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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 175


Mr GRIFFITHS(5.55) —The contribution by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) was typical of the Opposition's general approach-that is, to fill our X amount of time with hot air and rhetoric when we are talking about one of the most significant issues confronting this country, industry development. It is worth reflecting that he did not at any point in his whole discourse put forward any firm proposals or ideas that go to the very fundamental issues before us. As I indicated, that is merely a mirror image of the Opposition's general approach. As is his wont, he also embraced a bit of personal insult on the way through. Let me place on record my view of the trade union leader to whom he referred, Mr Simon Crean. I believe that history will regard Crean, Kelty and a few of their colleagues in the trade union movement as very significant figures. As reported in today's Australian Financial Review, there has been a broad acknowledgment of not only the difficulties that Australia is facing but also the opportunities that are presented by the process of change. The honourable member for O'Connor talked about the white fingernail brigade. I think I have done a little bit more work over the years than my old mate Wilson Tuckey but I do not feel the need to get up here and insult those who may not have had backgrounds in physical labour. Once again, that is irrelevant to the issues before us.

I think it is very important to put this legislation, as indeed it is important to put any debate in this House, into some overall perspective. We should have an objective in mind and not simply indulge in rhetoric. What is the objective? It is certainly not the objective embraced by the Opposition when it was in power; it is the objective of creating a strong internationally competitive manufacturing base in Australia. Previous speakers have adverted to the fact that under the former government there was something of a crisis because an overvalued Australia dollar led to a massive loss of jobs and opportunities in the manufacturing sector. By definition, the manufacturing sector was the sacrificial lamb of the Fraser-Howard Government's overvalued exchange rate policy. I think it is appropriate to draw the distinction that, to the contrary, this Government's approach has emphasised making Australia's manufacturing and service industries more internationally competitive, export oriented and innovative. I referred earlier to the article in the Australian Financial Review. I think that article ought to be compulsory reading. Of course, the changes in attitudes have come about in a two-year period, when the Australian Labor Party has had stewardship of government of this country. I think probably one of the most important outcomes of the industry policies and a whole range of other policies embraced by this Government is that people now have a realistic perspective of the art of the possible for Australia and I think people are prepared to pursue more vigorously the opportunities to which I have referred.

I thank my colleague the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) for providing me with a glass of water. I am not sure whether he is implying that my voice does not sound too good, but I thank him anyway. The Labor Government's policies have, as an objective, sought to develop new industries with growth prospects and to establish industry sector plans in key industries. That has largely been completed in the steel, motor vehicle, clothing and footwear industries. They are all very key industries which have all benefited very much from the fundamental changes brought about by this Government. This Government has upgraded the technological and research and development capacities of industry in a whole range of areas to which I will refer a little bit further down the track. Unlike the honourable member for O'Connor who simply criticised, I think it is worth reflecting on the Government's record. Criticising may be the constitutional role of the Opposition; nevertheless, it is sensible every now and then to inject a little bit of policy into debate. What we have heard from the Opposition has been bereft of policy. It ought to have been compulsory for all Australians to have listened to the Treasurer (Mr Keating) today go through in some detail the Opposition's political and economic position with respect to taxation policy. The Opposition is very much like the emperor with no clothes. The basis of its financial and taxation policies is non-existent. It will go to the next election heaping cliche upon cliche, catch-phrase upon catch-phrase, but with very little by way of sensible alternative policies. I hope Australians focus very much on what the real alternatives are rather than simply on the rhetoric.

As opposed to rhetoric this Government has had a number of major achievements that it will seek to have acknowledged by the people at the next election. For example, it established the Australian Manufacturing Council. That has been a significant development. It was set up to work with the trade unions, the various governments of Australia and also the industries. The Government has also set up the Australian Industry and Technology Council and the Small Business Council. Earlier I referred to the steel plan, the motor vehicle plan and the heavy engineering package. One could go on with the various aspects that the Labor Government has been instrumental in bringing about, but I want to make one point which specifically relates to the Australian Industry Development Corporation. One of the very many initiatives of the AIDC has been to be involved in the financing of the Portland aluminium smelter project in Victoria, a project of very great significance to the economy of Victoria and, I acknowledge, a project that had its genesis in a government prior to the election of a Labor Government. There have been some difficulties with that project and they are widely known. Nevertheless, I believe that that project now offers the economy of Victoria a significant potential stimulus, particularly when the international recovery eventually comes about. The AIDC, through a 10 per cent interest in the joint venture, facilitated the involvement of the People's Republic of China. It was not that long ago that the mention of that particular country would have caused some people in this chamber to have apoplexy. Of course, people acknowledge that China is, certainly potentially, a major trading partner and has very significant economic potential for Australia. The AIDC in that particular project has sought to cement those long term relationships. That is just one of many examples of AIDC involvement in helping industry and long term planning in this country.

There are a whole range of issues that one could address in making reference to the AIDC but I think it is worth going back to the comments I made at the outset-that the industry policy of this Government is seen and is acted upon not necessarily because of a desire to bring about change for change's sake but to acknowledge a fundamental and ongoing reality that without significant change this country's economic future will not be guaranteed. I referred to an article in today's Australian Financial Review. It is very important to acknowledge the widespread acceptance of the challenges that confront Australia. It is very much a function of the type of approach of this Government in terms of trying to encourage research and development, trying to move in all spheres for more innovative, technologically competitive industries, and so on. This Government has brought about that massive change and I believe that this country will be the beneficiaries of acknowledgments that people are now prepared to make. We hear about smashing unions and so on, but at the end of the day what will put this country firmly on the path to a prosperous future is a preparedness to take different approaches, not to believe that the world simply owes us a living, but to get out there and work a little harder. I believe that reality is acknowledged throughout the work force. I believe the old image of the ocker with the big beer belly and thongs is very much a false image of Australians. In my working lifetime I have worked in numerous industries at a professional level and as a worker. One of the things I learned over those many years is that that image of Australians as being a little lazy is really an unfortunate caricature. If one worked as I did as a scaffolder in the building industry one would know that there is no sloth in that industry because sloth brought about one hour's notice of the cessation of employment. It was a very physically demanding industry to work in. That was the case in many industries I experienced. This image is one that ought not continue. The average Australian worker has shown resourcefulness. If one travels around the world it is possible to draw comparisons with a whole range of other countries. I believe we stand up to analysis on any ground-contribution, intelligence, the infrastructure of this country. I believe the position we have in terms of the developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region are of themselves a significant, potential, comparative advantage that we enjoy, and so on.

I conclude my contribution by making one point and perhaps a plea. The point is that the challenges that are confronting Australia ought not only be seen as difficulties; they are very much opportunities. The AIDC is in my view one aspect, but an important aspect, of a changed attitude in Australia that is seeking to take advantage of the opportunities that are before us. The Government's record in industry development is second to none and stands in very stark contrast to the rather embarrassing record of the previous Government. If the Opposition wants to be taken seriously out there in the electorate rather than simply parrot the rather cliched, immature debate that we have experienced over the last few weeks, it is beholden on it to come before this House with constructive alternative policy proposals. We have a record upon which we are proud to stand and we have the policies for the future. When I hear the Opposition challenging those on their merits I will be a very happy member of this Parliament; so far in my four years it has yet to do so.