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Wednesday, 14 March 1928

Senator KINGSMILL (Western Australia) . - It seems to me that of late years, whenever an industry languishes, those associated with it are under the impression that the one remedy is to secure additional protection, and accordingly they rush to the Government or to the Tariff Board for relief. Very often those ills from which an industry suffers are in no way attributable to the lack of, and, very often, cannot be cured by, protective duties. A point has been made during this debate, both here and in another place, that one of the principal causes - indeed, almost the only cause - of the inability of the Australian timber industry to meet overseas competitors, is the extremely low freights which prevail between timber-producing countries and Australia, and the extremely high freights ruling between the Australian ports. Therein, I think, lies the remedy which we may apply. I believe we should have a permanent cure for the ills which beset the timber industry in Australia if some substitution of the remedy which has become so fashionable in industry could be made. It has been stated that it costs considerably less to bring timber from American or Scandinavian ports to Australia than to ship timber from a Tasmanian port to Victoria, from a New South Wales port to Western Australia, or from a Queensland port to any other part of Australia. That, unfortunately, is a true statement of the position, and since we cannot bring about an alteration in freights from other parts of the world to Australia, does it not behove us, instead of seeking relief by the imposition of higher duties, to consider for the moment whether it is not possible to obtain relief from the extremely high freights that obtain around the Australian coast? That is not only possible but, in the near future, inevitable. Let us consider the factors that contribute towards the raising of freights. The main contributing factor is the Navigation Act, of which I honestly believe the Australian people are becoming heartily tired. It cannot continue to operate for many more months. It is imposing upon the people of Australia an irksome burden which they find extremely difficult to bear. It renders unprofitable many industries which otherwise would flourish. For what purposes has it been allowed to operate ? It brought about conditions in the maritime industry, of the like of which the world had not previously had experience; yet the workmen who are engaged in that industry are the most discontented in Australia. Dissensions in their ranks are continually holding up the commerce of this country. At the present time 25 ships are idle around the coast of Australia. The class of shipping engaged in the coastal, trade is steadily deteriorating and the number of vessels is daily becoming fewer. Because we do not remedy the position by abolishing the coastal trading clauses of the act we are forced to create a tariff which undoubtedly will have the effect of increasing the cost of building throughout Australia. The substitutes for timber are steadily increasing in number and destroying what should be a most profitable industry. I refer more particularly to the remote parts of Australia. I feel sure that my Tasmanian friends will pardon me for referring to their State as a "remote" one. It is remote only from the point of view of the freights that obtain between it and the mainland. It is true that in "Western Australia the timber industry has suffered to a less extent than in Tasmania. Partly on account of its geographical position, and partly also because of the excellence of its products, a very large and profitable export trade has been built up with South Africa. The high freights that have ruled from Western Australia and Tasmania have prevented the timbers of those two States from playing as prominent a part as they should in the building and manufacturing operations in the large centres of population in the eastern states. The reduction of freights which inevitably would follow the repeal of the coastal trading provisions of the Navigation Act would result in the restitution to Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland of a very large share of the markets on the eastern seaboard.

Senator Ogden - Would the oversea vessels carry the timber,

Senator KINGSMILL - Undoubtedly they would. In Western Australia Ave have to include in our reckoning the possibility of a diminution in, if not the total extinction of, our South African trade. We have already sent to South Africa and various other ports in Africa a sufficient number of sleepers to lay and relay the Cape to Cairo Railway. If honorable senators will reflect for a moment they will realize what an immense quantity of timber such a work would require. The supplying of those sleepers was a highly payable proposition, due mainly to the fact that a very large proportion was obtained at piece-work rates by timber hewers, who deservedly earned a very high wage.

Senator Ogden - A lot of timber is wasted in hewing.

Senator KINGSMILL - Certainly. I point out, however, that wastage would have occurred in any case because the biggest proportion was taken from private lands on a royalty basis. Such an idea did not occur to the owners before this trade was instituted, and in other circumstances the timber would have been destroyed. It is admitted by both sides to this argument that the tariff, if passed in its present form, is bound to cause an increase in the cost of building. The estimate of what that increase will be varies according to the fiscal faith of those who make it. The advocates of these duties represent it as negligible, while those who would abolish the duties argue that it will be very considerable. Probably the truth lies between the two. If it does, the increase will amount to a considerable sum. In this connexion I ask the Government to consider for a moment the effect upon the financial liability it is shouldering in connexion with its building scheme - -the biggest that Australia has ever seen - and also what it will mean to the welfare of its potential clients, and what will be the effect upon the securities it will be offered for the money it advances.

Senator Needham - That is as far as they will get.

Senator KINGSMILL - It is not like my honorable' friend to adopt the role of a pessimist.

Senator Needham - Looking at the Government, I cannot be anything else.

Senator KINGSMILL - I have always regarded the honorable gentleman as the most cheerful Leader of the Opposition I have ever met. His cheerfulness and resignation in the office that he holds are so great that I hope he will continue to occupy it for many years to come. There is another factor which has to be considered. In/the present state of forestry in Australia, Oregon is absolutely indispensable. For certain purposes in the construction of buildings no other timber can take its place. In addition, the instances in which Oregon displaces Australian hardwoods are few. Under those circumstances is it not extremely injudicious to do what will inevitably cause its price to be raised? In perhaps 30 or 40 years' time there may be an appreciable growth of softwood in Australia. When that time arrives it will be advisable to place a duty on Oregon and other foreign softwoods ; but in the meantime we shall only raise false hopes if we prohibit the importation of Oregon with the object of substituting our hardwoods for it. I have alluded to the fact that there are other' troubles connected with this industry. One, this industrial trouble, applies, to all other industries. There is no doubt in my mind that the industrial leaders throughout Australia are anxiously following the progress of this debate and awaiting the result.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

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