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Thursday, 5 December 1974

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Leader of the Australian Country Party) - In speaking on the Export Market Development Grants Bill I want to say that it is pleasing that the Government has at last brought forward proposals to give an incentive to encourage the export of Australian manufactured goods. For far too long manufacturing industries generally have been in a state of complete uncertainty as to what the Government's attitude is to be in relation to a continuing program of giving incentives in this area. In the previous Liberal-Country Party Government we did develop a most worthwhile and effective incentive scheme which did a tremendous amount to encourage production especially of manufactured goods for export by Australia. Indeed it helped to develop Australia's reputation as an exporter not only of primary and mining products but also of manufactured products. The great advantage of manufacturing industries in becoming more involved in the export market is not that this just widens the base of our export potential and therefore gives us a high degree of security and stability, but, for manufacturing industries, the whole basis of success in their operations, resulting in their becoming more viable, is volume of production. The more that can be sold to markets other than Australia, the greater their continuing throughput and the greater can their unit costs of production be reduced.

One of the serious consequences of the Government's policy over the past 12 months especially its impromptu methods of revaluing the currency has been to hit very hard at manufacturing industries which, in the period of the regime of the previous Liberal-Country Party Government, had built up quite an extensive export outlet. Now, because it has become difficult to sustain export performance in those outlets operations have been reduced. Their whole Australian operations then become a rather doubtful economic proposition. When that happens, people must be dismissed, expansion programs are reduced and so stagnancy develops within the area of secondary industry.

I do not think anyone will challenge me when I say that there is tremendous apprehension and concern throughout the manufacturing areas of Australia as to what lies for them in the future. Our scheme which was a fairly sophisticated scheme was costing the then Government $ 100m a year. I do not think $1 of that sum was wasted. Any money that was paid by way of government assistance was more than doubly repaid in the effectiveness it provided in developing manufacturing industry in Australia, giving us this very sound industrial base. But, today, we have a new scheme. I suppose we must be grateful for any mercies shown by the Government towards the private sector. But really, the scheme is completely inadequate. It does not really meet the needs and it will only partially provide the impetus which these manufacturing industries require and which over many years creates such a worthwhile export performance. What is given now to many industries will be more or less useless because of the limitations that are imposed. I know that the Government has a fetish about giving too much to big companies based on its philosophy that anything that is big is bad; therefore we cut it off.

Mr Peacock - Except big government.

Mr ANTHONY - Well, government monopoly is honourable at all times and government monopolies can do no wrong.

Mr James - The people 's monopolies!

Mr ANTHONY -There we are: The good old socialist jargon- the people's this and the people's that. Looking at the people's Post Office these days, we wonder whether it is a very efficient undertaking. This legislation as now drawn excludes the bigger operators or the people whose performance is accelerating at such a rate that they will be discouraged from going any further. Thus, half the effectiveness of the program is cut out. This idea that too much is given to the big operator is false thinking. It is fair to lodge that accusation only if that assistance is depriving smaller enterprises of obtaining their fair share. In the previous scheme that operated, not one small company was deprived if it had an export performance comparable with what a large company had. It was operated on a rolling basis. In other words, a company had to keep improving its export performance if it qualified for the rebate. The present scheme seems to me to be one in which a great deal of discretion will be used in selecting what companies will qualify under the arrangement proposed.

I have been looking at the possibility of putting forward some amendments which will make this Bill very much more sensible and wider in its application. These would not be amendments that would place an onerous additional financial burden on the Government. I hope that, within the very limited time that I have available, I might be able to draft these amendments for consideration in the Senate, although with the very rushed program I have not had a chance to formulate them for presentation to the House today. I do put the Government on warning that if we can get time to draft these rather modest amendments, but amendments which will make the Bill much more effective, they will be presented in the Senate. I hope that the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns), who has been talking regularly to people involved in exporting and telling them that he is sympathetic to developing export incentives for industry, might give consideration to some of our amendments.

This scheme really is far too limited. It provides $27. 5m to encourage exports from this country. The scheme operated by the previous Government would have provided $ 100m. Quite clearly, a number of people who obtained a benefit will no longer receive that benefit. If ever there was a country that should be giving these incentives today, from the point of view of increasing our overseas revenue and, more importantly, giving encouragement to manufacturing industries to keep their operations viable and active it is Australia especially right now when unemployment is developing and when employment opportunities, particularly in this important employment area, are being put at risk. I hope that the Government will give a great deal of consideration to the amendments that we may bring forward.

Today we will be supporting this legislation through this House with the one qualification that, as I have mentioned, this afternoon I hope we will have time to iron out our proposed amendments. This Bill is a rather complex piece of legislation. It provides quite a new means of providing incentives. It is a most selective means. A board will be set up. It will not be autonomous. It seems that it will operate at the discretion of the relevant Minister. A scheme which is not based on any set formula is always open to favouritism and to patronage. I would hope that we never will have to challenge the Government on being unduly discriminatory or giving patronage to people because this is the way it will be operating. Our previous scheme operated on a mathematical basis through which manufacturers obtained a rebate on their payroll tax. It worked extremely successfully. Anybody who has been a part of that scheme and who belongs to the great manufacturing area of Australia, which after all is the biggest employment area, will say that the former scheme worked extremely successfully and that a great deal of merit should go to the previous Liberal-Country Party Government for the introduction of that scheme. If we are returned to office and this legislation as it now stands is still on the statute book, we will consider it quite inadequate. We will be reviewing it with a view to making what is proposed a much more successful scheme to provide incentives to encourage exports by Australian manufacturing industries.

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