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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2485


Mr KENT —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I ask whether the Minister's attention has been drawn to the annual report of the Industries Assistance Commission, which states:

The assistance arrangements for the passenger motor vehicles, and textiles, clothing and footwear industries were intended to expose these industries to some adjustment pressures.

Further, it states:

The Commission considers that any relaxation in the pressure which these arrangements impose on the industries would be highly undesirable.

In view of that statement, will the Minister assure the motor vehicle and the textile, clothing and footwear industries that the Government will not reduce the level of protection to Australian manufacturing industries in times of high unemployment?


Mr JOHN BROWN —My attention, of course, has been drawn to those sections of the Industries Assistance Commission's annual report. It is also pertinent to note the very sensitive and sincere concern that the honourable member for Hotham has always expressed about Australians and the necessity to have their jobs protected. While the Government appreciates that reductions in protection in the long term are desirable, it has been made perfectly clear by this Government that, considering the economic climate at the moment, and in view of the unacceptably high unemployment level, there will be no immediate or severe downturn in available protection.


Mr Peacock —But the Foreign Minister said you were embalming geriatric industries in the formaldehyde of protection. What about the formaldehyde?


Mr JOHN BROWN —Do you mind if I answer-


Mr Peacock —I just want to know what happened to the Foreign Minister's views.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting across the table. I call the Minister.


Mr JOHN BROWN —The Leader of the Opposition had his period on this side of the House before he was placed in formaldehyde over there; it will be for quite some period, I can assure him. Having said that about no immediate scaling down in protection, of course the previously scheduled tariff phase-downs will continue. In respect of the programs for textile, clothing and footwear and passenger motor vehicles, the position again is perfectly clear, as has been stated from this side of the House on many occasions since we assumed government. The Government has publicly confirmed that the basic features of the seven-year program for TCF will be maintained to provide a predictable framework for those industries to invest in and for continuity of stability within which that--


Mr Peacock —So you are following our program?


Mr JOHN BROWN —It was one of your better programs-I would have to say that-and we do not intend to alter it.


Mr Peacock —Thank you.


Mr JOHN BROWN —That is all right. We do not mind giving you what little credit you are entitled to.


Mr Peacock —There are many of them.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! I ask the two honourable members not to indulge in private conversation but to take the House into their confidence. I call the Minister to answer the question.


Mr JOHN BROWN —Well, Mr Speaker--


Mr Peacock —I caught him short.


Mr Hodgman —You hate koalas and you hate Tasmania.


Mr JOHN BROWN —Well, the koala was not caught short; that was fairly obvious.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! If the Minister has ceased answering the question, he should sit down; otherwise he should get on with it. I call the Minister.


Mr JOHN BROWN —If there were no interjections, I could get on with it.


Mr SPEAKER —I suggest you disregard them.


Mr JOHN BROWN —While the TCF program involves phased down tariff protection and tariff quota liberalisation to encourage concentration of activity in the more efficient areas of production, it still provides a substantial level of assistance to the industries concerned.


Mr Hodgman —Who wrote this-the koala?


Mr Peacock —If I were reading this, I would be laughing, too.


Mr JOHN BROWN —This is a very important subject. If honourable members opposite only realised that we are now talking about the future prospects of Australian workers, they might share the same concern as the honourable member for Hotham displayed when he asked the question.


Mr Peacock —It was our program that you just endorsed.


Mr JOHN BROWN —If the honourable member would just be quiet for a moment and stop his inane chattering I might be able to tell him what the situation is.


Mr Peacock —It is the same stuff I used.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition is stretching the tolerance allowed to an honourable member in his position.


Mr JOHN BROWN —Well, his disdain for Australian workers is so well known that I am not surprised.


Mr SPEAKER —I ask the Minister to get on with the answer.


Mr JOHN BROWN —Certain aspects of the current and proposed assistance arrangements for the passenger motor vehicle industry are under review, but any changes to the assistance arrangements that presently exist in that industry will change only after extensive consultations with that industry. As the Leader of the Opposition and most of his colleagues should well know, the question of light commercial vehicles is presently a subject of discussion with the Industries Assistance Commission. Of course, the Minister for Industry and Commerce has announced that the Car Industry Council has been established to inquire into a whole range of questions that concern the future viability of that industry. The Council's membership, of course, includes representatives of not only the industry and of government but also of unions and of consumers.

In summing up, it is fair to say that, while the Government shares the concern that has been expressed in the Industries Assistance Commission's annual report about the high level of protection, it also wishes to point out very clearly that, given the economic circumstances that confront the nation following seven years of conservative government, the time is not now ripe to be reducing protection levels. This Government will consistently pursue a phased reduction in tariffs and protections over the ensuing years.