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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1675

Mr JOHN BROWN (Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, Minister for Administrative Services and Minister Assisting the Minister for Industry and Commerce)(6.26) —in reply-In winding up this debate on the Industries Assistance Commission Amendment Bill (No. 2), the Bounty (Agricultural Tractors) Amendment Bill, the Bounty (Tractor Cabs) Bill and the Bounty (Injection-moulding Equipment) Amendment Bill I would like to pay tribute to all those who contributed to the debate in their own way. I will perhaps make a few comments or answer a few of the questions that have been posed to the Government in the course of this debate. The first speaker leading for the Opposition was, of course, the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore). I must pay some tribute to the honourable member for his responsible attitude to this legislation. He was a Minister in the former Government which in fact put up an Industries Assistance Commission amendment Bill similar to the one which we are debating. So I suppose he would have been in a fairly awkward position in denying the efficacy of the efforts of the Government to introduce the Bill.

Nevertheless, he asked a couple of questions I would like to answer. He questioned the bounty that is to be applied by the provisions of the Bounty ( Injection-moulding Equipment) Amendment Bill. In fact, the company in question is Batterfeld (Australia) Pty Ltd. He questioned how, if in 1982-83 the 15 per cent bounty that applied cost $686,583 and in 1983-84 we are increasing the bounty from 5 per cent to 25 per cent-in other words, an increase of 20 per cent -this amount can be estimated at $100,000. It needs to be understood that this additional 20 per cent in this year in fact will not amount to what 20 per cent might have been in the last year because of the anticipated reduced production in this year of temporary assistance. This also combines with the fact that there is really only one manufacturer left. I can assure the honourable member for Ryan, although he is not present at the moment, that our estimations are likely to be quite correct and that, in fact, that 20 per cent this year will cost only about $100,000. I think he can rest assured that our figures are accurate.

The honourable member for Calare (Mr Simmons) produced a very responsible contribution to the debate. It is well known that the honourable member has an abiding interest in the constituents he represents who are largely grain growers . I was pleased to hear him make some interesting comments on the fact that a successful primary industry in Australia-which is, of course, what we all want- in fact will provide access for a successful secondary manufacturing industry which provides, particularly, machinery for agricultural pursuits. In fact, two of these Bills respond to that request. I thank the honourable member for Calare for his contribution.

The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker) spoke in kind terms about A. F. Gason Pty Ltd. I do not think anybody in the Department of Industry and Commerce or the Government would disagree with his view on Gason. It has been a good company, traditionally. It produces quality cabs and the price is right. It is also true to say that in the early days of Gason's problem that company in fact requested quotas on cab imports at a Temporary Assistance Authority inquiry. The TAA considered that the trend to completely built-up tractors was a permanent one and, in fact, recommended that no temporary assistance be given at all. But the Government decided that the question of whether the trend was a long term one should be investigated by the Industries Assistance Commission. The bounty that is now being introduced was merely to assist Gason to continue its operation until the IAC inquiry is completed and also to compensate for the fact that the 20 per cent duty on separate cab imports is, in effect, of no assistance to Gason.

I suggest to the honourable member that he go back to Gason and tell it that if it considers the bounty to be inadequate-I assume that it does-it should raise the matter at the IAC inquiry, which is scheduled for 17 November in Canberra with a view to varying the level of temporary assistance to apply after 10 June 1984. But should Gason not be able to wait until that time for some extra assistance to keep it afloat I suggest that it should contact the Department with a view to establishing a case for an earlier interim report from the IAC varying the amount of assistance that could be provided to the company. The Government is quite sincere in its attempt to keep Gason afloat. We are aware of the difficulties and we are aware of its long record of good service to the agricultural industry. Again, I suggest to the honourable member that he take the matter back to Gason if it is so worried about it. The Department may also be able to do something about getting an interim report a little earlier.

