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Tuesday, 19 December 1911

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - Senator Givens has alluded to the parochialism of the New South Wales representatives in regard to this duty, which he considers is due to . Sydney influences. It is not a question of Sydney influence at all. I challenge refutation when I say that all over New South Wales the saw-millers are unable to supply the orders that have been given to them. It is not a question of an industry wanting development. The sawmilling industry has been developed to such an extent that it cannot meet demands. No one wishes to depreciate the value of Australian hardwoods. I do not say a word against them. But what idiocy it is to penalize ourselves by refusing to make use of the softwoods which we can obtain from elsewhere. The talk about reafforestation is quite beside the question. It would take several generations to replace the timbers which have been ruthlessly destroyed. The argument of Senator Keating, which was to the effect that there is no market for Tasmanian timber at present, was a complete misrepresentation of facts. In the majority of cases, it is not the lack of a market for the timber, but the lack of means of transport to bring the timber to the market. When I was working on the Great Southern Railway in Gippsland, twenty-three years ago, I took an unwilling part in destroying by fire tens of thousands of feet of splendid blackwood logs. Men who understood the nature of these timbers far better than I did, said that they would have brought enormous prices if taken to Melbourne ; but it was the trouble of getting, them there which necessitated the burning of them. It is just the same in various parts of New South Wales and Queensland-. The obstacle is the enormous cost of bringing the timber to where it is required for use. Therefore, it is not a. question of burning the timber because it has no market value, but because of the inaccessibility to a market. On the northern rivers of New South Wales, there was an enormous area known as the Big Scrub, which was sold in conditional purchases, and is now mainly occupied by dairy farms. It is enormously rich land, and produced splendid timber of very many varieties. But the reason why it was in most parts destroyed by fire was because the settler could not get it to market. It is no argument to say that the timber exists any more than it is to tell a man who is suffering with heat that there is plenty of ice at the South Pole. The timbers are not available to the users. Consequently, every industry will be crippled by the exclusion of New Zealand timbers. Senators Keating and Ready have pointed out that we can only get a payable market for high-class timbers on the mainland by levying higher duties on New Zealand timbers. If the Labour element is a factor in the matter at all, surely, with the miserably low wages ruling in Tasmania, timbers which are said to be of better quality than imported timbers, could and would have been used if the Tasmanians had had enterprise enough to create markets on the mainland. Large quantities of Australian hardwoods are exported to New Zealand, where they find a ready market for many of the purposes for which they are most fitted.

Senator Ready - They pay a duty.

Senator RAE - I do not care whether they pay a duty or not. I have seen jarrah, turpentine, and other valuable Australian hardwoods used there, not only for wharf piles and all that sort of tiling, but also for coachwork, such as felloes and hubs.

Senator Ready - They get the Australian hardwoods because they have to do so.

Senator RAE - We all do the same. It is because the softwoods of New Zealand

Are eminently suitable for many purposes in Australia, which cannot be served by the quantities of hardwood which are available, that they should be admitted at low duties.

Senator Ready - The purposes could be served by the supply of Australian softwoods.

Senator RAE - No. I refer the honorable senator, or any one else, to the pricelist of any one of the big timber firms, which, of course, are not engaged in a fiscal or philanthropic enterprise. They charge according to the prices which they have to pay. While there has been a general advance in the price of all kinds of timber, our hardwoods cannot be obtained at anything like a reasonable price. Having to buy a small quantity the other day, I found that since last year there had been a rise of 3s. per roo superficial feet in the price of one of the commonest kinds of Australian hardwoods. Tallow wood, which is a splendid flooring timber, is almost unobtainable, except at a prohibitive price. So far from needing any protection, our sawmillers are absolutely unable to cope with the orders they get. If we retain the duties, we shall do considerable harm, to those who are dependent upon soft woods for purposes for which our own woods are not available or suitable.

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