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Monday, 6 May 1996
Page: 326

Mr MARTIN(1.09 p.m.) —I congratulate our new colleague the member for Dunkley (Mr Billson) on his initial contribution to the parliament. If, indeed, he achieves as much as the person he is replacing, he will do this country and his electorate a great service. Bob Chynoweth was one of the most genuine individuals this parliament has seen for a long, long time. Indeed, certainly on this side of the House, he will be sadly missed.

In coming to the dispatch box today to speak in this debate, I wondered whether I might not address some issues in my shadow ministerial portfolio; I wondered whether I might not try to search for some of the answers as to the early season form of the Illawarra Steelers—but thought that that would take a little longer than 20 minutes. Instead, I have decided to settle on some reflections on 13 years of Labor federal government and its effect on Wollongong.

Often people in this place—it does not matter how long they are here for; whether they are in government or in opposition—will stop at some stage and reflect on what has been an achievement for them personally or what has been the achievement of their government for the electorate that they represent. They will also find, as has been done in Wollongong, that there are plenty of people who will knock achievement. There will be people who will say that we should not vote this particular way or that particular way because we never get anything. There will be people who will say—Wollongong, and the Illawarra more generally, is very much a Labor voting area—that when you put a Labor government in you do not get anything; when Labor is out you do not get anything anyway, so what is the difference? I think it is nonsense to think that.

It is worth reflecting on 1983 to see where we are as a city and to see where the electorate of Cunningham is at since that time when there was a change from a conservative government to the Hawke government. People will remember that, nationally, at the time there was double digit unemployment and double digit inflation, and that those key sectors of the economy and those key regions which lead to economic growth were the ones which were affected the most. I am referring, of course, to the industrial heartlands of Australia.

The Illawarra is the industrial engine room of this country. Whilst unemployment might have been in double digits, at 11 per cent, in the Illawarra in 1983 it was at 20 per cent. Today it stands at around half that—at 10 per cent. I would be the first to admit it is still not acceptable.

At the time the major employer in the Illawarra was BHP, and the BHP steelworks directly employed 26,000 people. Some would say that its work practices were pretty ordinary. You would by today's standards—because today there are 7,000 people employed directly by BHP. To go from 26,000 to 7,000—with approximately another 5,000 jobs in the coalmining industry of the Illawarra also being lost in this period—is clearly going to have a major effect on any region, on any city. It has had an effect.

The effect was that in 1983, within 100 days of taking office, the Hawke government decided that a steel industry plan would be put in place. That steel industry plan was to be tripartite—between the unions, BHP and the government. The government's role was relatively small: it accepted a responsibility of limiting some imports of steel into this country. The union's role was substantial: it agreed to abide by dispute settling mechanisms; it agreed to negotiate with the company; and it agreed to look at ways in which productivity could be improved so that the steel industry in this country could survive. The company itself—BHP—agreed to invest massively, not only in Wollongong but in the entire steel industry to save it.

In 1983 BHP was going to walk out of steel production in this country and concentrate on minerals and energy and other investments. It is the steel plan, put together by the Hawke government in its first 100 days, that sees that industry in its current position—competitive by international standards. Downsized? Yes. But in Wollongong alone there is an investment of $2 billion.

A week or so ago we saw the recommissioning of the No. 6 blast furnace. That is a classic example of the company's determination not only to be environmentally conscious but also to look very carefully at the question of productivity and to build and rebuild best practice facilities. Building on that, we have seen not simply an investment in private industries such as BHP, but also a determination and a will amongst the people of the Illawarra to stand up and be counted in this nation, to say, `Economic adversity is not going to affect us.'

With the assistance of the Hawke-Keating government, we went about the task by looking at ways in which major infrastructure might be developed within our region. We went about the task by looking at the whole concept of regional planning—something which had been in vogue in the 1970s and which, in the last couple of years, seems to have been reinvented. What we saw was a combined effort by the private sector and the public sector to get the local economy going.

