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Tuesday, 26 February 1985
Page: 172


Senator CHANEY —I refer the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce to Australia's huge current account and trade deficits and remind him that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Finance have effectively ruled out any discounting of national wage adjustments for the effects of the recent depreciation of the Australian dollar, thus throwing away any competitive gain conferred upon our export and import competing industries by that depreciation. What steps does the Government propose to take to improve the competitive position of those industries?


Senator BUTTON —First of all let me say that, as I interpret the answer given by the Prime Minister yesterday and by Senator Walsh in the Senate yesterday, discounting in the national wage case was not ruled out. It was described as a factor which had to be taken into account in the Government's assessment of its approach to the national wage case. I think that is a fairer summation of what was said than what Senator Chaney said a moment ago.


Senator Chaney —I hope that is right.


Senator BUTTON —That is my understanding of what was said by Senator Walsh and of my reading of what the Prime Minister is reported to have said during yesterday's Question Time.


Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —That is not what your counsel argued in the Commission though, is it?


Senator BUTTON —With respect, that is a different question. That matter has not come up for argument in the Commission at this stage. Perhaps if Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle has a specific question she can direct it to me later and I will deal with it then.

Senator Chaney, having not established the premise from which he launched the remainder of his question, then asked me what we were doing about competitiveness in Australian industry. I am appreciative of the constraints placed on honourable senators at Question Time. I would take half an hour to answer that question. We are doing a great number of things. I must say that in my time in the Ministries of Industry, Technology and Commerce, and Industry and Commerce before that, we have addressed a number of issues which are concerned to ensure increased competitiveness of Australian import-competing and export industries. Primarily, I suppose Senator Chaney would say, the question which has to be considered is the question of costs. I concede that. I think even in considering the question of costs one has to consider a variety of other factors which are related to the Government's general wage policies, including, for example, the industrial relations climate. Moving away from the question of costs, as I said, there is a wide range of other issues which have to be considered in both the manufacturing sector and other sectors of the economy, particularly the finance sector. All those matters are matters on which I could have given a different answer, in a sense, because there is a wide range of issues to be considered, but they are some of the important ones.


Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for his answer. In light of his quite correct statement that he could take half an hour to discuss the various issues that come up, would he be prepared to make a statement to the Parliament during this session on the measures which are being taken to improve the competitive position of those industries so that we may consider them and have a chance to debate them in a proper manner?


Senator BUTTON —With the greatest respect, I would like to think about that. I am not averse to making statements. I have waited for two years for the Opposition to assail us on what we were doing wrong in respect of industry policy. I was never given the opportunity to discuss those issues in this forum at the instigation of the Opposition. Senator Chaney now turns the thing around and asks me to make a statement so that he can have a kick at it.


Senator Chaney —Well, tell us.


Senator BUTTON —I do not mind doing that in time. However, the precise timing and so on will be a matter for consideration and I will let the honourable senator know at the appropriate time.