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Friday, 13 December 1996
Page: 8657

Mr PRICE(8.52 p.m.) —I support the Senate amendment. I, like other speakers on this side of the House, see the future of manufacturing industry—the expansion of the manufacturing industry and manufacturing industry reaching its potential—as very much a function of the extent to which industry is prepared to invest in research and development. This is a key issue not only in terms of industry policy but also in terms of jobs.

I understand that these measures affect taxation. It is very appropriate to have the Treasurer (Mr Costello) in the House putting these amendments through. What I find extraordinary is the absence from the chamber of the Minister for Industry, Science and Tourism (Mr Moore).

Mr Crean —He doesn't like being in the same room as the Treasurer.

Mr PRICE —I am indebted to the honourable member for Hotham. I was unaware of that. That is a possible explanation. But I have another: given the complete inability of the minister for industry to provide an answer to any question at question time, it is no wonder he could not be relied upon, as the minister responsible for the portfolio area which would principally benefit from these changes, to argue to the House why his position was perhaps wrong, in the first instance, and why the government is now pleased to accept it. I think it is extraordinary that there should be such a change by the Senate to a government's plans for industry, but we have a debate in this place with not one representative present from the portfolio area.

I think cutting back R&D is a really very tragic area. The McKinsey report talked about the way some of the small and medium sized companies were exporting their pants off and spending a disproportionate amount of their revenue on R&D—

Mr Adams —The Treasurer has not read that report.

Mr PRICE —Maybe he is unaware of that report. I think the most exciting thing about research and development is the way Australian owned small and medium sized companies are taking advantage of it—tackling the export market and developing innovative products—and doing it through measures associated with the R&D proposals that were in place under the former government but that are regrettably now being changed.

I find it ironic that Australia was a pathfinder in terms of R&D grants at 150 per cent but we have now been overtaken by, for example, Singapore, offering 200 per cent. Singapore, I might say, has a much higher national savings rate than Australia.

What has been totally absent in the whole debate about the government's changes to R&D, whether the ones they proposed originally or the ones that have been now hacked about in the Senate, is a vision about where R&D would be taking Australia in the future. What are their future plans for R&D, where does R&D sit—

Mr Adams —It is not mentioned at all.

Mr PRICE —As the honourable member points out, they do not mention it at all, basically because they do not have a vision for Australian industry. I think the only vision this government has is to constantly see overseas investors buying out successful Australian companies, taking the benefits of R&D back to the home based country and in fact taking some of the export benefits of these companies that are being taken over.

We on the Labor side are very pleased that at least in this amendment the Senate in its wisdom has indeed followed the objections that we had in this House and put most vigorously to the House. I do hope that in 1997 we might actually have the minister for industry participating in industry debates in the House and at least half taking the debate—

Mr Crean —Do you think that is likely?

Mr PRICE —I regret to say that I think it is exceedingly unlikely, but I think industry would like to see it, even if his own backbench would not. We would actually welcome the opportunity to have a decent debate with him—(Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.