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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1864

Senator MESSNER —Has the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce seen the very perceptive comments by Mr Joe Thompson, his former colleague and the former Secretary of the New South Wales Branch of the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation of Australia, about the impact of industrial disputes on the car industry crisis? Does he agree with Mr Thompson's estimate that industrial disputation is adding between 30 and 35 per cent to the cost of locally-produced cars? Is it a fact, as claimed by Mr Thompson, that most disputes affecting the car industry have occurred in areas such as component supply and paint making where unions with no direct stake in the industry use their power to bring it to a halt? Finally, do not Mr Thompson's constructive comments underline the critical need for action on a broad front if Australian industry generally is to survive and become more competitive? In other words, does he agree that next month's spending cuts will, by themselves, not be enough and that other action is urgently required, particularly to reform the industrial relations systems and the taxation system?

Senator BUTTON — Different face, same old questions. First of all, let me say that Senator Messner described the comments made by Mr Joe Thompson as perceptive. If that is a correct description, in my experience it will be the first time that Mr Thompson has made perceptive comments about the motor vehicle industry. I am very pleased to see it. There is always room for improvement in all of us. The general point of Senator Messner's question is whether industrial disputation has been detrimental to the car industry. My answer to that question is yes. Industrial disputation is detrimental to the welfare of any industry. I am not in a position to agree or disagree about the allegation that industrial disputation has added 35 per cent to the cost of local cars in terms of a statistic. I think it is an absurdly high figure. All sorts of things have added to the cost of local cars. The biggest of them has been the devaluation, of course, and what has gone with it. However, the suggestion that industrial disputation in this industry has added anything like 35 per cent to the cost of local cars, I think borders on a touch of hyperbole, if I might put it in those terms.

Mr Thompson is quite right when he says that the impact of any industrial disputation is detrimental to the car industry. I suppose the assumption in the question is that any industrial dispute is the fault of the unions. Let me say, however, that industrial disputation in the car industry-if it has occurred-has, as Mr Thompson suggests, been in the components sector. That has been the most difficult sector in respect of industrial disputes. That is so because by and large vehicle manufacturers in Australia have now introduced just-in-time systems for their manufacturing processes. A just-in-time system is totally dependent on the arrival of componentry, et cetera at a particular time, and can be held up by industrial disputation.

Senator Puplick —Did you say `jest-in-time' or `just-in-time'?

Senator BUTTON —Just-in-time. Well done, Senator Puplick. If I may say so, I am not given to unnecessary generosity in this chamber, but I think the honourable senator's interjection is more to the point than any I have had so far. I do not know whether we can carry this matter any further. I have given my observations about the question asked by Senator Messner.

Senator MESSNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The other point that needs to be addressed by the Minister is the question of the forthcoming expenditure statement which, apparently, is going to solve all our economic problems. I would like the Minister to address the question of whether he is going to take action in other areas, such as those identified by Mr Thompson.

Senator BUTTON —The honourable senator should not make a goof of himself on his first day as shadow Minister. For goodness sake, this Government has never claimed for a moment that the expenditure cuts to be made in May will correct all the economic problems of this country. We have a legacy going back many years because of Liberal governments, because of the total intellectual inactivity of such people as Senator Messner in Liberal governments which did nothing about any of these things. We have never claimed that the May statement will be the solution to all the problems. If the honourable senator spends a bit of time in his room doing a bit of reading, he will know that this Government has done an enormous amount to increase the competitiveness of Australian industry.