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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2784


Senator PARER(3.29) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I would like to say a few words about the Department of Trade's annual report. As an overview to the report the Department of Trade has pointed out what most of us already know; that is, that we have currently-and have had for quite some time-a serious deficit in our balance of trade. This serious deficit has been caused by many factors. Our terms of trade, our inability to compete, thus the increase in imports; and the virtual collapse of our manufacturing industry. But the Trade Department concentrates in a very positive way to the development of our overseas trade-that side of the ledger that is supposed to offset the imports that come into this country.

Australia historically has been a great trading country and the two areas in which it has been greatest have been on the agricultural trade side and on the minerals and energy side. I would like to concentrate a little on the minerals and energy side because I think it has the potential to do something about the balance of payments deficit which is confronting us, even though the terms of trade have been diminished. While the industry can make an enormous contribution and while the Department of Trade makes a very positive input, it seems to me that the Department suffers an undermining because of the domestic policies of this Government. Currently before us is the dispute about Kakadu National Park. I make the point that no one disputes that there are areas in Kakadu that should be preserved, but just as strongly I make the point that, with the financial and economic crisis we have in this country, we cannot afford to lock up forever some of the mineral deposits that are in Kakadu and which are not part of the areas which should be preserved.

It must be pointed out that the minerals and energy exports account for 37 per cent of Australia's total merchandise exports. One of the problems for the Department of Trade that was introduced in the Whitlam-Connor era was the introduction of export controls. I know the reasoning behind it. The thinking was, quite incorrectly, that somehow the introduction of these export controls would artificially lift or maintain the prices of our export products so that we did not somehow slip below the rest of the market. Having been involved in this, I can tell honourable senators that it was an utter failure. In no way did the introduction of export controls have any effect on the sort of prices we got for our mineral exports. I must say that I am amazed that Senator Gareth Evans, the Minister for Resources and Energy, in answer to a question I put to him yesterday about the possibility of a national coal authority, said:

The Government is considering, as it has been for some time since it is a matter of long-standing Party policy, the feasibility and desirability of establishing a national coal authority.

The thought of even introducing a bureaucratic monster such as a national coal authority-Senator Gareth Evans painted certain scenarios as to what that could be-is enough to damage the mining industry, of which the coal industry is part. We cannot afford to let this happen in this country today with our disastrous balance of payments situation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.