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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 2231

The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator Cotton has suggested that these Bills be debated together. Mr Minister, are you agreeable?

Senator Wriedt - Yes.

The PRESIDENT - With the concurrence of the Senate we will debate the Bills together and vote on them separately. Is the Senate agreeable to that course being followed? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

Senator COTTON -The Liberal Party supports this Bill in the Senate, as it did in the House of Representatives. It is a logical and sensible outcome from the useful and comprehensive report prepared by Sir John Crawford entitled 'A Commission to Advise on Assistance to Industries'. If one adverts to that report one finds that that Commission was set up on the basis of a letter, dated 1 March 1973, from the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to Sir John Crawford. In that letter the Prime Minister outlined the following proposals:

Dear Sir John,

The Government has decided to establish a Commission, to replace the present Tarin" Board, which will be responsible Tor advising the Government on assistance for primary as well as secondary industries.

The purpose in establishing the Commission is to extend the system of receiving advice publicly from an independent authority, which is at present the basis of Government policy decisions on assistance to and development of secondary industry, to the rural sector of the economy.

Sir Johnwas asked if he would accept the task of advising on how the Commission should function, what its membership should be and what its procedures should be. He also was given a timetable. The Prime Minister concluded his letter by saying:

When considering the implications of this task, I would like you to bear in mind my desire to ensure that the advice which serves as a basis for Government policy on assistance for primary and secondary industry should be subject to public scrutiny, as is the case now with advice from the Tariff Board.

Sir JohnCrawford complied with the request, as we would expect he would, expeditiously. On page 94 of his report he gave a summary of his main conclusions. I will be as brief as I possibly can in dealing with those conclusions. He gave the following reasons for establishing the Commission:

It can assist the Government to develop co-ordinated policies for improving resource allocation.

It can provide advice on those policies which is disinterested.

It can facilitate public scrutiny of those policies.

I think that those are all admirable, sensible and wise courses of action. Sir John Crawford then laid down guidelines for the Commission and said:

The Commission should only advise the Government; it should not have executive or administrative responsibilities to the Government.

It should be provided with a broad policy framework, which should be consistent with the long term goals of national economic and social policy.

That is a very important clause to bear in mind because the Commission is charged very early on with having regard to those 2 things- a broad policy framework which should be consistent with long term goals of national economic and social policy. Sir John Crawford suggested a name for the Commission. He insisted that it should have industry coverage and suggested that it should advise on assistance to mining industries as well as on assistance to primary and secondary industries. He said it should also have an opportunity to give the Government advice on tertiary industries if desired. He said that the Government should be free to refer any form of assistance to the Commission and that the Commission should be free to report on it. There is a particular section in the report dealing with mandatory and permissive references. Sir John Crawford recommended that the Government should undertake to be advised by the Commission before taking action to grant or to change duties or other barriers to imports; or to grant or change subsidies, bounties or any other forms of direct monetary subvention to any primary or secondary industry, or contingent commitments such as subsidies.

Sir JohnCrawford recommended that the Government should seek the advice of the Commission on any matter relating to the granting of possible changes in or the effects of any or all forms of assistance provided by the Commonwealth to any industry in Australia. He said that the Commission should have power to initiate inquiries, as the Tariff Board does, and that it should have in various cases 6 years as a time limit. I think that Sir John Crawford tended to change his mind slightly. In the body of the report he referred to 10 years and the Liberal Party feels that that approach is more correct. However, in the final body of the report he opted for 6 years. We still feel that 10 years is more desirable. Sir John recommended that there should be a temporary assistance provision and that the Government should undertake to seek the Commission's advice before taking action when temporary assistance is to be by means of tariffs or other barriers to imports. He said that the Government, when providing temporary assistance, should automatically refer the matter to the Commission. He said also that there should be general reporting functions by the Commission in its annual reports. Another of Sir John's main conclusions was that members should be appointed on the basis of competence and not their capacity to represent particular interest groups in the community. I think that that conclusion is a very wise one.

He also concluded that there should be 2 categories of members- commissioners and associate commissioners; that the size of the Commission should be varied, depending upon work load, between not less than five and not more than nine but that there should be no limit on the number of associate commissioners. Another of the main conclusions was that the staff should be responsible to the Chairman, under the general management of the office of the Commission; that the staff should be employed under the Public Service Act. In relation to the Commission's data requirements and the analysis of data, Sir John concluded that the Commission should make the fullest possible use of existing organisations such as the Bureaus of Census and Statistics, Agricultural Economics and Mineral Resources in collecting and analysing information. Another of the main conclusions was that public hearings should be regarded as the minimum rather than the maximum. Sir John concluded that the Commission should have a program of inquiries which could be set, as far as possible, fairly well ahead so that it could plan its resources, and people would know its plan.

