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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1443

Senator ROBERT RAY —Is the Minister for Industry and Commerce aware of the concern expressed yesterday at the annual convention of the Australian Institute of Steel Services Centres by the Chairman of the Steel Industry Authority, Mr Roberts, over the apparent withholding by some steel distributors of information relating to steel imports? Whilst I accept that imported steel has a specific but limited role in the Australian market, what implications for the Government steel industry plan of reconstruction might this failure to obtain full details of certain steel imports have? Finally, does the Government intend to propose that the Steel Industry Authority take any specific action to overcome the lack of co-operative spirit which may be hindering its capacity to monitor the industry?

Senator BUTTON —I did read the newspaper reports of Mr Roberts's speech to the Steel Services Centres convention, conference, or whatever it was, in Melbourne yesterday. I noted that the Authority, in the Chairman's view, was being frustrated by inadequate information being provided by steel importers and distributors to the Steel Industry Authority. The steel industry plan is based on the assumption that the local industry will increasingly become more competitive under the provisions of the plan and will be in a position to satisfy a substantial proportion of the market for steel in Australia in addition to any export activities in which the steel industry is engaged, and they are quite considerable. Of course, in respect of that plan, imports have an important role, in particular imports of certain steel products. There are some steel products which we do not make in Australia and it would be foolish for the industry to attempt to make because they are very specialised and they are made better in countries such as Sweden and Japan. Of course, imports have an important role. In an industry of this kind it is important that the market share, which the Australian industry attains by one means or another, be high in order that where volume of production is important it may maintain prices and, over the longer term, reduce prices, relatively speaking, of its products so that it can retain the market share.

As I understand Mr Roberts's comments-I might by way of digression compliment Mr Roberts on the very incisive role he has played as Chairman of the Steel Industry Authority-the burden of the complaint in his speech yesterday was that there was frustration of the Authority and, if that did not cease, the Authority would exercise its powers to hold a public inquiry and to summons, or to otherwise require, the presentation of accurate statistics to that public inquiry. That may be statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics or it may be information from the individual companies. That seems to me to be a course totally consistent with the Government's plans for this industry because any decisions which have to be made have to be based on accurate facts. I take it no further than to say that I note Mr Roberts's statement of intention regarding that matter. I have no doubt that he will carry it out if he thinks it appropriate.