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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 15240

Senator CARR (1:11 PM) —The opposition will not be supporting these proposals. I want to indicate to Senator Brown the reasons for that. I draw his attention to the note that he gave me—and I appreciate him providing me with the advice that he has been given from the Parliamentary Library. It said, `This amendment can be achieved but it is very complex because of the style used in the customs tariff.'

Senator CARR —All I can do is read from the advice I have been given by Senator Brown and I do appreciate the courtesy that he has extended to me. I trust that he will continue that courtesy by letting me finish reading the advice.

Senator Brown —I'm protecting the library. There is a note on it.

Senator CARR —I see. Let me just say that a note has been provided to me that indicates that this amendment can be achieved but it is very complex because of the style used in the customs tariff. It says, `It may be possible to draft a simple but rough global amendment but that can lead to uncertainty,' and so it goes on. It strikes me, on the basis of the material that Senator Brown has provided, that there are serious questions raised about the appropriateness of this amendment. Further, given the advice from the clerks in regard to the legality of the proposed amendments, I would put a view to the Senate that this is not the appropriate time or place to pursue that.

I would like to address some of the political issues involved. They go to the appropriateness of these amendments outside the technical requirements. There is no doubt that this package has been put together with considerable consultation within the industry. There are, in my view, mixed feelings about the effectiveness of this package and I indicated those concerns in my remarks in the second reading debate. The opposition is not satisfied with this package but we do recognise that there is widespread support within the industry for the adoption of these measures as they are. We were concerned specifically about the relationship between the tariff reduction and the industry assistance and we are not satisfied with the government's assurances on that score. What we are satisfied with though is that the major manufacturers, including the component manufacturers—people that employ 30,000 Australians—have put a strong view to us on this.

Furthermore, the representative of those 30,000 Australians, the union, has also put a view to us. While not accepting the tariff reduction, it has indicated to us that the financial support provided to the industry in regard to the ACIS component is worthy of support. Clearly, there is within that, despite the differences, an element of consensus about the need for industry assistance for this particular industry. I want to emphasise this. The employment of 30,000 Australians on a relatively high wage, by and large, in highly skilled jobs is something that the Labor opposition strongly supports.

This is an industry of great strategic importance to the economy and to our society. I suggest, Senator Brown, if there had been an opportunity perhaps to spend some more time with workers in the industry, you might actually appreciate a bit more some of their concerns about these questions. I do not share Senator Minchin's view about the nature of the capitalist economy in this matter, because clearly this is an example where, without this industry assistance, there would be a very strong example of market failure. That is why we are doing this.

Without the assistance that we are providing here, I think the industry itself may well be in serious difficulty. There has been substantial change in the industry, and this industry assistance package is seeking to shape that behaviour—a measure that we also support. What we do not support, however, are willy-nilly propositions that come up late in the day without proper discussion and without proper examination of the impacts on the industry as a whole. The economics of this industry are very, very important to us and they are very, very important to 30,000 Australians who get direct employment in this industry. I also suggest they are very important to a whole range of other industries that rely upon the success of this industry.

This industry is doing extremely well at the moment. There is no doubt about that. I say that that is a product of the Button plan of some years ago. This is the fruition of that plan. But the fact remains that, by industry standards, the industry is going through prosperous times. It has to be acknowledged that the sports utility vehicle component of the market is growing—increasing at six per cent or thereabouts per annum, as I understand it. Recently, on visits to Ford and Holden in Melbourne, I was given the benefit of a briefing on the market research that both those companies are producing. One of the reasons they are putting to me for the increase in this particular component of the industry is that it actually caters to social need—a perception of social need, it may well be argued. Nonetheless, for a large number of Australian families, these particular vehicles are said to be very important. It may be that many of them do not actually leave the road. The fact is that they are not always bought to leave the road. They are bought for a whole lot of other reasons to do with people's perceptions about the benefits of those vehicles, including their perceptions about safety, their perceptions about the capacity to actually see the road, their perceptions about mobility, their perceptions about getting the kids to and from the football, the netball or the soccer and their perceptions about the convenience of these vehicles. The reason they are one of the fastest growing segments of the market is that they do meet people's views of where they see themselves.

Equally, it is said that people are a bit embarrassed about driving these vehicles, so there is a movement away towards different styles of vehicles that do these particular jobs. With that in mind, the local manufacturers are now putting onto the market an Australian made SUV. I understand that Holden, if they have not released it already, are about to release theirs. Ford are releasing theirs—the Territory, I think it is called—and I have had the privilege of actually having a look over it. It is a very, very good vehicle, and it has been specially designed. I think at Ford in Melbourne they have 600 design engineers. They are using that skill for export capacity, and they have come up with a vehicle which they believe will be very popular here. It is constructed in Australia by Australian engineers and with Australian innovative techniques. It is designed to meet a particular need in this country and to be of great export value. It strikes me that, in those circumstances, with the industrial planning that has gone into the construction of that vehicle and the market planning that has gone into that vehicle on these premises, it is not for us to intervene at this stage in the debate, willy-nilly, without consultation either with workers in the industry or with management in the industry, and to propose changes such as we are seeing here today.

I trust that the vehicle industry does do well. I do think that there have been considerable improvements in its fuel efficiency, its safety record and its capacity to actually meet the needs of Australians in a whole range of areas. I trust that it continues to do well, but it will not do well if we, in a knee-jerk way, propose amendments of doubtful constitutional validity, of dubious legal capacity and, finally, which simply do not meet the economics of the industry as it currently exists. For those reasons, I think this is perhaps a bridge too far, Senator Brown. While I appreciate the benefits of doing these particular jobs on a broadcast day and explaining the great benefits of the green credentials of the Greens, as the Democrats have done, it is not a good way to intervene in industry policy.