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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 47

Senator SPINDLER (5.11 p.m.) —The Senate is debating:

  The need for the Government's industry and employment statement to address the fundamental problems that continue to hold back Australia's potential for jobs and growth.

When I read that matter of public importance put forward by Senator Short my hopes rose because I thought that Senator Short would offer some specific details. But, as on so many other occasions, I had to be disappointed because Senator Short, while he pointed to the problems and wept a lot of crocodile tears, was very short indeed on the specific measures that he thought should be taken to overcome the barriers which are holding back Australia's potential for jobs and growth.

  I am grateful for the courtesies extended to me in this chamber, but I rather regret that Senator Chris Evans had to speak before me because I would have liked Senator Evans to comment on some of the suggestions that the Australian Democrats are making as to the measures that should be contained in the white paper. I rather regret that the government and opposition during the last decade or so have really been following the same policy—basically, leave it to the markets, sink or swim, and if you sink, well, that is just too bad; you join the 200,000 who have lost jobs specifically and directly as a result of our tariff cuts program. It is time that we decided that we need a deliberate, strategic industry and trade policy.

  I have mentioned the tariff cuts, but when we look at the quota restrictions that other countries are using we find that we are the only country with any sort of TCF industry, with a substantive car industry, that does not now employ any quantitative restraints on imports. When a Chinese textile factory pays $20 to a worker for a 48-hour week it does not make much sense even to impose tariffs. The disparity between the costs Australian manufacturers face and the costs that other countries get away with is such that, unless we have a government which is prepared to intervene and to ensure that jobs are available for workers in these factories, we are going to slide further down the scale.

  I wonder what sort of interventionist measures we are likely to get. I note that it is about 10 years since an Australian government used the exemptions provided under GATT to provide some protection to workers—some boost to our balance of payments. Instead, quite apart from not being prepared to do that, we have engaged on a spree of selling strategic assets, strategic mechanisms, starting with the Commonwealth Bank and now with the Australian Industry Development Corporation which is going to be sold to private enterprise when the government could use it to ensure that Australian industries are supplied with sufficient funds—venture capital and general finance—to develop Australian inventions.

  It is time to recognise that many of our international competitors are developing their industries with the help of strategic government intervention based on strategic industry action plans. It is unfortunate that our government is not prepared to take a leaf out of that book—we want to continue to enshrine unemployment through a free trade policy and then train workers for non-existing jobs. It is quite clear that the current economic recovery will do nothing for the bulk of Australia's unemployed. Economic history shows that, when economic activity picks up, the money spent on imports will rise, and we are not doing anything at this stage to control the flood of cheap imports.

  We must recognise that a substantial part of our unemployment is structural unemployment and structural problems require structural solutions. I am pleased to refer the Senate to a range of industry measures which we suggest the government should take and which should certainly be included in its white paper.

  We are not going to survive in the international marketplace unless we can produce products and services which are innovative and excellent in quality and which provide to customers what customers want. At the moment there is very little evidence that the government is prepared to take strategic measures to advance innovation in Australian industries. If we want to get a higher level of innovation, if we want to improve our performance, we need to boost research and development, and education and training. We need to provide finance and focus investment on those areas where further investment will generate specific jobs.

  We also need to coordinate our efforts. We need to make sure that specific industries follow strategic plans and we need to ensure that in a geographic sense we do not leave behind our regional areas. On a recent trip to country Victoria where I visited six regional centres it was quite clear that there is tremendous potential in our regional industries. That was documented very carefully and forcefully in the Kelty report but we have yet to hear from the government on whether it is prepared to implement the Kelty report recommendations on regional development.

  In talking about our strategic measures in those three areas I suggest to the government that in the area of research it should certainly reverse its proposal to cut the funds to CSIRO by $50 million. Instead, apart from maintaining that, it should increase discretionary research and development grants, we suggest, by at least $30 million.

Senator Schacht —There was no such cut of $50 million ever proposed for CSIRO.

Senator SPINDLER —I am glad to hear the minister's assurance that CSIRO will have its funds maintained and no doubt on an indexed basis, on a real basis. We must also recognise, as stated in the Kelty report and acknowledged in other reports and assessments, that small business and the enterprises that are active in regional areas offer the best hope for an increase in employment. We therefore suggest that the research and development tax deduction threshold be reduced from $50,000 to $30,000—an expenditure of some $60 million. I am sure that that amount of money could be found for such a strategic approach.

  We suggest further that we must bring investors and small business people together. We suggest a network across all regions in Australia of enterprise forums which do just that. Our capital markets service our large companies well; they do not do such a good job for small business, individual enterprises and individual inventors who need funds to get their inventions off the ground.

  Education and training is another major area which is absolutely essential to create a higher level of innovation in our industries. The government has suggested a cut in postgraduate scholarships; we suggest that they should be restored. We suggest that the traineeship program should be increased; we suggest that all workers in our industries be given assistance to perform in accordance with acceptable quality standards.