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National Farmers' Federation criticises the Government's decision to freeze tariffs on textiles, clothing and footwear

PETER CAVE: For the National Party and the National Farmers' Federation, the tariff decision represents a major defeat, with both arguing strongly, in recent weeks, that the Government must tough out the textile industry's lobbying. With us now, in our Canberra studio, is the NFF's Executive Director, Wendy Craik. She's speaking to Matt Peacock.

MATT PEACOCK: Wendy Craik, the warning signs were there. Are you surprised?

WENDY CRAIK: Well, if this decision is the way that you report it, then the NFF is bitterly disappointed about this decision. It won't save jobs.

MATT PEACOCK: That's certainly the rationale for making this decision, and the industry says that there's a hundred thousand jobs and half of them could be on the line. Certainly, we've seen the jobs disappearing, even in the past couple of months.

WENDY CRAIK: Yes, the industry might say that, but if you actually look at the history of this industry, while protection was increasing fastest and highest, more jobs were being lost than when protection was being reduced by the Labor Government, when the rate of job loss actually declined. The difficulty we have here is what the Government has done is, in fact, rolled the country rather than rolled the anti-tariff lobbying group; and in fact, what they're doing is protecting a museum piece but jobs won't be protected at all.

MATT PEACOCK: Does it surprise you? Do you think John Howard understands your argument here?

WENDY CRAIK: Well, I'd have to say I'm somewhat surprised by this. Here we have Tim Fischer, over in Beijing, negotiating reduced wool tariffs for Australian exports of wool; whereas back home, the Government is cooking up a deal to have a pause on tariffs, we believe. Basically, what sort of signals are we sending to our trading partners? Are they going to be sniggering behind our backs?

MATT PEACOCK: Well, of course, the argument of John Moore, for example, and even Jeffrey Kennett in some regard, is that this is just playing the same game that others have been playing to us. Everybody has their little bit of protectionism.

WENDY CRAIK: Yes. I think the difficulty is, though, that in fact if we reduce our tariffs, we're the major beneficiaries of reducing our tariffs, not other countries. If you look at APEC, if all countries in APEC reduced their tariffs, then that will be worth $5.7 billion to the Australian economy. Now, if Australia takes its tariffs away by itself, the only country taking its tariffs away, that's worth $4 billion to the Australian economy.

MATT PEACOCK: But we haven't seen that in jobs, have we? I mean, under the Labor Government, under the cuts, we saw jobs disappear.

WENDY CRAIK: What you've seen in the economy is you've seen employment in the overall economy increase. You see jobs disappearing in industries that are protected. But I think we have to recognise the world moves on. We don't have blacksmiths any more; we don't have horse and carts any more; we see jobs in the IT industry growing at 40 per cent a year. We're moving into the 21st century or a global economy, and here we have jobs in the TCF industry, an industry that's had a lot of protection, declining at 2 and 3 per cent a year. What we're saying is that the world moves on; the economy changes. We have to move with that. We live in a global marketplace.

MATT PEACOCK: Well, you're saying it but it's fallen on deaf ears. Where does this leave Tim Fischer and the National Party leadership?

WENDY CRAIK: Well, I think it leaves them showing that they're demonstrating a great deal of the leadership. What they're saying is ....

MATT PEACOCK: But it's not getting them anywhere in Cabinet. Your voice in Cabinet isn't prevailing, is it?

WENDY CRAIK: Well, I think what you're seeing here is the country is being rolled, and I think the Government-obviously, we'll see what happens at the next election. Obviously, our constituents, farmers aren't sympathetic; are very sympathetic to people who lose jobs. After all, look at the dairy industry. We've lost 30,000 jobs in the last 25 years, but they're producing more milk and we're globally competitive. At the next election, obviously, people will vote how they see this government performing and how jobs are performing.

MATT PEACOCK: But they're not going to vote against this government in favour of Labor. We've now got a bipartisan position on it.

WENDY CRAIK: Yes. It's curious that while the Labor Government was reducing tariffs on the argument that it would increase jobs, now they seem to have a completely opposite view. It's a bit hard to know where they stand on this issue.

I think what we really need to do is in fact look at the history-Imean, past performance is the best indicator of future performance. If protection doesn't keep jobs, well, then let's look at what we need to do. What the Government should be doing-not reducing tariffs-is in fact investing in RD, investing in adjustment for industries that gradually lose jobs, and investing in education and training. And that will bring our industries up to be world competitive.

MATT PEACOCK: Wendy Craik, thanks for joining A.M.

WENDY CRAIK: It's a pleasure.

PETER CAVE: The Executive Director of the National Farmers' Federation was speaking, there, to Matt Peacock in Canberra.