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Thursday, 5 December 1974
Page: 4713

Dr EDWARDS (Berowra) -The tariff proposals before the House shed light, firstly, on what the Government's tariff policy is or is supposed to be- so far as it has one independently of its own creation and until recently its master, the Industries Assistance Commission; and secondly, what its tariff policy is not, or rather the tatters into which its policy has or is falling. What the policy set out to be- under the single minded espousal by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) of so-called tariff reform that is, when he was a strong Rattigan man- was this: That as quickly as possible as many tariff rates as possible should be brought to one level of the order of 25 per cent or thereabouts. As practical industrialists would put it, 'what cannot survive at 25 per cent is dispensable'. Thus we find when we look at the proposals being validated by this Bill that in the case of fibre board containers, paper and textile bags, the tariff is to be 25 per cent, and for photographic and cinematographic apparatus it is to be 20 per cent. But that 20 per cent was reduced. Perhaps nothing could better illustrate some of the doctrinaire stupidity or folly of what has been done than the fact that the rate was reduced from 20 per cent- recommended by the tariff board after a long and protracted inquiry- to 15 per cent simply because that report was brought in just a little before the 25 per cent tariff cut last year- and despite the fact that at that time a significant revaluation of currency had also been effected, the rate was set at that level.

If we look at the other rates we see the same pattern emerging. But as I have said on a number of occasions, that approach to tariff and industry policy is not a valid nor, in the long run, a feasible approach. That the Government has changed its own view is clear from the last of the proposals which I wish to mention- the proposal of 13 November 1974 which had the effect of increasing the motor vehicle rate by 10 percentage points to 45 per cent. That contrasts with this pattern of rates that we have seen, together with the proposed rates for the electrical industry, the domestic appliances industry and indeed initially for the motor car industry, all were at the rate of 25 per cent. So I repeat that the proposals before the House, taken together with those rates, indicate what the policy was or was supposed to be. The divergent proposal in relation to the motor industry- which I might inform the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) I entirely support- is an indication of the state of confusion into which the policy has fallen.

I conclude on this note: All this is not to suggest, and the Opposition would not suggest, that changes in tariffs and some restructuring of industry should not be made. I stress as I have done on other occasions that the previous Government did not rest content with the level of tariffs. It was the previous Government which instituted the systematic review of the tariff and enlarged the resources of the Tariff Board to do so. The burden of the criticism in my remarks is that, what changes would result in an improvement in the use of the nation's resources in accordance with our national objectives is a very complex issue and not one to be determined by reference to a theoretical uniform standard rate of the order of 25 per cent. In particular Australians are committed, and the Government is learning this, to a big Australia, a diversified Australia with a broadly based and dynamic manufacturing sector. I say as categorically as I can that the Liberal and Country Parties in this Parliament are unequivocally so committed, to adequate and consistent protection to industries that warrant it. The alternative to which I suspect the Industries Assistance Commission would direct us is an Australia with perhaps a somewhat higher income per head but less industrialised, more heavily dependent on its rural and mining export industries and on imports for much of its manufactures. I repeat that is not the sort of Australia that Australians have traditionally opted for and not what the majority of Australians want today.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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