It therefore disturbs me somewhat that the doomsayers are again out in Wollongong and the Illawarra suggesting that, because a couple of major capital works projects have come to a conclusion, we are going to go back to the bad old days of 1983. I do not think that will happen, because there is a much stronger will to see that that does not happen. The climate, the investment nature of our region, has improved dramatically. But I am fearful of some of the decisions that might come in the budget from the new government. I am fearful about the effect on the public sector.

As recently as today the trade union movement in Wollongong was talking about major cuts in employment opportunities and service delivery in a variety of departments, in particular the Commonwealth Employment Service and the social security departments. Already we have seen cuts in the customs service at Port Kembla. When there are cuts of this sort in regions like our own—which are regional foci for a variety of service deliveries—they will impact across a broader range. Those issues have to be tackled again square on.

I note that the CPSU is calling its membership together this Thursday to discuss this matter. I think that is most appropriate. We have to look at the effect that slashing jobs might have on service delivery to people in our region. We have to make sure that there is not a negative impact on people who are dependent upon things like drug interdiction through the port of Port Kembla or the delivery of social services or the provision of a range of other things, such as taxation advice through the regional tax office.

Let me return to some of the doomsayers who have been around for a period of time and who have suggested that Illawarra never got a thing by voting Labor. I say to them: have a look at the regional tax office in Burelli Street; have a look at the Navy's Hydrographic Office across the road from that building; have a look at the Brandon Park sporting complex, which is the home of soccer in Illawarra. It is where our very competitive team—Wollongong City—plays in the national soccer league.

I also say to them: have a look at the Commonwealth office block which has been constructed in the civic precinct; have a look at the myriad of tourism projects in the Illawarra—the latest being ecotourism projects; have a look at the Beaton Park athletics track, which is going to train Olympic athletes not only for the games in Atlanta but also for the games in the year 2000 in Sydney; have a look at the University of Wollongong and the massive expenditure by the Labor Party in government on buildings, on infrastructure and on places; have a look at the science centre in the middle of my electorate and see what has been achieved there; have a look at the construction of Medicare offices in centres such as Corrimal, where my electorate is based. Can the doomsayers then turn around and tell me that, under a Labor government, Cunningham—Illawarra and Wollongong specifically—got nothing?

The doomsayers should talk to me about things such as local capital works programs or the very famous Ros Kelly community sport and recreation facilities program grants and look what we got there. When you do so and when people have a snigger about Ros Kelly, ask yourself, if you were a member at the time when those programs were around, how many of your constituents who were beneficiaries of it came to your office and said, `Oh, goodness me, this is disgraceful. By the way, here's your cheque back.' I can tell you that they are scarce on the ground. They took the money, they built the facilities and in their piousness they sat back and knocked the person who contributed the funds.

We did reasonably well in Wollongong. We did reasonably well in a variety of areas in the Illawarra. Colin Hollis can tell us a lot about what he received in his part of Wollongong in the Illawarra. I am sure Peter Knott's replacement will tell about the sorts of grants which were given down in the electorate of Gilmore to the aviation museum and a range of others. I look forward to her continuing contribution in this place to see how federal Labor assisted in the electorate of Gilmore.

I would be interested to see the contribution by the Minister for Finance (Mr Fahey) about Macarthur, what happened when I represented Macarthur and what happened when Chris Haviland represented Macarthur. It will be interesting to compare and contrast over the next couple of years to see whether he is able to achieve as much as I believe we did through the Labor government looking at projects and looking at them carefully.

It does not stop there. We have to look to the future. I mentioned earlier that regional economic planning is something which people have again taken a great deal of interest in. It is my very great pleasure to be the chair of the Illawarra Regional Economic Development Organisation. This body started 18 months or so ago. It came as an initiative, as people know, through the Working Nation program of federal Labor. It came as an initiative in the Illawarra as a result of the Illawarra Regional Development Board, established by a state government taking an interest in this and suggesting that a REDO might be an appropriate way in which federal initiatives could be channelled, along with state and local government initiatives, to economically benefit our entire region.

