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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2626

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(4.32) —I think the Senate is being asked by the Government to consider five Bills cognately. I think we may as well clear that up with the Government. I have no wish to get the Government's program for it, but if it is interested in getting its program it might tell us.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Townley) —Is it the wish of the Senate that the Bills be dealt with cognately? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

Senator CHANEY —In that case, in the course of this speech I shall address the Opposition's attitude to the Bounty and Subsidy Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1986, the Bounty (Ship Repair) Bill 1986, the Navigation Amendment Bill 1986, the Subsidy (Cultivation Machines and Equipment) Bill 1986 and the Fertilisers Subsidy Bill 1986. These Bills are significant. The Opposition opposes a couple of the items of legislation.

Before moving to outline the Opposition's attitude to each of the Bills, I make the point that the measures are brought forward and the debate takes place at a time when there is really unprecedented interest in the future of Australian manufacturing industry. That interest arises from the fact that the Government's economic policy does not seem to be able to cope with the difficulties which Australia is facing in the international economic community at the moment. It would appear that our balance of payments is deteriorating even more than the Government anticipated at the time of the Budget. In the first four months of this year we have a deficit $6m short of $6,000m. All the serious economic commentators predict no relief for Australia in terms of our commodity trade and our sale of primary produce. It is always possible that the predictions are wrong and undoubtedly we will see fluctuations in commodity prices and in the prices of our primary products, but I think it would be a very foolish government and a very foolish country which proceeded to look at its economic future and to govern this country today other than on the basis that we face very significant difficulty in our ongoing balance of payments.

In that environment it is not surprising that there is great interest in what can be done about Australian manufacturing industry. It is important to note that, on the Government's own assessments, we are not operating in a very happy environment. There are some areas of signal success. For example, the steel plan has given a very significant lift in the efficiency of that industry and a very great lift in its profitability. One would hope its future is assured. I have just had representatives of the plastics industry talking to me about the growth in that industry which is taking place at present and which is predicted to continue. Whilst one can look at some other areas of success, it is important to remember that this debate is taking place in the general environment in which the Government's own predictions are for a decline in private investment. The Government's own statements on what is happening in manufacturing industry are not very different from those that are being made by outside observers.

I referred in Question Time this afternoon to the comments of Dr Peter Brain, who was speaking at an Economic Society of Australia seminar on exports in Melbourne yesterday. He was reported as expressing pessimism about the future of the Australian economy until a consensus emerged about how to deal with the problem. Dr Brain talked about an approach which certainly does not appear to lock in tightly with what this Government is doing at the moment. I cited to Senator Button this afternoon Dr Brain's remarks about the loss of the benefits of the devaluation to manufacturers because of the higher import costs which manufacturing industry is sustaining. I refer to the Bureau of Industry Economics publication on manufactured exports and the 1985 devaluation. It was pointed out that in general the cost increases for firms in the manufacturing sector have been of the same order as the export price increases since 1984. I do not want to speak at great length on the general situation but I think it is important to note that these very specific measures we are dealing with in the Senate this afternoon are part of a much wider pattern which requires that the national mind be focused on what is our future in manufacturing industry and how we can better improve that future. I would suggest that the Government has failed to achieve that very necessary situation.

The second point is that there has been a very healthy movement in the debate away from a concentration on the sort of matters that we are addressing this afternoon-namely, bounties, tariffs and industry assistance-in favour of an emphasis on doing something about the cost burdens which make industry assistance necessary in this country. It was healthy that the chemical industry in its submission to the Industries Assistance Commission report took the trouble to identify for the Government $400m worth of costs within the control or influence of government which make that industry uncompetitive and require it to seek tariff assistance. The industry pointed out that it obtained something like $200m worth of benefit under the old tariff regime which has now been supplanted and that partially compensated it for costs, including taxation costs, to the tune of $400m.

