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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3334

Mr McVEIGH(10.38) —It is about time the Government cleared up once and for all the question of the 15 per cent tariff on imported grain harvesters. This issue has been burning along for four months now. It is causing grave concern throughout the entire grains industry. I want to support the remarks of my colleague the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O'Keefe) in this Parliament a few weeks ago. The wheat industry is seeing its returns being drastically reduced each day through weather damage. Already losses due to downgrading of wheat have hit many farmers very hard indeed-up to a dockage of $ 20 a tonne. It is reliably estimated that the overall average loss in the Australian wheat industry could be $4 a tonne or a mammoth $80m to the industry.

I specifically raise the issue this evening because of a report in today's Australian Financial Review newspaper which said that the Industries Assistance Commission had rejected industry objections to its recommendation that a 15 per cent tariff should be imposed on imported harvesters. That in itself is not surprising. One would hardly expect the Commission effectively to reject and overrule its own final recommendations, especially as they were accepted by the Government and announced on 5 August. It was ridiculous that the Government should have referred industry submissions on its 5 August announcement back to the IAC in the first place.

The onus of reversing this decision rests fairly and squarely with the Government. It always has. The so-called reference of industry criticism to the IAC for comment was nothing more than a stalling tactic by the Government because it knew full well that it blundered in its original decision. It is now trying to work out how to recover ground. The fact is that it cannot recover ground. It should just admit that it made a mistake and change its decision. Now that the charade of further reference to the IAC apparently is over, there is no excuse for not doing this without delay.

The IAC is standing by its original recommendations. The Government knows industry views. Indeed, I understand that the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) himself is sympathetic to them. There is no excuse for not changing the decision forthwith. Furthermore, the Government itself has supported as a general policy assistance by way of bounty rather than tariff. The Minister for Industry and Commerce said in a Press statement on the steel industry plan on 11 August 1983:

The needs of those downstream users were very much in the Government's mind in deciding to introduce an assistance package based on bounties . . .

Again, in the second reading speech of the Min- ister for Communications and Acting Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Duffy) on the Steel Industry Authority Bill made in this place only last week the Government said:

Bounty assistance has the advantage over alternative assistance measures such as tariff quotas, as it avoids an adverse price impact in downstream user industries.

Similar approaches are contained in the prices and incomes accord document and in a speech made by the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) in Brisbane on 27 October titled 'Business and the Commonwealth Budget-Labor's Approach'. There are stacks of examples. So why is the grains industry singled out for different treatment? It is because Labor does not understand the grains industry, or any primary industry, and it does not care. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) is supposed to be the great white knight. He is in Cabinet now. But what has he done about this issue? As always, he has done nothing. He said a few placating words and washed his hands of all responsibility. If he were any sort of Minister at all he would be insisting that Cabinet toss out the original decision, but he is not. He is a total failure. Certainly the grains industry has had enough. If there is a need for protection, let it be by bounty, estimated by industry and IAC to require $2m from public revenue and not a $14m extra cost to Australian farmers through tariffs.