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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 200

Mr ALLAN MORRIS(9.59) —I find it interesting that the previous speaker, the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Harry Edwards), claims to have been misrepresented. It is interesting to notice how the Opposition parties are quick to run away from their true responsibility, which is to examine the economics of the country as they exist.

This debate has been characterised by the absolute failure of the Opposition to address the topic, and the topic is essentially industry policy. In looking at what has been put forward, the vacuum that exists in the industry policy area in both the Liberal Party of Australia and National Party of Australia in perhaps their most glaring failure. But we should not be surprised by that, because the fact is that in the best of all possible worlds we would not need the AIDC or anything like it because we would have Australian owned, aggressive, dynamic, organic manufacturing industries. The fact that we do not have such industries is largely a legacy of the previous Government, to which the honourable member for Berowra belonged for so long.

In looking at the future of this country at a time when there is a need for a manufacturing culture, one has to be somewhat amazed by the emergence of an agrarian culture within the Opposition and within the so-called New Right. I do not call usually that group the New Right because that does not mean a great deal. The term I use for those people is neo-feudalists, because they hark back to feudal days when the worker knew his place and he thanked the lord of the manor for his house, his pittance and his right to work on the lord's land. He thanked the lord for the right to exist and to feed his children. If the lord of the manor was having a bad time, he did not mind conscripting his serfs into his armies in whatever form was appropriate. The neo-feudalists hark back to those days. In fact, virtually all of the policies coming forward from the other side of the chamber are aimed at saying to those people who have nothing: `Because you have nothing, your place is controlled and you will be dictated to'. The would-be lords on the other side of the House fail to recognise the change that this society needs.

The second aspect that has been disappointing in recent years has been the business culture shock that we have experienced in this country. Our business community was born and raised on a diet of fixed exchange rates and high tariffs. For many years a number of businesses said that that was not a good culture or a good climate. Yet now, when the climate and the culture have been dramatically shifted and we have a floating and competitive exchange rate and much less importance placed on tariff policy in manufacturing decisions in Australia, the fact is that so many of the people who were brought up in the previous culture are having great difficulty handling the new one. I am quite convinced that, as our business community goes through this process of culture shock, at the other end will emerge a viable manufacturing society.

This whole process is being slowed, retarded, and I suppose one could say sabotaged, by the failure of the Opposition to probe industry policy. That is where the vacuum is. One needs only to look at the ministries within the previous Government to see the significance of the Minister responsible for industry, the Minister for commerce or the Minister for business. The ministries involved a whole range of titles. The Ministers were invariably junior. They never had Cabinet status. They rarely had significance. To be honest, more importance was placed on the portfolios of customs and tariffs. The industry policy of the previous Government was one of customs and tariffs policy. The generation of manufacturing was inappropriate to that Government because it was generating the decimation of Australian manufacturing industry. After all, it was thought that, if we were to sell our resources, raw materials and primary products, it was fundamental that we had to import manufactured goods from the countries to which we sold our raw materials and commodities. As a result of the cultural cringe, the business cringe, the political cringe that this country exhibited for so long, it would not have been acceptable in trade terms to have suggested to the buyers of our raw materials and primary products that we should also sell manufactured goods, so we did not dare take the risk. We can look back at the 1960s and to the decimation of, for example, our aircraft industry by the purchase of the F111. We can look at the decimation of various other industries by a government and by a business community which tended to refuse to accept the responsibility for the future generations of Australians.

The current evolution of the AIDC is a fundamental necessity in terms of changing, adapting and developing an appropriate manufacturing industry culture in this country. When we came to government we saw this need. Honourable members will recall that, when we came to government, industries were in crisis all over the countryside. In my area the steel industry was involved. Let me put on record that in 1982 the then responsible Minister and/or the then Prime Minister were invited to come to Newcastle to talk to the thousands of people whose jobs and whose businesses were at stake. Many of those small business people fed off or into the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. But the then Minister was too busy to come. In fact, even at the time of the election in March 1983, the previous Government's sole position on the steel industry was that it would be looked into at some stage in the future. That indicates the vacuum that existed.

As I have said, when we came to government we were beset by a crisis of confidence, a crisis of investment, a crisis of industry but, most importantly, a crisis of morale. Very quickly, a number of our Ministers, including the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones), who is at the table and who then had responsibility for the AIDC, brought to Caucus committees and to Cabinet a number of proposals, which included, among other things, a massive injection of capital into the AIDC and an extension of its terms of reference and its objectives. One can argue that it was too little too late, and that, if we had had a chance five years earlier, we may not have needed such dramatic measures.

The Opposition now talks about making the AIDC into a merchant bank. But we have a plethora of merchant banks. We probably have more merchant banks per head of population than any other country. Yet the Opposition suggests that the role of the AIDC should be of one of a merchant bank. The Opposition's statements and its actions indicate that the fundamental lack in the finance field has been in the form of appropriate finance for manufacturing industry. Our finance markets and houses were dictated by, geared to and oriented towards speculative capital gains in land and building developments, not manufacturing. The Opposition by talking now of letting the AIDC become a merchant bank is saying: `We do not need an investment capacity or a finance capacity that is geared towards manufacturing'.

Opposition members should go around the country and talk to small business people. It is clear that Opposition members do not do that. They should find out how hard it is for a small company, compared with the big companies to borrow at a low interest rate. The smaller the business, the higher the interest rate; the greater the need, the greater the cost. Finance is psychologically and economically geared to the wrong end of the market: Those who have money can get it easily; those who do not have it have great difficulty in borrowing it. Therefore, the function of the AIDC is to fill the gap left in the Australian investment market by the previous Government's industry policy and in the whole spectrum of industry development and technological development.

The Bill is an appropriate one to give the AIDC the choice as to whether it uses a government guarantee. There is nothing more sensible than that. I find it appalling that members of the Opposition have attempted to oppose the AIDC and the Government's actions in relation to it over the last four years.