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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1818


Senator PARER(5.00) —I am indebted to Senator Jones for his general support of the need for an effective program for business deregulation. Senator Maguire indicated in his address that the Liberal Party of Australia tended to oversell deregulation. Frankly, I believe that there is very close correlation between regulation and the size of government. In fact, Dr Helen Hughes of the Australian National University, in referring to the growing band of public sector employees said that she did not mind paying them if she was sure they would not do anything. Unfortunately, public sector employees continue to contribute to the 10 new regulations a day introduced within Australia in the various levels of government.

If ever an industry, and thus the country as a whole, has suffered at the hands of regulatory government it is the mining industry. In an era of deregulated financial systems and a floating dollar demand for our chief exporting industries to become more competitive has become urgent. This demand occurs in the context of increasing pressures on wages, interest rates and inflation, gross uncertainty in the area of Aboriginal land rights and a continuing poor trading performance with a rapidly increasing current account deficit.

Let me give the Senate recent figures on the contribution of the mining industry to Australia's prosperity and some of the costs incurred by that industry. In 1983-84 Australia's mineral industry earned in excess of $9 billion in export income-some 40 per cent of the nation's total export earnings. Net profit, however was a mere $461m. With continuing poor returns, investment declined last year by over $1 billion and is expected to continue to fall by over 10 per cent this year. Exploration has declined some 40 per cent since 1981, even without accounting for inflation.

Government taxes and charges and regulations are milking the industry dry. In 1983-84 the industry paid more than $2.4 billion to governments or 64 per cent of pre-tax operating profits. Costs are increasing. In 1983-84 rail freight charges, port charges and other costs increased by 15 per cent as a proportion of total costs on the previous year. On top of this the industry spent almost $3.3 billion on industry investment and infrastructure, including $1.1 billion on housing, community facilities, hospitals, schools, community roads and town power and water supply.

However, perhaps even more important to the industry than the visible costs are the hidden costs of government intervention and regulation which constitute a regime of delayed extortion and uncertainty. The bias towards more and more regulation is crippling our most efficient and productive export earners. There is a need for some regulation in industry. Equally clearly, there is now too much regulation. Regulation is costly and complex. It affects almost all areas of mining whether, for example, as a result of environmental impact statements, both State and Federal, or anything else. Regulation leads to lost export opportunities, higher taxes and charges, artificial prices, less investment and, needless to say, higher unemployment. Its cost to entrepreneurial skill and efficiency is a cost this country cannot afford.

My colleague Senator Short has referred already to the efforts of the Western Mining Corporation at Kambalda in bringing on a mine 18 months from the first drill hole. The same story can be told of the Bowen Basin, where mines were brought on from the years 1966 to 1974 at the rate of one every two years. One has to ask how those companies did that without the help of government? It must boggle the minds of a lot of people who work in this sector today. Today, for example, we have the Joint Coal Board telling people how they should mine, whether they should mine underground or open cut. However, the worst phase in the mining industry's history-I draw this to the attention of the Senator-occurred during the Whitlam era. Some projects stopped by Labor through the improper use of export controls have remained undeveloped. Others, with the change in government, were able to proceed. In an effort to develop a mine I can recall making a futile plea in 1975-in those black years-for someone to tell me who controlled an area in which a company had a lease. I asked whether it was the landowner, local government, the State Government or the Federal Government? It clearly was not the company.

Senator Short referred to Kambalda, which I will refer to again. The companies involved at Roxby Downs are now dealing with 54 different departments and instrumentalities-34 South Australian and 20 Commonwealth. These companies consider they are fortunate as they have good uranium rather than bad uranium. I do not know how that definition comes about but the orders from the Government state that there is good uranium at Roxby Downs but bad uranium throughout the rest of Australia. I come now to the export control system, which has been in force since 1972.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The time allotted under sessional order for consideration of this matter has now expired.