Sir Johnalso concluded that all communications between the Government and the Commission on matters of importance should be public and all directions to the Commission, and advice by the Commission to the Government, should be through the Prime Minister or a Minister designated by him; that the Government should, as far as possible, avoid restricting the scope of inquiries by the Commission; that references to the Commission of direct State as well as Commonwealth concern should best be determined in the first case by consultation; that except in well defined cases reports of the Commission should not be released before a decision is taken by the Government, that the exceptions were primary industry concerns in which negotiations between the industry and the Government may necessarily have to be conducted; that there should be a smooth transitional flow between the existing Tariff Board and the new Industries Assistance Commission. I have been as brief as I could on that report. It is a good report, and Sir John is entitled to have the courtesy of the Senate's consideration of the report, even in the briefest form which I have taken.

The legislation aims to extend a system of public inquiry into industry and aims to extend the type of industry to which such public inquiry may be directed. We believe that this type of scrutiny and the need for assistance to industry have a great deal to commend them. The Commission will remove many of the misconceptions about industry which have been held in this country by people who did not necessarily understand a particular problem or a particular position. Industry supplies the great part of the muscle of our economy. It has to be remembered that manufacturing industry employs over 25 per cent of Australia's work force and, I think contributes 33 per cent of the gross national product of Australia. A great deal of the Australian living standard depends upon manufacturing, its economic viability and its capacity to employ satisfactorily. If we have an industry in this country we should be prepared to look after it and we should be prepared to nourish it. At the same time, if it is to get special assistance, it should be carefully examined, as the Bill proposes. This applies to all industries, including manufacturing and primary industries, and, as I mentioned earlier, mining and tertiary industries. I think that one is entitled to say that all industries- primary, secondary and tertiary- are entitled to be regarded as good Australians, in the first place, working to the benefit of this country, and are not entitled to be regarded as fundamentally against the public interest, as some people have tended to think. The deliberations of the Commission should indicate the forms which this assistance should take.

Our colleagues in the other House co-operated to the fullest extent in having the Bill passed. They made many sensible and worthwhile suggestions for its improvement. Some of them were agreed to, and some were not agreed to. The Government indicated that it was in agreement with some, but the whole debate lapsed and we now have to bring up some of these matters in the Senate. Some have not been agreed to, some would have been agreed to but did not get to the point of being passed, and some are still to come forward. We in the Liberal Party Opposition believe very stongly that the Commission should use to the fullest possible extent the skills and the expertise of other government departments and should rely on their facilities rather than try to duplicate their functions. We regard that matter as an extremely important one. Sir John mentioned it in his main recommendations and in the body of his report. It will avoid a wastage of resources, it will avoid duplication and confusion, it will lighten the load on industry and it will lighten the load on departments and on the Commission.

We hope that in time there will be a smoother working arrangement- an arrangement which will be subject to public scrutiny and which people will regard as worth while across the general spectrum of Australian industry, whether it is primary, secondary, mining, manufacturing or, in some cases, tertiary. I believe that for a long time Australia suffered from what I call industry stand-off and that people regarded primary industry and commerce as the natural enemies of manufacturing. I do not think that these attitudes have served Australia well. I would like to see them drawn to a close. I think that the examination procedure by the Industries Assistance Commission is likely to bring about a result which will mean that in the end the Australian community will understand the interdependence of all industry, will understand that primary industry is a great export contributor and will understand that it produces resources which enable Australians to have a living standard. But primary industry also will understand that a great manufacturing industry and a great tertiary industry provide a home market for the producers of Australian agricultural products, and that is very important too. So the country, with all its sectors, is bound together. The sectors are not separate, and they should not be involved in what I call a stand-off position.