It went on to specify things such as transport costs, work practices, general labour market practices, the lack of uniform safety regulations, prohibitions on the use of foreign shipping, the non-commercial pricing of electricity, and so on. On behalf of the Opposition I say that whatever time we spend debating these issues of industry assistance, it ought to be remembered that we are arguing on the periphery of the problems that face manufacturing industry in Australia. What we are dealing with in this narrow aspect of the Government's industry policy is of absolutely minimal importance when one compares it to the interest rate regime with which this Government has saddled this country. How anyone can be expected to invest in manufacturing and do other than maintain production with existing plants when interest rates are around 20 per cent beggars description.

The general reluctance to invest in this country is easily understood when one sees the general economic framework which is being provided by the Government. It does not matter whether one looks at the tax regime-both the burden of the tax and the way the tax is being implemented-the labour market, the grossly inefficient work practices which flourish in this country or the grossly inefficient transport sector. Perhaps I should mention interest rates again. One sees a pattern of factors which surround investment decisions which makes being a member of the Public Service look like God's gift to a human being, because at least a public servant can draw his salary from the taxpayer and know that his superannuation can be collected. He can put his savings, meagre as they might be, into a deposit account and earn interest at the rate of 15 per cent. Who in the world will invest in manufacturing industry when such nice options are available to them? The noted trade unionist, Mr Fitzgibbon, said the other day that he thought that investment in Australian companies was pretty hard to justify when one could get the sort of returns that one can by depositing money in an account, rather than running the risk of making something.

If one looks at the report of the Australian Manufacturing Council, which was released a week or so ago, and which sets out to identify the key issues which need to be addressed to facilitate Australian manufacturing industry becoming more outward oriented and, consequently, more export market driven, it is notable that industry assistance of this sort does not feature as a very prominent part of the scene which needs to be addressed. There is a good deal of generalisation in that report with which it would be hard to disagree. I suppose that I would share my major disagreement with that of Mr Carmichael, who complained, although he is deputy chairman, about the lack of urgency which came through in the report. I totally agree with that. I think that both the Government and the Manufacturing Council tend to behave as though we have 10 years in which to solve our problems. I do not think that that is true.

What one finds in the report is a reaffirmation of what is a sort of motherhood phrase on these matters. It states:

It is . . . imperative for the national economy that manufacturing industry becomes more outwards oriented, by efficiently replacing imports and expanding exports.

It refers to the need for attitudinal and structural changes within manufacturing enterprises and sectors. It states:

. . . strategies and policies to foster changes in attitudes, market orientation and capabilities are needed, but the nature of these issues, suggests that the effects of such strategies and policies will mostly be medium to longer term.

That is a very gloomy statement, given the crisis we face in regard to our balance of payments today. Most importantly, I think, the report points out:

. . . a strong increase in manufacturing investment and productivity will be essential. However investment will only occur within a favourable economic environment, which includes expectations that there will be sustained market growth and continued improvements in cost structures, industry profitability and interest rates.

I think it is the gloomy truth that we are debating these five Bills in a situation in which nobody can say that there is a favourable economic environment. Nobody can say that there are expectations that there will be sustained market growth, unless people manage to export. Nobody can say that there are continued improvements in cost structures in this country. Nobody can say that interest rates are other than a gross disincentive to investment. I refer to that report, and to the elements which it sets out as being relevant to provide a growth environment. I point out that in those element one does not actually find reference to the sort of industry assistance which is part of this package. Indeed, I wanted to quote from that report, because it basically explains why we want to chuck out some of these Bills. Some of them, I think, are quite contrary to the interests of the future of industry in this country.

I single out for generalised comment the Bounty (Ship Repair) Bill. The country is facing disaster. It is not competitive and it has to do all of the things which have been identified by the Australian Manufacturing Council. This Government is proffering millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to try to get trade unions to stop behaving like naughty boys and engaging in extraordinary restrictive practices, including the hijacking of ships. If it is the view of the present Government that we can solve Australia's problems by purchasing occasional relief from what is virtually illegal conduct, all I can say is that the country is doomed. We have no prospect of buying our way out of trouble on that basis.

