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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19961

Mr JENKINS (12:41 PM) —At the moment the Productivity Commission is concluding an inquiry into the textile, clothing and footwear industry. This is a subject of great concern in the state of Victoria, and especially in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, which make up part of the Scullin electorate. Not much time has been spent on this issue in the parliament. Colleagues from areas predominantly represented by the Labor Party have come forward and put this issue to the forefront. It is regrettable that on this occasion, unlike with previous Productivity Commission inquiries, members of the coalition who have large TCF work forces in their electorates have not been keen to come forward to try to protect the jobs that remain in the TCF sector. Over the last 10 to 12 years in areas like those represented by the electorate of Scullin we have seen a great decline in employment in the TCF sector. There has been a lot of finetuning as a result of changes to tariffs. We have seen a lot of innovation and a lot of development of niche markets.

It seems to me that, at a time when we are making progress, at a time when we are developing export markets, when we are developing the way in which techniques can improve the efficiency of this sector, we should not be contemplating further reductions in tariffs without thinking through the consequences. What has to be recognised is that this sector understands that it has to go through further structural change. It understands that because of the great structural change it has already been through. What it asks is that the effects of that structural change be recognised—structural change which can be characterised by the regional impacts it has had.

Taking the northern suburbs of Melbourne—the municipalities of Banyule, Darebin, Hume, Moreland, Nillumbik, Whittlesea and Yarra—between 1991-2001 the number of those employed in the textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing sector reduced from 17,831 to 10,165. That is a loss of 7,600 jobs in that decade. As a result of what is contemplated from the Productivity Commission inquiry there could be a further reduction. What characterises the work force that is affected by this? It traditionally has been a larger employer of women than any other sector of the manufacturing industry. It is a large employer of people from non-English-speaking backgrounds. What are their chances when they are retrenched?

Studies by the Monash University Centre for Work and Society in the Global Era indicate that only 21 per cent of people found full-time work subsequent to being retrenched, whereas 96 per cent of the people who were retrenched had been working full-time prior to being retrenched. Less than half the people that were retrenched have found work. Their average incomes have reduced. Many of them have accessed unemployment benefits along the way. Some 14 per cent were still on unemployment benefits. It is estimated that the cost to the federal government of unemployment benefits for these retrenched workers was approximately $150 million in 1997 and that, if the effects of these continuing tariff cuts were put in place, that figure could blow out to something like $750 million by the year 2020.

It has to be recognised that TCF industries are diverse. That diversity has to be recognised. On some occasions it can be people dyeing fabrics, it can be people producing sleeping bags, it can be people producing shoes. The people and the companies that have survived have survived on their ingenuity and innovation. That should be recognised and supported. The contemplation of the removal of the strategic investment program is misplaced. It should be continued and improved. Many of the small manufacturers in my area are unable to access SIP, because they are under the threshold for turnover. They would like it to be not only for plant improvement and replacement but also for promotion and marketing. That would enable them to continue to develop markets—and not only highly value-added niche domestic markets but also overseas markets. (Time expired)