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Wednesday, 14 March 1928

Senator THOMPSON - Unfortunately, the mining industry of Queensland is in anything but a flourishing position. I have therefore to reconsider the position to some extent. The Minister's statement was certainly not very helpful. It would appear that because in another place the Government was forced to accept increased duties, this chamber must do the same. I do not subscribe to that view. Probably honorable members in another place are now in a more reasonable frame of mind and would agree to a request for lower duties on timber. Like other honorable senators, I have received numbers of telegrams and letters relative to the duties on timber. From my perusal of them I have concluded that the advocates of lower duties have made out the better case. Timber getting to-day is more expensive than it was in earlier years for the reason that sawmillers now have to go further back to get suitable timber, with the result that transport difficulties are increased. In Queensland, sawmillers have to meet heavy royalties on timber.

Senator Guthrie - Is it true that the royalties imposed are equal to the value of the timber ?

Senator THOMPSON - Yes. In such circumstances Queensland saw-millers naturally look for some protection.

Senator Duncan - The strongest arguments against increased duties have come from the biggest saw-millers.

Senator THOMPSON - I agree with those who urge that the coastal provisions of the Navigation Act should be repealed. When in Adelaide some time ago I saw at Holden's motor body building establishment a large stack of timber. When I asked if it came from Queensland the manager replied that, although he would prefer Queensland timber, which he knew to be of good quality, the timber in the stack caine from the Philippine Islands because, notwithstanding the duty on it and the longer distance that it had to be carried, it could be landed more cheaply than could Queensland timber. Recently when in Mildura 1 saw shooks for fruit cases branded " Made in Sweden." When I suggested that shooks could be obtained from Queensland, I was informed that it was cheaper to get them from Sweden. I cannot accept the figures quoted by Senator J. B. Hayes as to the additional cost of building which these higher duties would necessitate. Prom information in my possession, the additional cost, instead of being about £7 as mentioned by the honorable senator, would be over £20. The Directors of Forestry in both New South Wales and Queensland advocate saving our timbers and importing timber for some years to come. The Queensland Director of Forests recommended that in order to preserve the forests for the future, importations should be continued for 30 years.

Senator Crawford - The Forestry Commissioner of New South Wales advocates higher duties.

Senator THOMPSON - According to information received only to-day, I understand that he is of the same opinion as is the chairman of the Provisional Forestry Board in Queensland. Although T had received no communication from Queensland in regard to this item prior to this sitting. I have now received from inspired sources a number of letters and telegrams. To some of these communications I attach little importance, but one of them is worded so reasonably that I propose to read a few extracts from it. It is from James Campbell and Sons, Ltd., large' saw-miller of Brisbane.. On the 9th inst, this firm sent me the following telegram : -

Timber industry never in worse state. Accentuated frequent large- importations from New Zealand and overseas. Appeal you strongly support tariff passed Representatives.

In a letter dated' the 12th March, 1928, the firm wrote-

Regarding the wretched state of the timber trade in Queensland during the past twelve months, we really could not exaggerate the position. Several mills have closed down altogether, and, if present conditions continue, many more will follow. You will no ' doubt have heard a good deal during the past year or two regarding the timber industry, such as shortages of pine in Queensland, &c, but we might state that Queensland has pine to fulfil our requirements for a good many years yet. Unfortunately, . Oregon pine - we mention this timber, because it is our biggest competitor - is competing greatly with our hardwoods, of which Queensland is richly endowed, and there is no visible shortage whatever of this timber. This is the cause of so many of our millers going out of business. When we see so many shipments arriving from overseas, many of them with 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 feet at a time for our port, and realize that it means that quantity less of our own timbers to be used, it brings one to sternly realize how our industry, with its vast number of employees, is encroached upon. The labour on imported timber is very small as compared with the labour on our own timbers, when you come to take into consideration the labour entailed right from the falling of the tree to the putting it through the mills. Compare this with imported timber. We could really work our mill plants with about 25 per cent, of our normal employees if we dealt solely in imported timbers, but where the sawmill employs in its mill and timber yards, say, 100 employees, it necessitates a further 75 in the forests or scrubs. Then; also, with these bush workers, there is a number of other dependent trades in the country such a? blacksmith, wheelwrights, harnessmakers, .farmers, &c.

That communication has induced me to favour a modification of the timber duties rather than the complete elimination of the increases and I therefore propose to ask the Senate to request the House of Representatives to make the duties on item 291, sub-item f3 (timber n.e.i.), 5s. British, 5s. intermediate, and 5a. general. Those rates, I think, would enable the millers to carry on and at the same time would avoid the high cost of dwellings which high duties must inevitably bring about.

Progress reported.

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