What this country needs is some leadership and strength-the sort of strength that was displayed by a Labor government as I understand it, in dealing with the New South Wales State dockyard. It said: `We won't let contracts where ships are hijacked'. It faced up to the fact that there was no future in that sort of behaviour. But this Government has one of its endless tripartite-or, in this case, four-way-discussions and offers millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to bribe people out of behaving in a most disgraceful way. I say simply that the Opposition does not believe that there is any future for Australia if we maintain that approach to industry policy. Indeed, there is no future for Australia if we allow that sort of thing to continue. What is required is the clearest possible understanding on the part of both management and the work force that if we are to solve our problems it requires some honesty of purpose, hard work, dedication and application by both management and labour.

I now turn to the Bills, but I make no apology for talking in a more general way before coming to the details, because it is the framework which is so much more important than these attempts by government to make up for some of the deficiencies of our cost structure in this country. I concede that the implications of the Bills are wide-ranging and quite significant. Perhaps the most important Bill is the Bounty and Subsidy Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) which implements the Budget decision to cut almost all bounty rates by 20 per cent. That decision epitomises the Hawke Government's cavalier attitude to manufacturing industry and its total disregard for the need for a stable investment environment. The Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, unfortunately, cannot be with us during this debate. He explained that he had other commitments and that he will reply to the debate in due course. It is a disgraceful decision, which Senator Button has made no attempt to defend on industry grounds.

It is a decision which cannot be opposed by the Opposition in a voting sense because we are committed to allowing the passage of the Government's Budget legislation. We have avoided making decisions on legislation which will reduce the revenue or increase the expenditure of government, because the situation in the country is so perilous that it would be wrong for us, from the Opposition benches, to seek to remake the Budget. It would place the blame for our perilous situation in the wrong quarter. We cannot vote against this decision, but I would like to make absolutely clear our condemnation of it. It is a decision which flies in the face of all of the principles which have been so ably argued by Minister Button in terms of what is required for industry to have a future in this country.

One of the principles which he has endorsed is predictability. He endorsed the previous Government's textile, clothing and footwear regime in the interests of having stability for investment and predictability. This Government, because of its mismanagement, because of its excessive expenditure in other areas, has made a totally unprincipled decision to make an across the board 20 per cent cut in bounties which, as the Minister has made clear, is not possible to justify on industry policy grounds.

Senator Siddons —Pure ad hockery.

Senator CHANEY —Pure ad hockery, as Senator Siddons points out. Another area which is of great concern to us is the proposed amendment in regard to fertiliser subsidies so that the subsidy will apply only to domestically produced fertilisers. This is a much more difficult matter. In the Oppositions' view there are valid arguments on both sides. On balance, the Opposition believes that, as the objective of the consumption subsidy is to assist farmers and to provide them with a subsidy which will lower their costs-it is not a subsidy which is provided to assist manufacturers; it is a consumption subsidy for farmers-the pre-Budget situation should prevail. I will outline the reasons for that in more detail later. But suffice to say that the Opposition will also oppose that Bill. I turn to the Subsidy (Cultivation Machines and Equipment) Bill which implements a promise made in the Government's rural and economic policy statement earlier this year. The Opposition generally favours bounty instead of tariff assistance, chiefly because the prices of the assisted goods are not affected. Of course, the big drawback of bounties is that they swallow up revenue. This is the overriding constraint on their use. They do have the advantage of transparency, but it could also be said that that is a significant disadvantage at a time of budgetary restraint.

The Opposition will raise a couple of concerns held by major local producers about the proposed bounty scheme and, indeed, their concern that the bounty should be extended to goods produced for export, but at this stage it does not propose any substantial amendments, depending finally on the explanations given by the Minister during the Committee stage of the Bill. However, we will be proposing amendments to the Bounty (Ship Repair) Bill 1986 and the Bounty (Cultivation Machines and Equipment) Bill 1986 to remove the so-called orderly development clauses from that legislation.

