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Monday, 4 June 1984
Page: 2474

Senator PETER RAE(10.30) —I wish to speak briefly about two matters which I do not regard as being of great political difference but rather as matters which I would like to put on record. I did let the office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) know that I was going to raise them tonight. I see Senator Ryan is here, having known I was going to raise some not particularly controversial matters but matters which I do hope will be answered by the relevant Minister in due course.

The first matter is one which may seem relatively insignificant but which I think is quite important. It relates to the way in which this Government is developing. There is apparently evolving within the bureaucracy, particularly within the Department of Industry and Commerce and the Department of Trade, not just a competition but a distrust, an extraordinary distrust. I refer to the answer given to question on notice No. 1123 in the House of Representatives, which was asked by Mr Ruddock, which concerns the consultants employed by the Department of Industry and Commerce. It refers to the very significant employment of people from the Australian National University, an institution which I believe to be one of the finest in Australia and one of the finest institutions in the world. In no way do I criticise its choice as consultant.

The point I wish to make is that when a department of government seeks from the Australian National University statistics relating to trade, which the Department of Trade of this Government and of the people of Australia is paying very significant amounts of money to obtain and provide, I believe that some explanation is required as to why the Department of Industry and Commerce did not trust the Department of Trade to provide the information, and why it sought to obtain independent consultants who are, I agree, excellent consultants. Why should the Department of Industry and Commerce not trust the Department of Trade to provide the information? I am advised that the Department of Industry and Commerce used to have almost 100 per cent of its statistical work done by the Department of Trade. It appears that this situation has deteriorated over recent months. I am not sure whether it is something to do with the Ministers, the departments or the nature and structure of the Government. But I believe that the people of Australia, and certainly the members of the Senate, are entitled to have some statement from the Minister as to why this apparent change has taken place.

The situation appears to be particularly wasteful in view of the comprehensive collection of trade data which the Department of Trade has. If it is just one of those regrettable situations where Ministers do not get on together, perhaps because of something to do with who supported whom in the leadership challenge, or something or other, I am sorry that it may be costing the taxpayers money. I believe that the Senate is entitled to some explanation as to exactly what is happening, as to why we find ourselves with this situation. Notwithstanding the fact that I inquired this afternoon as to whether the Minister for Industry and Commerce would be available for the adjournment debate tonight to respond to the matters which I raise and was informed that he would be, I find he is not. In no way do I find Senator Ryan an unsatisfactory substitute. In fact I must say I find her a welcome alternative.

The next matter I wish to raise concerns the standard of imported life jackets. I have received representations from a company called Driclad Leisure Industries Pty Ltd, which is the manufacturer of life jackets and buoyancy vests in Australia. Driclad provides garments which are in accordance with the requirements of the Standards Association of Australia. However large numbers of buoyancy garments are being imported from the United States of America and these do not meet the Association's requirements, so I am told. Specifically, the garments do not conform to the relevant Standards Association's specifications and do not operate under the Standards Association's scheme of supervision and control. They do not meet Australian metric requirements and do not utilise the 'care labelling' requirements of clothing required by government. I have to say that as somebody who has, in the middle of a gale, been thrown out of the cockpit of a boat and wondered whether the harness which I was wearing was going to hold or not-and that was the difference between whether I lived or died-I feel with some sensitivity that the standards about these matters ought to be reasonably strictly enforced. When I received a letter, amongst many hundreds of letters that I receive, about various matters, being shadow Minister for Industry and Commerce, I thought this matter was one what ought to be raised in the Senate because water sports are probably one of the fastest growing sports in Australia. Many people buy believing that what they are buying is suitable for the purpose for which they are acquiring it. One can have a horrible time before one finds out that the gear is safe. If it is not, one could wind up dead .

I believe this is just as important as the emergency position indicating radio beacons that were introduced into Australia. They were very simple items which could make all the difference to search and rescue in Australia, a relatively cheap piece of radio equipment which, when switched on, could indicate a position which could be picked up on an emergency radio and on which any searching aircraft or other radio equipped vessel could home in. The one that was recommended for use by one of the major yachting associations of Australia, the one that was sold most to yachtsmen, has now been found to be totally inadequate. One wonders whether the Department of the Special Minister of State may not have made as many checks as it ought to have before it gave the approval for those, after many years of refusal or equivocation as to the introduction of EPIRB into Australia. I mention that in passing. In addition I thank the Senate for the opportunity to speak. I raise the matters, not by way of controversy but by way of interest. I hope the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) will ensure that the Minister for Industry and Commerce will be in a position in due course to respond to the matters that I have raised.