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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3425

Mr HODGMAN(9.01) —I wholeheartedly support the Steel Industry Authority Bill, the Bounty (Steel Mill Products) Bill and the Bounty (High Alloy Steel Products) Bill, and I commend the Government for having brought them into this Parliament. I had the honour from 1980-83 to serve as Minister Assisting the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I say from the outset that there is much in what the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Hollis) said with which I entirely agree. I believe the legislation which has been brought into this Parliament by the Government is firmly in the interests of Australia and the Australian steel industry. I say this with some feeling. I guess my views in relation to protection are more pronounced than are those of perhaps many others in my Party. I am proud to be a member of a party which provides its members with an opportunity to express their views, ranging in economic terms from the wet to the dry. I have no hesitation in saying that I am quite happy to accept the appellation of a wet; I am a protectionist. I have even been described as so wet as to be a submarine. I find that sobriquet a compliment rather than an insult.

The other reason why I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate- the Minister's advisers who are present in the House will recall the matter on which I am about to comment-is that last year as a very junior Minister I found myself embroiled in the then Government's deliberations on the future of the Australian steel industry. To a large extent the honourable member for Farrer ( Mr Fife) and I had to carry the basis of the industry Cabinet submission because the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Sir Philip Lynch, was unfortunately ill and was away from duty for several weeks. It was during that period that I had the opportunity to meet and talk with representatives of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. I say two things about that company here and now. I do not often give a commercial but in my opinion BHP is really the Big Australian. I believe Sir James McNeill to be a very great Australian, I believe that Brian Loton is a very great Australian and I believe that Mr Balderstone will make an excellent Chairman of BHP when he assumes that position next year.

Whether we like it or not, Australia has no future if it does not have its own indigenous national steel industry. Whether we like it or not, BHP is that industry. I say, to the surprise no doubt of some of my friends on the other side of the chamber, that I do not really believe that the Hawke socialist Government wishes to nationalise the steel industry.

Mr John Brown —You are right.

Mr HODGMAN —I think, as the Minister says, I am right on that point. But I have to say-I would be less than honest if I did not do so-that I think 11 August was a very important day in the history of Australia. I think the five-year plan which will commence on 1 January 1984 is probably one of the most vital plans for the future of the Australian economy and the Australian nation. It is historic because it is only the third industry plan approved by an Australian Government. The first such plan, which was approved in August 1980, was for the textile, clothing and footwear industries. That plan, I am pleasantly surprised to note, has been carried forward by the Hawke socialist Government. The second plan to have been carried forward by the Hawke socialist Government is that in relation to the passenger motor vehicle industry. The third plan is the one introduced by this Government which will commence on 1 January 1984 with the five-year plan in respect of the Bounty (Steel Mill Products) Bill 1983 and the Bounty (High Alloy Products) Bill 1983. That plan will run to 1 January 1989.

In introducing the Steel Industry Authority Bill 1983 the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, Minister for Administrative Services and Minister Assisting the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr John Brown) said-I think it was the fundamental premise of his entire speech:

This industry--

that is, the steel industry-

is strategically and economically important to the Australian economy.

I wish to take those words a little further. I make the fundamental point that the Australian economy has no future at all unless we produce our own steel. Anybody who has studied the figures over the last five years has to recognise and accept the fact that the importation of steel from Japan and Korea has had a most significant impact on the operation of BHP and on Australia's capacity to be self-reliant in steel production. I believe that on both sids of the chamber there would be a community of thought and agreement that this country could not defend itself without its own steel industry and without a manufacturing base based on that industry.

Those who have been prone in recent times-including some of my colleages, some of whom are very senior colleagues-to criticise BHP have done so in the broad but have never come up with the specifics. All through last year I heard people saying that the management of BHP was a fault and that that constituted a reason for being less sympathetic on the question of assistance than would otherwise have been the case. I reject that proposition completely. I am sick and tired of people in government and in the bureaucracy-I exclude the Minister's advisers who are present tonight because they are not the sort of bureaucrats about whom I am talking-looking for a scapegoat and making a broad-brush statement.

I think the honourable member for Macarthur came very close to making the same point. The comment was made that the administration, the management of BHP, today was not as good as it had been in years past. I saw something happen to Sir James McNeill and Mr Loton last year-I cannot say where or when-which I will never forget. My humble opinion, rightly or wrongly, is that when an industry is vital to the future of this country and when Australia has no future without it, problems in the relations between government and management and personality clashes or criticisms must be subjugated in the national interest. The national interest is that the BHP operation is part and parcel of the future of this country.

I do not merely support the Minister; I want him to know that I believe his Government has made the correct decisions. I will encourage the Government-this will horrify some of my dry colleagues in the Opposition coalition parties-to go further if it considers the circumstances so warrant it. I believe that if the bounty provisions which come in for the five year program on 1 January 1984 are not effective in ensuring that BHP's operations will continue and if this Government then believes that it should act in respect of quotas, if it is of any assistance to the Government there is at least one, and probably more, on this side of the House who would support it. I do not say that lightly because it cuts across my basic and broad philosophy to advocate quotas but if it comes to a choice between quotas and the future of an industry which is vital to this country I will support quotas. If it comes to be a choice between quotas on the one hand and further retrenchments in an industry which has lost 10,000 employees in the last 18 months on the other, I will bite the bullet and say that the choice must be quotas. I note with great pleasure the presence in the chamber tonight of the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O'Keeffe). He follows these matters perhaps better than any other member of the Parliament. He follows the trade negotiations between Australia and Japan and Australia and Korea extremely closely.

