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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2020

Senator JACK EVANS —by leave-I believe, as Senator Rae has indicated, that we have been waiting for some time for this statement. It is long overdue. It is not just six months overdue; it is six years overdue, 12 years overdue, decades overdue. If this is an indication of a rational, planned, protection reducing program for the motor vehicle industry, it will be worth waiting these six months, particularly if it has the imprimatur of the key people in the industry. That is not assured in the statement that was made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button). I think some loose ends have been left as to whether he has total industry support. He has certainly sought it. He has obtained a degree of support in respect of some of the directions which have been taken.

Let me point to the major area of concern. It appears from what has just been said by Senator Rae that the Minister and the Government may not have universal support. If my assumption is correct, this will be tragic for the car industry. If this policy in broad outline is not endorsed by all parties in this Parliament the stability that the industry has sought for decades will be lost for probably the next decade. In my opinion the industry is doomed if we are not able to come together and rationalise it in 1984. The industry has been rescued so many times by ad hoc measures put forward by governments of a variety of political persuasions to the point that it appears to lack direction in itself. The major enterprises within the industry for years now have not had a long term plan to which they could work. They have recognised themselves that it has simply been a matter of which group had the ear of the government of the day and which group could apply the greatest muscle when determining the direction of policy for the succeeding two or three years. That in itself has been a tragedy for industry. It also has resulted in a massive cost to consumers-not just consumers who purchase vehicles but consumers who buy goods that have been distributed for decades by high cost vehicles right across Australia.

At the very least, the statement that has been put down by this Government has the long term objective of reducing the protection that has been granted to the industry without overnight destabilising that industry. It gives both the industry itself and the employees within the industry an opportunity to redirect and to take into consideration what is going to happen to their industry and their markets in this country and their potential export markets over the next decade, or the next eight years at least. It gives manufacturers the opportunity to redirect their attention in terms of where they should invest, whether it will be feasible to get into joint ventures and, just as importantly, starting from tomorrow morning one would hope, to have their employees retrained in alternative industries-

Senator Watson —Such as?

Senator JACK EVANS —Alternative industries within their own field, as has happened around the world, Senator. One does not have to move out of the factory to redirect all of the industry.

Senator Watson —Where are they going to go?

Senator JACK EVANS —The honourable senator is suggesting that there are not alternatives. I suggest that alternatives need to be found whether or not this plan is adopted because this industry is on the greatest downhill slide of any industry. Over the last five years the previous Government, of which Senator Watson was a member, did nothing to retrieve this situation. Let us be quite candid about the situation within Australia at the moment. The industry is doomed unless steps are taken. I am not suggesting that these are the only steps that could be taken but at least, in my view, what I have put forward is a rational approach. I am appealing to Senator Watson, Senator Rae and other senators on this side of the Senate to make constructive proposals to the Government on this plan and to endeavour to arrive at something which is non- partisan, something which can be supported by all parties so that the industry itself--

Senator Messner —What is going to happen at Woodville?

Senator JACK EVANS —Yes, I agree, Senator Messner.

Madam ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Haines) —Order! Would Senator Evans please direct his remarks through the Chair?

Senator JACK EVANS —I am endeavouring to persuade the Liberal Party senators to join with the Australian Democrats in our approaches to the Government and to join with the Government in an endeavour to get this industry rationalised.

The first thing that I believe needs to be recognised is that our current protection policies are costing the community $1.97 billion. That is a massive protection racket, if I can coin a phrase. This matter needs to be addressed immediately. It is not something we can bandy about any longer. There needs to be consensus across the industry and right through the political parties in order to achieve long term planning. There should not be just parliament-to- parliament planning.

There are some good points within the plan that has been presented, not the least of which is the fact that it is based on consultation and a degree of consensus. The plan aims to concentrate on the areas where Australia has the skills and can develop a competitive edge. That, surely, has to be the key to the direction that we take. We should not rely on the history as it was when the Holden was introduced to determine the policy of the car industry for the 1980s and 1990s. We need to recognise the external competitive situation and to recognise the skills that we have in Australia and how those skills can be developed to the advantage, not just of the internal markets, but also of the export market. That will then pass on benefits to consumers through lower prices . Surely that is a major advantage of simply reducing the penalty tariffs that would have operated under the current scheme. That has to be a plus, not just for the industry but also for Australian consumers.

Of course, we are supporting the expectation and the hope of the Minister that there will be, in time, a greater Australian equity in the industry. The evidence of that has not yet been demonstrated. We look forward to a clear illustration of how that will come about. The need for monitoring of transfer pricing is self-evident. It is to be hoped that the establishment of an automotive industry authority will ensure that that rort is not allowed in the future and that very close attention will be paid to that and its elimination. I think the allocation of $150m over five years to assist in the design of components and vehicles is, again, a positive step which will assist the industry.

Senator Rae made a valid point about the inclusion of this industry in the labour adjustment training arrangements helping the employees. There needs to be instant recognition of that because it is quite evident that, whether the Government's plans come to fruition or not, the industry will retrench thousands of workers in the near future. We need to recognise that the industry, as indicated by Senator Watson earlier, is not the easiest one in which to move employees straight across to alternative areas of employment. However, that applies to a number of industries that are either becoming redundant or are changing so rapidly that it is not possible to cope with the rate of change. The Government's awareness and recognition of that, as indicated by the statement, is an important factor in looking after the employees in the industry and not just looking after the nuts, bolts and dollars that are involved in the industry . I also wish to make further comments on this matter. As Senator Rae indicated, this is necessary because of the short notice we received about the introduction of this paper.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.