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Tuesday, 7 May 1985
Page: 1463

Senator FOREMAN(8.26) -I speak in support of the Automotive Industry Authority Amendment Bill 1985. This Bill contains amendments to the Automotive Industry Authority Act 1984, which will provide for financial assistance to projects concerned with the development of motor vehicles and components of Australian design. I am pleased to be able to support this Bill, which is another step in the Government's program to revitalise the motor industry. The motor vehicle building industry is one of the most important manufacturing industries in Australia. It is the largest component of our nation's engineering sector, employing some 6.8 per cent of all employees in the total manufacturing trade. Throughout Australia some 71,704 people are employed directly in the industry, and many more jobs than this are generated in a wide range of associated industries such as rubber, plastics, paint and glass.

In my home State of South Australia nearly 15,000 people are directly involved in motor vehicle assembly and component manufacture. This represents some 15.6 per cent of South Australia's work force. So in South Australia and in Australia as a whole the motor vehicle industry is an important part of the nation's industrial composition. Unfortunately, over the last 20 years the motor vehicle industry in Australia has declined in both efficiency and output. It has become very highly protected, while at the same time its performance has become increasingly less satisfactory. Our export trade has decreased, our vehicle manufactures have proliferated, as has the number of model lines they produce and, because of a lack of rationalisation, component manufacturers are either producing small numbers of a wide range of items or competing with each other for a share of the market. Australian car manufacturers have been reluctant to make changes. Rather than embark on research and development programs, they have tended to bury their heads in the sand and rely on government protection.

What Australia had was a badly organised motor industry which had suffered from piecemeal attempts to bolster it up over the years, so that it has become no longer a viable industry but has needed massive financial protection from the Government in order to survive. The establishment of the Automotive Industry Authority late last year set in motion a long term plan to put the industry back on its feet, to make it more responsible for itself, to give it more status and to make it economically more viable. The motor industry itself had recognised the need for some sort of central authority to help it out of the quagmire it had slipped into, and so the Car Industry Council, composed of representatives from all sectors of the motor industry, approached the Government with the request that it set up such a body. Thus the Automotive Industry Authority came into being to assist the motor industry to build on its strengths, emphasise its positive aspects and streamline its operations.

The Bill before us now seeks to put into operation one of the fundamental objectives of the Government's motor vehicle industry policy-to place the industry in a better competitive position against imports. Its purpose is to encourage the development of an identifiably Australian design in the motor vehicle. As a person who has been involved in the vehicle building industry, both as an employee and as a union representative, I am keenly aware of the importance to Australia of a viable and self-generating motor industry. I would be happy to see the proposals contained in this Bill come to fruition.

If we continue to export from this country cars which have been designed overseas and so are recognised as the product of another country, how can we hope to establish a demand for a purely Australian motor vehicle? How can we hope to compete seriously and effectively on the overseas market? We need to feel proud of the vehicles which we produce in this country. From a purely national point of view, Australians will identify with Australian-designed products. There has been a great and long overdue surge in national pride in the last few years, culminating in the elation every Australian felt when Australia II captured the America's Cup. Our country has at last come of age, and takes a rightful pride in exporting its own product, whether that product be human or material. Australia no longer regards itself as a poor relation of Europe and America, and Australians would be happy to identify with locally designed and manufactured motor vehicles as in the past they used to identify with the Holden. We need to see Australian cars achieve the same world fame and reputation as, say, the German Volkswagen or the English Morris.

From the point of view of the Australian economy, excellent and stylish Australian designs will enable the Australian motor vehicle manufacturers to compete successfully on world markets. New markets can be created, competition can be met and challenged, and there is the possibility that Australian-designed cars could become leaders in years to come. We must remember that during the 1960s a significant volume of Australian cars were exported overseas. General Motors-Holden's Ltd, for example, exported over 30 per cent of its product. We were a major vehicle exporting country. But since then we have fallen into the sorry state of what Senator Button terms an 'industrial colony'. However, it is always possible for us to again build up our export trade to equal, if not exceed, that of the 1960s. An increase in exports, together with the proposed reduction in the number of models, but longer production runs, are logical measures to increase the cost competitiveness of the industry. The export of built-up vehicles would employ the whole range of skill in the Australian automotive industry, and establish an international reputation for Australia's excellence in these skills. There is no reason why Australia should not aim for such goals as product quality and international reputation. Our workers are as skilled as any in the world, and we should not let ourselves be discouraged by the size of our population. The recent intensive advertising campaign by the Swedish Volvo company was aimed at illustrating the very point of a country with a small domestic market being able to establish a glowing international reputation by producing a car which has become a by-word for excellence.

As in recent years the decline of the motor industry has unfortunately been responsible for bringing about an increase in unemployment, it is good to see the new Automotive Industry Authority being established, under whose guidance the industry can gain new strengths and hopefully provide new opportunities for employment. At last we can see the possibility of the automotive industry becoming competitive and efficient, so that the strength of Australia's manufacturing industry can be maintained. It is with much pleasure that I commend this Bill to the Senate.