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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7688

Senator EGGLESTON (2:48 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. I refer to today’s Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index, which has collapsed to minus 17.3 compared to plus three when the Rudd government took office a year ago. Doesn’t this 20-point decline after only 12 months of the Rudd Labor government show that the Prime Minister’s and the minister’s claim that they want Australia to be a country that makes things is just another broken election promise?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank the senator for the question. The Australian Industry Group’s Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index has now fallen for six consecutive months. In November it fell 7.7 points to 32.7. An index below 50 per cent indicates a contraction of the sector. This is in line with similar indexes on a worldwide basis. In October the United States index eased to 38.9, the Euro zone index fell to 41.1, the Japanese index fell to 42.2 and the Chinese index was down to 45.2. The subdued activity is as a result of, amongst other things, higher input costs and falling demand, which are to be expected in the context of a slowing global economy. There is no disputing the underlying strength of Australian manufacturing. In 2007-08 new records were set in terms of industry value-adding, which is at $104.7 billion, company profits before income tax at $29.4 billion and exports at $88.4 billion.

It is a pity that the opposition does not have more regard for the jobs and welfare of Australian working families, instead of trying to denigrate the efforts of Australian workers. You would have expected that the opposition would have a better understanding of Australia’s place within the global economic environment. You would have also expected the opposition to actually do something to support Australian manufacturing and to support the maintenance of confidence in Australian jobs. (Time expired

Senator EGGLESTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that today’s index also says:

… manufacturing employment fell for the ninth consecutive month. The rate of decline strengthened slightly in November …

my question to the minister is: exactly how many more jobs do you think the Australian manufacturing sector will shed under your stewardship?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I am sure that the senator would be aware and appreciate, given his sudden interest in manufacturing, that the Australian manufacturing sector is and remains a significant employer, a significant contributor to economic growth and a major export earner. Manufacturing is also the largest business spender on research and development, accounting for some 31.4 per cent of the sector’s R&D expenditure in the 2006-07 period. The Australian manufacturing sector has proved remarkably resilient over time despite the tough international conditions, and it has adjusted well to the changing circumstances. I am confident it will continue to do so even in these tough times. Again, I would expect the opposition to show a little more regard for the welfare of the Australian people. (Time expired)

Senator EGGLESTON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the last time that the manufacturing sector recorded such a low figure was when Australia was struggling to recover from Paul Keating’s ‘recession we had to have’ and given that the index has now been in contraction for seven months in a row, does the minister believe that the Australian manufacturing sector is in a technical recession?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —We have here an amalgam of the opposition. On the one hand, we have Madam Xerox, the world’s greatest copier. We have others who are now seeking to misrepresent the situation in regard to the importance of Australian manufacturing to the Australian economy; I am disappointed. I am very disappointed that the opposition maintains such a callous disregard for the welfare of working people in this country. Of course, you would expect that after 12 years of Work Choices.

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. In your consideration at the end of this trial period, I would invite you to have a look at Senator Carr’s answers today, as they were absolutely irrelevant to the questions asked.

Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order, this is the second time that Senator Abetz has stood up and taken a point of order. The first was about Senator Conroy. He asked ‘directly relevant’ to be reviewed by yourself. Now he is asking again. On both occasions, including this occasion, in respect of the question asked, Senator Carr was answering the question and was directly relevant. One of the difficulties is that Senator Abetz does not raise the reason why he says the answer is not relevant. He simply invites you to look at it, without an argument to ground the reasons behind why he says it is not relevant. Therefore, it is very difficult, I would submit, for you to be able to rule that way or to reflect upon it as part of the review process without Senator Abetz at least putting forward a direct reason as to why. I would ask you to determine that it is not a point of order.

The PRESIDENT —I draw the minister’s attention to the question and to the fact that he has 24 seconds in which to respond.

Senator CARR —Thank you. We have seen from this government a range of measures being taken, including a $10.4 billion economic security package to maintain a stronger level of public demand. What we are seeing in these new survey results is, of course, that employment is under pressure as a direct result of the fall-off in new orders which is a direct result of the fall-off in confidence. What we are seeing from the opposition is an attempt— (Time expired)