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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3954


Mr BEALE(11.21) —This Bill proposes to extend the bounty on book production for the next three years from 1 January 1987 to 30 June 1989. The Government has reversed its earlier decision to reduce the bounty from 25 per cent to 16 per cent, a fall made up of a 20 per cent Budget cut and a 20 per cent reduction recommended earlier by the Industries Assistance Commission. Now only the Budget cut will be implemented, at least until the Industries Assistance Commission delivers its final report on the pulp, paper and printing industries, an inquiry which includes book production. The Budget decision to cut the bounty from 25 to 20 per cent of costs angered not only printing and publishing companies but also those keen to encourage cultural independence through Australian written and published books. As I said earlier, the recommendation came from the Industries Assistance Commission, but what has particularly angered local printers is that the book bounty cut would have been followed by another cut in all government bounties scheduled for 1 January 1987.

The Opposition does not oppose this Bill, but we would like to make a few comments about the method whereby this Bill has had to be brought back to the House. We will be moving an amendment in Committee on the question of orderly development of the industry. Our main criticism relates to uncertainty. What business needs above all is an environment of certainty-certainty in government industry policies and certainty in taxation policies-and in general an economic framework that enables business to make decisions on investment. As we all know, Australia is way short of a proper level of private investment and, worse still, that private investment has been falling. It is private investment, with the jobs it creates and the wealth it provides to the community, that is the engine of economic growth. Although the Government has been saying for some time how well it has done in terms of providing jobs, I should just point out that there is the same number of unemployed people in Australia now as there was in March 1983. So private investment is falling and, as the Treasurer (Mr Keating) said yesterday, if Australia cannot get its economic act together, if it cannot create an environment in which private investment will start to rise, the country will stagnate and become an economic backwater.

In those circumstances, what has the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) done? With virtually one stroke of the pen, by the Budget decision, he has destroyed his credibility with business and made business uncertain. When business is uncertain, it does not invest. All bounties were reduced in the Budget by 20 per cent. It is incredible that the Minister, who is alleged to be one of the more sensible Ministers in the Government, would lend his name to that decision which has created so much uncertainty for business and has produced an environment in which it is difficult for business to plan appropriately.

The book printing business has made a solid and strong effort to become competitive, and it has made the investments necessary to ensure that it can compete with imports. The industry has tried very hard. As I said earlier, it was angered by this so-called double whammy-the implementation of the IAC recommendation and the Budget cut. This Bill tries to twist and turn to get around the Budget decision by deferring the recommendations of the IAC report. As the Minister has said, the main recommendation was that the bounty on eligible books be reduced from 25 per cent to 20 per cent of net selling price-that is, the selling price less the bounty. This Bill seeks to extend that bounty by three years. By this wriggling and extending the bounty for three years the Government has got around the problem that it created for itself with its Budget decision. We condemn the Government for its double standards and its attempt to cover up its bad Budget decision with the device contained in the Bill.