Mr Goodluck —What about us?

Mr HODGMAN —The honourable member for Franklin and the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom) likewise. Even this week there was a suggestion-I am sure my honourable friend, the Minister Assisting the Minister for Industry and Commerce , will follow the point I am making-that Korea might have some cause for complaint about the way in which the Australian Government supports the Australian indigenous steel industry and BHP. Let me put it on the record here and now that if Korea has any ground for complaint Japan has twice as many grounds for complaint. I am sick and tired of the blackmail that goes on. Without any disrespect to our coalition colleagues in Opposition in the National Party, I would be inclined to say: 'Unless you recognise the essential provisions which are vital for the existence of BHP we might not be prepared to deal with you in other commodities. We might be prepared to lay down the gauntlet in respect of beef or wool.' Mr Deputy Speaker, with your extensive ministerial experience you will know that in international trade it is often the one who gets the first bite of the cherry who comes out victorious at the end.

To be quite frank, and with all due respect to our Korean friends, I think the Korean steel industry, which is, in fact, the Korean Government, has taken Australia to the cleaners. That is my honest and frank opinion. I will not get many Brownie points from a few of my colleagues when they read my speech in Hansard tomorrow. But what is the point of being in this place, particularly in opposition, if one does not put on the record one's views. I have not broken any rules by saying what took place in that room in the corner of this building and I will not do so. But I had the horrible feeling last year that there were forces at work who said that BHP must be rapped over the knuckles, it must be punished and it must suffer a little. Those forces said that 10,000 jobs were neither here nor there. I think that 10,000 jobs are important. Whether they are the jobs of Liberal voters, Labor Party voters, National Party voters, voters for the Australian Democrats or whatever is not the point. Every job lost in Australia is so much harder to recover.

I find myself in an interesting situation. The honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore), who is the shadow Minister for Finance, is detained tonight and cannot take part in the debate. He will probably go into convulsions tomorrow when he sees what I have said, but I warned him. If my view is slightly to the wetter side of the official party position I take pride in being a member of a party which gives me the opportunity to say so.

I want to make a couple of closing comments in relation to the Steel Industry Authority. I do not know whether Hansard picked it up-I have not had the chance to check-but I made an interjection when the Steel Industry Authority Bill was first introduced into the Parliament that it was a step towards nationalisation of the Australian steel industry. That comment was facetious. As I indicated earlier, I do not think the Government intends, nor would it want, if it has any sense, to nationalise the Australian steel industry. But I think it is important that government support for the Australian steel industry be seen in at least some sections of the Parliament to be bipartisan.

Mr Goodluck —Michael, cut it out a bit.

Mr HODGMAN —I say to the honourable member for Franklin that I feel strongly on this matter. Without in any way breaching any of the traditional conditions or conventions relating to those who have served in government-I can say it at no higher level than this-I wish we could have done more for the steel industry last year. Some day in the future, probably in the year 2010, the Cabinet papers will be made public. I cannot speculate on what is in those documents but it may well be that four or five options were available to government. It may well be that departments and some of the free traders in the ranks of our government were arguing for lower options. It may well be that there were one or two little stars of protection twinkling in that celestial heaven in the Cabinet room. It may be there were one or two who felt that BHP really was the big Australian, and was worth fighting for.

Mr Goodluck —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. Can I get my colleague a glass of water?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) -The honourable member knows that the Christmas messages come tomorrow.

Mr HODGMAN —I would like to say, across party lines, well done to the Hawke Government. I believe that BHP deserves strong support. I believe the Australian steel industry is vital and fundamental to the future of Australia. The sooner we take politics out of the steel industry the better. Perhaps the Authority in many ways will be able to do this. The Authority will cost a pittance. It must be one of the cheapest statutory authorities ever in the history of any Western democracy. It will cost $188,000 in 1983-84 and a mere $293,000 in the two succeeding years. This industry is worth $5 billion per annum to the economy of this country. It represents 3.4 per cent of our gross domestic product. To its very great credit it went into profit in the first quarter of 1983-84. I hope that that profit situation continues; I believe in BHP; I believe in our steel industry and I believe in our nation. I believe in our manufacturing base. The Minister believes in that and, to his credit, he has been able to bring it to the forefront of government thinking. We have no future in Australia unless we can manufacture the things Australians want. I do not want to see Australia mendicant. I do not want to see Australia a net importer. I do not want to see Australia held to ransom by governments and private interests in other countries which have no loyalty to this country and whose only loyalty is to the almighty dollar. Last but not least, I want to see Australia in a position to be able to defend itself. Without a steel industry it cannot even contemplate defending itself. To Sir James McNeill, to BHP and to the Hawke socialist Government I offer my congratulations and strong support on these Bills.