use should be encouraged by the imposition of a small duty such as we are now considering.

Reference has been made by some honorable senators to the serviceableness of our timbers and their recognition abroad. I claim some credit for the use of them in Australia House, because years ago, when I was Minister for Home Affairs, I established the policy of utilizing, as far as practicable, Australian timbers for Commonwealth Government requirements. To that end, the Department of which I was the Ministerial head communicated with the authorities in the several States with the object of obtaining, year after year, from each of them a certain quantity of its most suitable timbers for joinery and furniture-making purposes, and laying them. aside, so thatwhen they were actually required for our use they would be thoroughly seasoned, and so do themselves justice. A great many timbers were thus laid aside while I was Minister for Home Affairs, and later on the present Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) availed himself of these stocks for use in connexion with the first rifles manufactured at the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, for service abroad in the great war. More of the timbers were also used for other purposes. The Commonwealth was in a better position than ; any private millowner to allow its capital to remain idle in this way, but in reality improving all the time through the natural processes of seasoning. By-and-bye, when Australia House was being erected, more of these timbers, typical of each State, were utilized in connexion with its furnishings and fittings.

I think that, for reasons that I have given,we ought to promote the useof Australian timbers. The step thatSenator Pratten asks us to take of agreeing to a request for a reduction of these duties, would be a backward and nota forward one. During the debate, it has been said thatoregon is essential for building purposes. I have had the honour and privilege of being associated with every Tariff passed through this Chamber, and in connexion with every one ofthem the necessity for allowing oregon to come infree has been strongly urged. So far as I can remember, however, the case for its free admission -was never put - unless it was during my temporary absence - on the ground of itsbeing indispensable for building purposes. The plea advanced - was that which Senator Gardiner has just put - that oregon was more serviceable for mining purposes than any of our own hardwoods. On every occasion, the Broken Hill mining companies were cited, as Senator Gardiner has referred to them to-night, as shrewd companies which prefer oregon to any Australian timber. One of the reasons why it was said to be preferable to any other was not that it would stand a greater strain than Australian hardwood - It was admitted that it would not - but that when an undue strain came upon it it creaked, and so gave warning to those employed in the underground workings, who were thus not likely to be taken suddenly byany falling in of the timbering. That was the chief claim made for oregon in connexion with all previous Tariffs. I do notremember thatit was ever claimed that it was indispensableforbuilding construction, and that we had no Australian timbers that could take its place for such a purpose. Reference has also been made to the limited timber supplies of Australia. It is said that our forests have their limits. No doubt they have; but for some time therehas been a growing recognition of this circumstance by all the States, and something in the nature of re-afforestation has been engaging the attention of the several State Governments. The matter is receiving the consideration of the Tasmanian State Government, and I have no doubt that other States have gone as far as, if not further than, Tasmania has done in that direction. Those who are best qualified to advise the State Governments have from time to time drawn their attention to the necessity for re-afforestation. We are aware, also, of what was done in this regard by Ger- many, Sweden, and other Continental nations for many years before the war, and the lessons they have taught us will not go unheeded. It is complained by the mover of this request that the States collect timber royalties. Tasmania, although Senator Pratten did not mention the fact, is one of the States that collects royalties upon timber cut on Crown lands. In 1919 the State Go- vernment, I think, collected between £3,000 and £4,000 by way of royalties, but in the following year, owing not only to the increased royalties, but also to an increased output, the revenue so obtained jumped from something like £3,000 to £14,000 or £15,000. I see nothing in that to cavil at.

Senator Henderson - It is quite legitimate.

Senator KEATING - Undoubtedly. The timber is on Crown lands, and if the Crown licenses certain individuals to cut that timber and to turn it to their own monetary profit and advantage, surely it is entitled to insist, amongst other conditions, that a portion of the profits so derived, shall go to the State. I find reason, rather, to complain of the failure of the States in past years to require those who cut timber to refrain from interfering with the young immature growing trees. In many instances, owing to recklessness on the part of those engaged in timbergetting, young immature timber has been ruthlessly destroyed, so that even had there been a policy of re-afforestation in operation, it would have been to that extent nullified. I hope that the Committee will reject the request and retain the duties as proposed in the schedule, since by doing so we shall lead, not only to the maintenance of that appreciation of our own timbers which is now more prevalent, but also to its encouragement and growth.

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