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Wednesday, 10 May 1961

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Treasurer) - The honorable gentleman has asked a rather long question. I will answer it as best I can. To the best of my knowledge, the quotations he has given the House from earlier statements made by me are correct. It is a fact that last year there was a very big increase in the import of steel into Australia because of the scarcity of steel supplies here during the boom period through which we were passing at that time. Figures supplied to me by the Treasury show that the imports of steel in 1959 were valued at £18,000.000; in 1960, they were valued at £48,000,000. It is a fact that Australia, which is able to sell one of the cheapest steels in the world, thanks to the efficiency of our steel industry, has in other years enjoyed a useful export market in steel. I certainly hope that we can recapture a market which, apparently, during a period in which local demand was very strong, we did not seek to pursue. If there is excess capacity in the steel industry, I have no doubt that those concerned will turn their energies to ensuring that markets formerly enjoyed are now recaptured and, indeed, that additional markets are found.

From the information I have on developments which have occurred in Newcastle, it would appear that it is particular types of steel production that have led to the retrenchment to which the honorable gentleman has referred. It is, as he knows, the objective of this Government to sustain employment at the highest practicable level consistent with the stability of our economy. Whether I receive a deputation or, perhaps more appropriately, whether my colleague the Minister for Labour and National Service receives a deputation, is a matter which we can discuss together. But I hope that honorable gentlemen opposite will help the Government to secure full and continuing employment for the Australian people by making known to them the real facts of our economic situation and not try to mislead them by a scare campaign for purely political purposes.

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