I turn now to the Bounty and Subsidy Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1986. This Bill amends the shipbuilding bounty in line with the Government's decision to impose a ceiling on all bounty claims of $144m over three years. It also implements the across the board bounty cuts of 20 per cent, which I mentioned a few minutes ago. The Opposition has no objection to the imposition of a cash limit on the shipbuilding bounty, nor to the proposed additional but partial scaling down of the rate to 15 per cent in 1988. The bounty is still reasonably generous and the Opposition acknowledges the need for budgetary restraint and the reasonably healthy state of the industry.

However, the Opposition does propose to amend proposed sub-section (11) in clause 11 and proposed sub-section (11) in clause 12. The effect of these amendments is to delete the so-called orderly development provisions which give the Minister discretion to refuse registration of premises or persons if he believes such registration would not be in the interests of the industry's development. When those clauses were introduced in 1985 the Opposition went no further than to express reservations about the need for `some form of mechanism to keep people out and to make judgments about who should be entitled to a bounty and who should not'. I addressed that matter in the Senate on 31 May last year. We did not oppose the provision at that time. We have given it further consideration and the Opposition is determined that it must actively oppose those provisions, which appear to be becoming standard in all bounty and subsidy Acts, as a way of expressing our general opposition to the increasingly bureaucratic direction of Australian industry.

In addition, the Minister has stated that the shipbuilding industry has benefited from devaluation. If this is the case, the constraints of an orderly development clause may be stifling competitive pressures. In other words, we do not see it as being the place of the government to be putting the sort of limit which the Minister is establishing in these bounty Bills on entry into an industry. We think the proper course is for the Government to limit entry by ensuring that the competitive pressures are so great that only those people who will be developing an efficient industry will wish to enter.

The second major provision in this Bill is the reduction by 20 per cent of most bounty rates, which I have already discussed. We will not vote against the amendments, for the reasons I have outlined, but we will continue to criticise the decision in the strongest possible terms. There has been a fair degree of common ground between the industry policy of the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) and the Opposition. Senator Button has often stated the need for predictability and stability in government policy and these principles are endorsed by us. Budget decision effectively undermines the Government's own industry policy. The decision is non-neutral; that is, the only people who will be affected by this cut are those who get bounty assistance. People who receive tariff assistance, of course, are not affected. It is a quite discriminatory change which affects only the small number of industries that receive bounty assistance. It flouts the intention of section 23 of the Industries Assistance Commission Act 1973 which says that the IAC must review an industry before the Minister changes industries assistance arrangements, and it flies in the face of Senator Button's stated aim of continuity and predictability in industry policy. The sleeping Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, is probably the architect of this rather than Senator Button. He has obviously worn himself out in his labours to convince Senator Button that he should behave in this insane way and is choosing this debate as a time to rest after his herculean labours.

The erratic and inconsistent approach which this decision represents is not the exception under the Hawke Government. Its recent decisions on business taxation, which again fly in the face of the policies being pursued by the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce and which have been somewhat coyly objected to by the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, are yet another example.

I return to the Bounty (Ship Repair) Bill and the Navigation Amendment Bill. Earlier this year the Government announced its long awaited $90m heavy engineering assistance package. That scheme has been under way officially for some months but as yet hardly anyone has met the prerequisites in order to receive assistance. One of the conditions for receiving assistance is the removal of restrictive work and management practices but, as is obvious from the questions which were asked during the Estimates Committee in the Senate a month or so ago, progress in these areas has become bogged down while a committee tries to decide what a restrictive work practice actually is. I suspect that the heavy engineering package is a classic example of the fallacy of trying to provide bureaucratic solutions to what are essentially problems of getting a more flexible system. The heavy engineering package will need to be watched with great care, not only by the Government but also by this Parliament, because I think there is a potential there to waste taxpayers' money and to be fairly ineffective.

