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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3431

Mr JOHN BROWN (Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, Minister for Administrative Services and Minister Assisting the Minister for Industry and Commerce)(9.34) —I move:

That this Bill be now read a third time.

I would like to wind up the debate by making a few comments on the contributions that were made by the various honourable members who spoke in this debate. I must say that they were rather varied and, in some cases, very colourful. So colourful, in fact, was a speech by the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) that his flatmate, the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck), has fled the chamber. This reminded me somewhat of his reaction when the people of Queenstown reacted very favourably to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) when he visited the South West of Tasmania recently. The honourable member for Franklin was so appalled that the people of that area did not boo the Prime Minister, that they in fact cheered him and wanted to shake his hand, that he came into this House and suggested that those people should be dismissed as Tasmanians. He was quite insulted to think that his fellow Tasmanians could greet the Prime Minister so cordially.

The honourable member for Denison, who I must add in some instances is more renowned for his brashness and colourful interjection in this House than for his reasoned debate, certainly provided us with a very interesting discussion tonight. There was a tinge of envy in him that I rather appreciated, that what this Government has managed to do was not able to be managed by his own Government. While he spoke of Brian Loton, Sir James McNeill and Mr Balderstone as being great Australians, I think it would be fair to say also that in that category should be placed the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button ) because he has managed to perform in the Australian sense an absolute miracle in dragging together the disparate forces that constitute the steel industry and to come up with a plan that will resuscitate it.

Mr Howard —He is better than your average.

Mr Hodgman —He is a Geelong supporter.

Mr JOHN BROWN —I will ignore that. He is also a senator, which gives him a decent disadvantage. Regardless of all those disadvantages, I think that the Minister has done a simply remarkable job in formulating this steel plan, in putting it to the House and in receiving the accord of the honourable member for Denison in doing so. I thank the honourable member for Denison for his honesty. His honesty is not unknown to me. He has many failings, but lack of honesty is not one of them. He exhibited that in full flight tonight and I thank him for that.

The reasons that this Government needed to resuscitate the industry were many and varied. The honourable member for Denison touched on a few of them. He mentioned the need for a national steel industry. Every nation with any sense of growth requires a steel industry. We have one. There is no good in indulging in recriminations about why it was failing, who was causing it to fail and what were the reasons for its failure. The job was to resuscitate it. The Minister set about doing that in fine style. The steel industry has importance, of course , as a defence industry, because how can one possibly think about having any defence in a nation as isolated as Australia without a steel industry? A nation such as Australia with a reasonably sized manufacturing industry needs its own steel industry. More importantly, the employment created by the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd and the employment opportunities that were being lost were more than just statistics. They were an absolute social tragedy in the towns where the steel industry is centred-in Whyalla, Newcastle, Port Kembla and Wollongong, cities whose very dependence and social fabric turn around the success of the steel industry.

So it was a fact that the steel industry had to be revived. The Minister for Industry and Commerce had the very difficult task of doing that, a task which the previous Government would have liked to tackle but did not know how. The steel industry plan which we have evolved seeks to tackle the underlying problems that have been confronting the steel industry for a long time in a very positive way. The Government recognised that the difficulties facing the steel industry were such that the normal, traditional methods of protection and tariff building were not the ways to tackle the problem, that assistance alone would not solve the problem. What was needed was a tripartite agreement between the forces that constitute the steel industry. The unions needed to give a pact of industrial peace and increased productivity, which they gave very generously.

I think it should be noted, particularly in regard to some of the comments that the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) made when he spoke so disparagingly about the work force and the steel industry, that the people who work in the steel industry have one of the least attractive jobs known. Anybody who has seen the dreadful environment in which the men work will understand that if any section of the work force in Australia is entitled to a 38-hour week, surely the best example is the people who work in the steel industry, with the heat, the dust and the discomfort. Of course they are entitled to the same conditions that apply to people who work in offices. That should not be a matter of debate.

It needed the unions to give generously, and they did; it needed the Government to guarantee bounties, which it has done to the extent of $71m per annum, to provide encouragement for BHP to invest further; and it required a commitment from BHP to invest very heavily in the updating of the machinery and techniques used in the manufacture of steel in Australia in order to bring this tripartite agreement to fruition. That is exactly what happened.

I stand here very proudly tonight representing John Button, a very great Australian. I am sure all members of this Government are pleased that in our first year in office we have been able to resuscitate an industry that is so important to Australia yet was faced with such a delicate situation, in fact with no future at all. I will not go any further, except to thank all those who contributed to the debate. I thank the honourable member for Gray (Mr O'Neil), who represents a steel industry area, and the honourable member for Macarthur ( Mr Hollis) who does likewise. I also thank the honourable member for Denison for his frankness and honesty and the honourable member for O'Connor, who produced one of his normal controversial and not very sensible speeches.

We are very proud of the steel plan. As the years of this Government unfold-it will probably go on until the end of the century at least-one of the hallmarks of our success will be that we took the big Australian, BHP, out of the derelict state in which it found itself after seven years of the previous Government, and restored it to prosperity. The company made a profit on the steel industry in the first quarter of our Government's rule. When this five-year plan takes over in January I am sure that the steel industry-those people who work so terribly hard in the steel foundaries as well as BHP-will look to the prosperity which is so important not only to them but also to the nation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a third time.