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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2892

Senator PARER(4.01) —I raise at this time the matter of export controls. I know that the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), in conjunction with the Minister for Trade (Mr Dawkins), inherited the whole business of export controls, but I believe they should not look on them as being engraved in granite. I think it is appropriate that we talk about the origin of export controls, their progress and what I believe was a complete and utter waste of time for many years, not only by governments but also by companies and the industry. I think the whole effect of export controls has been to the detriment of the development of the mining industry in Australia in general and the coal industry in particular.

Export controls were first introduced in 1972 by the incoming Whitlam Government and the then Minister, Mr Rex Connor. The reason for their introduction was the false allegations that emanated from certain sections of the trade union movement-not all of them-who lived in the dark ages, who were fearful of the introduction of modern equipment and who felt--

Senator Gareth Evans —Madam Chair, I must draw to your attention the fact that this is not a matter that is administered by this portfolio. It is not an area that involves any outlay in the Budget Estimates that one can point to in any line of the entire appropriations. Moreover, the honourable senator is embarking on a historical description which bears no resemblance to any current policy matter. The first two points are the relevant ones. There must be some limits in terms of the Standing Orders to what can properly be debated in the Committee stage.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —I draw the attention of honourable senators to the fact that some of them have been engaging in second reading type debate. We are dealing with the Appropriation Bills and examining details of the Estimates. I ask honourable senators to relate their remarks specifically to the Estimates of this Department.

Senator PARER —Thank you, Madam Temporary Chairman. The point that I am making relates to more than just export controls, which have an effect, a cost, directly and indirectly on both the Department of Resources and Energy and the industry, an industry which I believe is vital to this country. I refer Senator Evans to an answer he gave to me in Question Time a couple of days ago about the consideration being given by him and his Government to the feasibility of establishing a national coal authority. The Minister made it clear that there was a difference between a national coal marketing authority performing functions along the lines of those performed by the Australian Wheat Board, and what the proposed coal authority could or could not do. I think it is important that I refer to the basis for the continuation of what I believe is an archaic practice which was wrong in its initial implementation. People tried to make it work. I say that quite seriously. People in the industry tried desperately to make it work, not only in the period of the Whitlam Government but also through the days of the Fraser-Anthony Government. Its effect was actually detrimental to the progress of the mining industry in general and the coal mining industry in particular. It involved interference from the Government and the bureaucracy, and to what end?

The existence of these controls, in which Senator Evans certainly has a lot of interest, did not, even in one instance, add one cent to the price that we obtained in Australia for our raw materials, particularly coal. In fact there is evidence, and many examples can be given, of mines which did not proceed because of the existence of export controls. Markets were lost and customers went elsewhere. They could not be bothered with the bureaucracy and all the nonsense that went on. More important were the interminable meetings that companies and the industry had prior to meeting with government. What did they achieve? They achieved absolutely nothing. Now the sub-committee on coal of the Caucus resources and trade committee is recommending the introduction of a national coal authority. A national coal authority smacks of a national coal board.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Townley) —Order! Senator Parer seems to be making a speech in a second reading debate rather than questioning a particular line of the Estimates. To which line is he relating?

Senator PARER —Perhaps I will come to the matter more directly. Senator Evans is aware of the whole problem. I will summarise it and ask him a question. Senator Evans will be aware of the cost of export controls not only to the industry but also to his Department and the Department of Trade. He is aware of the fact that there are conflicting views as to whether these things should go ahead. I wish to ask him whether he recognises that the controls are not working, that they are an enormous cost to this country and are detrimental to industry. Why does he not grasp the nettle and suggest to the Government that it do away with the whole gamut of export controls?