Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10564


Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (20:13): In rising to speak on this item of private members' business I welcome the opportunity to train a spotlight on the ruinous state of industry and innovation policy under this government. We have heard from the previous speaker, the member for Throsby, about what was not working in the industry sector, what barriers local businesses were up against, but there was no understanding of what policy prescriptions should follow. There were no answers; there were just repetitions of stories of the problems—very real problems—facing industry in accessing work in Australia.

There was a dizzying set of contradictions by the member for Throsby, who continues to walk both sides of the street but does so ever more unconvincingly and unsuccessfully. I do admit that he has a very difficult job because of the relevant ministers that he is lumped with as part of the current government. There is no argument from the coalition with the sentiments outlined in paragraphs (1)(a), (1)(b) and (2) that Australia needs a broad based economy, a better harnessing of our innovative capabilities and more effective industry policies. These points are entirely self-evident and I am glad that at least one Labor member is finally prepared to say so and to repudiate Labor's pursuit of what BlueScope Steel's CEO, Paul O'Malley, has described as an almost anti-manufacturing philosophy.

As for paragraphs (1)(d), (3), (4) and (5), we are also broadly in agreeance with them, but we naturally need to be careful about precisely how governments in Australia intervene in these areas. Ultimately, there can be as many guidelines around industry policies as you like, but they count for little if the government responsible for administering them does not exhibit common sense and exercise political will to implement them effectively.

It appears from the motion that the member for Throsby needs to be somewhat educated about the government's atrocious record on defence procurement. Is he seriously not aware that his own party has tried to send the manufacturing of Australian camouflage fabric to China and that it broke commitments to upgrade body armour and weapons for frontline troops? We even have another story in the Telegraph today revealing that our diggers' American-made camouflage pants are falling apart while they are on patrol. And how much did Australian taxpayers pay to an American company for this privilege? They paid $7.8 million. I would be very interested to hear from some of our domestic manufacturers about the tender process for that $7.8 million contract that found itself in the US. I am no stranger to these issues, having very strong manufacturing in my electorate in north-east Victoria and a very strong competitive and innovative defence manufacturing sector as well.

As for paragraphs (1)(c) and (1)(e), the government has never had an agenda for industry and innovation policy and national productivity other than to embark on its familiar mission of destroying successful Howard government initiatives. Instead, it has not only slashed funding in critical areas such as commercialisation and R&D but also has stood back and expected our manufacturers to absorb ever-increasing regulations and costs.

It claims it has increased spending in that portfolio by many billions of dollars but, sadly, it has failed to comprehend there is never an automatic connection between spending more government money and getting better outcomes. Indeed, even Ms Gillard and Senator Carr battled to nominate a single practical achievement from all this spending. And just to confirm its stunning incompetence, the government now wants to whack Australian manufacturing with a punitive carbon tax that we know, from research out today, will fully impact on nine out of 10 manufacturing workers. The 10 per cent that will not be impacted fully by it will be impacted in some way.

He does not go far enough but there is essentially a shamefaced admission from the member for Throsby in paragraph (1)(c) of his motion about the abject lack of common sense and direction the government has exhibited because he uses the words 'more can be done in this portfolio area'. Indeed, it can. We on this side of the House do agree very strongly with this sentiment: a lot more can be done. Last Wednesday at the National Press Club we invited the government to work with us to immediately adopt and implement eight key policy changes in relation to manufacturing. I note that the member for Throsby asked for a bipartisan approach. Well, there it was. They were very easy steps, from one to eight. We agree with him that there are sectors such as steel and cement that are locked out of contracts. There are very simple things that can be done immediately—but, sadly, no response.

At a time when Australia is facing its greatest crisis in manufacturing—as one union leader said, the greatest crisis since the Great Depression—I had hoped for a slightly better response. But as the government continues to be paralysed and obsessed with self-preservation it has failed to focus on industry policy and at least make some attempt to reverse its failed vision. The Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr, used to hyperventilate any time there were job losses under the Howard government. Ironically, that was during a period of government when manufacturing jobs actually rose, yet his own legacy will be that he presided over the worst rate of job losses in the history of Australian manufacturing. It is a statistic he could not dispute in the Senate a few weeks ago and it will be the one that, more than any other, will define his time as a minister.

Over the past quarter, jobs have been lost at a rate of more than 2½-thousand every week. That is one gone very four minutes. The situation is such as to discredit even the words some of their own advisers have given them. Let us have a look at Terry Cutler, who Labor hand-picked back in 2008 to advise it on what it should do with its policies in this portfolio. He has said that the government essentially has no idea what it is doing.

I welcome the member for Throsby's newfound and in some ways sudden rhetorical interest in manufacturing, innovation and industry participation plans. I would counsel him that it is one thing to wax lyrical on the floor of the parliament and in press conferences but it is quite another to practically force change to Labor's industry policies. I would also remind him that the most fundamental responsibility of being a member of parliament is to stand up for the interests and wishes of your local constituents. This motion is no substitute for opposing the single greatest threat to the viability of manufacturing in this country—and that means voting against the carbon tax.

Labor's spin and blind loyalty to an out-of-touch Prime Minister, industry minister and climate change minister on policies like the carbon tax simply does not wash with anyone anymore. No member representing a great Australian manufacturing heartland should be substituting parliamentary motions like this for real work and placing real pressure on their party's power brokers to make policies that will make a fundamental difference, that will make a change and stop the rot. I find it sad that members from the Illawarra have so little clout in the ALP anymore and that all of us have been forced to endure the sight of the member for Throsby changing his language on the carbon tax so often for different audiences. He has performed more contortions than a circus acrobat to try to please both his political masters and local workers. It is not convincing either way. Instead of sinking into the comfortable green leather of the House of Representatives, people like the member for Throsby should have been wearing out their shoe leather visiting local businesses, listening to their concerns and then pounding on the doors of senior colleagues to urge them to stop penalising the millions of hard-working Australians who are being crushed by this government and its policy initiatives, including the carbon tax. So far there has been none of that from him—a point admitted by Ms Gillard in June when she hung him out to dry by effectively conceding he had made no representations to her about the toxicity for his electorate of the carbon tax. No amount of parliamentary motions like this one can obscure the reality that the member for Throsby has let his electorate down and has failed the most basic test of political representation.