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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2134


Senator TATE —Can the Minister for Industry and Commerce indicate to the Senate whether the car industry plan announced yesterday has received favourable or unfavourable reviews from analysts and commentators? Whatever the answer to that question, does he acknowledge the concern and misgivings of some sections of the trade union movement? Can he quantify the impact of his proposals on unemployment prospects as compared with continuing with more of the same?


Senator BUTTON —I think it is for others to judge whether the response to the passenger motor vehicle plan announced yesterday has been favourable. Insofar as there has been an element of criticism from some sections of the trade union movement, I think it is very important that those who comment on this matter, particularly in view of the fact that it involves substantial restructuring of an industry, should get their information right. That includes, for example, the Opposition spokesman on industry and commerce, Senator Peter Rae, who yesterday in the Senate said that the motor industry was a widely irresponsible industry and that car sales had dropped by 19 per cent in the month of April compared with sales for the previous month. Car sales in April in fact were down 13 per cent on the previous month, a result that did not surprise the Government in view of the fact that there were only 18 selling days in April compared with some 24 in March. Senator Rae went on to say that he had consulted with the industry. If he had been doing that on a regular basis he would know that the number of car sales has improved in May.

Senator Rae commented that the plan would be very hard on Volvo and Peugeot, which he said would be very heavily hit by this plan. Peugeot went out of business in Australia in 1983 as a result of the operations of the plan of the Fraser Government; it has nothing to do with the present Government. In a sense what he says may be true in respect of Volvo. Volvo assembles cars in Australia at an enormously high rate of protection. The amount paid for what is equivalent to a job subsidy for each worker for assembling a Volvo in Australia is enormous -something like four times the amount of subsidy provided in an already very heavily subsidised industry. The Government has had discussions with the assemblers of the Volvo motor car, which happens to be the Nissan motor company which is located in Melbourne. If Volvo decides to phase out its operations arrangements have been made to ensure that that will not have a detrimental effect on employment at Nissan and that the labour force engaged in that operation will be transferred to other work.

The criticism from sections of the trade union movement about alleged unemployment consequences of the plan has come largely from the New South Wales Secretary of the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation of Australia. Mr Thompson has received widespread success in appearing on television and radio programs announcing the dire consequences that will result from the plan announced by the Government. In 1981 when the former Government made some arrangements in relation to the motor vehicle industry, if I might call them that, Mr Thompson announced the result would be that 17,000 jobs would be lost in the industry in New South Wales. I find that an extraordinary figure, considering that only 7, 400 workers were employed in the industry in New South Wales at the time he made the statement. Last week Mr Thompson, before he knew--


Senator MacGibbon —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The Minister is debating the paper he presented yesterday.


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order involved.


Senator BUTTON —Before Mr Thompson knew the contents of the present Government's plan, he announced that it would result in job losses of 8,000. Later he amended that figure to 20,000. I am saying these things only because Mr Thompson has a very legitimate interest to protect in terms of employment in his industry. He is a distinguished trade union figure in Australia. I think it is very important that the facts in relation to these matters be stated and that any process of structural change in the automobile industry in Australia recognises the fact that over time there will be reductions in employment in this industry, just as there have been in motor vehicle industries throughout the world. Australia cannot be immune from that process and survive as a manufacturing nation. I think that approach has to be recognised on a bipartisan basis and by all Australians concerned about the future of manufacturing industry.

The history of this industry shows that in the past 10 years 11,000 people employed by the plan manufacturers alone lost their jobs. The Government is concerned that if that process is to continue and if there is to be a general reduction in the size of the work force, that should be accomplished in a structured and orderly way and not in the sort of way in which it has happened in the past. I plead in a sense for a bipartisan approach to the very important questions involved in structural change in the industry.