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Thursday, 28 May 1987
Page: 3478


Mr PRICE(11.08) —I have followed the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) in a number of debates and, sadly, this the first occasion on which I have seen him make a speech in this Parliament from the back bench rather than from the front bench. I listened to him say to the House that this Government does not have a great record on promises. I think it would be fair to say that the Opposition does not have a great record on agreements. The Opposition parties cannot even agree to stick together. One of the unintended consequences, of course, is that we see the honourable member for Dawson speaking from the back bench.

I wish to make a few comments on the very important Bills before the House-the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1987, the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1987 and the Customs (Valuation) Amendment Bill 1987. The honourable member for Dawson tempts me to pick up some of the points raised. I was very interested in his comments about petroleum marketing and his concern for leaseholders. In fact, I share his views, but I do not think the solution is to have an investigation of prices, although I recognise that there are many consumers who are concerned about the daily changes in prices. We have to look at whether we can continue to afford to have petroleum companies so vertically integrated that they are involved directly in marketing, and whether we ought to convert those leaseholds to freeholds. If that were done, we would see consistently lower prices, and more consumers would benefit from them.

He also talked about some work practices in a particular company. I do not think there is anyone on either side of the Parliament who would defend bad work practices. It is important to point out to the House that work practices do not just miraculously arrive from one source in the equation. We do not all of a sudden have a union implement some work practice, with which perhaps we do not agree, without the agreement of employers.

The real difference between the two sides of the House is the methodology used to correct work practices. I compliment the trade union movement because it has indicated time and time again its willingness to sit down with management and discuss and negotiate work practices. I think that is a most responsible attitude and a most responsible approach. After all, those practices were put in place through that process of negotiation and, if necessary, they should be removed through the same process of negotiation. That is happening, and negotiation has been a key feature of this Government's industry plans. Unfortunately, the Opposition is always prepared to point the finger at the trade union movement. The Opposition believes that it should be possible to wipe out these practices with one stroke of the pen. That has an air of unreality about it and I think it shows that the Opposition is basically not fit to run this country. But that will be decided on 11 July.

I think that this whole area of customs and excise and what the Government has done in relation to industry policy will be at the forefront of the people's minds when they make their decision on 11 July. The Government has done a lot-and perhaps our greatest sin is that we have succeeded. I do not know that the Opposition feels too comfortable about that. I will contrast the two approaches. On the one hand, Mr Deputy Speaker, whenever you have been in the Chair during debate on Customs legislation a number of Opposition members have said that essentially the solution to our problems is to zero out tariffs immediately and then all the problems would be solved. At times there is some divergence of opinion on that but certainly the hardliners opposite-whether they are in the National Party, the wets, the dries or those in between-say that. On the other hand, the Government's approach is to take it industry by industry. It is fair to say that in the Hawke Government's first term we did not have too many choices about which industries needed to be picked up quickly. When the Opposition was in government the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd was going to pull the plug on Australia's steel industry. This Government was faced with the mammoth task of trying to decide what should be done for this important industry to save it for Australia and provide a firm launching pad for the future. Under the Opposition it would have disappeared. However, this Government sat down with management and the unions to develop an approach. Part of that approach, as I mentioned earlier, included work practices; and part of that approach concerned better industrial relations and better personnel management, which is equally important. The results in the car industry are an example of that. Australia has not exported a car since, I think, about 1968-although we may have exported one or two for a high commissioner or an ambassador. Basically, we stopped exporting cars in the late 1960s. However, if my memory serves me correctly, we will now be exporting something like $300m worth of cars and $400m worth of components. There may have been critics of the car plan, but we now have the results on the board in that industry, and we are pushing through with a number of other industries.

Since I first entered Parliament we have seen the heavy manufacturing industry plan, which is a very important plan for the western suburbs of Sydney. One of our real problems is that we do not have enough industry there. The industry that is there has a high component of heavy manufacturing, for example. We have had to put a plug on all the other industries that I have mentioned so far, the car industry, steel and heavy manufacturing. We have had to place a floor under employment to stop it falling, and I hope that in the future that will work to increase employment. We have also latched on to other industries, such as communications, which is a growth industry, and developed approaches and plans for them. In the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1987 the Government is giving legislative input to the plastics and chemicals industry. That is a different industry from the heavy manufacturing and the car and steel industries; it has been one of rapid growth. One of the key questions one must ask in terms of any plan that one structures is whether we are optimising growth. I think that in this industry we are doing so.

