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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 195

Mr STEELE HALL(9.32) —As a strong supporter in previous years of the Australian Industry Development Corporation I want to have just a few words tonight about the Australian Industry Development Corporation Amendment Bill, which of course is aimed at continuing the operation of this organisation. I have supported the AIDC in the past because the Australian financial system was reluctant at times, in years gone by, to fund those proposals which had any element of risk. I think it was well known through Australian business society that the Australian banking system bet only on certainties. In fact, there were no bets at all. We all knew, if we were involved in that area of operation, how difficult it was for the originators of new ideas and processes to get backing from the traditional banking facilities.

Mr Barry Jones —You had to prove you did not really need the money.

Mr STEELE HALL —Yes; the Minister at the table is quite correct. One had to prove that one was so viable that everyone was rushing to lend money. On those occasions people who had the idea and little else had to go away and beg to others or accept the fact that they just could not get their proposal up in the world of commerce. I ran into such a situation while I was Premier of South Australia. The Director of Industrial Development came to me one day and said: `Look, this fellow who makes a certain commodity has been making it at home in a garage. He submitted this commodity in response to a tender called by a multinational in Australia for a product to perform a certain task, which may lead to sales of the product throughout Australia. Despite the submission of tenders by huge companies, this little operator was successful because of the quality of his product'. Of course he was presented with this enormous order. Every month he was due to deliver this huge quantity of material, and all he had was a garage. What he needed first was a mixer. Way back in 1969 it would have cost him $10,000-a small amount by today's devalued currency. There he was-he had success staring him in the face, a contract waiting to be signed, but could he get $10,000 from the banks in South Australia? Of course not. It was not available to him. He could not go through the State parliamentary process of committee investigation and wait six to 12 weeks for a response; he needed the money within a fortnight. It was only by the appropriate State public servant bending friendships in the financial area that that gentleman was able to get his $10,000. Within five years he was employing 120 people. It was a dramatic failure of the financial system as we knew it in the late 1960s.

Of course with the personal background I have always been a strong supporter of the AIDC. I have known personally the retired Chief Executive, Mr Bob Thomas, and I congratulate him on his stewardship in that position. Of course he left the organisation in the strongest position it has been in. Having said that, I must without prejudice or ideology ask the question: Is the Corporation needed now in its current form? Things have occurred since 1968. I am still in politics, but that is a long while ago. The Government itself, by its financial actions in the last several years, has indicated that things are different. It has made them different and it has opened up the financial scene. I look without prejudice at the annual report of the Corporation and I wonder now whether the financial needs of these companies being assisted could be met by the private organisations that we currently have. I think I would have to say in all fairness that in the newly competitive scene we now have this mania in the community for takeovers has bred so much debt that money is flowing throughout the community. Shares are bought up and the capital is flowing. One can get money anywhere-even on the value of a share one has yet to purchase. It seems to me that the need we once had, so dramatically illustrated to many of us, no longer exists as it did. I am not saying that the situation will not arise again; of course changes occur. I believe that the private financial system needs to be niggled now and again to let it know that it has to serve all its customers and not those who want $2 billion to take over another company.

In saying this I would like to direct the attention of the House to the needs of the very small, often single entrepreneur. There are wise heads in the business community who say that the upwelling of ideas occurs within these individual innovators. I know in my own State of South Australia that I can reel them off on the fingers of my hand and double it to arrive at the number of people who have made these various commodities. Some of them have been very fortunate in the past that they have kept their innovations in their own hands and still own-or their families still own-those companies of great wealth which have been built often on the basis of a single initial innovation. The whole of the industrial world depends on the innovation and, as I have said, so much comes from the individual operator.

If I had any advice to give, I suppose from afar, to an organisation such as the AIDC, it would be that I would like to see it aim at assisting smaller and smaller operators because I believe the bigger ones can look after themselves. They may not have been able to before but they can now in the current commercial situation. So I would like to see assistance in those areas involving risk taking expanded, particularly if it is directed to the smaller innovators. There needs to be an arm of government involved with this. Here I pay tribute to some of the State governments, which of course are involved. They get expansive at times and they get wasteful, as State governments are wont to do, but I believe if this organisation is to fulfil a need this Parliament must scrutinise its success by assessing what it does in areas in which other organisations cannot operate. Parliament will not year after year approve of this organisation because it is doing what banks can do. Why would it? I believe the AIDC has to turn more and more to the innovator. After all, why should it compete with the sort of socialistic attitude experienced in Queensland and put up by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of Queensland, who has turned his State Government Insurance Office into one of the most socialistic enterprises in Australia? I think it is called Suncorp. I do not know whether I have the name correct, but I think that is what it is. It is involved, like an octopus, with the commercial and industrial life of Queensland. It is a product of the man who now is rampaging around Australia as the head of the so-called New Right, the free enterprise party. But the product he has at home is one of pure socialism which would make the Hawke Government look like a rightist government, even in the United States of America. So let us not have this organisation compete with the sort of socialism of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. I direct the attention of the Corporation, as I have said, particularly to the need of the small innovator who represents the upswelling of new ideas which big business buys to the profitability of both and which will re-energise from time to time the commercial and industrial enterprise of Australia.

In these few remarks I do not criticise the existence of the AIDC: I just draw the House's attention to redirecting our thoughts to new needs, to not decrying it, to giving it new life. The Corporation should redirect its attention to the small person who is the basis of the existence of the Liberal Party. We believe in fostering those who cannot get help from anywhere else, giving equal opportunity and certainly letting the new innovators come through to the benefit of the Australian community.