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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26114

Senator RIDGEWAY (11:43 AM) —I note the minister's response and his reference to the various committees that have made recommendations. I want to ask the minister a number of questions about the government's response in relation to those recommendations. An argument made during the Senate inquiry was that there need to be detailed sectoral studies done of impacts on particular industries. The two industries that the committee had in mind—and the minister has already mentioned the automotive industry—are industries with slightly higher levels of protection in this country: the clothing, textile and footwear industry and the vehicle industry.

As the minister would know, both industries employ large numbers of people in regional areas of high unemployment and the people that they employ are largely from non-English speaking backgrounds. It has been argued from the start of this agreement that there should be studies done of the potential sectoral impacts that the free trade agreement will have on these regional areas and there have been inquiries as to whether or not this is known. That has not come through at all in any analysis that has been done by the government—certainly not in engaging CIE to conduct its analysis of the economic benefits. At the very least, the Productivity Commission should have been involved in that event in looking at the impact on regional sectors and, more particularly, on these two industries that I have mentioned.

Given that many people believe that the reductions in tariffs in those areas will result in the loss of jobs, does the minister have a view on what the social impacts are going to be? Particularly given that there is already ample evidence to show that, for example, women from non-English-speaking backgrounds working in the clothing, textile and footwear industries usually have great difficulties with job security, how is the government going about reviewing that in order to come up with some response? I note that we are dealing with another bill on that issue, but quite frankly it is also going to be affected by the free trade agreement and the enabling legislation.

Given that many people believe that there could be quite severe impacts in those industries, certainly in regional areas, is the minister prepared to detail the mechanisms that have been put in place to address those concerns? He has touched on some things, but I would argue that this is an ideal reason why we should have an annual review of the operation of this agreement. It has been demonstrated that none of the economists can agree on the impact of the deal. That is why we have conflicting reports that say very different things. The Productivity Commission was not asked its opinion, so we just do not know what is going to happen.

To my mind, at least there should be an annual review conducted and a properly constituted board to ensure that, if jobs are going to be lost and industries or particular sectors are going to do it tough, we find out sooner rather than later. Does the government have particular views on whether or not sectoral studies should be done for particular industries and for regions that will be most affected, particularly relating to the automotive and clothing, textile and footwear industries?