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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2657


Mr HOWARD —My question is directed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade. Is it a fact that since March the honourable gentleman has greatly tightened the procedures in operation for export coal contracts? Can the Government point to any increase in sales as a consequence of this tightening up of export control procedures on coal? Finally, is he concerned that, in fact, Australian coal exporters may be losing sales to competitive suppliers as a result of the delays and obstruction inherent in the tightening procedures authorised by the Minister?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —This is the first I have ever heard of any complaints of delays in procedures--


Mr Howard —Tightening up.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Or any tightening up.


Mr Howard —No tightening up?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —It is a different procedure. Let us get it into perspective. The complaint, I understood, was that we were affecting the sales of coal because of delays in tightening up. Let me answer that in this way: We have sold more coal than ever at a better price than the previous Government. That is the first point. I do not know whether the honourable member ever wants to tighten up a business that is going broke, but it is important that this is done. If the honourable member is always going to agree with what the Japanese offer him--


Mr Howard —No.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Oh yes. The honourable member is shaking his head now, but the only reason for what he would call tightening up is to get the Australian producers to come into study groups to determine effectively a reasonable price whereby at least the assets of Australia can be sold at a profit and not at a loss.


Mr Howard —So you have tightened up?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —No. I have a different system altogether. The results are that I have not had one complaint from any company, but I would have had a few silent complaints from the Japanese. I make that very clear. The problem is, as the honourable member knows-I do not want to rake over old coals-that the parameters set by my distinguished predecessor who is sitting alongside the honourable member could not be met. So, is the honourable member talking about tightening up to the extent that he would expect that both he and I would be able to guarantee that the Japanese would always pay the price he fixed by a parameter? That does not happen. I do not see much merit in just fixing parameters which cannot be readily agreed upon, so the only difference in the approach has been to get coal producers in Australia to meet in advance as to what they would regard as being reasonable parameters to fix for the whole of their industry.

There will be a lot of difficulties in the industry because of the opening up of so many new mines and a surplus of coal. In fact, in the last few months we have sold as much coal as ever, if not more coal than ever. But one must agree that the price mechanism is not always able to be on an increasing scale; it has to be related to what one would call a fair market scale. In my view it is the only intelligent way to operate. I think I have dealt with something in excess of 800 different submissions on coal exports, all of which would have a price differential parameter because of the quality of the coal or the nature of the contract.

I am surprised that the honourable gentleman thinks anything difficult is being done. I find that the industry is able to react quite well. In fact, it is much better to have Australians determining what the parameters might be instead of waiting in an hotel room in Tokyo to be called up one by one as to what price they might be given. That is the difference. If tightening up means that Australians, for once, begin to act in the national interest and not in the interests of the Japanese, I am all in favour of tightening up.