The difference between the Government and the Opposition in terms of industry and employment is that we have developed a co-operative approach between management, unions and government. We have implemented a number of plans. In our period of government, employment has grown by something like 12 per cent. Year to year, there has been an average growth of 3 per cent in the number of new jobs being created. Yet the House will be aware that when we took office employment was declining rapidly. When we go to the people on 11 July we will not be saying that we are satisfied with the current levels of unemployment. We believe that there is more to be done to get the unemployment rate down. Industry needs to make its contribution to Australia by creating jobs through import replacement or exports. Normally, we are accused of relying too much on public employment creation activity. This Government has emphasised, in its approach to industry and others, the need for the private sector to pick up.

The honourable member for Dawson talked about changes to the Excise Tariff Act and how they affect petrol and diesel prices. It is fair to point out that the honourable member was a member of the Fraser Government, which implemented world parity pricing. I think that, basically, we have picked up that concept. However, we have had to deal with the tremendous collapse in petroleum prices. The excise component that petroleum contributes to Budget revenue has meant that successive governments need to ensure that there are no violent swings. Accordingly, to offset changes in revenue from crude oil excise and royalty, corresponding across the board changes have been made to excise duty on petroleum products. The net result is that as crude oil prices change, government revenues remain the same overall and petrol price changes are kept to a minimum. In fact, in the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill we propose that the Government receive less revenue rather than more.

I now turn to the question of bringing in duty-free goods to Australia and the $400 limit. Many people in my electorate of Chifley go overseas. I first went overseas in 1976. In terms of bringing goods into the country, I have a rather disastrous record. I went to Singapore as part of a union delegation and, rather than bringing in duty-free goods, I left most of my clothing behind at the hotel. Unfortunately, rather than my bringing in goods, there was a net cost to me.


Mr Barry Jones —What about your trousers?


Mr PRICE —That clothing included trousers, but I had trousers to wear. In fact, the clothes were located in the wardrobe of my hotel room. They were not misplaced as a result of any other activity. Why should people be able to bring goods into Australia purchased at a different price when travelling overseas when not all people have the opportunity to do so? Certainly in my own electorate of Chifley, many people do not have the opportunity and cannot afford to go overseas. Why should they be placed at some disadvantage vis-a-vis other Australian people? Why should we tolerate a situation where some individuals finance part of the cost of their overseas trips by their purchases of goods overseas, bringing them back to Australia and then on-selling those goods? I could mention a few such cases. Quite frankly, I think that we should be fairly patriotic about this matter. In turning our economy around, Australia's performance has been very good and the Government has introduced the `true blue' campaign, which was mentioned by the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Ronald Edwards). Why should we not insist that Australians put their money where their mouths are and back Australia? Perhaps we have to say to those people who have regular trips overseas and who are not prepared to do that: `Sorry, tough.'

The Customs (Valuation) Amendments Bill proposes amendments to the provisions in the Customs Act governing valuation of imported goods. Whether we are talking about ordinary taxpayers or businessmen, the changes involved in this Bill are a further sign of this Government's concern about fairness and equity. Following a review, unfortunately it was discovered that certain avoidance and minimisation practices are used by importers in valuing goods imported into Australia. I fully support the Government's stand in tightening these loopholes. There are a number of examples of how these practices occur, but I will not detail them. I hope that the Opposition will support these amendments. All too often when we as a Government have tried, on the basis of fairness and equity, to attempt to redress these anomalies, we have had either outright opposition, or token lip service paid to the Government's proposal, but I am quite confident that these days, people are not prepared to tolerate these practices. These are not the lazy days of the 1970s: it is 1987 and people have come a long way in their understanding of avoidance and minimisation practices. We believe that, like the Government, people are not prepared to tolerate this situation; they are not being given a fair go and we believe that they will welcome this initiative by the Government to eliminate avoidance and minimisation practices.

Earlier, a remark was made about honourable members on both sides of the House who take an interest in customs tariffs and excise matters. I think that this is an area in which more honourable members should be involved. It is a pity that a Committee of the House has not looked at this area, because often that is an excellent way for honourable members to become more knowledgable on particular topics.

I pay tribute to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) and to the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) who represents him in this House. I think that history will record that Australia owes them a debt of gratitude for the initiatives which they have taken; for the boldness of vision, and for the hard decisions which they have had to take in this area. Because of the groundwork that they have laid for the structural changes which have been made, more Australians will be employed now and, more importantly, in the future. I have always had confidence in the Australian people and I am confident that this Government will be returned, but whichever way it goes, posterity will show that much has been done in this area by the Hawke Government and particularly by the two Ministers whom I have mentioned.