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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1636

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry and Commerce)(12.33) —First, let me say that I am sure the whole of the Australian automotive industry, and industry generally, will be pleased to hear that the plan has the Opposition's support. One thing that has been lacking in relation to industry policy is continuity and predictability. I am sure it will be encouraging to everybody that, whatever government is in power, the right steps will be taken in the industry. The Automotive Industry Authority is in some respect integral to the plan.

Senator Rae indulged in a lot of rhetoric about corporatism, creeping socialism , and about bodies standing over the industry and telling it what to do, and so on. I suppose that is very attractive stuff when delivered over port in some exclusive club, but it is not borne out by the facts or circumstances. The industry is not worried about the Automotive Industry Authority standing over it and interfering, as Senator Rae suggested. The industry asked for the Authority- it was not my idea. What the industry said-and it is very much related to what Senator Jack Evans said-was that it recognised the industry was in a mess and was not performing well. The industry asked for a plan and an authority so that the industry could work to improve its competitiveness and efficiency.

Senator Rae based the rhetorical part of his speech on certain clauses in the Bill, but built the foundations of his argument on sand. With respect, he has not read the Bill correctly. I agree with much of what he read from the Liberal Party platform about regulation and so on. I think it is good stuff and we can agree about that. The only point he was seeking to make, I suppose, was that he thought of it first, or something on those lines. That is a point that is always open in the cut and thrust of debate. He can say that his side thought of it first and I, of course, will say that we thought of it long ago. That does not matter because it is not important.

Senator Rae, in constructing his monster image of the Authority, relied on clause 10 of the Bill. I invite him to read that clause. If he had been concerned to mount a serious argument, he would have looked at the functions and objects of the Authority dealt with in clauses 6 and 7. The objects of the Authority are to provide for the monitoring of the performance of the industry and its output, to encourage the development of the industry and to promote changes. The functions are set out in clause 7. Instead, Senator Rae sought to rely on clause 10 which is headed 'Reports on effect of regulatory policies'. With respect, if he reads that clause carefully, he will see that it means exactly the opposite of what he was arguing. It means that the Minister of the day can say to the Authority: 'What regulations or policies of government are inhibiting the competitiveness of this industry? Give us a report on it and tell us what is wrong. Tell us what factors are inhibiting the growth, development and competitiveness of the automotive industry in Australia'. The Authority of its volition can say: 'This industry is being adversely affected by trade practices policy, by consumer protection laws, by all the things that are set out in clause 10'. It is for precisely that purpose-an anti-regulatory rather than a regulatory purpose-that clause 10 is included in the Bill.

Senator Rae spoke of the powers of the Authority. The Authority is essentially a monitoring, persuasive body. It has no real powers at all. Its powers are to make public the issues, to report to Parliament-those are the sorts of powers it has. Senator Rae acknowledged in his speech that in the last year the industry has indulged in a number of programs which were improving the competitiveness of the industry. I ask him, in all charity, to say where he thought those suggestions came from. Did he seriously think that they came from this industry after 20 years of mucking about in the way the industry has mucked about? Some came from industry bodies which are doing things with government participation, but many of the suggestions to which he referred with approval came from government. They are the sorts of things the Authority can do.

Senator Peter Rae —I would say that it came from both sides. That is my understanding, that it was a participatory thing.

Senator BUTTON —I concede that. We pressed for those sorts of changes and industry was concerned to bring them about. In a sense, the role of the Authority will be to try to facilitate such changes. The alternative to having an authority is to have nothing and merely to hope the plan works. The plan will not work if it is not integrated in this sort of way. The will for it to work will not be there, nor will the guidance.

Who will provide the guidance, the monitoring and the facilitation? The Government feels that it should be the Authority, not the Government. The alternative is for the Minister of the day and his Department to be trotting round the industry day after day telling it what it ought to do and asking what it is doing about this or that. I think that is undesirable in terms of the philosophical approach suggested by Senator Rae-a theory which in general I understand and support.

The Government sees this Bill as an important and integral part of the motor vehicle plan. We hope that, with the establishment of this Authority and implementation of the plan from the beginning of next year, this country can look forward to a motor vehicle industry of which it can be proud rather than an industry of which in the past it may in some ways have been ashamed. We look forward to a better future. It will not be easy; it will not be easy at all. The industry has to be firm in terms of attitudes and it has to be sensible. We believe that this legislation will help with that process. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Question put:

That the Bill be now read a second time.