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Wednesday, 8 December 1976
Page: 3525

Mr HOLTEN (Indi) -Fancy hearing a member of the Australian Labor Party worrying about the country areas of Australia. This is the first time in 4 years that I have heard a member of the Labor Party express any concern for anyone outside the capital cities in this country. I am disappointed that the dme for which I am allowed to speak has been cut down tonight, but I understand the exigencies of the House. Mainly I propose to speak about the textile industry. At least the decision by the Government yesterday has meant that the textile industry has a reprieve, or a breathing space in which to take some advantage of the devaluation situation and the decision not to cut tariffs on textiles. But the battle for the textile industry is not over by any means. I know it and the textile industry knows it.

The Bills which we are debating cognately tonight and about which I am given 10 minutes to speak embrace several Industries Assistance Commission reports. In the time available I want to relate my remarks particularly to the knitted and woven apparel report which was dated 20 April and which was released and approved by the Government on 9 June. It was reaffirmed by the Goverment in August. I intend to use statistics and statements that I believe to be correct. If the IAC or anyone else can prove otherwise, I will be very pleased to hear what they have to say.

The announcement on 9 June of the implementation of the IAC report on knitted and woven apparel completely confounded part of the textile industry. In my electorate of Indi, part of the textile industry has been damaged very severely. At the Wangaratta woollen mills alone 1 10 people out of about 350 were sacked as a result of the report. The IAC, in its recommendations on textiles and in all other recommendations, must have regard for Government policy. The industry could not understand the paradoxical reaction of the IAC in first acknowledging in this report that previous restraint measures had been ineffective in overcoming market disruption and then recommending as a solution import quota levels that were substantially higher than those applying previously. We already import a much higher percentage of textiles than practically any other Western country. My information is that Australia imports 60 per cent of its textiles. Compare this figure with the United States, for example, where less than 10 per cent of the total textile and apparel market is available to imports, and Japan where only 20 per cent of the market needs can be imported.

I shall take some figures from this report on knitted and woven apparel. In the section for knitted tops, the largest section- this section is typical of all sections under review in this report- the amount of imports for 1974-75 was 34.4 million units. The new quota level is 37 million units- an increase of 7.5 per cent. This is despite repeated statements in the IAC report that severe market disruption was occurring and that restraint action would be necessary to prevent further disruption. How can an increase of 7.5 per cent be classed as restraint action? This is the pattern right through the report. In section after section of the report the IAC found that market disruption was occurring. The phrase market disruption' is mentioned 62 times in the first 50 pages of the report. 'Market disruption' includes the 'threat' as well as the existence of serious damage. That is the IAC definition, not mine. What is the IAC solution- an increase in the import quota levels? Further, the report seems to have completely disregarded the submission by the industry. In the same example of knitted tops- and again this is synonymous with the other articles under review- the industry's request was for 20.5 million units to be imported. But what is recommended by the IAC and accepted by the Government? It is thirty-seven million units allowed to flood the market.

Another error appears to be that the IAC overestimated the total market demand in Australia for knitted and woven apparel. In fact the industry's thoroughly researched submission on this point indicated that market supplies required for this financial year would be lower than those supplied for 1975-76. This assessment of expected market growth seems to have been disregarded by the IAC. The Commission's recommendations for higher tariff quota levels were apparently based on an expanding market which in fact is non-existent. But it is not only the important quotas that have caused the crisis in most areas of the textile industry. They are a very substantial added imposition on an industry that was already facing severe problems. Most of these problems started with the Whitlam Government's 25 per cent tariff cut across the board in 1973 which is generally regarded as the worst and most stupid economic measure ever perpetrated in the history of Australia. Further to that the Whitlam Government abolished import quotas in February 1974. The actions of the Labor Government were unbelievable; they were a really shattering blow to the textile industry.

It seems that it is the opinion of the IAC that all industries that rely on a high level of assistance are inefficient. It is apparently of negative importance to them that the textile industry in Australia has always been dependent on a measure of government assistance, as it the case with many other industries in this country, not only secondary industries but also primary industries. Every developed country in the world provides much more protection for its textile industries than does Australia. We just rely on tariffs, and lately on quotas. The United States of America, Japan and the European Economic Community not only have tariff duties and quotas; they also have exchange controls and complete bans on the imports of textiles. These countries have far bigger domestic markets than we have.

My time is running out. As I said earlier, there is an arrangement between the speakers taking part in this debate to limit their time to 10 minutes instead of taking the normal 20 minutes. I particularly want to refer to pages 3, 4 and 5 of this year's annual report of the LAC. These pages purport to be an expression of IAC philosophy. To me the words contained in these pages can be described only as an unsurpassed collection of vague statements relating to the transfer of resources towards low cost industries.

I said earlier in my comments that I would be very pleased to listen to anyone from the IAC or anywhere else who could correct any statement that I can make tonight. The words on pages 3, 4 and 5 of the IAC annual report are so vague and theoretical that it is impossible to assess the judgment and wisdom of members and staff of the IAC. There is no point in the IAC saying that resources should be allocated if it cannot or will not say where they should be allocated. What are these new low cost industries about which the IAC talks? The IAC ought to stop writing vague statements. That body has a responsibility to name these low cost industries. The Chairman and other members of the IAC say that they do not have this responsibility. I say that subsections 22(1) (b) and (e) of the Industries Assistance Commission Act put the responsibility squarely on the IAC to name the low cost industries to which resources ought to be transferred. If the IAC cannot put up the list it ought to shut up and stop talking about the transfer of resources to low cost industries. Where are these low cost industries. I want them named; I want a list of them. I think that the Government ought to insist that the IAC put out a list of low cost industries that it has in mind.

Before I conclude my remarks I want to mention 2 more matters. There has been talk about restructuring and retraining. I am glad to see that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in an interview reported in the Melbourne Herald of 10 November emphatically stated that this is not the time to restructure industries in Australia. How are we to face the people in the country areas such as Albury-Wodonga, Wangaratta and so on, and what jobs are we to put them into? I ask the Government once again whether it will make a more definite statement about the textile industry through the appropriate Minister who said in February this year that this is a significant industry. That is going a little way but it is not going far enough. I believe that the Government, through the appropriate Minister, ought to make a definite statement to the effect that it thinks that the textile industry in Australia is a vital and essential part of the manufacturing structure of this country and essential to our economy, particulary in the decentralised areas of this country.

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