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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1634


Senator JACK EVANS(12.23) —What a disappointing approach from the Opposition to the Automotive Industry Authority Bill. I was going to say that it is a dog in the manger approach because I am sure that much of what has been done with this legislation the Opposition parties would love to have introduced and implemented themselves, particularly as it has the support of the industry and I believe has the general support of all consumers. Certainly it must have the support of potential consumers, who will benefit in the future from the policies set out in this legislation. I think it is time that all of us in this Parliament recognised that the automotive industry has been in serious decline for many years and has needed the sort of guidance it will get from the Automotive Industry Authority to be established under this legislation.


Senator Peter Rae —A good socialist democrat approach.


Senator JACK EVANS —Senator Rae indicated during his speech that his Party was quite antagonistic towards any interference with this industry.


Senator Peter Rae —I didn't say that. I supported the plan. I said we did not want a corporate body over the top of it.


Senator JACK EVANS —What Senator Rae's Government and most previous governments of both complexions have done over many decades to the automotive industry is to interfere by chopping off a leg here, an arm there, an ear somewhere else, until we have virtually no cohesive industry, certainly no viable industry, left in this country that can survive without massive government support. It is time we moved away from that approach, and this Bill is a first step. No matter what label Senator Rae might put on this legislation, it is a step towards a comprehensive automotive industry plan. The good thing is that it comes about as a result of consultation with the industry itself, and the establishment of the Car Industry Council moved in this direction. I think there is no question by anybody in this country that the automotive industry, probably above and beyond any other industrial group, needs a long term plan. It needs to be able to see ahead to its own future and therefore needs a bipartisan plan. That was the disappointment in hearing Senator Rae put the Opposition's attitude to this legislation.

A number of things proposed by the Opposition when the original paper was put down in May have been picked up. During that debate I felt we had some constructive proposals from Senator Rae which the Government has taken on board. I believe the legislation before us goes as far as it is possible to go at this stage, retaining that degree of independence for the industry but with that element of monitoring and guidance from government working with the industry to ensure that we will still have an automotive industry 10 years hence.

At present our protection policies for this industry are costing $1.97 billion. That was an Industries Assistance Commission estimate in 1981-82. The industry is inefficient. It still provides too many models for a small domestic market. Its locally manufactured products have not been able to compete on overseas markets. Without any changes and given the high levels of protection the industry currently enjoys, the industry recently has been shedding labour and therefore exacerbating unemployment in Australia. We need a long term plan if the industry is to attract investment and create jobs. I repeat that we need a bipartisan policy. I ask the Opposition again to look at its attitude to this plan because it may be re-elected to government within the currency of this plan . Everybody, particularly those people within the industry, would like the reassurance that we will not have another U-turn on the automotive industry in this country should the Liberal and National parties be re-elected to government .

The good features of this proposal are that it aims to encourage the industry to concentrate on areas where Australia has the skills and can hope to develop a competitive advantage. It passes on some of these benefits to the consumers, and as the penalty tariff for imports is reduced and import quotas are abolished, with total abolition in 1992, then consumers should end up paying less for their cars. Certainly the Australian Democrats have been very concerned at the potential for transfer pricing in the industry. The monitoring of transfer pricing with the establishment of the Automotive Industry Authority will be a vital and valuable improvement for Australia.

The allocation of $150m over five years to assist the design of components in vehicles is another useful step forward. However, the Australian Democrats would raise some questions. Despite the Government's expectation of greater Australian equity in the industry, we believe that foreign board rooms will continue to see Australia as a target market rather than as a base from which to export to other markets. Despite government involvement in planning, that will be a very difficult problem to overcome. To develop an Australian industry with Australian priorities we need to encourage, even to demand, Australian equity in the industry. I believe that parliaments will not be able to ignore the reports that will come from the Automotive Industry Authority every year covering both what has happened in the industry in retrospect and also looking to the future year by year. Each year we will have the opportunity as a parliament to assess the industry. I hope the Government will bring down the modifications necessary within the industry and gain the support of this Parliament for those modifications.

I do not think the Government has gone far enough with its provisions to help those who will lose their jobs as a result of industry restructuring. The extension of the labour adjustment training arrangements program to include those workers retrenched in the passenger motor vehicle industry, which qualifies an individual for a training allowance if he attends an appropriate course, on today's values will add only $46.35 a week per person over and above that provided on unemployment benefits. That is a start, and it is certainly moving in the right direction. The Democrats believe that if society is to benefit from increased productivity and the increased wealth in the long run resulting from restructuring of industry then those who lose their jobs in the process must also benefit. We must not just throw them on the scrap heap. We must help them to adapt, help them through the restructuring process and allow them to enjoy the benefits we expect from it. I believe that this move sets a very useful pattern for a lot of other industries.

I conclude by congratulating the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) and compliment him on the realisation of what we all know has been a dream of his. It is a concept he has helped to evolve into this stage where we will set about establishing a thriving, viable industry out of an industry which , based on past patterns, interferences and the external controls, had only a limited future. The industry now has a chance to get on its feet as a result of the guidance and support that will flow from the establishment of this Authority . I compliment the Government on the legislation and congratulate Senator Button on the achievement of a dream.