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Thursday, 5 December 1974


Mr KELLY (Wakefield) -This is a Bill which has been brought down only because of the problems to be found in the Australian economy at the moment. The thing that worries me about it- and the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) brought this out with crystal clarity- is that there are no guidelines for what is spelled out here as the national interest. The Minister is going to make the judgments on what is in the national interest. He has just said that he has got broad shoulders. Indeed he will need them, because this is a sample of the decisions that he is going to make unaided, with a legal background that no doubt gives him a fine flow of words and a good mind; but he has got to tackle probems that lie right at the heart of the Australian economy. Firstly, as the honourable member for Berowra said, he has got to make judgments about the economic use of resources. Do we think that the economic use of resources is a good thing? It would be a bold man who said that it is not. Is he going to say that employment is in the national interest and that we have got to create employment, at any price, by tariff protection? An example of this has only just come to light in the last day or two with the increase in the tariff on textiles making the position impossible for those who make up those textiles into garments. The Minister has got to weigh up employment, and if employment is the thing by which he is measuring national interest, then he has got to measure the employment gained in the textile industry against the employment lost in the garment making industry. That is no small task. Is he going to say that it is in the national interest to protect the car industry at the expense of $300m a year consumer subsidy? He has got to measure the cost of the employment lost in the transport industry and the increased cost of transport against this $300m a year subsidy.

I would not wonder if the Minister never slept again. He has got the most difficult set of problems that he has got to measure, unaided, in the national interest. He may have the benefit of advice from his Department, but all the talk we used to hear about open government and decisions being made in the open is gone now. The decisions are going to be made by the Minister. Are we going to see the advice given to him? I see the Minister shakes his head. Are we going to see the advice that the Department gives to the Minister? As far as we in this House are concerned, we are going to see judgments made by the Minister in the national interest on these kinds of questions. Let us take it further. The Minister is going to make judgments in the national interest on whether it is advisable to help an industry that is being hurt by imports from less developed countries, cheap labour countries. 'Cheap black labour' is the kind of brand that was used.

The Minister has got to weigh the damage done to our posture in international affairs. We make eloquent speeches about knowing that trade is more important than aid, and we all know that that is so. We all know that the greatest problem that haunts the world, and should be haunting us far more than it does, is this everwidening gap between the developed countries and the underdeveloped countries. It is going to be the Minister's responsibility to weigh up which industries are going to be helped, knowing that if some are helped it will be in the national disinterest because it will dimmish the opportunities of the underdeveloped countries, to have some chance of existing- not of expanding but of existing. The Minister has got that cross to carry too. He has got to measure up whether that is in our national interest.

To take it further, the Minister has got to measure the cost of taking action to stop imports coming in from other countries and from the less developed countries which will have an immediate effect on our export industries in Australia. I will give again an illustration of this that has haunted me for many years. When I was in Bombay I went one morning to a factory where they were processing Australian skim milk powder. I asked them did they have any problems and I was told: 'We have got one real problem. We cannot get the foreign exchange to buy the skim milk powder that we need and that the people of Bombay so desperately need.' In the afternoon I went to another factory in Bombay where they were making sheets and I asked if they had any problems. I was told: 'We have got one overwhelming problem. You have got a 45 per cent tariff wall. We cannot get our goods into Australia because of your method of protection'

The Minister has got to measure the benefits gained by that policy against the damage done to our export industries. He has got no small task, and he has got no official body to guide him. He and he alone is going to be the mentor, the decision maker in a field that is desperately important, not only for Australia's economic well being but for our future survival in the long term. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later hour.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.







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