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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1185

(Question No. 43)

Senator Chaney asked the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, upon notice, on 27 February 1985:

(1) Has the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce sought legal opinion in relation to the constitutional validity of State Government purchasing preference schemes; if so, did the legal advice obtained indicate that these purchase preference schemes would probably be found to be constitutional by the High Court.

(2) What further action has the Department and/or the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce initiated to end these purchasing schemes.

Senator Button —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

Regarding the first part of Question 1, the answer is yes.

Regarding the second part of Question 1, I refer the honourable senator to Senate Standing Order No. 99 which states, inter alia, that questions shall not ask for legal opinion.

With regard to Question 2 the honourable senator would be aware of the strenuous efforts that this Government has made in attempting to end this extremely deleterious practice. The Prime Minister wrote to all State Premiers in late 1983 and suggested a rethinking of the States' positions on the matter. With the agreement by New South Wales to enter into discussions with Victoria and South Australia to establish a three State preference-free zone, the Government was cautiously confident that this would encourage other States to end preferential treatment to in-State suppliers.

However, with New South Wales indefinitely deferring its participation in the trilateral agreement, this Government set in train new initiatives leading to the special meeting of Industry and Technology Ministers held in Sydney on 28 February/1 March.

At this meeting Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania agreed in principle to the removal of purchasing preferences subject to consideration of particular circumstances. New South Wales and Western Australia indicated they would review their position regarding preference abolition in the near future. Further details are provided in a communique which was issued by the Ministers after the special meeting.

I welcome the support evident in the honourable senator's press releases on 28 February and 1 March. Given the extent of bipartisan support on this issue, I am sure the honourable senator would be pleased to hear that the Government will continue to vigorously pursue the matter and make every effort to bring about the abolition of State purchasing preference arrangements that have contributed to the unnecessary fragmentation of our industrial base.