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Wednesday, 17 November 1976
Page: 2767

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) -Every honourable member in the House will be aware that the employment and development opportunities and the general welfare of regional centres are largely dependent on a few of the most vulnerable manufacturing industries and the general wellbeing of the national economy. Regional centres are usually the first to suffer in any situation where there is a recession in consumer demand and where economic conditions are less than what we desire. The present Government came to office on guarantees that it would protect the interests of people in regional areas. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) who is at the table came to this Parliament as a result of undertakings of that nature. The Government has so far moved substantially in the opposite direction. A considerable number of its policies are in fact adding to the burdens and problems of regional centres rather than detracting from them.

Most honourable members will be concerned at the reports provided by one of Australia's leading industrialists to the Government's economic policy committee, namely, that if the policies at present being pursued by the Government are continued the unemployed section of the workforce could amount to 600 000 people by 1978. I think it is also important to note that a substantially higher proportion of those persons seeking employment, especially young people, are to be found in regional and non-metropolitan areas. I think the House has to take note of the fact that there is evidence that the Government is ignoring the real economic trend signs which are available to it Most honourable members will be aware that prior to the recession of 1974 one of the major indicators of problems ahead- an indicator, incidentally, which the Department of the Treasury ignored- was the buildup of stocks in retail establishments. People who have taken the trouble to look will be aware that, for instance, the Myer Emporium Ltd reported a 30 per cent rise in stock holdings for 1975-76. The stocks of G. J. Coles and Co. Ltd rose by 2 1 per cent, of David Jones Pty Ltd by 20 per cent, of Waltons Stores Ltd by 23 per cent and of Norman Ross Pty Ltd by 22 per cent. These are significant rises in stock buildups, They do not augur well for an improvement in the economic conditions. They indicate consumer resistance.

The non-metropolitan and regional areas are very much more dependent on consumer demand and movement of goods than are the capital cities where many of the low fluctuation industries and most of the Government employment exists. When this Government came to office one of its first acts was to cancel proposals to transfer to regional areas segments of the Australian Public Service departments and other statutory bodies. This cancellation took away from some centres, including the one I represent, an opportunity for the provision of white collar employment which is so desperately needed in those areas in order to employ young people who are coming on to the labour market and who are unable to find jobs in normal industrial or business activities. The low level of opportunity is well known to every one of us. The Government has taken other decisions. Today we heard the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) supporting on purely political grounds one of those decisions affecting non-metropolitan areas. A decision has been made in relation to the shipbuilding industry in Newcastle and Whyalla, particularly Whyalla. The Government so far has announced no proposals which would indicate that it will give any real assistance to that area, yet it is a non-metropolitan area which is almost totally dependent for employment on the continuation of the shipbuilding industry. That area will have to be abandoned.

The Government has proposed a scheme to finance in a limited way the relocation of persons who move from one area to another to seek employment. Last week the Minister for environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman), who is at the table, announced certain proposals relating to Fraser Island, proposals which were supported by the Opposition. However, proposals to compensate those people who lose their jobs as a result of that decision are non-existent. The Government has repudiated those people. The Prime Minister was asked a question about compensation, and not once in his reply did he mention those people who would lose their employment as a result of the decision. The decision was made in the national interest, but its burden will be carried by one town and a small number of people. The Government is not interested in people. The Prime Minister's answer clearly indicated that he does not consider that the employees, who will be the worst affected in the long term, are worthy even of consideration when compensation is spoken about.

The Australian Industries Development Association annual report, which was released on Monday, indicates just how difficult the problems of regional centres are going to be. Manufacturing industry is the basis for most of the existing employment in those areas. The textile, shoe and motor car industries and a number of other associated manufacturing industries are the most vulnerable. In its report AIDA made this statement:

The issue we raise this year is the dismantling of manufacturing industry which has been taking place over recent years and which is now gaining an alarming momentum.

No one disputes that the problem is not new. What must be pointed out is that it is gaining momentum; it is not slowing down. At the current rate, manufacturing industry will substantially disappear in a very short period of time unless some action can be taken to reduce the alarming momentum which is referred to in the report.

