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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 697

Mr MILLAR —I address my question to the Prime Minister. I allude to his statement, couched in hyperbolic mode, that Australia is involved in a war for economic survival-a statement with which I totally agreed. Within that scenario, will the Prime Minister inform the House whether the economy is in a state of retreat or advance, and if the latter, to what heights must our $101 billion national debt rise before we taste the fruits of victory?

Mr HAWKE —The honourable member for Wide Bay knows that if I had had such a rough question thrown at me by anyone else from the other side of the House, I would have got into my most aggressive mode. But because it has come from a member on the opposite side of the House whom I admire greatly, I will put the question into its most serious context.

Mr Young —The honourable member for Maranoa has just faxed that through to Joh.

Mr HAWKE —The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs tells me that the honourable member for Maranoa has just faxed that through to Joh-so watch out Clarrie. Seriously, I do not put a particular description upon the economy. I do not think one word describes the position. I put to the honourable member the fact that we now have dramatically and clearly a position where this country cannot continue to expect to sustain standards of living on the basis that that gap between what we earn through our exports and what we pay for imports will continue to be paid by dipping our hands into the pockets of overseas investors. That is an unsustainable position. I am trying to explain to the Australian people, as are my colleagues, particularly the Treasurer, that we cannot deal with that situation by using snake oil remedies. I am at one with the honourable member for Boothby in his criticism of his Liberal Party colleagues. We cannot have that sort of situation-I must say this to the honourable member-any more than we can deal with that situation by adopting the stupidities which are emanating from the Premier of Queensland. It is impossible to have a situation where we can promise the people of Australia an increased standard of living when our capacity to sustain existing standards is diminishing.

I want to say to the honourable member that we should not, however, despair about that fact. I am not going to attempt to make political capital out of the historical reasons why we are at that point, because there is a considerable amount of guilt throughout the community. I do not think any great purpose is achieved by trying now to allocate it in particular shares. What I am saying-and I am glad that honourable member for Wide Bay is attempting to listen to the answer-is that that is the factual situation. Since we took office as a government, we have tried to begin the restructuring of the Australian economy to make it more relevant to the circumstances which are now confronting us and are likely to confront us in the future.

Without saying to the honourable member that I will be exhaustive about all those things, perhaps I may, with respect, remind him of the sorts of things that we began doing when we took office. For instance, we regarded it as silly that one could talk about losing a steel industry. We thought that the natural capacities were there to have not only a steel industry which provided for our own domestic economy but also a steel industry that could be export oriented, and that is what we have achieved. We have achieved a significant restructuring of the shipbuilding industry. When we came to office, the shipbuilding industry had idle yards all over the place-unused capacity. That industry is now engaged in a significant and successful export marketing program. We have done the same thing in regard to heavy engineering. We tackled, in a way that it had not been tackled before by any coalition, the question of the textile, clothing and footwear industry. We did the same with the motor vehicle industry. I am proud, and I think the honourable member would share my pride, that in regard to the motor vehicle industry we have now reached the position where we will be exporting motor vehicles again. The Ford Motor Co. of Australia will be exporting motor vehicles into the United States of America. Our factories in South Australia will be exporting motor vehicle components to Japan. I think the honourable member will agree that those are the sorts of things that we have got to be doing.

As great as the contribution of the rural industry has been and as important as it is going to continue to be, we cannot, in this rapidly changing world, have a situation where we depend, as to 40 per cent of our export income, on rural exports and about 40 per cent from mineral products, because the nature of world demand for those products has changed in a way where if we are going to have that composition of exports, we will be doomed to a continuous decline in our living standards. So what we have to do is make our economy more competitive in a wider range of economic activities. While we are doing that and making the hard decisions we will make the tough fiscal budgetary decisions. This means that in the meantime we will accommodate, by way of lower standards, to those realities with which we are confronted.

In changing the structure of this economy, because of the great national advantages that we have, it will mean that if we work together rather than try to fight one another we can take advantage of those national facilities, we can take advantage of our basic political stability in this country and we can take advantage of our proximity to the fastest growing economic region in the world. By doing those new things, by showing that we can be competitive in those areas and by working together rather than fighting against one another we will bequeath to our children a higher standard of living and better job opportunities rather than the destruction of this economy, which would be necessarily intrinsic in the snake oil remedies that are being peddled by honourable members opposite.