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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2088


Senator PUPLICK(3.36) —The report of the Industries Assistance Commission on pulp, paper, paper products and printing industries is a very important report, indeed a voluminous report, running into some hundreds of pages of discussion and some 22 attached appendices. The report recommends a cut in the top paper tariff to 15 per cent and a reduction after 31 December 1991 of the book bounty to 13.5 per cent over a two-year period. These recommendations, if implemented, are likely to help the printing industries by cutting the cost of paper imports.

However, I express some concern that once again the book bounty is a matter of continuing scrutiny. Although the recommendation is that the bounty continue until 31 December 1991, some real decision has to be made about whether the ultimate objective is to phase out the bounty altogether, or whether it will simply be done by a series of moves, by winding it down a couple of percentage points every couple of years. I do not object to that but I think we need some sort of clarification of whether it is the Government's intention to discontinue it altogether.

It is important to understand the dimension of the pulp and paper industry and the printing industry in Australia. In 1985-86 the revenue for the industry amounted to nearly $1.6 billion and this included a very healthy component of $46m worth of export sales. There are a number of peculiar features of the industry that need to be addressed in the long term. For instance, members of the Pulp and Paper Manufacturers Federation of Australia Ltd have estimated that they spend about $150m annually or 10 per cent of the industry turnover simply on direct transport charges. I know that the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) and the Government have taken a number of steps to look into the impact of transport charges on industry as a whole, but this is one industry that has a number of peculiar features in which the transport costs, amounting to 10 per cent of industry turnover, are clearly a matter of special concern.

One of the recommendations in the report, and one that I hope the Government will be able to act upon, is that Canadian preferences should be discontinued after a two-year period. This industry in Australia is very adversely affected by dumping practices. Dumping practices from Brazil, Chile, Portugal and South Africa have had an impact on the domestic position of this industry and a number of specific subsidies have been paid in the Canadian pulp and paper industry. For instance, quite recently a new fine paper mill in Quebec was constructed at a cost of $Can1.2 billion, using interest free loans of $Can150m, together with a cash grant of more than $Can20m, provided by the Province of Quebec. The industry is right to draw attention to the fact that a number of policies on subsidies and dumping have adversely affected its domestic position. I am glad that the Canadian preference system, which I was surprised to find still in operation, is recommended for discontinuation in the Industries Assistance Commission report.

Two other points in the report should be brought to the Senate's attention. The first is the need for a comprehensive review of electricity pricing policies-something that lies within the control of the States, but I do not think that they have fulfilled their proper obligations to assist in industry development in that regard. The other is the need for a far more sophisticated approach to overall forestry management policies. I know that my colleagues from Tasmania are especially concerned about that. I believe that better planning and information systems are required.

As I have already said, this is a very complex and detailed report. It deserves a great deal of consideration and a great deal more discussion than we can provide in these five-minute limited speeches. I commend the report to the Government as, by and large, a very good one. It is an area of Australian industry and development which does not receive very much attention. It is an area of industry in which I have worked. It becomes too caught up with the emotional and often irrational debates about forestry logging and timber production in general. I hope that the Government will attend to the report promptly.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.