The honourable member for Tangney (Mr Gear) brought up the vexed subject of Chamberlain John Deere Pty Ltd. The Temporary Assistance Authority in the first place suggested a loan of $6m over five years at a concessional rate of interest . But a loan would, of course, have to be paid back and the Government considered that the better way to assist Chamberlain John Deere was to double the bounty that already existed. The honourable member then brought up the question, as did the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey), of the difficulty with the Australian Development Assistance Bureau contract which has recently been awarded to Massey-Ferguson (Aust.) Ltd, over the demands of Chamberlain John Deere that it should be awarded to it, for overseas aid in the form of 140 tractors to Bangladesh. This opens a whole new area of questions. I guess one should really question whether overseas aid should be looked at in terms of pure overseas aid or whether tractors bought to be given to Bangladesh should be looked at in terms of protection for Australian industry. The simple facts are that, given the guidelines which cover the control of these contracts and the control of government purchasing, the quote of Chamberlain John Deere for these tractors was considerably above the quote provided by Massey-Ferguson. I am talking of many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, the bounty does not apply to the manufacture of tractors for export, but even if a national bounty had applied to Chamberlain John Deere's bid it would still have been a long way from the figure that was put forward by Massey-Ferguson.

I do not intend to dismiss the case that was made out by the honourable member for Tangney as to how Australian content is resolved. I can assure the honourable member that this question is now being looked at in depth. I know that he has spoken to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) about it and, as the Minister for Administrative Services, I am concerned with government purchasing and have made several submissions to the Government, which are presently being looked at, as to how we arrive at what is known as Australian content. I think there are questions to be asked in that area. I think Chamberlain John Deere in some of its comments to the Government about the awarding of this contract touched upon the delicate situation of how Australian content is derived. I am questioning it, and I can assure the honourable member for Tangney that even if he has no luck in this case there is a review of the whole method of Australian Government purchasing being undertaken at the moment by a number of departments. One of the most important questions to be resolved is that of the determination of Australian content.

However, I think it is also pertinent to say that it is difficult to equate aid for Bangladesh or any other developing country with the general principle of protection for Australian industry, because the important part of the whole exercise is to provide assistance for a weakened agricultural industry in a country such as Bangladesh which is having great difficulty in feeding its teeming millions of citizens. If ADAB were forced to accept the higher priced bid from Chamberlain John Deere in terms of Australian content, it would have less money available in the long term to provide additional aid overseas. It is a pity that this matter of Australian content came up in an overseas aid project . I am not dismissing the proposition put forward by the honourable member for Tangney. He believes that all overseas aid from Australia should be in the form of Australian manufactured goods. This has a good emotive ring and I think should be considered also. However, the whole process is presently being looked at.

I do not want to say too much about the contribution of the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh). It was the typical National Party line. He made the typical screams about tariffs on manufacturing industry and there not being enough for farmers. Most of his comments were totally irrelevant because they were not concerned with a Bill that is before the House but rather related to the provision of assistance for grain harvesters, so I will dismiss his comments .

The honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly) made her normal sensible contribution on the whole of tariffs and protection of Australian industry. She made some rather critical comments about dumping which I think were quite relevant. A submission from the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) has already gone to Cabinet in regard to a review of the whole of the dumping procedures that affect Australian industry, so that matter will soon be tidied up.

The only other contribution was that from the honourable member for O'Connor. I must say that it was one of his better speeches in this House. He did not assassinate the character of anybody, so I suppose to that extent it was better than most of his contributions. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Kent) spoke in the typical compassionate way that we have become used to from him. His great concern for Australian workers and their loss of jobs is something that we share . All in all, I think the Opposition agreed with the Government that the protection that is provided to tractors and tractor cabs and injection moulding machinery under these three bounty Bills will be welcomed by industry generally. I am pleased that the Opposition accords with us. Of course, there was no opposition from it to the amendment to the Industries Assistance Commission Amendment Bill (No. 2).

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.