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Wednesday, 20 May 1970

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - The introduction of this Bill into the Parliament represents a major advance in the thinking of the Government. It is a great pity that the Government was not prepared to initiate this type of legislation a considerable number of years ago when it could have acted to enable far greater participation by Australians in the industrial development of this nation. At this late stage, as was pointed out by the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Whittorn), there will be great difficulty in raising loans overseas at reasonable interest rates to promote the operations of this Corporation. But even at this late stage the Opposition welcomes the introduction of this legislation. As was pointed out by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) and as has been pointed out on many occasions both within and outside this House, it is a great pity that the Government did not arrive many years ago at the necessary state of mind relative to its economic judgment to bring in this legislation so that some of the basic components of our national industries could have been saved from take-overs by overseas companies.

The prime example of Government neglect of the need to maintain Australian interests in industry is the Bell Bay aluminium undertaking which was set up as a joint venture by the Government of Tasmania and the Commonwealth of Australia at a time almost immediately prior to the great expansion in the Australian alumina industry. The Commonwealth chose to sell out its share of the venture to American companies with the claim that it was not able to provide the necessary capital for the expansion of this industry in order to allow it to develop to its fullest extent. This claim was completely hollow. The facts of the matter are that the Commonwealth Government did not wish to maintain its interest in that industry and was not prepared at that point of time to take the necessary steps to protect for Australia what is and what then was an important component of our national industries. It must be conceded to be a major victory for the Minister for Trade and Industry that he has been able to overcome the financial conservatism of many honourable members, especially of the Liberal Party, in order to bring this Bill before the Parliament. I think it is more a mark of recognition of his important bargaining power within the coalition than it is a mark of the Liberal Party's acceptance of the principles involved.

This Bill, given the necessary support, will operate to the advantage - we hope, anyhow, - of Australian participation in Australia's future development. As 1 said before, it is a pit}' that such a corporation could not have been set up a long time ago. The honourable member for Balaclava indicated that he did not believe that basic statistical data and research material on which such a corporation could be set up were available. He did not believe that the Commonwealth had undertaken the degree of research which was required. When this Government came into office some 20 years ago there was a section of the Department of Labour and National Service which was responsible for inquiries into secondary industry- That section produced what is known as the GAP document. One of the first initiatives taken by the Government under the leadership of Sir Robert Menzies was to wind up that section because the Government did not want the embarrassment of statistical information being made available to the Australian people. We now find people of the same conservative economic point of view complaining that the information that this body and other bodies which then existed could have provided is no longer available. It would seem they are hoist with their own petard.

The shortage of Australian investment capital is not as great as we would be led to believe. The facts are that certain research organisations have indicated that about 90% of all capital investment in Australia comes from Australian sources. The other 10%, unfortunately for Australia, has managed to take over most of the growth industries within our economy, and therefore has a position in our economy far in advance of the actual investments which have been made. This is a situation which could not be allowed to continue without some action being taken. In his second reading speech the Minister for Trade and Industry said that one of the prime purposes for the setting up of this Corporation is that with the growth of our gross national product the demand for consumer goods is such that our import requirements and the requirements to service overseas investment capital are growing but the burden of our export income is becoming so great that we will not be able to guarantee to meet these growth requirements in the future. I would like to deal briefly with one area in which our export income has been suddenly cut off largely because, I believe, of inaction by the Commonwealth Government in a field in which it has power to act. 1 speak of the ban recently placed on mutton exports from Australia to the United States of America and the continuing pressure against our other meat exports. This is an area in which considerable export income is available to Australia and it is income which has been jeopardised largely because of the inadequacy of the inspection facilities provided by the Commonwealth in our meat works. Meat inspectors are Commonwealth employees and as such are employed under conditions laid down by the Public Service Arbitrator and it is therefore within the power of the Commonwealth to act.

There has been much criticism of this Bill because it will enable the Government to act in a limited field to encourage new industries. The point I want to make is that it will not be sufficient to pass a Bill of this nature unless we are also prepared to act to protect those export markets which we already have by providing adequate facilities to ensure that- the quality of our exports is up to the standards demanded by the receiving countries. The people who are of vital importance in the industry which I have just mentioned are the meat inspectors. There are not enough of them. The Minister indicated in this House the other day that he was aware of this problem. I wonder whether he is aware, and if he is aware why he does not act to correct the situation whereby after 12 months training a meat inspector receives $65 a week and after 7 years experience his salary is $82 a week. He is unable to obtain annual leave because there are not enough meat inspectors available for him to be replaced while on leave. He is not paid overtime under the same conditions as other people in the industry; He is not given time to clean up after his work as are others, and in addition he is given no time for a meal break. These are only basic things, but they are things which the Commonwealth Government, as the employer of these people, should be able to understand and correct. Apparently it is not prepared to correct them. Because of this there is a threat to an industry which is earning considerable export income for Australia.

