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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 944


Mr ALLAN MORRIS(9.8) —Honourable members will recall that some months ago, in my maiden speech, I referred to the future of industries in cities such as Newcastle, and the fact that such cities have, since federation, felt the lack of national policies regarding steel and manufacturing industries. In recent days there has been a great deal of discussion about trade and protection, and like matters. Tonight I address myself to what I perceive to be the current situation.

The election on 5 March showed a fairly dramatic change in the attitudes and direction of Australians. Many members of parliament elected to represent industrial electorates were very aware that within our electorates our industries and their leadership had been operating for many years in a vacuum of policies, directives and actions. Worse than that, they had been operating in a quagmire of confusion and conflict. One of my first actions after the election was to attempt to bring to Newcastle Ministers of the Crown to discuss with local industries and the local community what was happening. The first of those was the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones).


Mr McVeigh —Wouldn't you ask your brother? Wouldn't he come?


Mr ALLAN MORRIS —He does not have an industrial portfolio. The fact was that the Minister's visit was very productive. It made people in my area think about what was happening to them and to Australia. It also meant that we, as a government, were getting positive feedback from people who, in some cases, know a lot more than us and from people who actually do the work rather than posture about it, as we heard honourable members do this afternoon. The second visit was by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button). From Newcastle's point of view he brought with him the most dramatic breakthrough in manufacturing policy in Newcastle's history. We have been a steel city for 70 years but in all of those 70 years there has not been a national steel policy and that is to the shame of honourable members on the other side. The third visit just this week, in fact, was by the Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe). That visit consisted of looking at some of our industries that are involved in the defence field. But perhaps more importantly it involved talking to the metal trades industry in Newcastle, most of whom had never before spoken to a Minister and most of whom felt that the previous Government had not cared, had not been concerned and had thought that their industry did not matter very much.


Mr Robert Brown —They didn't care about our area.


Mr ALLAN MORRIS —I think the honourable member for Hunter is certainly correct in making that assertion. In fact, what has been becoming clear in my mind, and my attitude is being formed out in the community, in the real world, and not in the artificial world of Canberra which seems to suit members of the shadow Ministry so well, is the fact that industry desperately wants to work. It wants to invest and develop. But for many years it has not been able to do that with any sense of confidence. It has not been able to do that in a climate in which it knew where it was going. The clearest indication of that is that Australia, of all the industrialised nations, has the least number of positive incentives to industry and the greatest number of negative incentives.

If one looks at the philosophy of the previous Government one sees that what it was partly saying was that if we can buy a commodity cheaper somewhere else we should. The logic of that was that by importing a product which was cheaper we would force down prices locally, we would therefore make our local industries more competitive and we would also reduce the rate of inflation. For seven years that philosophy was tested and found to be fallacous for a number of reasons, the major one being that the commercial market forces suggest that a product will be sold at just below the prevailing price. What we have seen for many years has been massive investment in advertising to capture markets with equally or slightly lower priced products. Therefore, the effect on inflation was nil and, in fact, if anything, negative. The effect on foreign trade was disastrous and, of course, we can all perceive the effect on employment in our electorates today. That simplistic notion that those forces can work was very prevalent in the previous Cabinet. It was a bricks on the wall situation in which, if an industry went to the Government in a disaster situation, the Government put more bricks on the wall and if things looked good it took a few bricks off. That kind of blind mentality has been so disastrous and it has been an enormous abdication of responsibility on the part of conservative governments. Our industries are not opposed to the concept of government understanding what they are doing and of government being involved in what they are doing, but it must be positive, constructive and continuing involvement.

I come to the foreign trade situation. It is quite clear that Australia's future in foreign trade is in South East Asia. That is where we live, it is where our neighbours are and it is where our future is. One of the concepts brought forward by the Minister for Science and Technology, which has been applied perhaps in another way, has been the need for Australia to seek niches. By niches he means us to develop things that we are good at and things that we can do well and, therefore, export. That does not apply only to sunrise industries. It applies to all industries. The fact is that we as a nation have encouraged South East Asian nations to produce exactly the same things as we produce and that is obviously destructive. We end up with conflicts between us. We end up with a very mindless situation of industries not being able to compete or being forced to be propped up. The fact is that we and South East Asian countries must trade to mutual benefit. That will be pointless unless we and they can establish the areas in which we can trade productively.

The complexity of the tariff situation includes such things as developing country preferences, the other nation preference and, of course, that clanger of all, dumping. Dumping, as I have mentioned in a previous speech, is a matter about which the previous Government spoke a lot but never came to terms with. One should think back to what Senator Button announced in the steel plan-a concept of fast track dumping, a recognition that there has to be a much more responsive way to address the question of dumping as it occurs in Australia so that industries know what the Government's response is within months, not years later as seemed to be the case.

This Government, in fact, has set about a complete rethinking of the industrial policies and directions of Australia. I have mentioned that the steel plan was the most dramatic breakthrough in manufacturing industry. It is a pioneering effort. It sets a pattern which I am confident will flow into other industries, with two major concepts involved. The first concept is that of interaction between government and industry whereby we know what they are doing and they know what we are doing through a neutral body which connects us-a linkage of a positive nature. Rather than industry coming to Ministers lobbying on its knees, being degraded and being ashamed to try to make the industry survive, what in fact has to happen is that the machinery of communication between us must be permanent, positive and neutral so that we can meet with industry in that neutral area in terms of our policy evolution and development.

The second major part of the steel plan was the fact that it involved accountability because in protection the bricks on the wall must have eyes. They must watch what is happening behind them and they never have. The steel plan involves accountability. The industry has to account for what it is doing both to government and the community at large which, in fact, subsidise it. That accountability is the fundamental component in future protection. When that is in place as a general principle for our industries in Australia, of course tariffs will naturally reduce in a positive and constructive way. The positive aspects of the Government's attitude to actions in just six months, not seven years, can be seen in the report of the Espie High Technology Financing Committee. It increased venture capital and provided increased capital for the Australian Industry Development Corporation. Industry representatives said to me yesterday that they should have made the last Government do all these things and they did not bother. The fact was that they said 'made' because they saw that they had some capacity to influence. In fact, what they did not realise was that the last Government did not want to know. Newcastle now is looking positive. It is looking good. We will come out of the recession by our hard work and by this Government's positive actions.