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Wednesday, 18 May 1960

Mr OSBORNE (Evans) (Minister for Air) . - in reply - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) has raised some points about the earlier Tariff Board report and the report which is now being sought. He has covered much the same ground as his colleague, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). The earlier Tariff Board report, which was made in 1958 and tabled in the House in May, 1959, was made when the Government was still encouraging the producers of sulphuric acid to convert from imported brimstone to the Australian indigenous material. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows the background of that policy very well. When this bounty was first introduced, there was a shortage of brimstone in the world which appeared likely to last for many years. The Government decided that, as a matter of national necessity, it should encourage the production of sulphuric acid from indigenous materials so that Australia would not be denied the essentials for making fertilizers for its primary industries if we should be unable to import brimstone. The Tariff Board's report was made against that background. It was completed in 1958 and tabled in the. House in May, 1959.

That situation changed completely. New deposits of natural brimstone were found and the world's supply became plentiful. As a matter of policy, the Government then decided not to encourage Australian producers of sulphuric acid to convert from imported brimstone to the indigenous material. Consequently, in May, 1959, the Government asked the Tariff Board to inquire and report again on the sulphuric acid industry against the new background. The board was asked to recommend rates of bounty which would not be designed to encourage further conversion for the use of the indigenous materials, but which would honour the Government's obligations - I am sure the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will not cavil at this - to manufacturers who had co-operated in the past by installing plant to produce sulphuric acid from Australian sulphur-bearing materials.

Both the honorable member for Lalor and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have asked for the time-table of this new report. When was the board asked to inquire into the industry? When did it conduct its hearings and when will it present its report? The matter was referred to the board in May, 1959. The board concluded hearings on 31st October, 1959. The inquiry is a very complex one from the nature of the reference and because of the difficult situation in which the board has to advise. It is understandable that the board would take some time to separate the many difficult issues which are involved and to reach appropriate conclusions. We do not know when the board will present its report, but the short extension of six months for the payment of the bounty, which we now seek through this bill, indicates that we have a reasonable expectation that the board will report in time for the Government to consider and act upon the report within the six months.

In conclusion, I acknowledge the thoughtful and helpful contribution which was made to this debate by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Browne) whose interest in this subject is well known and stems from the importance of the industry to the town of Norseman in his electorate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

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