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Budget 1997: views of the Metal Trades Industry Association.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: For industry reaction now we're joined in the studio by the Public Policy Director of the Metal Trades Industry Association, Heather Ridout; she's speaking to Fran Kelly.

FRAN KELLY: Heather Ridout, is there any sign of industry policy here in this budget?

HEATHER RIDOUT: Well Fran, we told the Government simply and very toughly that we didn't want any further cuts this year and we haven't had them, so to that extent we've had a win. But 750 million of the cuts last year are going to lock in this year, and that's bad news.

I think also the budget doesn't establish any strategic directions in the future for industry policy and, like Rob, we're going to be looking to the Mortimer inquiry later this year, and others, to try and see really where the whole thing is headed.

FRAN KELLY: Can it wait till later this year, or did you expect to see some signs of it here in this document?

HEATHER RIDOUT: Well, I think the economic rationalists have circled the wagons in Canberra for a long, long time, and Rome's not built in a day. But I think we would have liked to have seen some more export assistance, we would have liked to have seen the 150 per cent tax incentive for RD restored, we would have liked to have seen the DIFF scheme restored, we would have liked to have seen the tariff concessions - an absolutely outrageous decision taken last year - reversed. But those things haven't happened.

But against that background, as I said before, the Government, John Moore has been able to hold the line this year, and that's an encouraging sign.

FRAN KELLY: It's dreamland to think of things being restored one year after they're taken away though, isn't it?

HEATHER RIDOUT: It shouldn't be dreamland, it shouldn't be dreamland because Australia's now operating in a global economy and opportunities are passing us by every day unless we really grasp the nettle on industry policy. And it's not the old industry policy of the past, to protect or not to protect, to be or not to be, it's a matter of making us successful in the new global economy. What works for Australia, what creates jobs in the Australian regions of Ballarat, Newcastle, Geelong, that's the sort of thing we're interested in.

FRAN KELLY: Well, the end game here is jobs. Will this budget deliver jobs and will it deliver the boost in those regional centres you just mentioned?

HEATHER RIDOUT: The only way it will deliver jobs, Fran, is for the economy to grow faster. Three and three-quarter per cent is a tough target to achieve; 4 per cent would really have created more jobs. The regions that predicate themselves on those jobs, that growth being distributed throughout those regions, and that's not happening so far.

FRAN KELLY: Well, the Government did say the Prime Minister promised there would be a lot in this for regions. I mean, can you see it?

HEATHER RIDOUT: Well, I haven't studied the detail, obviously, but you know, you've got to look at the composition of those regions, you've got to look at their industry structure, you've got to look at a whole host of things. But environmental programs won't create real jobs in regions. What you've got to do is attract industries to those regions that can attract the jobs.

FRAN KELLY: And just very briefly then, if we're talking about jobs, there may only be 3.75 per cent growth forecast but that in hand with the industrial relations reforms already gone through, when they kick in could that deliver the jobs?

HEATHER RIDOUT: Well, industrial relations reforms will take a long time to produce the jobs. What you need is a more optimistic and more confident outlook for business investment, and that's what will create jobs in the long haul.

FRAN KELLY: And is that outlook here?


FRAN KELLY: Heather Ridout, thank you.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Heather Ridout of the Metal Trades Industry Association.