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Thursday, 5 December 1974

Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) (Minister for Overseas Trade) - in reply- It is pleasing that the Opposition is supporting this Bill. There are one or two points I would like to make. First of all, the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) spoke about uncertainty. There is no uncertainty about this scheme. The position taken by the Government was that the previous scheme, the market development assistance scheme and the export incentive grants, would come to an end. The date of that was stated clearly. Press statements were made about the new scheme on 18 December 1973 and 2 July 1974. In addition, a number of seminars were held between officials of the Department and the industry. The new scheme was fully explained and understood. Quite a number of suggestions made at those seminars were taken up and put into effect.

In making a decision about bringing the old scheme to an end the Government had to take into account whether it was prepared to impose upon taxpayers a cost of over $ 100m, rising with increases in the assisted types of exports. In speaking to this measure the Opposition has not mentioned the significance of that cost which is in fact imposed upon taxpayers. It was a transfer from taxpayers to a few very large companies- a little over twenty- so that one per cent of those who received the benefits of the market development assistance scheme received over 50 per cent of the benefits, and 2 per cent of the recipients of the other scheme- the exports incentives grants scheme- received over 50 per cent of the benefits.

Let us look at particular things such as motor cars. Under this scheme the Australian taxpayer is probably paying $70 or more for every motor car exported from Australia. The Government, as in all these matters, has to make a decision according to its priorities, and the priorities of this Government are that it has to draw a limit to the extent to which it will impose upon taxpayers a burden as heavy as $100m and more for the benefit predominantly of a few fairly large companies. The honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) spoke about control of this scheme and about abuses. In order to obviate abuses, this scheme is based on a performance test with a ceiling limit and there are certification requirements. The main point is that companies should justify their expenditures by their examinable performance. I think the taxpayers would expect that any government would find it necessary, as this Government has done, to employ that kind of control over the scheme.

The honourable member raised the question of discrimination. I point out that in many ways this scheme is much less discriminatory than the other scheme. I pointed out how the other one discriminated in favour of size. This one is less discriminatory. All companies qualify, including marketing boards and the smaller firms which one would expect that the average citizen would normally see as being more justified to receive assistance are discriminated against less than under the old scheme. There is a difference in the premium rate and the standard rate, but there is a good reason for that difference. Whether a company receives the premium or the standard rate depends not upon whether it is small or large but on whether it is a new or established operation. I think it is common sense to provide the higher rate for those who are making the establishment expenses. Those who receive the lower rate have already incurred the higher establishment expenses. Having got over that and having received assistance for it, it seems to me sensible that they should receive only the standard rate. A scheme of this sort- the remarks made by the 2 Opposition speakers related to the old scheme- has to be related to the general state of the economy. I think it is desirable that there be a continuing plan of reasonable assistance to exporting manufacturers.

Last week I had the pleasure of being able to present export awards. There have been some remarkably fine performances by the companies that have been most successful in exporting. I think there is room for continued application of thought as to what might be done about exporting. It is unfortunate that so many people who make representations to the Government do so simply in terms of campaigning for the old scheme. I am sorry that the 2 Opposition speakers have joined with the numbers campaigning for the old scheme. The old scheme had many defects and faults, and it was most necessary to prevent the abuses- I use the term that has already been used- that were operating under the old scheme. It would be much better if we were able to apply ourselves to achieving something better rather than campaigning for the return of the old.

I am sorry that we do not have the amendments that the Leader of the Australian Country Party suggested he might be able to prepare by the time the Bills go to the Senate. What is involved in these Bills is fairly well known. When those amendments arrive the Government will certainly have a look at them in the Senate. But just as the Opposition believes it has a right to have a Bill presented to it with notice, I believe that the Government also has a right to have amendments presented to it with notice. I hope that when the Leader of the Australian Country Party is ready with his amendments he will not wait until this Bill reaches the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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