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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 63


Senator BUCKLAND (3:52 PM) —Before the second reading debate on the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Strategic Investment Program Amendment (Post-2005 Scheme) Bill 2004 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Post-2005 Arrangements) Bill 2004 was interrupted by question time today, I was making reference to employment numbers in my own state of South Australia. Perhaps it is sometimes hard for some of us, with our backgrounds, to look at these sorts of bills without giving consideration to the effects they have on workers and their families. I also mentioned a number of closures of clothing or textile factories. Whilst I cannot be specific about those people working in sweatshop situations in the industry, which we know exist—some illegally—I can say that Levi Strauss lost 90 workers in South Australia recently and Fletcher Jones lost 40 in the south-east.

I was also in the process of commenting that it seems that when there is good news to sell on any industry, including the textile industry—whether there is a new range of clothes, an expansion of factory production or new machinery in a factory—there always seems to be a government minister there with the local member, so pleased to be seen and photographed shaking hands with the workers. But that is not so when it comes to the closure of these factories, some of which I have visited. During the closure of Fletcher Jones in Mount Gambier, not even the local member showed his face or made comment about the situation these workers were placed in.

I mention Mount Gambier because it is one of those rural and regional centres—it is not a Bondi Junction retail outlet or producer; it is a true rural and regional centre and the second largest city now in South Australia. Many of those workers had been in those jobs in that factory for their entire working lives of many years. Some had been there 20 years going on 30 years, producing garments for the Australian market. It is hard to talk to those people and ask them, `What do you do after this?' Happily, some of them have found employment in other areas, but not in the areas that they are trained for. When my late mother was in the work force she pursued her career as a tailor and found that that was the only thing she wanted to do. My mother had a couple of other jobs, and I know she was never happy in them because they were not her chosen vocation. These people were thrown to the wilderness and there was no support from the local members or the ministers who were there when there was good news to tell. That was disappointing.

South Australia has taken a big hit. In fact, as for the known work force in South Australia there are 257 in the clothing sector. As I also said earlier, there is a growing trend towards contractors doing the work at home and calling people in only when they are required. That figure has now grown to 98. So there are 257 in the real work force, if you like, and then 98 contractors, and that figure is growing, because we are told that that suits the needs of industry. I will not go into the footwear sector, which is in an even worse situation and is also suffering.

As I said before, where the government will now be working towards these research and development funds to give some relief to what are further reductions in tariffs, those tariffs will not really take full effect until 2010. That gives the industry time to prepare for the future. The textile and clothing industry never ceases to amaze me. We are always looking for the cheaper products that come in from overseas when in fact we can do it to a better standard here in Australia. I am not entirely sure that you can put it down to wages being the barrier against the industry progressing in Australia. I think funding is required for some research and development into better and more effective ways of dealing with a changing industry. I suppose I am the wrong one to talk about fashion, but I tend to think that the industry is driven by fashion, so there is a lot of change going on all the time. The money that will be available for these companies through the research and development funding may be a little bit late, but it certainly will not go astray. I trust that the industry will give consideration to the effect that they have on the Australian economy and use that money wisely to properly build an industry that is the envy of the world. I think they could. They certainly have, or had, the people, and hopefully many of those people can go back into the work force in that industry.

We are not opposing this bill. There are many things wrong with it if you really put it under the microscope, as there is with most things, but on this occasion there is the opportunity to work with the industry and with the funding that is being made available to them to get something right for a change. I trust that the government are serious about what they are suggesting will occur and I trust that the industry will work with government and with those people who are there to help them use the money to develop the industry further.

It is widely agreed that the investment must be for innovative processes—and innovative thought processes as well—if the industry is to survive, and it has to survive until 2010 before we can do very much. If the industry just sees this as a handout to help it until 2010 and is not looking to use that investment money wisely and to develop the industry, I would say we are on the verge of seeing the end of the textile industry in this country. That would be a shame and it should be monitored very carefully by the government.

There have been many structural adjustments in this industry in the last two or three decades. The removal and the reduction of the protective barriers were initiated by the Hawke government in 1987, and they have driven much of the change that has taken place. I often think that, as in other industries I have been involved with, you open the gate and say, `We want to see structural change of the industry.' If it is done wrong, it is done wrong forever, and I tend to think that the textile industry might have been one of those that did not do it—I cannot say wrong—as right as they could have to give the industry the opportunities that exist in Australia.

If my family is any judge at all, there is certainly a market for clothing, shoes and other textile products that come through the industry. When you see a place like Sheridan being reduced by 150 people, it is almost not on the market. But you go to the store, as I did recently with my wife, to buy the Sheridan sheets that we have had since we married—different ones, by the way; it is the only brand that we have had in the house—and we cannot get them. We can get something that looks identical to them, but it has a different brand name. They are imported, and I think that is a real shame and something that we should not be proud of.

Labor support the passage of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Strategic Investment Program Amendment (Post-2005 Scheme) Bill 2004 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Post-2005 Arrangements) Bill 2004. We believe that, as I have said many times before, if the industry is serious about it and the government is serious about it—and I tend to think that it may be serious about this particular issue—then we do have an opportunity to not only save the industry as it is now but also expand it and look to better things in the future.