The proposed ship repair bounty is a more blatant attempt to buy peace on the waterfront. Peace on the waterfront would be wonderful, but should taxpayers have to reward badly behaved unions for doing what they should be doing in the first place? In addition, given the notable lack of success of the heavy engineering package so far, it must be questioned how effective any of these packages can be in improving employer-employee relations. Maritime unions are one of the strikingly famous aspects of our country. Certainly internationally they have a reputation; unfortunately, it is a very bad reputation. The Australian waterfront has an infamous history of industrial strife. One of the less charming ploys is to extort payment for repairs and cleaning. Ships are virtually held to ransom and shippers must pay for often unnecessary repairs before being released. The Baltic and International Maritime Conference described the activities as `bordering on the criminal'. I think the word `bordering' might be a very kind word indeed. This year the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union has stepped up its extortion campaign and the dispute over the Caltex oil tanker in July is perhaps the most outstanding example.

I could go on at some length to refer to the disgraceful behaviour to which this legislation is a quite wrong response, but perhaps we can leave some of that debate to the Committee stage when the Minister is here. Suffice to say that it seems a very extraordinary thing for the Government to be rewarding that sort of behaviour with this sort of assistance from the taxpayers' purse. In a report on the maritime industries in the early 1980s Dr Peter Stubbs concluded:

Until unions in Australia become fully aware of the implications of abusing their power one must doubt that there will be real harmony and prosperity in the maritime industries.

It must be questioned how the Government's bounty scheme will work towards this very desirable and, indeed, essential objective. It can be argued that this scheme provides an incentive for unions to misbehave in order to extract a larger bounty allocation. Importantly, the scheme does nothing to break the monopoly union power in the industry and it is this which must be addressed if our ports and shipping services are to compete internationally. The scheme could be described as being morally wrong. For this and the other reasons I have outlined it will be opposed by the Opposition.

We do not, on the other hand, propose to vote against the complementary amendment to the Navigation Act. Although the Minister's powers of detention of ships are to be extended, we believe that the criteria for this, relating to health and safety standards, are more reasonable. However, while the Minister must take note of criteria agreed to in tripartite consultation, these are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and disallowance. The Opposition will carefully monitor the effect of this change to the law because quite obviously this could be abused, just as the unions have abused their power to detain ships. It is always possible that changes which are put forward, supposedly to protect the health and safety of crew, will be used as a front for other things. It will be quite important that ship owners and this Parliament carefully scrutinise the orders which are brought forward and which are subject to parliamentary disallowance. The Opposition would want to put the Government on notice that we would expect the conditions to properly relate to health and safety standards in a quite rigorous way and that we would expect the Government to maintain very high standards of behaviour. That, of course, means that the bureaucracy must maintain high standards of behaviour in ensuring that this provision is not abused.

I turn now to the fertilisers amendment. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) announced in his Budget speech that the Government had decided to limit payment of consumer subsidies on fertilisers to fertilisers which are produced locally. Since 1982 subsidies have been paid on imports of phosphatic fertilisers so that there is neutral treatment of domestically produced fertilisers and imports. In the Budget Papers the reason given for the change is the increase in assistance to local producers without affecting the level of overall assistance to farmers. The second reading speech of the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) adds another reason, that of reducing imports and therefore easing pressures on the trade balance. On the figures I have been able to get I think the estimates are $14m and $15m alteration to the trade balance respectively. Given the $6,000m imbalance which was incurred in the first four months of this financial year, not a very dramatic contribution, if ultimately any contribution, will be made by that change.

