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ACTU representative to make a proposal to Government to cushion job losses in the textiles, clothing and footwear industries

PETER THOMPSON: Well, the union movement is hardening its stand against further cuts in tariffs on textiles, clothing and footwear. It now wants a complete stop to the cuts if employment in the TCF industries falls below 60,000. Employment now stands at about 80,000. The ACTU Vice-President with responsibility for TCF matters is Anna Booth. She is talking now to our economics correspondent, Peter Martin.

PETER MARTIN: Anna Booth, what is the ultimatum you are putting to the Government?

ANNA BOOTH: Peter, we have developed a fresh approach which is complementary to the ACTU's general measures, which we decided yesterday, at the wages committee. You will recall that the ACTU was asking the Government to take a new approach to tariff phase-down, which involves linking the phase-down in general reductions in tariffs, to the rate of unemployment. Well, in relation to textiles, clothing and footwear, we are saying, look, when we began the inquiry into this industry in 1984, there were around 120,000 jobs in the industries. We were told by the then Industries Assistance Commission that we would lose 20,000 through the implementation of their policies. We have in fact, lost more like 40,000 to date and we are saying to go to 60,000 would be enough.

PETER MARTIN: What if the Government says no?

ANNA BOOTH: Well, the package is comprehensive and hopefully, there are other parts of the package which, if they don't accept our general proposition, will be acceptable, and I am certainly looking forward to seeing Senator Button's statement at lunch-time today.

PETER MARTIN: You have heard Senator Button this morning. He has made it clear that the existing program of phase-downs in tariffs for those industries, will be in place. What can you do?

ANNA BOOTH: Well look, I would like to answer two questions that Senator Button perhaps rhetorically posed - what is causing unemployment and what would a pause in the tariff phase-down do? The fact of the matter is that unemployment is in part caused by tariff cuts. Tariff cuts are in fact, intended to cause unemployment in some areas by moving resources out of areas which are meant to be less competitive, into areas which are meant to be more competitive. But in an environment where those jobs are not being created in the more competitive areas, it is, again to use a term that he used, a commonsense approach to pause the cause of those jobs being lost and wait for a time when jobs are being created, so there can be a complementary net improvement in employment and the economy. Yes, interest rates were a cause of our problems. Yes, demand falling is a cause of our problems, but manufacturers in textiles, clothing and footwear are going off-shore now to source their product, both moving their own establishments off-shore and sourcing from off-shore producers, because of the current level of tariff and because of what they know the level of tariff is going to be,

PETER MARTIN: If that is so, why would a change make any difference, given that you are saying they are already acting on the basis of the Government's future plans?

ANNA BOOTH: Because a change ....

PETER MARTIN: How could a pause help at this stage?

ANNA BOOTH: A change which would reflect a government's understanding of the real economics of an industry, and not a government's commitment simply to a decision they have made or an ideological position about changes in tariffs, would firstly, give the industry confidence in that government, but more practically and immediately, because these products are extremely price sensitive, and because the next tariff phase-down can, for many products, be the difference between being able to sell your own product here and have to yield to imports. It would make a difference for those producers and would give them time to do the things that Senator Button says they should have done before, but they haven't done, according to him.

PETER MARTIN: Don't the financiers need certainty? You are on the Board of the Commonwealth Bank, you would know about that. The financiers have a plan in place. They have advanced money for these industries on that basis. You are suggesting that that be changed at the last moment.

ANNA BOOTH: Well in fact, I have looked into this question of what need, what reasons are given for lending money to textiles, clothing and footwear. And I have looked into it because Senator Button himself, has said to me that things that I have said publicly, in terms of talking the industry down, he believes, have caused the banking community to withhold funds to these industries. It is simply not true. What loans people do is look at the particular company concerned, their particular prospects in the context of the industry environment that they are in. They don't listen to people's comments on radio and they are not affected by that. They look at the hard economic facts, and I don't believe that either Joan Kirner's or my concerns, properly expressed, I think, for the industry, are in any way leading to a drought in capital being made available to these industries.

PETER MARTIN: Anna Booth, thank you very much.