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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1016

Senator ABETZ (2:25 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. Given the ongoing closures and job losses in the manufacturing sector, including Pacific Brands, why did the government fail to provide any support for the manufacturing sector in its $52 billion cash splashes?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank the senator for his question. With regard to Pacific Brands, I might begin by reiterating that the government’s primary concern is for the 1,850 workers whose jobs are on the line. Our concern is also for the 4,000 or more workers that the company will continue to employ after the closures of a number of plants that have been announced. Our concern is for the 40,000 workers who continue to rely on the textiles, clothing and footwear industry. The government are convinced that these industries do have a future in Australia and that that future is based on innovation.

We cannot compete with low-wage countries producing low-wage goods and we cannot compete on costs alone. We can compete on originality, on quality, on timeliness and on safety. We can compete on these things when you invest in innovation. Advanced countries like Australia have maintained a significant presence in the TCF industries by focusing on high-wage areas such as technical textiles and fashion. This is the direction Australia needs to be heading in, and Pacific Brands is an important player but it is not the whole industry. Australia has and will continue to have significant TCF capacities not only in manufacturing but in design, supply chain management and research and development. We need to harness those capacities to build an innovative and sustainable TCF sector, and we need to focus on new technologies and niche markets.

We need to focus on management skills. Many have suggested that Pacific Brands is in fact the victim of poor management. It is worth noting that the company chairman— (Time expired)

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I do not think I got an answer to my question, but let us try the minister on this one. I refer to the Prime Minister’s statement last week that the government is working to ‘extract’ money from Pacific Brands. How much is the government looking to extract and on what legal basis is this being done?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I was indicating that the company has been the subject of considerable public debate in recent times and that the source of the difficulties that the company is now facing has been raised as an issue. Some would argue that there is no future in manufacturing for the textiles, clothing and footwear industry. That is not a position that the government holds. The government takes the view that there is a sustainable industry here that ought to be maintained. It takes the view that the company’s chairman and chief executive are relatively new to the job. To a large extent, they are actually dealing with the consequences of decisions that were taken by the previous board. The government is doing all that it can to keep jobs in Australia. The government is acutely aware of community concerns about the remuneration of paid directors. (Time expired)

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. That was another nonanswer but, hopefully, third time lucky, we might get an answer on this one. Does the minister endorse the union’s demand for a boycott of Pacific Brands’ products?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank the senator for the question. Ministers have expressed the view repeatedly that our concerns are with the jobs of workers in Pacific Brands and with TCF industries generally. The government is facilitating talks between the company and the unions about workers’ entitlements, training and job support. Pacific Brands has indicated that retrenched workers will receive their full benefits. We do not support a boycott of Pacific Brands and we are not seeking retribution to be directed at this particular company. This company, as the community is now acutely aware, is working through the consequences of decisions that have been taken as a result of the actions of the previous board to a large extent. The government is doing all that it can to ensure that people— (Time expired)