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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 896

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.29) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

Senator CHANEY —by leave-I do not wish to speak at any length because I, like other senators, would like to get out on to the front steps of Parliament House and not hear Senator Walsh honour his brave words in here. The reason I moved to take note of this report is that it is quite clear that Australia faces substantial issues in the area of its trade. I think it is well understood by all honourable senators that, as we are a trading nation, a very substantial part of our gross domestic product goes through the external trade sector. It is of great significance to Australia that there are so many difficulties in our way at the moment in the trade area.

I will pick up some of the points which were made in the consideration of the Estimates committees during the last few days. There has been a reduction in our share of the Japanese beef market from 83 per cent in 1976 to 67 per cent in 1983. This is mainly because the United States has increased its market share. We find that we are being told by the Government's officials that the market share is likely to continue to fall and that the reason is that 'it is politics rather than meat quality'. That is but one example of our serious situation. Meat exports generally have been down from 630,000 tonnes in recent years to 470 ,000 tonnes this year. As far as grains are concerned, we have the lowest real prices for wheat since World War II. We are holding excess stocks and there are very serious difficulties in our market for coarse grains.

There are many other doleful statistics that can be quoted. Sugar prices are at 4c per pound which in real terms are the lowest ever. (Quorum formed) There is no shortage of indications that we have continuing problems with international trade, ranging from market share to commodity prices. This report, which suggests that a determined national effort is required on the part of the Government, the unions and business, is a warning which badly needs to be heeded . The Opposition looks with dismay upon the trade performance of this Government , at the lack lustre performance of the Minister for Trade, Mr Lionel Bowen, and at the fact that, with respect to our trade in uranium, the latest announcement from the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Walsh, is that, yes, we are still selling our uranium. We are selling it to the Government now. The first shipment due to France since the Government introduced its new policy is actually being purchased by the taxpayers of Australia. That will not lead to a lift in either our economy or our trade performance.

Senator Peter Rae —A new theory of trade.

Senator CHANEY —It is perhaps a new theory of trade, as Senator Rae said. Perhaps, having set that precedent, the Government will be able to go into the trade business in a very big way and buy up commodities that the rest of the world will not want under current circumstances.

Senator Peter Rae —If they can make our trade as big as the deficit we will be so successful that it will be incredible.

Senator CHANEY —There is no end to the possibilities under this sort of Alice in Wonderland approach which is being adopted by the present Government. This is a very serious matter and I hope we will have an opportunity to debate it at greater length at some other time. But in the few minutes which are allowed under the sessional order, I just wish to say that the Opposition views with very considerable concern our overall trade performance, and views with even greater concern those disabilities in our performance which are self-inflicted either through the inertia or inadequacy of the present Minister for Trade or through a more obstructionist approach of some trade unions. We believe it is a matter which requires early and very high quality attention from the Government.