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Tuesday, 4 September 1984
Page: 435

(Question No. 979)

Senator Mason asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice, on 15 June 1984:

(1) Did a Metal Trades Industry Association survey indicate a probable loss of 3700 jobs in the Hunter region of New South Wales during the next six months as a result of the rundown of large construction projects in and around Newcastle, New South Wales.

(2) Is the already appalling loss of jobs in the Hunter region of New South Wales likely to increase in spite of national improvements in the unemployment rate.

(3) Does the Government concede that Newcastle represents the most valuable and extensive infrastructure in the nation and that it is grossly uneconomic that these facilities and their workforce should be under-used.

(4) Will the Government urgently examine in light of existing national priorities, work which might be undertaken in the public sector including shipbuilding, production of steel and steel artifacts, possible new sunrise industries, new water storage dams and gas pipelines, all of which would enable new jobs to be created in Newcastle and check the present serious drop in the region's large and nationally indispensible production potential.

Senator Button —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) The Metal Trades Industry Association conducted a telephone survey of selected firms in the northern region of New South Wales on 31 May this year. Of the 20 firms surveyed, 18 were in the heavy engineering, foundry and metal fabrication industries. Respondents, who had a total employment of 2469 persons, estimated that between June and December 1984 they would reduce their workforce by 15.4 per cent.

The estimate of a job loss of 3700, which was publicised in the local press, was obtained by applying this 15.4 per cent factor to all metals industries in the northern region of New South Wales, which employ about 24 000 persons. There is no indication to support the assumption, implicit in this estimate, that other metals industries are suffering the same difficulties as the heavy engineering industries.

The Government is concerned about the situation in the heavy engineering industry. On 5 August this year, the industry was referred to the Industries Assistance Commission. The Commission is required to provide an interim report within three months on the appropriate short term response to existing industry problems, and a final report within 12 months on long term assistance arrangements.

(2) There has been some rise (+12 per cent) over the past nine months in the number of unemployed registered for full time employment with Commonwealth Employment Service offices in the region. Given the strong growth in the labour force over the past year, and the generally poorer performance of industrialised areas during the present recovery, the increase in registrations in the Hunter region is not unexpected. (CES unemployment figures between March 1981 and March 1983 are not available-due to the Review of Commonwealth Functions decision to discontinue their collection.)

Against this the number of unfilled vacancies available at CES offices in the Hunter region increased by over 60 per cent over the year to June 1984. In addition, over the year to the June quarter 1984, the number of vacancies notified to CES offices in the region increased by over one third.

(3) The Commonwealth is aware that Newcastle has a valuable and extensive infrastructure provided by both public and private investment over past years. So too do many other regions of Australia. The Government's economic policies, re-affirmed in our Budget of 21 August, are directed to make more efficient use of labour and capital resources throughout the nation, including the Hunter region.

(4) In 1984-85, expenditure on civil works funded directly from the Budget is estimated to rise by over 50 per cent. Grants of a capital nature to State, Northern Territory and local Governments are estimated to rise by 14 per cent.

Within the Hunter region, the Hunter Valley Research Foundation has identified between November 1983 and May 1984 a 4 per cent increase in the value of projects under construction, and a 91 per cent increase in the value of proposed projects.

At least $46 million of the proposed new investment in the region is due to capital expenditure by BHP in its Steel Division, undertaken as part of the Steel Industry Plan.

The Federal Government is also assisting the region through its package of employment generation and training initiatives for the steel regions. In 1983-84 some $3.3m was provided towards a range of TAFE, road, water treatment, tourism and Defence housing projects in the Hunter region. A further $13.5m is being provided for the region in 1984-85, of which the main payments will be for TAFE projects ($6.4m), Nelson Bay fishing port extension ($3m) and Chichester water treatment works ($2.6m). In addition, the Federal Government is continuing its considerable support for other projects in the region, including a $1m development of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Williamstown, construction of a new $9.45m office block in Newcastle, and provision of $1m towards the Chichester Dam under the national water resources program.

Under the Federal Government's roads program, the Newcastle National Highway Strategy is being developed with a view to constructing a new route west of Lake Macquarie bypassing Newcastle and Maitland at a preliminary cost estimate of $ 180m. Upgrading of the New England highway section of the Sydney/Brisbane national highway is also continuing.