The Commission will be called upon to investigate the various requests for assistance, proposals and difficulties, and in the end- we all understand this- it will make recommendations. They will be given publicly, as far as is humanly possible, and the Government of the day will make the ultimate decision and will carry the ultimate responsibility. No commission can take upon itself this final responsibility, nor should it be asked to do so, nor should it expect itself to be able to do so. In the final analysis, the Government needs to know as much about the work as the Commission knows. It is quite essential that any confidential information which comes to the Commission is made available to the executive arm of government, no matter what its political philosophy. The Government must be appraised of the information which brought about the decision. We cannot have a position in which any commission or any board says to a government: This is what you have to do. We tell you that is what our report is. We cannot tell you how we arrived at that because our information is confidential'. That cannot be the case. It would be wrong, it would be improper. The Government must have access, in a style of secrecy and confidentiality if need be, to the findings of the Commission and to the evidence, if necessary, which backed up those findings. The Government must have access to the details if it wants them, and the Commission cannot set itself to one side and say: 'We are all powerful, we are all knowing. You just take our advice and do not ask us any more. ' That cannot be allowed to happen. That position must be avoided. Therefore the Commission must be obliged to make available to the Government any confidential knowledge that it may have obtained.

The Liberal Party Opposition- my Country Party colleagues, my colleagues in the Democratic Labor Party and the Independents will bring their own attention and minds to this problem- has a particular interest in what we call the field of temporary relief and difficulty in assistance because the Commission, as was properly said by Sir John, has charged itself with long term goals, long term considerations and long term interests. In each industry- it is not confined to manufacturing; it is in primary industry, too- a sudden emergency can confront the industry. It can be placed in great difficulty and need to be taken to some authority and given a temporary stand-off relief which can protect it for a period, subject to final scrutiny and reference back to the Commission. We would like to see such a proposal added to the Industries Assistance Commission Bill. Accordingly, we will be moving an amendment later.

There are particular situations which I can remember. People have often thought that the manufacturers were the only ones who ever went for any temporary help to keep their employment capacity at full strength against a challenge from dumping or a flooded market by imports in an unregulated style. I can recall a few cases in primary industry. For instance, a flood of New Zealand lamb was supposed to be about to put the Australian producer off the market. The general spectrum now in Australia is that the whole of Australia is subject to a flood of import competition which may place any section of industry and the employment attached to that industry at hazard. So we believe that it is better that that area be separated for quick and resolute action by the Government, to the Commission and finally back to the Government. We see no danger in this. We see danger in it being tied up in the Commission. We see danger in the possibility of people not getting assistance quickly enough to save them from disaster.

We think that the general situation is that there is an urgent area and a long term area. We believe that the special section needs to be only a very small body of not more than 3 people. Perhaps one of them could be employed on a permanent basis and could draw to his side 2 people to help him. Such people are properly sworn. They need not be the same people. They can be drawn from the community m which they have special knowledge for a special job and be returned to the community again. We believe also that the head of the relief section can be changed from time to time at the discretion of the Government so that he does not get himself into any situation of what I might call case hardened attitudes. We see all the potential safety in doing so. We believe that the quick safety valve concept would not be anything like as effective in the main body of the Commission.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - It is a variation of the old Special Advisory Authority concept.

Senator COTTON - Yes, it is quite sensible. The previous Minister for Customs and Excise said to me that it is a variation of the old Special Advisory Authority. It is a variation of the old Authority but it is updated. I think it is streamlined. It has all the areas of protection for those who may get into a disastrous situation quickly. The Government maintains its responsibility. It has more than one person on the Commission. The Commission has some specialist knowledge and it is under the broad umbrella of the whole area of industry assistance and examination.

As I have said, we support the Bill. We like the idea of having all industries subject to examination by the Commission because we think in the end it is fairer to everybody. We think as a result Australia will tend to become a more united country as regards all the sectors that make for its general prosperity and its general living standard. We like the idea of referring questions of assistance to industry for public scrutiny before taking any necessary action. We also believe that the Commission has a right, if it wishes to do so, to undertake its own inquiries on its own initiatives. As you can see, Mr President, I am being as quick as I can. We do support the second reading of the Bill. As I say, we will have a body of amendments to move in Committee. While they are very large in number, they can be streamlined and put through very largely in globo if honourable senators are in agreement. I am anxious to hasten the progress of this very important measure. It has been debated very fully in the House of Representatives from which it originates and to which, of course, it must return.

I have in mind the consideration that underlying this issue with which we are now dealing are Appropriation Bills which deal with the consequential supply of resources for the Government to carry on. I think I am correct in saying that this Commission needs to be established by the Senate so that it can take effect on 1 December. That means that we do not have very long. In effect, we have only tomorrow if we do not dispose of the legislation tonight. That is one of the reasons why I have been pushing along this legislation on the Industries Assistance Commission fairly quickly, and as is my normal custom I have been speaking quickly- perhaps more quickly than normal. So with those few observations I will content myself with waiting until we reach the Committee stage. But the Government and, indeed, my colleagues in the Senate have my assurance that I will be anxious to process the amendments as quickly as possible.

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