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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1677

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry and Commerce)(4.33) —The Government does not accept the amendment moved by Senator Rae. The legislation before the Senate is, if I might say so, redolent with the notion of the independence of the Industries Assistance Commission. The Uhrig committee of inquiry recommended that the IAC should retain its independence. The essential reason for that is the public inquiry process of the IAC, which is very important. Decisions are not made about industry policy issues which are not susceptible to public scrutiny, analysis and the provision of varying views about a particular industry assistance matter. However, to say that the IAC relies for its independence on a provision which would enable it to conduct frolics of its own, inquiries of its own, is really drawing a long bow, with respect.

The Government's view is that what the IAC does from day to day, what issues it addresses and so on, are matters of policy. Our policy is that such decisions to conduct inquiries in relation to industries are more appropriately made by the Government itself, in part for the reasons Senator Jack Evans put, and particularly under the new IAC legislation to refer questions to the IAC in relation to industries, questions relating to competitiveness and the capacity of industries to develop. Senator Rae may be familiar with some of the references recently sent to the IAC which have specifically addressed those questions. That is the spirit, if you like, of the Uhrig inquiry and the intention of the Government following the passage of this legislation. I make the point that the provision to allow the Commission to initiate its own inquiries has been there for a long time but has never been made use of. The independence of the IAC was not challenged on that basis. In the Government's view, and this is a matter of fact and practice in which Senator Jack Evans will be interested because he asked for an undertaking on this matter, whenever it is discovered that an inquiry may be needed the IAC has had in the past and will have in the future the capacity to make that suggestion to the Government. The new arrangements would allow that to continue, and the Government would welcome such suggestions.

It is important that the various industry bodies, and there are many available to the Government, work in some degree of harmony and consultation. I make the point also that even under the existing legislation, which Senator Rae seemed to be happy with for seven years in government, the power of the IAC to initiate inquiries was really a limited one anyway. Such a power could be exercised where an industry had not been reviewed for 10 years or, in some limited situations, where an industry had not been reviewed for six years. I think in practice those matters have been addressed since this Government came to office. Industries such as the chemicals industry, to which Senator Rae referred, are in the process of being removed. I make the point that the right which is said to be being removed is in fact quite a constrained right in any event. I think it is much better for the IAC, if it wants to do so, to come to the Government and say : 'We think this matter ought to be reviewed'. That has been the practice in the past 18 months; it will be the practice in the future. The legislation before the Senate allows that to happen.

In all circumstances the Government is opposed to the amendment. It does not think it is appropriate that an instrumentality of the Government should be in a position to determine policy issues. That has nothing to do with independence. The IAC is not an academic institution. Under Senator Rae's own terminology, which might be better than ours, it would be called the industry development commission. It has a function which is set out in the Act. The IAC is not for purely academic purposes; it is an advisory body to government. The Government in all cases should be seen, in our view, to be consulted by the IAC about the nature of the advice-not the content, but the subject of the advice-that it intends to give. For those reasons the Government will not support the amendment .