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Tuesday, 9 May 1961

Mr HOLTEN (Indi) .- I do not intend to enter into an argument with various Opposition speakers on the Government's economic policy. I feel we have gone thoroughly into this matter over the past weeks. I should like to say, however, after listening to some honorable members of the Opposition who are all in favour of the re-imposition of import restrictions, that it has not always been the opinion of the Opposition that these restrictions are a good thing for the Australian community.

Mr Duthie - Selective import restrictions.

Mr HOLTEN - The honorable member for Wilmot mentions selective import restrictions. 1 think that he would be the first to agree that that opens up a very difficult subject and a wide field for argument among the various industries in Australia. I feel that the Government has handled the economic situation, which is a difficult one, with courage and wisdom. We are faced with the problem of imports, and we are not alone. It is a problem that is troubling many countries. We see in most trading countries a tendency to encourage competition by freeing imports. There is a move towards freer trade throughout the world. Industries are being encouraged to become competitive and to use their initiative in developing the export markets. When a situation arose here, mainly due to a fall in our export income from primary production, certain measures were necessary. No one can deny that the price of our primary products is a matter over which the Federal Government has very little, if any, control. We cannot dictate these prices. I feel, however, that some of our industries are affected rather too severely by the current restrictions.

I should like to bring to the notice of the House the plight of the textile industry. There are important textile mills in that great country town of Wangaratta which is in my electorate. It is a pity that the honorable member for Reid, who is interjecting, does not take the same interest in his electorate as I take in mine. When the Government's economic measures were introduced they were designed for a certain purpose, but I feel that they have had some side effects that were not intended. In the textile industry, particularly in the country areas, mills have been forced to work short time and to dismiss some men. The remedy has been in the hands of these industries. They have put their case before officials of the Department of Trade and the department has been investigating the situation to ascertain the main cause of the difficulties and to determine what the Government can do to assist.

The fall in export income could be one of the reasons why the demand for the output of the textile industry has fallen. Obviously, if our wool cheque alone this year is reduced by something like £50,000,000 upon the previous year's figure - which has been the case - it means that that amount of money is not circulating in the community. This could be one of the main causes of the difficulties facing this industry. On the other hand, there seems to be a difference of opinion among union secretaries and the industry itself whether credit restrictions are causing these difficulties. It is easy to question restrictions that have caused temporary difficulties in the textile industry; but it is the Government's duty to assemble the information and sort it out and to reach a decision as quickly as possible if it can do something to assist the industry.

The Wangaratta woollen mills and the Bruck mills, as well as other branches of the textile industry, are most important to Australia. They are too important to be allowed to suffer serious damage. We find it hard enough to attract industry to country areas anyway. Surely, therefore, we "should be alert to make sure that industries that are established in country areas are assisted to the maximum extent possible by any government that holds office. I am certain that that will be done in this case. I feel that if it is possible for us to tell the banks that they must restrict credit to certain types of industries, such as importers and land and share speculators, it should be possible to act in the opposite direction so that credit will be released to industries that are of national importance and are affected unintentionally by certain economic measures. In country towns where the textile industries are principally established, the business people are adversely affected, and that is something we should consider also.

When import restrictions were lifted in February, 1960, provision was made for control of imports of textiles. This indicates that the Government must have considered that the textile industry could be in danger if imports were allowed to flow in too freely. There is no doubt that because of our cost structure, it is impossible for us to compete with certain overseas countries. It has been said by the Government that the textile industry is important to Australia and that it is wanted. If this is the case, urgent action is necessary. I know that departmental officers have been working hard on information that has been submitted to them and have required more information from time to time. I hope the Government will be in a position to announce a decision soon on what it can do to assist the industry.

Mr L R Johnson - What do you expect the Government to do?

Mr HOLTEN - The Government could look at credit and it could also ascertain whether imports from overseas countries are damaging this industry seriously. I notice that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) is in the chamber; I ask him to consider whether something can be done to help the textile industry.

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