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Wednesday, 30 July 1930

Senator J B HAYES (Tasmania) . - I hope that the Senate will pass this measure. This is a time when any promising industry should receive our support. I believe that the flax and linseed industry will prove a valuable one to Australia if granted a little' assistance. T. am confident that, aided by this bounty, the industry would assume substantial proportions in the Commonwealth. During the past 25 to 30 years attempts have been made to establish the industry in Australia. I recollect that over 20 years ago there was a demand for flax fibre both on the Australian market and for export purposes, and growers in my own district undertook its cultivation. It grew most luxuriously, 4 to 5 feet high, cropping 2 or 3 tons to the acre; an excellent result for the type of land on which it was grown. Some two or three years ago I visited Gippsland, and there saw flax being cultivated with considerable success. Farmers - especially those engaged in mixed farming on good land - want another crop. At one time oats was a main crop, the oats being cut for hay for horses; but, owing to the development of the internal combustion engine, resulting in horses being largely superseded by motor cars, the chaff market has gone. A crop to take the place of oats is needed. No greater skill is required to grow flax than is necessary to grow oats. The land is prepared and cultivated and the crop harvested in the same way, as in the case of Algerian oats. At one time, difficulties were encountered in harvesting the flax crop, but now flax is harvested with reapers and binders like any cereal crop is dealt with. A further stumbling block in the way of the development of the flax industry in the past was the difficulty of processing the flax for mar'ket. The crop had to be retted, or rotted, by being spread out in the paddocks and turned over continuously for a period of two or three months. Largely on account of the difficulty of preparing the flax for market, the industry was not a success. Those difficulties have now been overcome by the use of modern machinery. If given a start, the industry will develop and become a profitable asset. Some years ago there was a bounty on flax, but the results were not encouraging, because, at that time, all farm products brought high prices, and, consequently, farmers did not give to the cultivation of flax that attention which they would give it now.

The flax companies propose to buy the crop in the sheaf at from £5 to £6 a ton. The manager of a flax company in Tasmania told mc the other day that his company had paid one farmer £24.1 for the flax sheaves obtained from 15 acres of land. Those figures show the profitable nature of the industry. I have inquired into this matter in both Tasmania and Gippsland, and the farmers in both places state that if they can sell their sheaves for £5 a ton the industry will be profitable to thom. This bounty is asked for to enable the processers to obtain the necessary machinery for treating the flax. As in the case of oats, two tons of flax to the acre is a fair crop. Such a crop should produce 14 bushels of seed and 6 cwt. of fibre. At 9§. a bushel for the seed, aud £3 a cwt. for the fibre, that represents about £24 an acre. Australia imports annually large quantities of materials made from flax whicli could easily be manufactured here. Linseed and linseed oil to the value of hundreds of thousands of pounds are also imported annually. The linseed produced from flax grown in Tasmania has been analysed and found to be rich in oil contents. The oil obtained was about 38 per cent, of the seed. Large quantities of canvas are used in Australia, all of which has to be imported. There is no reason why canvas should not be manufactured here. For about £20,000 a canvas-making plant, which would employ 140 persons and produce about 1-1 5th of Australia's canvas requirements could be established. Even if our requirements of canvas did not increase, we could still have fifteen such plants, or one plant fifteen times as big, in operation before the home market would be fully supplied. The growing of flax would assist small farmers considerably.

It has been said that flax-growing is not a white man's industry. The cultivation of flax, its processing and manufacture into canvas is as much a white man's industry as is any. other industry for which Australia is adapted. I realize that times are bad, and that we must economize; but surely our first effort in that direction should not be in connexion with an industry which will assist small, deserving farmers to make ends meet. This industry is as much worth encouraging as are other industries which have been assisted by the granting of bounties. I hope that the Senate will pass the bill.

Senator Sir HALCOLEBATCH (Western Australia) [3.26]. - It is with deep regret that I have to inform the Senate that I shall vote against the second reading of this bill - regret because I know so well the many disabilities under which Tasmania is labouring. If I thought for one moment that the granting of this bounty would be of permanent advantage to that State, I should gladly vote for the bill before us ; but I am firmly convinced that every attempt we make to bolster up an industry - either secondary or primary - which is not self-supporting, will only get us deeper and deeper into the mire. There is not an industry in this country which can afford to pay for bounties to be given to other industries. Yesterday a number of questions were asked on my behalf with respect to the galvanized iron industry. Before the bounty on galvanized iron was increased from £3 12s. to £4 10s. a ton, the annual production of galvanized iron per man employed in the industry was 52 tons. According to the answers given in the Senate yesterday, the production has dropped to 35 tons since the bounty was increased. It would appear that the greater the bounty the less need there is to work or to ensure economy in production. We were told when we agreed to increase the bounty on galvanized iron that a bounty was the only alternative to increased protection. Almost as soon as the additional bounty had been granted economic conditions gave a further increase of £1 a ton in the protection enjoyed by the local industry, inasmuch as importers of iron had to pay an extra £1 a ton by way of exchange, and were compelled to increase their price. Then another duty of £1 a ton was put on. But, in spite of additional assistance equivalent to £2 a ton, the production of galvanized iron per man has decreased. Experiences of that kind should convince us of the utter futility of granting bounties to industries which cannot maintain themselves, and must continue to be a drag on the few industries which are still struggling on without bounties. Senator J. B. Hayes emphasized the need for encouraging primary production in this country. It is utterly useless for us to encourage any losing industry, whether primary or secondary. By encouraging them we are only destroying those industries which, if left alone and given a fair chance, would pull the country out of its difficulties. I should very much like to record a vote that would assist Tasmania in overcoming some of the difficulties imposed upon that State by federal policy, but, for the reasons given, I shall, with deep regret, be compelled to vote against the second reading of the bill.

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