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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2948

Mr ANTHONY —I ask the Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade whether he recalls in the Prime Minister's speech to the Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok on 22 November, the following comment:

We need concerted efforts to re-establish conditions consistent with an open, multilateral trade regime. We must get beyond words and exhortations-purposeful action and a sense of commitment is what is required.

I ask the Acting Prime Minister to explain how he reconciles that statement with the report that the Government will move early next year to restrict imports of four-wheel drive and light commercial vehicles by limiting imports in the next two years to the import totals for this year? Will the Acting Prime Minister take this opportunity to follow the advice the Prime Minister has given and announce that such a further restriction in an already restricted market will not go ahead?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —There is always a great difficulty when dealing with a question of trade in getting the balance between what people want to sell us as against what we are able to sell them. When one looks at the automotive industry, it is very important to look at the fact that a large number of people are employed in that industry. As the right honourable member would be aware, particularly from his own experience at the time, we cannot afford to place an industry in jeopardy simply because there might be no restrictions on imports, for example, of light commercial vehicles. Those particular vehicles have now developed what we might call a popularity of design which certainly affects the ability of car manufacturers in Australia to maintain their market. The reason is not so much that they are commercial vehicles as that they have now become private vehicles. So it would be rational, would it not, to ask: Why not give them the same classification as is already given to private vehicles? One has to look at this matter in relation to what is affecting the market.

I do not know whether the right honourable gentleman accepts the position that it is helpful to have more unemployment in General Motors, Ford or Mitsubishi on the basis that import penetration is occurring in the area of private vehicles when, in fact, they have the classification of being light commercial vehicles. Any honourable member who looks at it from that point of view will see that that is consistent with what the Prime Minister is saying. I think that when he was talking about regional development he was not just saying that he was concerned about the fact that the Japanese market, which basically is from where the light commercial vehicles come, was to be in any way affected by some regulatory mechanism. I do not think that is the issue at all. What he was concerned about in regard to the question of regional trade is certainly what we all ought to be concerned about-that Australia, I repeat, is one of the least protected of all markets in the region. We compare very favourably with Japan from the point of view of where the protective devices are. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade has basically been a failure because it relied on tariffs and did not in any way address itself to non-tariff mechanisms. Perhaps we can start to address these factors ourselves with the countries in our region. It is very important to talk to member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations and all the other countries in the region, including Japan, which is on the Pacific rim, about having in the region a fair and good market which does not have the restrictions and non-tariff mechanisms that apply not only in our market but also in the European market at present.

The honourable gentleman spent a fair bit of his time in government quite fairly berating the European Economic Community and others for their protective devices, particularly in respect of agricultural subsidies. He knows full well that there is no such thing as a free market. There is a forced market and a protected market. It is about time that countries, even if only those in our region, addressed those factors. It is perfectly consistent for Australia to look after the employment of its people in the same way as Japan looks after the employment of its people. In no way does it affect--

Mr Anthony —It is a double standard.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —It is not a double standard. I want to make that point. It is very fortunate that the Leader of the National Party of Australia can enjoy the luxury of saying that he is not interested in the manufacturing base. But if we applied the same import test to the issue--

Mr Ian Cameron —What about the farmers?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Well, what about the farmers? If the test of efficiency were the cost of the import, what would happen to our agricultural produce? It would be competing with the subsidised agricultural produce of the EEC countries and every other country. It is on that basis--

Mr Lloyd —It has nothing to do with efficiency.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The import test has everything to do with efficiency. I make the point that it must also be very clear to the Leader of the National Party that the domestic consumer in Australia pays a very fair and equitable price for the agricultural product, but that, it is fascinating to know, often that product is sold overseas at a lesser price. That is the significant point of which the honourable gentleman ought to be mindful. I welcome the question, but I see no disparity in the claim that we ought to be talking about conducting trade on a fair and equitable basis, particularly in our region, but that in no way should it affect employment in the automotive industry. It is not inconsistent to suggest that there be some regulation of the importation of light commercial vehicles.