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Table Of Contents
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- Start of Business
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1994-95
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Mr DOWNER, Mr WILLIS)
Taxation: Employee Share Acquisition Schemes
(Mr TANNER, Mr WILLIS)
(Mr COSTELLO, Mr WILLIS)
(Mr LEO McLEAY, Mr LEE)
(Mr COSTELLO, Mr WILLIS)
(Mr SWAN, Mr BEAZLEY)
Taxation: Fringe Benefits
(Mr BRUCE SCOTT, Mr GEAR)
(Mr HARRY WOODS, Mr CREAN)
Taxation: Fringe Benefits
(Mr TRUSS, Mr GEAR)
Tobacco: Sports Sponsorship
(Mr CHYNOWETH, Dr LAWRENCE)
Taxation: Fringe Benefits
(Mr ANDREWS, Mr GEAR)
Southern Bluefin Tuna
(Mr SNOW, Mr BEDDALL)
(Mr ANDERSON, Mr BEDDALL)
(Mr LATHAM, Mr WILLIS)
- Interest Rates
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1994-95
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
Aboriginal Organisations: Grants for Cattle Stations
(Mr Campbell, Mr Tickner)
Aviation Authority: Monarch Airlines
(Mr Sharp, Mr Brereton)
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Engagement of Former Employees
(Mr Braithwaite, Mr Bilney)
Department of Administrative Services: Engagement of Former Employees
(Mr Braithwaite, Mr Walker)
(Mr Filing, Mr Bilney)
Australia-New Zealand: Aviation
(Mr Jull, Mr Brereton)
AIDAB: AIDS Research Programs
(Mr Richard Evans, Mr Bilney)
(Mrs Moylan, Mr Baldwin)
(Mr Latham, Mr Beddall)
(Mr Ferguson, Mr Baldwin)
- Aboriginal Organisations: Grants for Cattle Stations
Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Mr MARTYN EVANS (12.53 p.m.) —Mr Speaker, those of us who have the honour to represent our fellow Australians in this, the national parliament, have a singular duty to ensure we are representatives of all the people and that we collectively govern this country for future generations as well as for the present time. While our respective ideas on how this should best be done might vary, we are each given a great opportunity to share in guiding the growth of Australia and in handing our children a nation in better condition than we came to it. I would certainly like to take this opportunity to thank those who have supported me over the years of local, state and now federal elections, and who have given so generously of their time in the elections that I have contested during that period.
My predecessor in Bonython was a very distinguished member of this place for some 17 years. I was privileged to work with Neal Blewett from the time in which he first won the seat back in 1977 and I have also worked closely with him over many of the years in which he represented the area. His role in the establishment of Medicare alone would ensure his place in history as a compassionate and dedicated architect of a health care system which guarantees Australians health care appropriate to their medical condition and not their financial circumstances. While debate may continue at the margins about the relative share of the public and private sectors, almost everyone acknowledges Medicare as the most successful health system in the world.
During his long ministerial career, Neal also served this parliament in several other portfolio areas, including a very significant period in trade in which he was able to bring his diplomatic skills to bear on what must surely be one of the most important but frustrating areas of policy management, that is, international trade and the GATT round. It is very fitting that he should continue to serve his country in this context as the High Commissioner in London.
Bonython, the electorate that we have both represented, is a rapidly growing area to the north of Adelaide. It contains a mix of new housing and older established areas which were first settled soon after the state of South Australia was founded. The industrial base varies from the substantial manufacturing plant of General Motors Holden to the high-tech start-up companies to be found in Technology Park at the Levels, as well as the Defence Science and Technology Organisation based around the RAAF base at Edinburgh. Together the motor vehicle manufacturing and defence industries are the major employers in the region and their health is critical to that of the local regional economy.
The General Motors plant at Elizabeth, which is but a short distance from my own home, has never seen better times; indeed, production is at record levels and demand remains very strong. A good mix of massive investment and capital equipment, including in excess of $150 million on a world class paint complex, combined with an investment in the people who work at the plant, have given our area a significant boost.
The last decade has seen major changes to the motor vehicle industry. No longer is it an inefficient relic of a bygone age of manufacturing industry typified by low capital investment and restrictive work practices fostered by disinterested management and sheltered by government imposed tariff barriers. Slowly the industry has been turned around to the point where it can compete on the world stage. Major investment has been ploughed into technology and people are better trained and encouraged to take a pride in their work and allowed to participate in the manufacturing process, rather than being part of the production line.
The conservative policies of the 1950s and the 1960s left Australia with an economy based on outdated manufacturing technology and isolated from the dramatic changes that were occurring throughout the emerging economies of Asia. The artificial barriers of that day gave our industry, and those who managed and worked within it, a false sense of security which defied economic reality and ensured that we would not benefit as a nation from the growth in productivity which exposure to the real world has since brought about.
The Prime Minister (Mr Keating) recently joined with General Motors Holden in Melbourne in celebrating the production of the two millionth Holden engine. The plant at Elizabeth, which is one of the major manufacturing plants and a major employer within the electorate, is also enjoying significant levels of employment. Demand exceeds production and there is a waiting list for new vehicles.
