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Tuesday, 28 August 1973
Page: 452

Mr EDWARDS (Berowra) - The purpose of this Bill is to extend the operation of the cellulose acetate flake bounty until 30 June 1976. As the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Second Industry (Dr Cairns) stated in his second reading speech, this is in conformity with the Tariff Board's suggestion that the bounty be continued until the Board has examined this and other acetyl products in its 1975 general review of the chemical industry. I would agree that it is appropriate that this examination of the wisdom or otherwise of this bounty be conducted as part of the general review of the tariff intended by the preceding Government.

This might be an appropriate opportunity to recall to honourable members' minds the actions and the approach of the former Government in this respect. It starts from the proposition that the tariff is important for the balanced and efficient growth of Australian secondary industry. The former Liberal-Country Party Government was committed to the continuing and systematic review of levels of protection, and to the setting of protective tariffs at levels appropriate to enable economic and efficient industry, viewed within the overall framework of a balanced and viableindustrial structure, to compete effectively with imports. It recognised that the procedure nf examing industries in isolation could over the long term lead to inconsistencies in tariff making and inevitably to a sort of creeping increase in the overall level of protection.

Recognising this and in pursuit of the objective of protecting economic and efficient industries to which I have just referred, the former Government in 1971 instituted the progressive' or 'systematic' review of the tariff, as it came to be known, commencing with those areas where protection was the highest and had not been reviewed for many years. There are current review references before the Board at this moment pursuant to that program, on electronic and electrical equipment and on domestic appliances.

T also note in passing that in April 1972 the so-called '1000 items excess margins' references was sent to the Board. The primary purpose of that was to provide information for trade negotiations but also to serve as a major indicator of areas of excess protection. I think there is agreement on all sides by all commentators as to the importance of moving to eliminate excess - that is to say unnecessary - protection from the tariff schedules. The membership of the Board was enlarged by the former Government to expedite these inquiries. There can be no doubt that the end point would have been recommendations for reduced tariff rates in many cases on a properly selective basis and after open public inquiry.

That was the direction and the manner of the policies of the preceding Government. I am led to ask: Do I conclude from the second reading speech of the Minister in relation to this Bill that the present Government embraces this approach to the tariff? It certainly appears to be so from the statement of the Minister, that he has accepted advice that the cellulose acetate flake bountry be extended to 1976 so that the scheduled 1975 general review of the chemical industry can take place. Of course, 'scheduled' is used within the context of the progressive review of the tariff to which I have referred.

Mr Daly - Your mind is on aeroplanes.

Mr EDWARDS - This is backed up by the statement of the Treasurer in a speech given to the Australian Electrical Manufacturers Association on 5 July last. I draw the attention of the House to that date because it is very significant in relation to events of 18 July which, for the information of the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) had nothing to do with airports at all.

Mr Daly - What about the 12th?

Mr EDWARDS - What happened on 12 July?

Mr Daly - The Battle of the Boyne.

Mr EDWARDS - Oh yes. I have not got mixed up in those affairs.

Mr Graham - We know what happened to the Irish there.

Mr EDWARDS - Let us not open up old wounds. We are talking in an area where I had hoped there was some consistency of view as between the previous Government - the Liberal and Country Parties now in Opposition - and this present Government. I am saying that there is some indication of this in the second reading speech by the Minister, and I am also supported in that view by the Treasurer speaking as recently - as we have raised the whole question of dates - as 5 July last. He said:

Let me begin by saying something on the machinery for formulating government policy decisions regarding the tariff. The Government firmly supports the system of open inquiry by the Tariff Board. This is consistent with our general approach of favouring open government.

I shall make a reference in a moment to the 25 per cent cut in tariff so honourable members may be permitted some sort of horse laugh at that point. The Treasurer continued:

The Government has confirmed its support for the progressive review of the tariff which is now in progress. We will see that the further references required to enable the review to be completed will go forward. This procedure ensures that the issues involved are examined independently of the pressures of day to day politics and that the examination will be open to public scrutiny.

I can only express the hope that this procedure will be adopted and in future will be adhered to by the Government, for where is the consistency in the intention evidently expressed by the Minister for Overseas Trade, who is now in the chamber, of referring this matter in the course of the systematic review for further consideration in 1975, and the statements by the Treasurer, with the recent move by the Government to cut tariffs - including I can only presume, certain tariffs in the chemical industry - across the board by 25 per cent? I am not sure what other parts of the chemical industry may have felt the effects of that move, while at this time we proceed to continue unchanged the cellulose acetate flake bounty until 1976. The fact is that the recent action of the Government in relation to tariffs - in particular, its 25 per cent cut - on the face of it, seems to have been adopted as some form of alternative to the speeding up of the tariff review, which would have been a very proper procedure. As against that, the Government has favoured an across the board cut with subsequent attention to those who squeal the loudest.

I submit that the Government, in doing that, was acting clearly counter to the law of Australia, as in fact was pointed out at the time by my colleague the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock). Section 15 (1) of the Tariff Board Act states:

The Minister shall -

It states 'shall' - refer to the Board for inquiry and report the following matters -

(d)   the necessity of new, increased or reduced duties, and the deferment of existing or proposed deferred duties;

Section 16 of the Act refers to the report forthcoming under that mandatory requirement. How then can it be argued that a 25 per cent cut across the board without report from the Board, albeit on the basis of a hastily prepared report by a committee under the Chairman of the Board, was in accordance with that requirement?

Also, in this respect the Government was acting against the views expressed by its own distinguished consultant in the person of Sir John Crawford who, in June, reported on a Commission to Advise on Assistance to Industries. In paragraph 58, Sir John refers to the mandatory requirement in the Tariff Board Act for the Minister, before taking action, to refer to the Board for inquiry and report the necessity for reduced duties, as refered to in the section of the Act 1 have just quoted, and he goes on after some discussion to state in paragraph 62: .

Although there have been occasions when the mandatory requirement has been ignored... . . it does appear that these are strictly in conflict with the law.

MrDEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson) Order! I have to put it to the honourable member for Berowra that he is getting very wide of the mark. If I understand him correctly, there is no suggestion that the Bill at present before the House involves any conflict with any requirement in respect of Tariff Board procedures, and I would ask him to come back to the subject matter of the Bill itself.

Mr EDWARDS - That isso, Mr Deputy Speaker; but I am trying to elucidate the intentions of this Government which often are not very clearly expressed.. As I said-

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