The Opposition believes that the restriction of the subsidy to purchasers of domestic fertilisers will adversely affect those farmers who must continue to purchase imports of high analysis phosphatic fertilisers which, at the moment, are not produced in adequate quantities in Australia. This is a time of severe financial hardship for many rural producers, especially grain producers. The Opposition does not believe that these farmers should arbitrarily be made worse off. Moreover, while the Government maintains that farmers overall will continue to reap the full benefit of the $55m annual subsidy, the Opposition is concerned that an administrative mechanism will not be as effective as import competition in restraining domestic prices. Competitive pressure on the local industry must be reduced by the change which the Government has introduced. It must produce a lessening of the downward pressure on prices of fertilisers in this country.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that the local fertiliser manufacturing industry is not inefficient. The Industries Assistance Commission estimates that it receives effective assistance within the range of minus 2 per cent and zero. It is impeded by high cost shipping contracts and high cost imports of raw materials. This industry has the potential to develop efficiently and the Opposition urges measures which will reduce these impediments, high shipping costs especially. However, it is the Opposition's view that, if the objective of the consumption subsidy is to assist farmers-this was the original intention and the Government has not said anything to the contrary-the status quo should prevail. It is also worth noting that in 1985 the Industries Assistance Commission recommended against restriction of the subsidy to domestic fertilisers. (Extension of time granted) I opened my comments on the fertilisers decision by saying that there are valid arguments on both sides. In our view, in the current circumstances where Australian farmers are under enormous pressure, many suffering tremendous hardship-not least because of the very high interest rate policy which is being pursued by this Government in its desperate determination to hold the dollar at its present level-we must give the farming community the benefit of the doubt.

I now turn to the cultivation machinery bounty. This is a matter on which various concerns have been raised with the Opposition. The provision is part of the Government's rural assistance package. As part of that package the Government announced that it would help reduce machinery costs for farmers by replacing the tariff on cultivation machinery with a bounty. The Industries Assistance Commission was asked to determine the appropriate rate of bounty so that the level of assistance given to the industry was maintained. The Industries Assistance Commission recommended a bounty rate of 12.5 per cent, but due to the very unfortunate timing from the industry's point of view, to the fact that this recommendation has come forward at the same time as the Government has made an across-the-board, ad hoc 20 per cent cut in bounties, the industry has lost 20 per cent of the promised assistance and the Government is now proposing to legislate to provide a bounty of 10 per cent.

In a sense this small example of what the Government is doing with bounties serves to demonstrate very well just how utterly unprincipled and unfair the Budget decision is. There was an announcement earlier this year that the Government was going to assist farmers by providing an offset to the tariff, the offset to the tariff being calculated as a bounty. Then, without any reference to the needs of farmers, manufacturers or anybody else, the bounty is reduced from 12.5 to 10 per cent. There is no logic, there is no reason, there is no sense, there is no justice in that.

Quite apart from the problems I have just addressed, some manufacturers have raised concern about the Industries Assistance Commission's calculation of the tariff equivalent rate of bounty. They argue that the Industries Assistance Commission has miscalculated the figures and that the bounty should be increased to 11 per cent. The difference in the calculation of the bounty rate revolves around estimation of Customs clearance and wharfage charges. Briefly, the higher the estimate of those charges the lower the bounty, or vice versa. Local producers reckon that the IAC estimates, which are allegedly based on experience, are far too high and they have proffered documentation of transactions to prove their point. These concerns have been raised by the Opposition with the Minister. He has responded that the industry's evidence has been submitted to the IAC for examination. However, the industry now claims that the Industries Assistance Commission has not been asked to re-examine the estimates of wharfage and clearance costs; in other words, it has checked the actual cost of the product but it has not checked the wharfage and clearance costs which are in fact the points at issue. I am glad to see some of the Minister's advisers making some notes because I would expect the Minister to be in a position to satisfy us on this point when we deal with the Committee stage of this Bill, which may not be until next week.

The Opposition is concerned that, in a situation in which the Government has already deprived the industry of one-fifth of the bounty which was promised, there might also be a shaving of the bounty which has been caused by arithmetic errors in the calculations by the Industries Assistance Commission. I gather that the Minister has told the industry-therefore I do not think it matters if I say that it is what the Minister told me-that he would not expect to personally have to check the arithmetic calculations, and I agree with that. One would expect that, with the handsome group of bureaucrats he has advising him, he would be able to call on plenty of assistance. However, it appears that to this point those matters have not yet been fully dealt with. I put the Minister on notice that, at the Committee stage of this Bill, I expect him to be able to give us a very convincing and complete explanation of the arithmetic calculations. There is no point in trying to play a game of bluff on this matter. I have already indicated that the Opposition will not support amendments which increase the total cost to revenue. We simply wish, by exposing the arguments, to see the Government honour its promises and meet its obligations if, as the industry claims, there have been arithmetic errors which would warrant some adjustment to the bounty.

