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Wednesday, 30 July 1930

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- I regret that already some opposition has been shown to the bill on the ground, mainly, that the financial position of the Commonwealth does not warrant the expenditure that would be involved. The Leader of the Opposition says that since the Senate has dealt with other bills for the payment of bounties, the budget has been presented. In view of the contents of that budget, he says that he cannot sec himself voting for this bill or for any further bounties at .the present juncture. In considering this bill we ought to ask ourselves whether it will be of advantage to an industry .that should count in the development of Australia. In the past we have spent a lot of money bolstering industries worth nothing to Australia, and have failed to give assistance to others, particularly rural industries, that gave promise of being of permanent advantage to the Commonwealth. Senator J. B. Hayes has explained that hay-growing as a rural occupation has practically disappeared since the advent of motor traffic. It is reasonable, therefore, for us to see if we cannot provide for the man on the land an occupation which will prove just as profitable as hay-growing was. One of the main objects of this bill is to establish a new primary industry.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - If .the Australian farmers grow as much flax as they used to grow hay, what will it be worth?

Senator PAYNE - As the figures which I shall quote directly will prove, it. will be worth about five times what it was worth fifteen years ago. This bill is not dealing exclusively with a matter affecting Tasmania. There are flaxgrowers on the mainland, and if this bounty is paid, a fair proportion of the flax produced in Australia will be grown in Victoria where the climatic conditions are eminently suitable for flax-growing.

Senator Guthrie - Already more flax is grown in Victoria than in Tasmania.

Senator PAYNE - I believe that, that is so, but if encouragement is given by the payment of a bounty, more flax can bc grown in Tasmania. The flax produced in certain parts of Tasmania has proved to be excellent in regard to yield, the quality of the straw and the linseed. We must not forget that in addition to the fibre contained in the straw, linseed is a very valuable product. A company which has been operating in Tasmania for some time hopes to be able to produce flax, not only for the purpose of producing linseed and fibre for export, but also so that the latter may be manufactured in Australia into materials, such as canvas, for which there is always a ready market. Senator Sampson has referred to some of the difficulties experienced in working flax straw. One of the processes is known as retting. Less than two years ago I had an opportunity to see in London a wonderful machine, invented by Dr. Pritchard, for the treatment of flax straw. It is beyond the experimental stage because I understand that a large mill on the model of this plant has already been erected in Glasgow, and is to be at work this year. Of the whole process of treating flax straw, the retting is the most objectionable because of the enormous labour involved, and the time taken to extract the flax fibre. The process extends over four or five weeks. There is also a process called scutching, through which the straw has to pass, and this in ordinary circumstances has to be done by an additional machine. Both processes are carried out by Dr. Pritchards machine. I brought away with me two samples of scutched flax, and one of the finished article, thu pure flax ready for the spinner. I saw the flax straw put into Dr. Pritchards machine at one end of a room and at the other end of the room I handled the pure flax ready for the spinner as turned out by the machine. The whole process occupies only five hours, whereas the ordinary process of converting flax straw into fibre ready for the spinner, takes five1 weeks. Dr. Pritchard's machine should revolutionize the whole of the flax industry throughout the world. I shall quote some figures to show how important the flax-growing industry is, and how the yield has fallen off in England and Ireland. In 1859 there were 136,000 acres under flax in Ireland and in 1870 there were 22,000 acres under flax in England and Wales. In Ireland, in 1926, the area under flax was only 30,534 acres and in Engand and Wales, only 627 acres. This tremendous decrease in the acreage devoted to flax production in Great Britain and Ireland is entirely due to the enormous amount of labour involved and acreage required in the retting process. Most of the flax produced for the world's requirements of recent years has come from the Continent, particularly from Russia. Since the war governmental and economic changes have resulted in the Russian flax production being less than 300,000 tons a year, and the world's supply of flax is at the present time not more than 400,000 tons. No other country capable of growing flax is able to devote to it the labour for retting and scutching, nor is it likely that any other country can ever do so because of the labour difficulty. Russian flax which sold at from £20 to £30 a ton now costs £120 a ton. I may be asked how the world has got on without flax production. The explanation is that many substitutes for linen have been employed in the manufacture of textile fabrics. But nothing has yet been evolved that is equal to the quality of linen goods. Cotton and artificial silk have had to be used in substitution for linen, because, owing to the scarcity of flax production, the price of linen has risen enormously. People who previously bought linen goods, now find it impossible to do so. The advent of Dr. Pritchard's machine, however, should lead to a revival of the flax and linen industry, and I cannot see why Australia sho°uld not make a bold attempt to get the flax industry on a firm basis, particularly in Tasmania, where the climatic conditions are comparable with those of the textile centres of Ireland and England. I do not suggest that during the next ten years we could go in for the manufacture of linens and fine flax goods - I do not think that would be possible - but I think that with the encouragement, which is now being sought, and with the aid of a small plant 0[1 Dr. Pritchard's model, 'the people engaged in the industry ought to be able to turn out plain materials such as canvas. There is a fairly largeconsumption of linen goods in Australia. Cotton goods have been largely used in substitution for them, solely because of the falling off in the world's production of flax, which, as 1 have said, has led to a great increase in the price. I commend the bill, not because it has some particular reference to Tasmania, but because it is based on the development of a primary industry which ought to be encouraged, particularly for the purpose of replacing the dying industry of hay-growing in the southern portion of Australia.

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