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Wednesday, 10 May 1972
Page: 1549

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) - There is not one honourable senator in this place who would wish to see a decentralised industry forced to move to a centralised situation. That certainly is my position as a Country Party senator. I was concerned about the remarks made by Senator McLaren and Senator Poyser. Senator McLaren tried to introduce a political content by saying that this matter reflects on my Party. The electorate in which this chain industry operated by Renolds Australia Pty Ltd is based is one which the Labor Party has had no hope of winning for many, many years. Its hopes of winning it are like Senator McLaren's statement about the Australian Labor Party looking forward to winning the Prime Ministership. His Party has been looking forward for 20 years to doing that and in another 20 years time it still will be looking forward to it. When members of the Labor Party know that election time is near they look over their shoulders and turn to pillars of salt, as people did in earlier days.

We in Victoria have received the publication from the committee which is concerned about the Renold's chain industry in Benalla. It is interesting to attempt to evaluate when an industry will decide to move or whether the interests of the town concerned, which wishes it to stay, should predominate. No previous speaker in this debate has presented the interests of the company concerned. We have not been told whether the price at which chain is produced in Benalla can meet overseas competition. I would pay regard to facts contained in a Tariff Board report on this subject.

It is interesting to contemplate the attitudes of various honourable senators in regard to tariff. I at least have maintained a traditional position for my corner. This matter that is under discussion is related to a Tariff Board report made in September last year. Honourable senators probably know that the honourable member for Indi, the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten), has had this matter under the closest scrutiny - a closer scrutiny than any that could be given to it by any member of the Opposition. I have discussed this matter with him and he has been down to visit the company. I know that he has been to Benalla to investigate the problems mentioned in the letters we have received from the committee referred to. The Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) is certainly concerned. The Senate may be interested to know that today the Minister answered a question on this matter in another place. As the hour is late perhaps I may read the answer that he gave. It may be of interest and perhaps it will put the facts squarely before the Senate. In answer to a question the Minister said:

I am aware of the problems confronting producers of smaller pitch precision transmission chain.

The duties on this chain were reduced from 45 per cent (General), 271 per cent (Preferential) to 35 per cent (General), 25 per cent (Preferential) last September following the Government's acceptance of recommendations made by the Tariff Board.

In its report the Board commented that it was in the smaller pitch chain that the local industry's cost and price disadvantages were the greatest due mainly to the greater degree of automation overseas associated with production for large markets. In the Board's opinion, most local production of chain in this category was uneconomic and would remain so unless the industry could employ the techniques and equipment necessary to considerably reduce its costs.

In the same report the Board found that dumping of chain had occurred. The Minister for Customs and Excise has taken action to collect dumping duties on the types of chain involved.

In February last I had discussions with executives of the Renold organisation from the United Kingdom and with the Australian management concerning the effects of import competition on production in Benalla. Early in March I received representations from the Mayor of Benalla concerning the effects on the local community of any major downturn in chain production at the Renold plant.

When the Minister for Shipping and Transport was in the United Kingdom recently he discussed the problems of chain production at Benalla with executives of the Renold organisation.

I have asked the Department of Trade and Industry to carry out a detailed review of the situation to see whether there is a case for action to further assist the production of small pitch precision transmission chain in Australia against overseas competition.

The Department has established close liaison with the companies concerned and I understand that the information necessary for the review is being prepared by the companies.

It is most interesting, in the light of what we have heard from the Australian Labor Party in relation to its attitude to overseas companies establishing in this country and its attitude to tariff protection for certain industries, that it should bring this matter into the Senate tonight and suggest that it has some command of the situation.

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