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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 2702

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(6.29) —As I mentioned during the second reading debate, we had some indication from the Australian Democrats that they were proposing to move these amendments. The Opposition will not support the amendments because we are not prepared to vote against the decision on the basis that it is a Budget decision and it would affect the revenue position of the Government. I do not think it is realised in the community just what a serious predicament the Australian economy is in. I do not think it is fully understood that our balance of payments situation continues to be drastically bad and that turning the situation around will be very difficult. One of the things the Opposition has continually asserted is that there should be reductions in government expenditure. It would be quite inconsistent with the general demand that we have been making on the Government that it reduces its expenditure if we then supported amendments in this Budget process which increased the expenditure.

I would like to stress to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) that the reason we are not supporting the Australian Democrats' amendment is our overriding concern for the state of the economy and for the need to restrain government expenditure generally. I totally agree with what Senator Siddons had to say about this flying in the face of all desirable industry policy, and indeed flying in the face of the sorts of policies and approaches which the Minister at the table, Senator Button, has himself advocated over the last 3 1/2 years. There are in particular a couple of points that I wanted to raise with the Minister and on which I would seek his response.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator CHANEY —Before the suspension of the sitting I was indicating that whilst I supported the views that were put forward by Senator Siddons as to the undesirability of the 20 per cent bounty cut made by the Government in its Budget when examined from an industry policy point of view-the Minister has made no attempt to defend it on an industry policy point of view; he has made it quite clear that this was a decision that was based on the Government's need to reduce expenditures-there were a couple of points on which I sought the Minister's response. Unfortunately, the Minister cannot be with us now but I mentioned to him at the point of the suspension of the sitting the points I was going to raise. No doubt the officials will be able to assist the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes), who is at the table, with his response.

I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that immediately after the Budget I raised the bounty cut with Senator Button and he said in response to a question without notice that he would examine the impact of the decision on particular industries. Subsequently, in a Senate Estimates committee Senator Button confirmed that this examination was under way. I asked the Minister to advise the Committee what progress, if any, there was to report. In particular I would be interested to know what examinations the Minister undertook to make. What action was taken by him? It is quite clear that different industry sectors have seen a substantial reduction in their properly estimated cash flow and the invalidation of some of their investment decisions made on the faith of the Government's undertaking to pursue particular policies. I would like to know precisely what the Government has done to carry out what Senator Button said he would do, namely to examine the impact of the decision on particular industries.

The second point-and the Government is in the happy position of having the Opposition committed not to increasing its outlays in the course of dealing with this Budget legislation-is that the Government had shown itself prepared to review bounty decisions with respect to particular industries. One of the industries affected by the 20 per cent bounty cut is the book industry. The proposed book bounty legislation, which is before us and which I suppose I am not entitled to debate under Standing Orders, provides for a change in the treatment which the Government had undertaken to give the book industry. Although the Minister might respond by saying `we are adjusting the general regime of bounty assistance for books rather than the Budget decision' the fact is that book producers were faced with the situation where under the existing assistance arrangements there was a cut in bounty. That was then added to by the Budget cuts. The fact is that the Government has chosen to step back from the previously announced reduction which was part of the general scheme of assistance and has deferred the longer term consideration of that book bounty until it receives the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on Paper Pulp and Printing. There is another reference closely related to it and I make no objection to the Government considering those two things in tandem. The two points on which I seek comment from the Minister are first, to let the Committee know just what, if anything, has been done to meet Senator Button's earlier undertakings, and secondly, why is it that the Government sees itself able to make adjustments with respect to one industry but not to the rest?