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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1675


Senator JACK EVANS(4.22) —I wish to speak only briefly on the Industries Assistance Commission Amendment Bill 1984. The Industries Assistance Commission, as has been acknowledged by earlier speakers, plays a very valuable role in exposing the cost and effect of government policies on industry. The IAC has been attacked traditionally because it tends to recommend lower levels of protection. That makes it a very valuable ally of the Australian Democrats because we envisage a very rapid move towards much lower levels of protection in line with the attitudes of the IAC. Of course, because of that attitude the IAC is most often attacked by narrow sectional interests. The costs of protective measures are borne by the whole community but the benefits of those measures are concentrated in particular industries. In the past, far too frequently, decisions have been made with a view to bolstering industries in marginal electorates. Those decisions are often not in the wider interests of the nation. The IAC points out the cost of such decisions in terms of the whole economy. This piece of legislation will ensure that not only will we know the costs of a primary recommendation of the IAC but also that we will be able to assess the costs of alternative steps that might be envisaged and considered by the Government and, indeed, by the Parliament.

Specifically, this Bill will change the traditional process whereby the IAC holds one set of hearings, issues a draft report and holds another set of hearings before issuing its final report. Now there will be only a draft report followed by a set of hearings and then a final report. Certainly this will be more efficient. However, it creates a problem for the IAC in getting information from a wide section of interested parties. To the extent that sectional interests are not represented we fear that industries will tend not to co- operate with IAC findings. Organisations and industries tend to work much more harmoniously with a decision in which they have had some involvement. It is good that the IAC will now be required to take into account the desire of the Government to facilitate adjustment and to encourage efficiency and international competitiveness. However, there is an intrinsic conflict between those aims and full employment. If jobs are lost as a result of achieving greater efficiency, and this is likely in the short run, we must be prepared to offer those unemployed adequate income and retraining.

It is good that the amendments will formalise the situation so that when the IAC provides a report it will also provide in that report options to its own findings. I believe that that will have benefits that flow on through the whole community because it will give the community and industries in the IAC itself a great deal of confidence in the decision that is taken ultimately by the Government. We believe that the abolition of the Temporary Assistance Authority and its incorporation into the IAC should help provide greater consistency in IAC recommendations between industries and also between the long term and short term requirements of a particular industry. We see the Temporary Assistance Authority as being redundant. Frankly, it could quite easily be in competition with the IAC in its objectives and recommendations. That does not serve the nation's interest. The inclusion of tertiary and service industries in the definition of an industry for IAC purposes was obviously necessary, given the direction of Australia's industrial development. We certainly applaud the inclusion of those industries.

I should speak briefly on the amendment which was flagged by Senator Peter Rae. My understanding of this legislation is that the Government's adoption of the recommendation that the Commission's power to initiate its own inquiries be revoked was based on the understanding given in the second reading speech of the Minister that the new arrangements will not prevent the Commission from suggesting to the Government the need for an inquiry where it is considered to be warranted. Ultimately, the crunch decisions will be made by the government of the day. That government needs to have recommendations and options presented to it by the IAC. For the IAC to be haring down tracks in which the Government has absolutely no interest seems to me to be a futile and wasteful exercise. Provided that the IAC has the ability to recommend to the Government areas of inquiry which it considers are justified, I believe that the amendment is a move in the right direction. Therefore we will not be supporting the Opposition's amendment. However, I need to have that assurance from the Minister before making a final decision.