This has been brought about in a climate of significant challenge for both management and the work force. Management has adapted to the needs of our times and an historical surge in Japanese production by greater investment in new capital equipment and in the people who operate that equipment. This twin rejuvenation of capital and management style has saved our traditional industrial base in the vehicle manufacturing industry from a slow but inexorable decline, something which would have been inevitable but for the innovative and, at the time, courageous plan of former Senator John Button back in 1984. That plan set the industry on track for a more productive future with an outward looking philosophy and a capacity to take on the world and to compete. That they did, and the evidence of the success of that strategy in the long term is symbolised in Bonython by that massive new paint factory which I am sure the Prime Minister will open shortly.
However, we also live in an information age where access to information and scientific intellectual property is increasingly vital. Developed nations are in a state of transition from the smokestack industries of old to an information culture based on innovation and the manipulation of scientific knowledge about ourselves and our world. This is an era where the production of physical goods will be secondary to the knowledge that produces them and runs in parallel with the shift to a stronger emphasis for service based industries including tourism, communications, education and health.
The next decade will see a remarkable shift in the very nature of our society and the way in which we accumulate wealth and enhance the productivity of our country. The world as we know it will also change in ways which are quite fundamental to the very structure of our civilisation. However, these changes will not occur in a radical or dramatic fashion; they will be gradual as they are inexorable. They will not be applied uniformly as between nations or, indeed, within nations, and most certainly they will not occur on a just and equitable basis as between individuals unless we are particularly vigilant and pro-active.
It is thus imperative that technological change be set in a social justice context, which I would like to discuss further, Mr Speaker, since I believe that it is one of the most significant issues of our generation. My electorate contains some of the most important high technology enterprises in South Australia and, indeed, in the nation. DSTO at Salisbury and Technology Park at the Levels are focal points for the kinds of changes to our society about which I have spoken. They are at the cutting edge of the new technologies, in the physical sense, in the equipment they develop and manufacture.
Australia has enjoyed considerable success as a nation in developing and using high technology. However, we have not enjoyed the same success in ensuring that these devices are brought to market and that it is Australia and Australians who benefit from the innovation and the profits which flow from it.
The recent science and technology budget statement presented to this House a few weeks ago identifies the significant advances in spending on research by government and the commitment of the government to research, both for the immediate needs of industry and on a long-term basis through the universities and other cooperative research centres. However, what is also clear from that statement is the failure of industry in this country to so rapidly understand the benefits of research for long-term growth and the need to invest for our collective future through research and development.
The level of business investment in R&D as a percentage of our gross domestic product is still relatively low compared to other OECD countries. However, it is encouraging to note that we have one of the highest growth rates in this category and, if this trend continues, we can expect to significantly improve our relative position in that league table. That would certainly be essential to our long-term viability as an economy. The taxation concessions of this government, designed as they were to encourage investment and research, have worked well, but they have a cost to the public purse as well and it is essential that industry also does its share in this regard.
One further positive note was the very high level of growth in external patent applications by Australians, one of the highest levels of growth in that category in the world. It is vital that the spark of innovation which a patent represents is then translated into profitable applications for the real world. This will be achieved by a combination of appropriate policy settings and a commitment by business to invest and have confidence in our future as an innovative nation.
Our high standards of education and the relevant infrastructure for this development are all critical, as is the information age transition of which I have spoken. We need to ensure that the system of incentives which government provides are relevant and appropriate. Governments find it hard to pick winners in a technological race when we do not even know all of the technological rules as yet. Therefore, it is better to create an appropriate taxation regime along with micro-economic reform to allow the winners to pick themselves. Where we do provide assistance, we should ensure that it does not favour one type of investment, since the important industries of the future may have yet to be established.
This is particularly true of the states where many of these assistance packages are developed. The computer software industry, for example, is a major growth area and one with much more potential for Australia than that of the computer hardware on which those programs run. However, it is relatively easy to obtain assistance for a new factory to produce hardware but a very difficult proposition to obtain assistance for a software house which may have little in the way of plant and equipment but require a massive investment in people. This is yet another example of how the information age requires a change in our normal mode of thinking about industry, investment and incentives.
The same can be said for the software which we will play on our new pay TV system when it is operational later this year. While to date all the public attention has been focused on the physical infrastructure which transmits and receives the pay TV signal, be it satellite, microwave or cable, the most critical issue in the long haul will be the control and development of programming. It is the programs which will determine the profitability and success of pay TV, not so much the hardware, and it is in the production and the worldwide distribution of that programming that the real money will be made. Far more of our attention should be focused on that area and that part of the debate, although at the present time I certainly understand the interest in the delivery mechanisms and who owns them because they are certainly the topic of the day.
Our telecommunications system is second to none. The changes which are occurring in that area are the same, in essence, as have taken place in the motor vehicle industry. Exposing telecommunications to competition, as this government has done, will ensure that consumers benefit and that our technological base is kept at or near the leading edge. That blending of telecommunications with media, information and entertainment will surely be part of our future. The issue is how that will be regulated and who will profit from it. These issues will revolve around programming once again. The initial technical details have yet to be resolved and the market will pick the winners, just as it did with video recorders—after all, who remembers the beta format any longer?
