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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2296


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(10.00) —During the debate on the estimates for the Department of Trade I asked a series of questions. I repeat what my Leader, Senator Chaney, said in the chamber; how very disappointed we, the members of Estimates Committee C, are that it was not until the last 24 hours that the information came to hand. The information was basically readily available. The fact that it came to hand so late and took virtually a month to do so means that it restricts the ability of the members of the Committee to study it and therefore to make sure they can make full use of the appropriation debate. I record that fact. It is not just my comment. The Senate Estimates Committee has said unanimously, in very strong words indeed, that it deprecates such a delay.

The replies to the Estimates Committee by the Department of Trade show that there is considerable pessimism for the foreseeable future regarding wide areas of Australian trade. It is hard to find one commodity in which Australia trades which is listed as likely to have a good chance in the immediate future. Step by step, in answer to questions that were asked, the witnesses indicated that there were grave difficulties.

In the hearing on the estimates of the Department of Primary Industry it was shown again that the marketing prospects for a whole range of primary products are now in very serious difficulties. The National Australia Bank issued a statement today, which I read. It said that Australian primary industry in a world marketing sense would face very real difficulties. On items covered specifically by the Department of Trade, one by one the witnesses' answers showed that there was very little optimism.

I am saying this because the Minister has found it necessary to say it is wrong to talk up situations. I agree with him. In fact in recent days I would have said 'Physician, cure thyself' when we heard such optimistic talk from him and from his Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) regarding the buoyancy of the economy. I agree with him that it is wrong to talk up a situation and again I say: ' Physician, cure thyself'. The fact is that evidence given at the hearings of the estimates of the Department of trade and the Department of Primary Industry completely refute the statements that have been made by the Prime Minister in his world travels. One by one the items that have come under scrutiny have been shown to be in very grave difficulty.

Let us take iron ore, for example. In recent years Australia has been suffering from a downgrading of volume and price. In the future, even though there is some slight improvement in demand from Japanese mills, we now face a real threat from a country like Brazil which competes with our ore in volume, quality and price, and there can be no denial of that. In a series of answers to a whole series of questions I asked on various metals and minerals the same kind of situation came through.

On the question of coal we had a talking up that the situation in Japan was optimistic and that everything would be right. We had a talking down from the Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen), who blamed the industry and not himself, when prices were forced to be set at a lower rate. It is true that in a few years time, with any luck at all, the coal industry may rally, but I rise to say that what the Government has been saying about Australia in the immediate future and what is the reality are two quite different things. What are the investment prospects in the mining industry and what the Government is saying about buoyancy are two different things.

With indications of recession talk in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America, with the likelihood of rising interest rates, with the certainty of falling investment, the important point is that it does Australia no good at all if we make statements that do not bear out the truth. Without going into detail, if we were to take the answers of the Department of Trade seriatum we would find that the picture is one of some sober caution for the future, and indeed for some pessimism, unless Australia can get its productivity up, get its costs down and make its market ability in the world better than it is now.