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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1332


Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(9.25) —I thank the Senate for its support for the Bounty (Injection-moulding Equipment) Amendment Bill 1985. In so doing, I say quite frankly that I share some of the doubts and criticisms about the Government's decision on this matter. I have been to the Battenfeld (Aust) Pty Ltd establishment in Albury-Wodonga. Since we first came into government there have been temporary assistance applications in the Industries Assistance Commission report which we have essentially adopted with some slight variations, and it is a matter of concern that one has an industry of this kind which is now the sole manufacturer in Australia, which is really not growing in strength or in its share of the market and which, as I think Senator Short pointed out, has no prospect of entering into any export markets. Also, it has been plagued by a number of debilitating difficulties.

One extraordinary thing that has been mentioned in the second reading speech is the fact that, as I recall, in 1983 the Department of Defence indicated that it felt that as a matter of defence capacity it was essential that we have an injection-moulding manufacturing establishment in Australia. I do not want to do anybody an injustice, but when I was asked about this matter some six months later, the Defence Department's view had changed and it felt it was no longer necessary to have this capacity. I think the Defence Department view changed yet again-for the second time-and it then expressed the view that it was desirable to have this capacity in Australia. I apologise to the Senate for not researching more thoroughly the relevance of Defence Department views to these industry matters and how they were arrived at by that Department. One of the more encouraging things, one of the best things, about this decision is that it has a sunset provision; it is for a very limited period and the rate of assistance which is operating-the tariff assistance-is lower than the manufacturing average now. The bounty is only for a short, defined period and it is phasing down. Then there is a sunset provision. We should have the opportunity of seeing how the company performs in a non-recessionary situation. It suffered very much from the recession. It is one of the Government's understandings in this decision that the performance of the company will be very closely monitored by my Department with a view to looking at its longer term future after this assistance package runs out.

This debate has been a very good vehicle for members of the Opposition-and I say this in no critical sense at all-to grapple with this question. I have seen some of the comments made in the House of Representatives and I have heard what Senator Short and the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chaney, have said tonight. I very much appreciate what I regard as sensible attempts to try to look at the problem in respect of a company of this size and significance and the level of assistance which is provided for it. All I can say is that on balance the Government felt that there should be a further opportunity given to this company in the circumstances which I have outlined. It is the sole capacity Australia has in terms of this machinery and on balance we felt it should be given a further opportunity. If the sum involved were much larger, the argument about resource allocation and so on would become far more significant. In another way, I suppose one could say against that that if one multiplied the Battenfelds of this world across the industry spectrum of Australia one would get quite a spread of resource allocations. These sorts of industry assistance measures would add up to something quite significant across the spectrum. On balance the Government made this decision and I have nothing further to add. I listened not unsympathetically to some of the criticisms which were offered. I understand them; we went through all of them in the course of reaching this decision. We reached it and time will be the judge of the wisdom of that decision. On balance, we came down on that side. I thank honourable senators for their support and comments.

Bill read a second time.