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Friday, 3 April 1987
Page: 1823

Senator McKIERNAN —My question to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce relates to the report of the Inglis Committee of Review on Government High Technology Purchasing Arrangements which has been publicly released and is currently being considered by the Government. Given that there have been allegations put by some sectors of the business and trade union communities that government agencies have shown bias against the purchase of Australian products, is there any evidence being proffered to substantiate the claims? Does the Minister accept the allegations? When will the Government respond to the report?

Senator BUTTON —I am not sure that `bias' is the correct word. It may be appropriate, but it may be too strong a word to describe the purchasing habits of some government departments which have developed over a number of years. I think those purchasing habits reflected a general tendency in the Australian community to rely on exports of raw materials as the salvation of this country and to consider that imports of equipment and machinery were of better quality. Also, there were significant incentives in some departments to purchase from overseas. For example, duty is not paid on equipment purchased from overseas and there are, of course, trips to be had for purchasing officers to purchase equipment overseas which would not be available to them if equipment was purchased in Australia. I am just saying that these general environmental factors have probably influenced the habits of certain departments.

Some of these concerns led the Government to set up the Inglis Committee of Review to recommend action to enable Australian suppliers, particularly of high technology products, to compete on an equitable basis with overseas suppliers of government purchases. Government orders can provide valuable initial markets for high technology firms, enabling them to develop products which are competitive on world markets. Some people who are advocates of an entirely free market should examine, for example, the situation in the United States where the defence budget is an enormous supporter of high technology companies and research and development in the United States. Also, the Buy American Act is an Act which is frequently invoked in support of local manufacturers in the United States. I am not suggesting that we should necessarily follow that track; I am just making a point about what happens in other countries. Government purchasing can play a significant role in industry development. The report of the Inglis Committee, chaired by Sir Brian Inglis, is now under intensive study by the Government. The Government will be announcing a detailed response as soon as practicable.