Our region, from a REDO's point of view, embraces not only the city of Wollongong but also the city of Shellharbour, the municipality of Kiama, the city of Shoalhaven and the shire of Wingecarribee. In each of those specific areas our region requires careful management from an economic development perspective. As part of its charter, REDO looks to private enterprise to take the lead in that, as I believe it should. At the end of the day, public sector spending or assistance through the public sector with government giving the lead—whether it be through grants or whatever—is only one way of achieving sustainable economic growth. It is by creating the macro-economic conditions of the broad economy, with low interest rates, low inflation and job opportunities being available, that we will see regions such as the Illawarra continue to grow. The IREDO process in Illawarra is very much geared towards that.

We have received funding for a number of projects, not the least of which is an export enhancement project. Another is to look at the way in which the port of Port Kembla might continue to be improved so that we can handle exports from a broader element of our region and, indeed, even beyond our region so that more jobs are created and the economy continues to grow in a sustainable fashion. We are involved in best practice activity amongst a whole variety of businesses in the Illawarra and amongst local government, and I think that is quite appropriate.

Going hand in glove with these REDO projects has been a preparedness by the trade union movement in the Illawarra, specifically through a number of individual unions, to embrace appropriate union workplace agreements. The Illawarra used to have a reputation of being `bad boy Billy' when it came to days lost through industrial disputes. In the bad old days in the 1970s we would hear about Wran's armada on the days when people would go on strike at the drop of a hat and coal ships could not be loaded and so on. That is well and truly a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it is an image issue which we in the 1990s in the Illawarra still have to carry. It is a nonsense.

A dissection of statistics will clearly show that through union agreements, enterprise bargaining and through the opportunity for employers to sit down with the trade union movement and get a better deal for all, the Illawarra has benefited in a number of ways. Obviously, we have seen days lost through industrial disputes almost disappear off the scales. It is quite amazing that that has happened. We have seen a cooperative environment established so that the good of the Illawarra is at the forefront in all of these discussions.

The future holds some initiatives for us as well. We can build on things in private enterprise such as BHP's work, the coal loader, the grain handling terminal, the council chambers in Wollongong, the performing arts centre, residential development, the oil rig project which Esso and BHP have been involved with and the Sydney Harbour tunnel project that Transfield was involved with. We can build on all that in the future if this cooperative arrangement continues.

There are many of us who have a vision for where Wollongong can go. We are very closely working with and bringing together people from the university, from local government, from the state sector and from private enterprise looking at the development of a telecommunications industry for the Illawarra. We have a lot going for us. We have leading R&D technology and leading R&D experts at the University of Wollongong. Incidentally, the University of Wollongong is acknowledged universally as not only the leading regional university in Australia, but in terms of objective assessment it is right up there in the top one, two or three in this country, and rightly so in terms of programs that it has offered and the leadership that has been given by the staff of that institution.

Telecommunications, with world best practice and leading experts from around the world being employed there, along with private enterprise and the public sector being prepared to get involved and looking at ways in which we can take R&D to production, will lead the way for our region into the future. That is not to say that, in a broader sense, places like the Shoalhaven and other parts of the Illawarra will not also benefit.

My colleague the member for Gilmore (Mrs Gash) knows of the outreach program at the University of Wollongong and of the proposals for a campus in her electorate. She knows also of projects which I read are involved with agri-food development, and so on. These are processes in regional economic development that we must support. I think that the future is looking particularly bright.

I say to those doomsayers in Wollongong: those days are gone. Forget about it. See what you can do to contribute to the Illawarra's growth instead of always being a knocker. We certainly do not need them on the inside. There are many people outside our region who are prepared to do it. Get behind initiatives that many people are involved with. Let us see the engine room of Australia continue to thrive, as I am sure it will.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Before I call the next speaker, I might say to the honourable member for Cunningham that, while I chose not to interrupt the flow of his eloquence, the chair would be grateful if the honourable gentleman would refer to the honourable member for Throsby by his correct title.