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Victoria: Premier defends her position on the tariffs issue for the textiles, clothing and footwear industries

PETER THOMPSON: In the light of Senator Button's comments a few moments ago, we're now joined by Victoria's Premier, Joan Kirner. She's talking to Maxine McKew.

MAXINE McKEW: Mrs Kirner, good morning.

JOAN KIRNER: Good morning, Maxine.

MAXINE McKEW: You heard, obviously, what John Button had to say earlier. He's expressed disappointment with your public denunciation of Canberra's tariff policy and says you're wrong.

JOAN KIRNER: Yes. Well, that meant a lot of people are wrong, Maxine. That meant I'm wrong, John Bannon's wrong on behalf of our Government, the ACTU's wrong, the majority of the industry is wrong. I mean, just this morning, I was reading my mail. I've a letter here from a garment company in New South Wales saying `We're encouraged by your radio statements on ABC this morning' - I think that was talking to you - `and the key to the whole issue is the maintenance of a quota system with adequate out-of-quota penalty rates'. Now, I don't mind, Maxine, being the whipping girl of this issue, because what we've done is force the Federal Government to, in fact, state very clearly their policies.

MAXINE McKEW: But they're not going to change.

JOAN KIRNER: I hope that the rest of the policy is good and, really, I find it amazing that Senator Button should talk about our short-term interest in manufacturing industry. He knows, as well as I do, how long our interest has been.

MAXINE McKEW: Yes. In fact, he suggested this morning that Victoria has only recently started to complain about unemployment.

JOAN KIRNER: Yes. Well, I think we've got - oh, not unemployment. I think he was talking about our interest in manufacturing industry. But we've had a long-term interest and he knows that, since I've been Premier, we've worked very hard on manufacturing industry and David White is one of the leading Industry Ministers in the State. But one of the things that bothers me about what Senator Button said - and, as you know, I've got the utmost respect for John Button - he said that investment was being halted in the industry because the bankers and financiers didn't know what was happening.

Now, let's get it clear. The majority of investment plans in this industry - because of Mr Button's changes in 1991 - have been offshore. There's been no difficulty getting funding for that. What they can't get is funding for onshore because they do not know whether the Federal Government is committed to an onshore industry, and people who did go and invest on the plans before 1991 - like Clarke Shoes - have machines standing there idle that they've put thousands of dollars into, for example, to make runners, to make sports shoes. Because the plans changed in 1991, those machines are standing idle, and that was told to me by the head of Clarke Shoes at the Shoe Fashion Industry Awards I was at, the other night.

MAXINE McKEW: And yet Senator Button says he's got anecdotal evidence that, in fact, your statements are discouraging investment.

JOAN KIRNER: Yes. Well, anecdotal evidence, I guess we can all swap, but when you look at the National Institute's Economics and Industry report, recently, they bore out what Anna Booth has just said, and that is we stand to lose another 60,000 jobs in this industry. Now, as I said, I don't mind being the whipping girl, but I do feel quite emotional as well as quite correct in an economic sense about the women in the industry who are going to lose their jobs because we, as a total Labor movement - never mind Federal and State governments - we, as a total Labor movement, are not prepared to say we'll put aside our ideological position for one moment and balance up loss of jobs with creation of jobs, maybe in other areas, and certainly in investment areas of the industry. If the ACTU, on behalf of workers is asking that, if John Bannon and I are asking that on behalf of the centre of manufacturing industry in the southern regions hit hardest by unemployment - and the majority of the employers in the industry are asking that - how come John Button's right?

MAXINE McKEW: Well, it seems to me that you've got the worst of all worlds, here. You've got a totally resistant government in Canberra and a public brawl.

JOAN KIRNER: Well, you have to have this argument. There are many people out there, in the community, who really can't understand why we, as a Labor movement, are making it difficult in the TCF industry for them to hold their jobs. Now, I'm hoping that John Button's statement, the rest of it, this afternoon - which we haven't seen, yet, even though he's carefully embedded it in the papers this morning - I'm hoping that it will provide some hope because there are a lot of women out there, a lot of ordinary workers who are relying on this as a statement of hope.

MAXINE McKEW: All right, Mrs Kirner. Thanks for joining us, this morning.

JOAN KIRNER: Thanks, Maxine.

PETER THOMPSON: Victoria's Premier, Joan Kirner.