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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 6468

Senator ABETZ (8:54 PM) —Firstly, if I may briefly comment on Senator Milne’s contribution, all I would ask her to do and those others who are concerned about the so-called ‘big cars’ is that we in Australia should not think of big cars as necessarily being gas guzzlers. I think we can achieve environmental outcomes and fuel efficiencies with big motor vehicles keeping in mind the socio-demographics of Australia where the average family still has 2.1 kids, where you have family outings and Grandma wants to come along as well. The Abetz family being the proud owner of a Hyundai Getz, I can say that not many people fit into a Hyundai Getz. If you want to tow your boat or a caravan, as so many Australians do, you require a bigger and sturdier vehicle. So to take all those factors into account I would like to think that there may well still be a very good market for larger vehicles, albeit hopefully more fuel efficient vehicles.

I return to the minister’s rebuttal of my amendment. I am not sure whether I understood the minister correctly, but he was indicating that my amendment would cause a complete breach of commercial-in-confidence considerations and then in the next breath he was telling us we would simply be undertaking a duplication. I hope I have misinterpreted the minister’s comments. One thing I have not misinterpreted—and this is what exposes the government—is that nobody can know the grants that are being given by this government and this minister because business plans might be revealed, commercial-in-confidence could be at stake and investment decisions could be at stake. But guess what? The minister uses taxpayers’ money to fly over to Japan to announce a $35 million grant to Toyota. No problems there, if it gives a headline for the minister. Then $149 million is announced for GM Holden and guess what? The Prime Minister even appears in one of their advertisements. No problem there with commercial-in-confidence, no problem there with giving away business plans. It seems to me that the minister wants to pick and choose.

You see, what the minister and the government have deliberately done since 2003 is change the scheme from a credit scheme to a deliberate grant scheme. As a grant scheme, with every other business that gets a government grant—be it under the much loved Tasmanian community forest agreement that Senator Milne absolutely loves; I do not know why she is shaking her head; I thought she was a great supporter of it—it is made known publicly and the companies have to indicate what the money was made available for, whether it was retooling for new sawmilling facilities or whatever. Indeed I have in front of me a press release by the member for Grayndler, Mr Albanese, announcing grants in the textile, clothing and footwear sector, also a highly integrated sector. They were getting grants for all sorts of purposes, highlighting what the business plan was for the future—how they were going to redevelop themselves, how they were going to position themselves in the marketplace. But bingo! It does not seem to apply in the textile, clothing and footwear sector.

If you look at the grants under the Export Market Development Grant Scheme, which covers all sorts of industries—indeed, even the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra was the beneficiary of an export market development grant which got them to South America, if I recall correctly—they are all publicly disclosed. The business plan of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, in getting itself into South America and trying to get more recognition on the international stage, was there for people to see. It was put up in lights, with no problems. You have that for the export development grants in, I assume, the trade portfolio. You also have a huge number of grants that have been made in textile, clothing and footwear, all of them available on the AusIndustry website—little grants to all sorts of little companies—and, might I add, I am sure money well spent but publicly disclosed.

I have heard the argument on this commercial-in-confidence aspect changing quite considerably. First of all, I was told by elements—and I am not going to name anybody, but in general terms—that it would be very detrimental to the auto manufacturers. When I said to them that they may well have the capacity to reverse engineer the figures for each to find out what the other was getting, they had the decency to acknowledge that that basically was the case. Then all of a sudden the FAPN were called into the argument to say that the totality of the component sector was potentially going to be prejudiced. In further discussions with them, it was then refined to potentially just the small businesses. With all the arguments, as the minister has said in every one of his phrases in his commentary on my amendment, what has been exposed is not that it will cause these problems but that it could or may possibly be a problem. I might say the words give a flexibility to allow you to make an assertion without having any conviction behind the assertion being made.

If this was such a sensitive sector where no amounts of money should be disclosed, I would take the minister’s word on that but for the fact that he took himself to Japan to announce the $35 million grant. If I recall correctly, he also went to Adelaide to announce a $149 million grant. There was no commercial-in-confidence there, no undermining of investment propositions there, because it was made for TV. It made for a great announcement. When the minister wants to publicly announce something and make a big man of himself, or indeed the Prime Minister, then it is all okay and the commercial-in-confidence can go out the window.

I believe—and I have said this before—that, when a sector is the beneficiary of straight-out grants of money funded by the Australian taxpayer, the Australian taxpayer has a right to know the amount of money that is being provided. The previous scheme was a credit scheme and it is interesting that the government, by a deliberate policy decision—I am still not 100 per cent sure why—changed it from a credit scheme to a grants scheme. That is fine, but there are consequences that flow from that and people do expect grants to be publicly disclosed.

I say to the minister this was a good attempt to put up an argument, but even if everything that he asserts about a grants scheme being akin to a credit scheme were the case—which I reject—then I simply say that, while certain things may have been done under the Howard government, we do look afresh at things in opposition and it is our considered position that now that this has turned into a grants scheme there should be the sort of transparency that I have been arguing for and that this amendment will deliver.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Abetz’s) be agreed to.