It has been raised with me by manufacturers-I think it is accepted by the Government as it is certainly accepted by the Opposition-that manufacturers in this area are under very significant pressure at the moment. I think most of them are in a loss situation. So these decisions are of more than academic interest to them. It has been suggested by one manufacturer that the Government should consider extending the bounty to exports. Again, the Minister has done that with respect to some bounty areas. There is some economic logic, in a situation in which we are saying that we wish to encourage industries to be outward looking, export oriented and internationally competitive, to encourage them to pursue overseas markets. I ask the Minister to consider that matter and to give us some response, either in his reply to the second reading debate or at the Committee stage of this Bill.

Other matters have been raised with respect to this legislation. The larger manufacturers have requested a minimum eligibility threshold-for instance, 25 per cent local value added-as a minimum requirement for the bounty to apply. On this point the Opposition has considered the industry's representation but it agrees with the contrary view that to restrict bounty payments to certain producers would alter the pattern of assistance previously afforded by the tariff, which was not the intention of this change. Also, I think it would be inconsistent with the general approach we have adopted about trying to encourage flexibility in the economy rather than further restrictions. There are, however, three additional concerns. Again, I raise them because I think they need the Minister's attention. Apparently there have been problems in devising a reasonably simple claim form for the bounty payment. The original form is being redrafted, but manufacturers have been told that even when it becomes available there will be delays in processing claims because of staff shortages. Can the Minister give an assurance that claims for payment will not be delayed?

When I was assisting a Minister for Education I can remember delays occurring in the payment of student allowances. It always seemed to me that there was a quite simple way to prevent delays in payment-that is, to make the employment of public servants who are responsible for making the payments conditional on the requirement that they will not be paid until the payments for which they are responsible have been made. I always had a feeling that this more lateral approach would solve the problem immediately and I would commend it to the Government for consideration. I am sure that there would be enormous consumer satisfaction if this approach were adopted. The public servants themselves would breathe easy as they made the payments to the citizens who were entitled to them and then they would be able to go off and get their well earned cheques.

The other matters I want to raise concern the industry's concern about long term assistance and its request for an inquiry by the Industries Assistance Commission. The cultivation machinery industry is experiencing severe problems, not least because of the generally depressed state of the rural economy. I ask the Minister to give an indication of whether and when such a reference will be accepted. The industry has also requested an extension of the bounty to production of exports. As I previously mentioned, this would represent a quite substantial increase in the level of assistance to the industry, and, as I did a few minutes ago, I ask the Minister to respond to that request.

Finally, as I have already mentioned, the Opposition will propose an amendment to delete clause 23 (8), which gives the Minister discretion to refuse the registration of premises if he considers that such registration will not contribute to the orderly development of the industry. I have already outlined the reasons for this.

I always think that giving consideration to these large and complex pieces of legislation is a vivid reminder of the extent to which the Australian national energy has been directed into thoroughly unproductive paths. Many people of talent and enthusiasm spend their time wading through these extraordinarily complex areas of law and administration, be they public servants, manufacturers or those who are seeking to benefit from the activities of manufacturers. I would simply go back to the point at which I started and say that the more this country can concentrate on reducing costs and getting genuine flexibility into our economy, the more likely it is that we will solve some of the fundamental industry problems that I believe the present Minister is trying to tackle in a very conscientious way. However, I believe there is a danger that in his approach he will wind up leaving us with more complex bureaucratic mechanisms which, in time, will atrophy and become themselves a problem. I look forward to getting the support of the Australian Democrats in the defeat of those couple of iniquitous Bills that we have chosen to oppose. I also look forward to getting their support on our amendments, which just shows that I am an incurable optimist.