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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1132

Senator COLSTON —Has the attention of the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce been drawn to recent statements made by the Queensland Deputy Premier, Mr Gunn, encouraging Queensland firms to 'enter joint ventures with Asian businesses to take advantage of cheap labour'? Does the Federal Government agree with this move to combine Australian technology with lower labour costs overseas? What effect would such ventures have on the economic viability of Australian industry? Does the Minister believe there would be a damaging decline in employment in Australia if such a policy were implemented?

Senator BUTTON —My attention has been drawn to the recent statements by Queensland's Deputy Premier, Mr Gunn. I think I nearly said Deputy President-perhaps that is because I thought about that one-party state again. I have seen the statement. Of course, as statements from Queensland Ministers frequently are, it is couched in rather crude, old fashioned and indeed silly terms. Senator Colston went on to ask me some supplementary questions, as it were, which are of course much more serious than the statement made by Mr Gunn. He asked me whether the Federal Government agrees with the importance of combining Australian technology with lower labour costs overseas. With respect, I would not make the assumption that Australian technology necessarily is better than technology available in many of our competing neighbour countries. I am not sure that the assumptions underlying that question are correct.

I think more importantly he is asking me whether it is important for Australian companies to invest in manufacturing and processing establishments and so on overseas. My answer to that question is that in many cases yes it is, because the importance of Australian investment overseas in establishing plants in a number of countries in South East Asia is that it provides a secure market for many activities of Australian companies manufacturing in Australia. Indeed, I refer Senator Colston to a fairly recent study of the Bureau of Industry Economics which makes the point which I have just made in a much fuller and better illustrated way than I am able to make it in the course of Question Time in the Senate. I am further asked whether the establishment of Australian manufacturing and processing plants in some overseas countries would be damaging to employment in Australia. My answer to that question is that I think not. Of course, it depends very much, again, on the industries in respect of which those plants were established.

I come back to the first point of the question. It is quite clear that Mr Gunn, the Deputy Premier of Queensland, does not understand any of the issues referred to in the latter part of Senator Colston's question and in respect of which I have just given an answer. If he thinks the important thing in establishing Australian manufacturing or processing plants overseas is to take advantage of cheap labour that is an ignorant view of the world which in many cases is based on a 10-year-old view of what the actual situation is. It is not an intelligent and thoughtful appreciation of the situation. I take it that the expression 'to take advantage of cheap labour overseas' in a sense stems from the same sort of philosophical assumptions which have led to the industrial disputation in Queensland in the last few months. I believe those are views which have to be rejected by any thoughtful commentator on the importance of Australian's investment overseas. It is not to the benefit of this country or to the benefit of our relations with neighbouring countries to see our investment opportunities there as purely for the purposes of taking advantage of so-called cheap labour. I very much reject the view which is implicit in the statement made by the Deputy Premier of Queensland.