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Wednesday, 16 February 1977
Page: 112

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) -The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) has just given yet another example of the Government's double standards. He indicated that under the proposed amendments to the Industries Assistance Commission Act the Government will write in a provision which will permit any other action it considers appropriate to be taken. I do not disagree with that proposition, but I point out to the House that the provision is in the Act at the moment as a result of the insistence of members of the present Government in the Senate who demanded its inclusion in exchange for the passage of the Industries Assistance Commission Bill.

The Government announced today some measures- I say some measures- which if they bring about any sort of recovery will be welcome. But the facts are that if there is to be any resurgence of employment opportunities in Australia or any reduction in the present and growing numbers of persons unemployed manufacturing industry must absorb a far greater proportion of the workforce than it does at the moment. There is no evidence from any responsible observer to suggest that that resurgence is likely to take place under any existing policies. In fact all the evidence indicates that the present decline will continue. The Minister's main thrust concerned the provision of some assistance to enable industry to obtain a hearing before the Temporary Assistance Authority and the making of some minor changes in procedures which may assist some industries if in fact they can get their cases heard while they are still in existence. I point out at least one case last year which involved commercial vehicles. The industry concerned sought for some 7 months to get a Temporary Assistance Authority hearing. Eventually it did not get that hearing. But that is not the root cause of the problem and it is not the solution. Tariffs can be of assistance to existing industries to maintain them; they will not bong about investment in new industry nor any great expansion in existing industry for the purposes of absorbing unemployed persons.

The Minister, like most spokesmen for the Government and a number of spokesmen outside, wants the public to believe that there were no problems in manufacturing industry in Australia prior to 1974. That is a lot of hogwash. The problems in Australia's manufacturing industries go back at least 15 years and most likely 20 years. There was a boom period. Since then there has been a gradual tapering off of investment and activity in those areas. I point out, for instance, that in the textiles industry in the Geelong area there was a far greater fall in employment between 1970 and 1972 than there was between 1972 and 1975. That is a matter of record. The textile industry is still in decline and most likely will remain in decline. The provision of temporary assistance or levels of assistance is not the answer. I think the Minister knows that as well as I do. Long term guarantees or confidence in long term operations of the industry are necessary before any capital investment will be made by any major business firm. I would think that anyone investing in textiles at the moment would be a gambler of the greatest order.

The Government is in the process of dismantling Australia's shipbuilding industry. The Government is not prepared to give the industry the sort of assistance which the Japanese Government, which is getting orders to build Australian ships, is giving its own industry. The Government has not at this stage acted in any way on the Jackson report which was released some 15 months or 16 months ago. The House and the nation have not seen the White Paper which was promised. It may be under consideration. Some 15 months or 16 months have elapsed. That is a long time when an industry is in trouble. Employment in Australia depends very substantially on at least the maintenance and if possible an increase in the level of employment in manufacturing industry. The Government has, by policy decision, cut back on employment opportunities in tertiary areas. These are the replacement areas where people would expect to work but which no longer exist.

The major thrust of the argument of the Minister and of the Government has been that wages are the problem. Wages in Australia are high.

Standards of living are high. I think that that is an expectancy which for a long period most Australians have come to accept. I do not believe that if wages dropped to the level that exists in Hong Kong or Taiwan our manufacturing industries would be much more competitive than they are now. I am not sure that the Government has really examined whether or not there are problems of management within Australian industry. I think there are serious problems of management. I do not think that the Government is sufficiently concerned about the lack of modernisation of plant and investment in Australian industry. I use as an example the shipbuilding industry which in Australia is 20 years and possibly 30 years out of date in the type of equipment which is being used. No person, no matter how willing, can overcome the disadvantage of technological change if another person is able to use more modern methods. In fact in some industries in Australia workers are being asked to compete in productivity areas. I am disappointed that the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) is not participating in this debate. This situation is like sending men into forests with a flint axe to chop down trees in competition with men with chain saws. That sort of comparison with the machinery and the mechanical facilities available in many of our industries is a fair one. In the 1960s a number of Australian firms were taken over by overseas capital and immediately became competitive where they had not been competitive before. I can instance textile firms in my own electorate which were taken over by efficient management- I think that is the only word I can use- from what would have been at least inefficient management and immediately became productive and competitive and are still competitive in the normal sense of the word.

Problems which face manufacturing industry in Australia face the nation as a whole. If they are not solved the employment problems will grow. I do not really believe the Government has tackled the problem. In IS months it has not produced a White Paper. It has not produced the magic solutions it talked about throughout 1975. Modifying the terms of the Temporary Assistance Authority may maintain a few existing firms in the field if in fact they can get favourable decisions or can be heard. This will not create any significant new investment and will not overcome a lot of the problems of duplication and under-utilisation of plant- in many cases obsolete plant- in the industries where it is not economic, even with assistance of such things as investment allowances, to replace that plant with new plant. My electorate and the electorate of the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) are totally dependent on manufacturing industry for their survival as areas of employment and areas of prosperity for the people who work in them. There is no alternative employment for people in those electorates. I am concerned that the Government should do far more than a patch-work job. The problem is a serious one. I do not suggest that I have a solution to the problem. At the moment, without something far more substantive than what has been suggested here today or anywhere else, the problem will grow, not fade. I do not believe the Government has tackled it seriously.

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