There is another area of which the Government ought to be taking note. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch), judging by his answers to questions in this House, seems to ignore all indicators and seeks to project an air that nothing is wrong and that no person is entitled to point out that there might be some mistakes in Government policy. He himself during his period in Opposition did everything possible to talk down the economysomething he now accuses every critic of seeking to do. In a comment in the Age the following statement appears in relation to investment, something on which the Government seems to place great value:

The expectation of a December Commonwealth loan has discouraged investors until they see what the new interest rate will be.

People are scared of the market- its fluctuations have caused uncertainty among investors who cannot see any improvement in it in the near future' . . .

Those are problems which affect the whole of the country, but they affect the non-metropolitan areas to a far greater extent than they affect the metropolitan areas.

I want to make one other point. Today at question time the Prime Minister answered a question about the Newport power station. He justified not placing that power station in the Latrobe Valley of Victoria, where there are adequate supplies of brown coal- a natural fuel. If placed in that area, the power station would provide employment in a declining employment opportunity area. However, the Prime Minister's justification for not doing so was that this would break the grip of certain trade unions in the area on the power supplies of the State. I do not know how naive people can get. It must be assumed that the Prime Minister does not know that the people who will work in the power station at Newport will be members of the Electrical Trades Union, just as the people who work at other power stations are members of that Union.

Mr Falconer - That was not his justification at all.

Mr SCHOLES -I was there when the Prime Minister made the statement; the honourable member was not. The Prime Minister made the statement in the presence of the directors of the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd at Geelong, and I was sitting 2 seats away from him. I think the honourable member ought to remain silent. The Prime Minister's justification for siting the power station at Newport is to achieve a political objective and not an industrial or environmental objective. He is seeking to use a declining and valuable resource, in natural gas, for that station in order to arrive at an environmental decision. Since the environmental impact study was conducted it has been disclosed that the power station will be changed over to other forms of fuel if natural gas becomes in short supply, and that it will be a continuing rather than a peak load station. So there are changed conditions.

But that is not the point I wish to make at the moment. That is another argument. The Prime Munster is arguing that the power station should not be placed in an area where employment opportunities are needed and where many of the problems in recent years- I say this for theenefit of those people who care to understandhave been caused by declining employment opportunities and threats to people's homes and way of life. In many cases, in order to remain in the Latrobe Valley, people have had to accept reductions in status which have amounted to up to 25 per cent of their salary ranges, purely to retain employment in the area. If there is unrest, it is because there is no long term planning and because no consideration has been given to the future long term requirements of the people who live in these areas. For a base political reason, the Prime Minister would seek to deny those people some opportunity to extend their employment potential.

Recently a number of alterations have been made to tariffs and to some of the proposals for the management of the economy. Some of those alterations in fact have assisted, and I do not demur to that. One decision which could have very serious consequences in the long term was the decision to move away from the proposition relating to car plans, whereby the Toyota and Nissan companies will be allowed to enter Australia as separate entities instead of on the basis of participating in a consortium. This will have the effect of placing very severe pressure on the existing manufacturers in Australia and almost certainly will result, in the long term, in at least one or two of those manufacturers going out of business. I think that is a major departure which will have very serious consequences. I hope that the consequences do not occur in a regional area, but I fear that that could be so because one of the three existing manufacturers must go. One of those manufacturers is in Geelong and the other two are in Adelaide and Dandenong.

The Government is not showing any concern at all for the specific and special problems of those people who seek to live outside the capital cities. It is prepared to pay $ 1 ,900 to enable them to go to the cities. In Maryborough, where as an act of national policy their job opportunities are to be removed, the Government will give them that amount and little more. In other areas all the encouragement is for people to leave the country centres. The direction given to the Commonwealth Employment Service is to move people out of the country areas and into the capital cities in order to find employment. The general thrust of the Government s economic policy is to ignore the real problems which exist outside the metropolitan areas in the regional centres, where there are no alternative employment opportunities, and to press on with a restrictive economic policy which will end in disaster unless the Government does something about it and does it very quickly.

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