To some degree over a period of time, the Bill will relieve some of the problems which the Minister set out in his second reading speech - problems which are being created by the need for Australia to earn export income in order to service capital investment which has occurred in Australia over a number of years. This is a small measure, but it represents an important step forward in our economic thinking. There are a number of reasons why Australia needs not only a corporation of this nature but also a government with an imaginative approach to our economic problems. I think we should compare what is proposed in this organisation with what the Italian Government has done in promoting and assisting industrial development in Italy. The IRA is a major corporation which was set up by the Italian Government to promote secondary industries and to service industries in Italy. It is one of the most important organisations in the world industrially, lt operates in almost all fields of commerce and ensures that Italy has active participation in its own industries, lt acts also to ensure that employment is provided in areas where people are seeking work. At present the organisation operates in the fields of television and radio, motorways, airlines, shipping lines, telephone services, docks, engineering, manufacturing and steel works. It is one of the biggest corporations in the world. It was sufficiently large for the Italian Government to utilise its services to purchase the reserves of natural gas that were discovered in Italy and to ensure that those reserves were utilised for the benefit ot the nation. There is no indication in the Bill, or in anything that the Minister has said, that the Australian Government at this point of time is prepared to recognise the need for this type of Australian participation.

I have considerable doubts whether the philosophy of the major party on the Government side has changed at all in relation to this type of legislation. I believe that the existing political situation has enabled this Bill to be brought into the House. I trust that the Board of Directors of the Corporation will be sufficiently independent of mind to avoid the political restrictions and constrictions which the conservative Treasury will endeavour to apply in order to prevent the Corporation from having any major influence within the economy. The Bill has the support of the Opposition because the Opposition believes that a corporation of this nature is absolutely necessary in our economic conditions as they exist now and as they have existed for many years. We are only sorry that no real effort has been made in other areas to examine exactly how else and to what extent we can participate in capital investment in Australian industry and in the furtherance of Australian industrial growth.

We tend, as a Parliament, to ignore the problems which are being created by some of the social costs associated with the operations of our national economy. It has been stated by Professor Wheelwright in a paper - and I think others have said the same - that each migrant to Australia has a social cost of about $4,000. This may or may not be true but it is one of the things that this Parliament should consider. It would not be wrong, and it would not indicate any lack of support for our immigration problem, if a committee of the standing of the Vernon Committee were set up to inquire into the economic value and the economic cost of immigration to Australia and to make recommendations on any alterations that are necessary, for economic reasons, to our immigration policy. If, as has been claimed by the professor, we are spending about $4,000 on each migrant in social costs - not actual dollars - then it would not be a bad idea if we had statistical and economic data provided to show us the absolute value of immigration. I believe we need migrants at the rate we are getting them, and at the rate we can get them, but it may well be that in accepting the need for migrants we are overlooking some real economic facts. It would not do any harm for this Parliament to try to find out the true situation.

The final matter to which I refer is the effect that overseas take-overs of major Australian industries has on our work force. It is true to say - I do not think that even the boards of overseas companies would deny it - that it is more difficult to get harmonious industrial relations in an organisation which is totally owned outside Australia and where, in the main, before even minor industrial negotiations can take place the Australian officers of that company have to contact an overseas board to get approval to negotiate. The overseas board, incidentally, may have little or no knowledge of prevailing conditions in Australia. lt may have little or no real understanding of the on the spot problems that confront employers and employees. These overseas boards are making decisions and are trying to engage in industrial negotiations which just cannot be done by remote control. Across the table is still the best way to negotiate matters between employers and employees. 1 believe that Australian participation in industry, with Australian directorates having the responsibility and power to negotiate with their employees, is one of the major aims which any government should be seeking, lt is an aim which would have real effect on improving industrial relations.

I support the Bill. 1 hope that the Government appoints to the Board of Directors of the Corporation people who are prepared to undertake the aims which were set out by the Minister for Trade and Industry and which the Opposition hopes will be fulfilled. I sincerely trust that the conservative elements on the Government side who would seek to destroy this Bill by restrictions are not able to have their way.

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