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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 193

Mr PRICE(9.15) —As I have listened to Opposition speakers who have spoken on the Commonwealth Guarantees (Charges) Bill 1986 and the Australian Industry Development Corporation Amendment Bill 1986, I have been struck by their contradiction. On the one hand Opposition speakers are saying that they actually support the Bills, yet everything they say has been virtually in opposition to them. I guess this is one of the reasons why politicians, particularly Opposition politicians, have such a low standing amongst the general public.

Mr Cadman —What about the airport? Do you want to talk about that?

Mr PRICE —I would love to talk about the airport.

Mr Cadman —Did you change your mind?

Mr PRICE —I have not changed my mind at all.

Mr Cadman —Were you for it all the time?

Mr PRICE —Indeed. I was trying to say that the Opposition speakers say that they support these Bills, but everything they have said is in opposition to them. I came from a statutory authority, Telecom Australia, and I was involved in an area which was originally opened up to a limited degree of competition and now is opened up to full competition-I must say, by a Labor Government. The important point I want to make is one of the points the competitors used to make, which I thought was fairly valid. Statutory authorities have certain advantages over competing private enterprise organisations. I would have thought that the Opposition would have welcomed the Government imposing a small fee of 0.5 per cent on those loans that statutory corporations raise on the private market where they are guaranteed, but that has not been the argument. The argument has been that this is some sort of taxation revenue measure.

I thought that the only Opposition speaker who came close to a decent point was the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore), who talked about whether it was really worth the 0.5 per cent. If I understood his point correctly, it was that corporations such as the AIDC and Telecom, which have gone out into the private market, have developed their own market and by and large do not need government guarantees. Of course, it is one of the features of the Commonwealth Guarantees (Charges) Bill that organisations may apply to the Treasurer, where the Treasurer has a discretion, to opt out of it. The other Bill makes specific provision for the AIDC to do that.

A lot has been said about the AIDC, but I want to say something about two things which the dedicated people who have been working for quite some time in this organisation must have been very disappointed to hear. Firstly, the Opposition want to privatise the AIDC. If one clear message comes from the Opposition, it is that it wants to privatise it. They said, in effect: `Gentlemen, your work is of no value. Indeed, it can be performed by any other merchant bank'. I disagree, and I hope that I can prove the contrary later in my contribution.

I take up the remarks of the honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer) who suggested that the Corporation had actually written to the Government seeking to be privatised. It is absolutely disgraceful for the honourable member for Mayo to advance that proposition. It may be the case, where statutory corporations are finding difficulty in raising capital, that they want to diversify their capital base away from the Government and attract some private funds, but I put it to honourable members that to suggest that this is some form of privatisation is, with great respect, a canard.

What is the AIDC? It was set up, I believe, in 1977, not by a Labor government. It is a statutory corporation which is wholly owned by the Commonwealth. Half of its profit, which I believe was some $19m last year, went back to the Australian people by way of dividend. The Corporation is a financial enterprise operating under commercial principles, which is another area where I feel that Opposition speakers have confused the issues. On the one hand, they point out that the Corporation operates under commercial principles. Yet, on the other, they feel that if it operates under commercial principles it should therefore, be privatised. The AIDC consults the Government from time to time on its general policy, but it makes its own decisions on transactions. The Corporation makes its own individual decisions, but generally it follows government policy line. This Government, in stark contrast to the Fraser Government, has quite a record on industry policy. The beefing up of AIDC is but one of the areas.

If one looks at the summary of operations of the AIDC, one sees the dramatic change that has occurred under the Labor Government. For example, in 1981 the Corporation had about half a billion dollars worth of loans and investments. In 1982, the last year of the Fraser Government, it had $735m worth of loans and investments. What had happened by 1986? Was the figure $800m or $900m? No. Under the Labor Government, in 1983 the figure was $927m. In 1984 it was $1,145m and in 1985 it was $1,460m. This year the figure is $2.1 billion. What that means is that the Corporation is in the market-place-firstly, attracting funds and, secondly, putting them back into Australian industry. It has put the funds back into a variety of things.

The Corporation has been involved in technology and innovation, manufacturing, and export developments. For example, it has been involved in penetrating the United States of America and other markets with novel products. It has been involved in industry restructuring in the wine, whitegoods, iron foundry and pump industries. The Corporation has been involved in generating new ventures. It has looked at resources, at tourism and accommodation, and at Australianisation, commerce, underwriting of public shares, industry initiatives, and funding capital market activities.

The honourable member for Mayo seemed to make light of the fact that the Corporation was involved in Barbeques Galore Holdings Pty Ltd. Let me set the record straight. Barbeques Galore is Australia's largest vertically integrated producer and distributor of gas barbecues and solid fuel heaters. The group has a joint venture retail and manufacturing operation in New Zealand and has three retail barbecue outlets in Los Angeles. The company has established a joint venture for retail distribution of its products in the United Kingdom, which will commence operations in 1987. It also aims to expand its activities in the United States market. The AIDC has taken a shareholding in Barbeques Galore to support the company's expansion plans, particularly in overseas markets. If the honourable member for Mayo finds some objection to that, so be it. I think that that is what our Australian Industry Development Corporation should be doing.

