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Tuesday, 9 November 1976
Page: 2432

Mr GROOM (BRADDON, TASMANIA) -The Prime Minister would be aware of the decision of the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co. Ltd in Tasmania to retrench 400 of its work force in December and January next. Has the company made any approaches to the Commonwealth Government in recent months for assistance? When informing the Government of its intentions, did the company ask for any form of assistance? What action does the Government intend to take to assist the people of Queenstown in their present crisis?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The Government is very clearly concerned at the decision taken by this particular company. There were discussions earlier in the year following the Industries Assistance Commission report in which a certain kind of assistance was suggested. As a result, there were discussions with the company. I think the company felt that the form of assistance proposed by the Industries Assistance Commission which was generally in the form of loan guarantees would not have helped it in its present circumstances. A number of things have led to the company's difficulty. There has been a fall in world copper prices, a very substantial increase in wages, and a very substantial increase in State charges of different kinds, such as payroll tax and workers compensation. Workers compensation for the year 1973-74 increased from something over $400,000 to about $1,200,000. It ought to be noted to what extent State taxes and surcharges can affect the fortunes and profitability of companies operating within the boundaries of the State. The company approached me last Wednesday or Thursday, not to ask for assistance but to inform the Commonwealth of its decision. The company did not ask for assistance of any kind but naturally, the Government is concerned about the social and human problems that are involved in this matter.

The honourable gentleman has in Canberra representatives of the unions in the district and the Trades and Labour Council and I hope to see them after question time. I understand also that the warden of Queenstown is in Canberra. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and I will be happy to see those people. In addition, the Premier of Tasmania is here and I will be seeing him about the general problem of malaise in industry in Tasmania. I again draw the attention of the House to the imposition that State surcharges can be on industries and on profitability in those industries. I do not suggest for one moment that that is the sole cause of the problems experienced by this industry. It is not. There are many facets to the problem. A quite dramatic fall in copper prices is a significant part of that problem. The day has long gone when State governments can continue to increase their own domestic charges and think that that action does not have an impact on industries within their boundaries.

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