The examination of broadband services by the broadband expert services group, which is now under way and which will report at the end of the year, is very timely, and I certainly look forward to that report.
Broadband service technology allows the delivery of a large number of voice, digital or television type signals simultaneously down the one cable or phone line to every home. In addition, these services can be interactive, allowing unprecedented user response such as the selection of a movie or the selection of a camera angle at a sporting event. The use of broadband services is bound to increase at an unpredictable rate and having a good understanding of the industry prior to its full emergence is much better than having to react after the event. It is this kind of forward looking policy development which will be vital to the sound regulatory and commercial environment as we make the transition to a more information based society.
Those countries that benefit the most from these changes will be those with the best education standards, the best developed telecommunications infrastructure and those with the most innovative management and work force. However, what of the downside of this brave new world of which we have heard so much? The information super highway will definitely be a toll road. There will be toll booths every so often and one will certainly need to buy a car and put fuel in the tank, to continue the analogy to a rather extreme level. There will be those who cannot afford the means to access the technology and those who are not able to maintain their involvement year after year. There will be those who are excluded by the very nature of the technological change we face and those who never become part of that information elite. This is already evident with pay TV.
The capital cost of a satellite dish and the decoder will not be insignificant, nor will the bills that come through the credit card every month or so. Estimates are that by the end of the decade some 80 per cent of Australians will still rely on free to air television as their primary source of entertainment. It is for this reason that the government has set in place rules against siphoning or the exclusive use of certain major events, usually sporting, by pay TV, given their potentially superior buying power. These regulatory decisions are not easy but they are just an example of the kind of issue we will have to face in the future.
Crime will also be part of the new technology. We will have our information super highwaymen. Whether it is the use of counterfeit decoders to obtain free use of a satellite signal or the fraudulent use of a telecommunications circuit or the manipulation of data to obtain funds or change records, the implications for our society are the same. Crime will take on new forms and have the benefit of much increased anonymity. One can steal far more from a bank with a computer than one ever can with a gun, and the average domestic consumer will be the loser of that in the end. The Secret Service in the United States alone estimates that the total volume of telecommunications fraud is about $2.5 billion. Some industry sources have put the figure as high as $9 billion.
The other threat is to privacy. Computers can be the best way to disseminate information and, indeed, it is the ease with which individuals can communicate their ideas without the help of the mass media that is one of the benefits of this technology. But until people know just how these systems will work and just what their limitations are, a whole new range of crimes will be committed against people in institutions. Our laws will certainly need revision if we are to deal with offences which can be committed without the victim and the criminal ever meeting and across national borders.
The implications of the telecommunications revolution will be repeated even more so in the biotechnological area, as with genetic manipulation, presenting us with even more serious moral and legislative dilemmas. The potential of a single company to patent life forms—and I would draw the attention of the House to a company in the United States which last year was given a patent over all forms of genetically manipulated cotton no matter how that manipulation took place—will have significant implications for all of us.
Some of these potential issues include our access to new forms of plant and animal stock with much greater productivity or other desirable traits. Whereas we have always been free to breed a better wheat, for example, the use of patents over the gene code will seriously restrict this on an international level and deny those who are not able to afford new stock access to that technology. The same will be true of advances in medical technology involving genetic engineering. Those countries who are not in the race will find themselves with nothing to trade. The international community will need to take a very active role in the regulation of these issues since they so quickly assume transnational proportions.
The start-up costs of the new technology are high. But, just as the initial cost has prevented a small but significant group of Australians from gaining a telephone connection even now, the initial costs of gaining access to many new forms of information distribution will also be high. The same will be true for drugs and medical interventions which we have yet to even understand. The price of exclusion will be even higher, though, for the individual who is not part of that system. Social isolation and exclusion from wealth and intellectual property, which will be part of the information age, are a definite social cost which we should ensure is limited to the extent that we have the capacity to do that.
Government cannot undertake to give every person a high paying job, but we can and must undertake, through such mechanisms as the white paper released a few weeks ago, to ensure that everyone has a fair opportunity. The same social justice considerations must be part of the changes which are now taking place in the scientific and telecommunications areas.
The cost of exclusion goes well beyond those financial matters. Individuals can be denied employment or insurance on the basis of a genetic assay that predicts they will be susceptible to alcoholism or heart disease. These are social justice issues that go beyond finance and lifestyle considerations and go to the very core of our existence as human beings, that will confront us as legislators with moral dilemmas, the like of which we have not yet contemplated, in the context of a rapidly changing society in a transition to an information based economy.
Australia can and must be at the leading edge of that and the ancient curse of `May you live in interesting times' could never have been more apt. I look forward to the prospect of being part of the process of change in our society. In cooperating with my parliamentary colleagues, I hope to be a contributor to the process of resolving some of the issues on which I have touched briefly during the limited time available today.
Honourable members—Hear, hear!
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I call the honourable member for Higgins.
Mr Melham —The battlers' friend.