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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 342

Senator BROWNHILL (Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia) (3.29 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Trade (Senator McMullan), to a question without notice asked by Senator McKiernan this day, relating to the Australian Trade Commission.

The question to Senator McMullan related to trade, his battle with Senator Cook and the fact that Ausindustry is going to take over from Austrade within Australia. Senator McMullan said there is no argument. It is good to see the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans) here because we now have Austrade basically working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is working with industry. It is working with EFIC. It is working with all different areas, which is good. That is great.

  I do not mind all of that, but if the minister looks at what is happening around the world he will find that Austrade is very fearful that it will be taken away from the Minister for Trade and put with the industry minister. At least, with the Minister for Trade, Austrade can understand what is happening. We always had a locking together of Austrade internally, with its shopfront offices which have just started. There is nothing wrong with those, but we are now having it run by a different minister. He was not a bad minister when he had responsibility for trade, but obviously he is a very ambitious one as the minister with responsibility for industry and he wants to have all these things under his control.

  I think it is all about identifying winners. If a person working for Austrade overseas wants to know about the local industries, he will have to go through a different minister.    Austrade already has great difficulties. Certainly, there is confusion as to what programs are currently available. The new arrangements with the shopfront offices will simply serve to compound that confusion. I am really asking how this can be rationalised and how it can best serve the purpose of industry to get our trade going with the rest of the world.

  As I said, the concept of the shopfront offices is sound. Existing shopfronts already have some internal hiccups—I refer to the National Industry Extension Service—which need to be sorted out. The new arrangements which were announced to us yesterday afternoon must be clearly understood by industry, otherwise they will be just another level of bureaucracy.

  In this morning's Canberra Times there was an article which referred to this power grab by Senator Cook. In the article he is reported as saying:

  "I will create a National Industry Trade and Investment Board in which I will put my assets from EFIC and [Senator McMullan] will put his from Austrade and we will run them together and provide a seamless focus for Australian industry and we will set up the policy direction for the next round of industry considerations."

I wonder whether all of these people giving their different ideas will not confuse the whole focus of trade which is needed if Australia is going to get where we want it to go internationally. I believe it definitely shows that Senator Cook is trying to wrest control of Austrade. He has failed in that regard; he has now taken a piece of Austrade away from the Minister for Trade. I ask the ministers to define very clearly the lines of responsibility between them; otherwise the confusion which will come into play will not serve us well in the future.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.