I noted a couple of things in the honourable member's contribution. He certainly did not mention the AIDC's involvement in Mildara Wines Ltd. On any occasion that wine has come up as an issue in this Parliament, the honourable member has been up on his feet. Does he not take exception to the AIDC's involvement in that, or is he keeping mute to be rather cute? He did not mention the rationalisation of the whitegoods industry. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be aware of the takeover and amalgamation of Simpson Holdings Ltd, a South Australian company, and Email Ltd. Why did not the honourable member speak up on that issue? It certainly affects his State. Would he privatise those industries? If so, would the private merchant banks be involved in Mildara Wines and the whitegoods industry?

I have already talked about the Opposition's position on this matter. I have not heard one Opposition speaker, even my esteemed colleague the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Harry Edwards), point out the Fraser Government's record on industry policy or the Opposition's platform-whether the Opposition is the Joh party, the National Party, the wets or the dries. At least we are entitled to an exposition of which industry policy the Opposition would advance. The honourable member for Berowra says that we should not be proud of the record. The Hawke Government has a lot to be proud of in terms of industry policy. I would have thought that the honourable member for Berowra would have at least given credit to the Hawke Government for its involvement in industry policy. Can honourable members opposite name an industry plan that Mr Fraser introduced to put a bottom line under employment in a particular industry, or to provide a future of growth and jobs in a particular industry? I would like to rattle off a few of our plans. There is the steel plan--

Mr Cadman —The car industry plan? Ha, ha!

Mr PRICE —The honourable member for Mitchell laughs. At no time has the car industry started to export components, parts and cars as it is doing now. One may wish to talk about domestic demand, but the facts are that the industry has been restructured. There has been a bottom line--

Dr Harry Edwards —That plan was basically our plan.

Mr PRICE —The Button plan is the Opposition's plan? Come on, Harry! We have a plan that is working, and we are exporting more. The problem with which the Opposition will not come to grips is that we are in a cyclical downturn in terms of our agricultural and mineral products. It has never occurred with such force. One hopes that in the years ahead those commodities will come up and that agricultural and mineral production will continue to play a significant part in Australia's exports; but we must broaden our base. If we just let the market-place sort it out, that will not happen. If a Liberal-National Party coalition gets into government, it will blast manufacturing out of the water.

We need corporations such as the Australian Industry Development Corporation to put packages together. For example, we have had the heavy industry manufacturing plan announced last year and implemented by this Government. Does the Opposition intend to say that that was its plan? It is not the Opposition's plan; it is Senator Button's plan. The AIDC is playing an important part in that plan. We are looking for something like $130m worth of investment in that industry. About $30m is going in concessional loan subsidies to get it back on its feet so it can be competitive, replace imports, and have an export orientation. That is terribly important.

Another plan that is costing the Government very little-perhaps it was Mr Fraser's plan; I will have to check-is the communications plan. No, it was not Mr Fraser's plan; it was this Government's plan. We have put some targets on it. We are looking for an increased performance, from about $200m to $600m by 1996. There has been a lot of criticism of the plan. The real criticism is that although we are doing better we can do much better. It has taken a Labor Party government to say, first, that manufacturing and services are very important; secondly, that we need to broaden our base in Australia; and, thirdly, that we need the involvement of government, business and unions in it.

One can expect the Labor side to support initiatives such as the steel plan. But the AIDC plays a very important role. The Opposition has tried to say that it is nothing other than just an ordinary, average private enterprise merchant bank. Well, it is not. It is an organisation which makes its own individual decisions but which consults with the Government to ensure that its policies, its areas of activity, dovetail into the initiatives the Government is taking.

Mr Peter Fisher —Who set it up?

Mr PRICE —The previous Government did, and full credit to it. But, as I said earlier, look who has really developed it. We certainly inherited the AIDC, and full marks to the previous Government, but why does the Opposition disown it? Why will honourable members opposite not acknowledge the tremendous impact that it is making in a wide variety of fields? Why do they want to kill it off when it is proving to be successful? I just do not understand it. If we have an organisation that is meeting all our criteria, they want to say to the employees: `You might have done a good job, but go away; we want to privatise you. Whether you keep your job or not does not matter to us and whether or not your customers have loans does not matter to us'. The Opposition does not like successful statutory organisations. If such an organisation were banking up losses, those opposite would say to us: `There you are; it is a fallacy of your philosophy; it is a fallacy of intervention. We told you you were wrong'. But if such a body is successful, the Opposition says we have to sell it off. The AIDC has been successful, and the Australian people can be assured of a couple of things: Firstly, the Government's commitment to the continued involvement and growth of the AIDC; and secondly, the Government's continued involvement and commitment to the services sector and to the manufacturing industry sector. We will not implement the policies that those opposite had when they were in government that blasted industry and services out of the water.