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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2109

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Minister for Trade and Industry) - The understanding between the Government and the Opposition is that this debate will finish at about 10.48 p.m. so I will take this opportunity to answer very briefly some of the points that have been raised during the Estimates debate. My colleague the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) would also like to speak for a minute or two. For the past 5 to 6 hours I have been listening to the debate on the estimates of the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Primary Industry and the Department of Customs and Excise. I would hardly think it was a debate on the Estimates, as very few honourable members have referred to appropriations or expenditure. Nevertheless there has been some very good discussion on aspects covering all 3 departments, mainly dealing with philosophic points of view or taking a distinct party political approach to some of these departments.

Mr Hurford - Would you agree to reforming our methods of discussing the Estimates?

Mr ANTHONY - lt is up to honourable members to speak to the Estimates if they want to, but if they deliberately bypass individual items in the Estimates, that is a matter for them. 1 do not think that any reform is needed. Honourable members may take advantage of the opportunity if they so wish. I would like to refer to one particular aspect that was brought up by the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) dealing with the answer I gave last week to a question he asked of me which dealt with a minority or dissenting report of the Tariff Board. He stated that when I tabled the Tariff Board's report I should also have made a statement referring to the dissenting report. It is not the custom for the Minister automatically to make a statement when tabling Tariff Board reports. On occasions statements have been made.

In this particular case I would like to have been able to make a statement answering the charges that had been made in the report. I had received the report about a week earlier and immeditely sent it to the Government Printer so as to have it ready to table in this Parliament as soon as it was possible to do so. At the same time as I

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received that report I immediately referred the dissenting report to the AttorneyGenera] (Senator Greenwood) to get legal opinion as to the validity of the complaint about the procedures and practices that were being carried out by the Tariff Board. The honourable member for Lang asked why I have not got an answer. I have not got an answer because the report is still before the Attorney-General's Department, which is preparing a legal opinion. As soon as that legal opinion comes to me I will make a statement in the Parliament so that honourable members will be fully informed of the situation.

I would not like to have delayed the Tariff Board's report until I received that legal comment because I do not know when it is likely to come forward. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) was fair enough to make the comment after I tabled the report that he appreciated the early tabling of it, which was my objective. Some remarks were made also by the honourable member for Lang which I thought were a little unfair to some of the Tariff Board members. He drew an inference that some Tariff Board members would have signed the dissenting opinion but for the fact that they had done this or that. The honourable member's statement was based on either a rumour or a suggestion that this member or that member might have done something. I think that to make a statement like that is dangerous and quite unfair to members of the Tariff Board who do not have a chance to answer. All the facts do not show that this is so because 5 of the 8 members signed the Tariff Board report and 3 had dissenting opinions. Those members made their opinions quite clear.

Some other rather wild remarks have been made. I suppose it is all part of the game. Honourable members said that the Tariff Board was trying to create unemployment, that it was trying to destroy some of the factories which were operating and that it had no real feeling for the development of industry. I think that these are somewhat exaggerated remarks. The Tariff Board is an independent authority which is asked to examine Australian industries and make recommendations to the Government as to the level of protection the Board believes should be given to an industry. It still remains the complete responsibility of the Government to make the final judgment as to what that level of protection will be. People do not have an automatic right to expect the Government to accept a Tariff Board report. During the day the debate has ranged fairly widely and freely regarding the pros and cons of the tariff and protection for Australian industry. I guess that such a debate will continue while we have such a system. But I believe that there is need for such a system in this country. I know of no other country which has a high standard of living which can afford not to have some form of protection for all its industries.

A big issue in the late 1920s and the early 1930s was whether there ought to be protection for Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd and the Australian sugar industry. Fortunately the leaders of those days were wise enough to protect both industries. As a result both of those industries have developed into great national industries giving employment and creating efficiencies which are the equal of anywhere else in the world. Today there is need for protection of industry and probably more so while the international currency crisis is going on and while there are uncertainties about trade because all sorts of unfair and devious practices will come into being. We find it ever so much more difficult for labour intensive industries to compete against the low wage countries. Therefore the situation has to be examined. Anyone who says that we do not want secondary industry in this country really does not understand or appreciate what such industry means to this nation. We have 3 basic wealth producing industries - primary industry, mining industry and the manufacturing industry. By far the biggest basic wealth producing industry today is the manufacturing industry which is responsible for 28 per cent of our gross national product. Within that figure of 28 per cent came most of our teritary industry. It is the manufacturing industry which is responsible for the great bulk of our employment and which has enabled us to maintain our living standards. We do not want excessive protection for industry. I think we all agree on that matter.

The only way we can have an honest examination of an industry is by the Tariff Board being given as much aid as possible to do its job, doing its job and then by making a recommendation to the Government. All things being equal I think that over the years the Tariff Board has done a reasonably good job. But in a world of change such as we have today one of the great difficulties is for the Tariff Board to be up to date with the rate of protection. The Board should be able to carry out necessary reviews within a sufficient period of time so that there is no uncertainty within industry and so that it can make the capita] investment that is required. Certain people want to be somewhat erudite and to propound theories on how changes ought to be brought about, but that is not easy. In fact, it is extremely difficult.

Dr Klugman - Who did that?

Mr ANTHONY - People have said that the Tariff Board does not do a good job; that it should be altered; that there should not be so much protection as there is today. Certainly there have been dissenting points of view within the Australian Labor Party as there have been in the Governmentparties today in regard to this question, and there always will be. 1 think that all things being equal, as I said a moment ago, the Tariff Board has not done too bad a job.

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