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Thursday, 26 August 1982
Page: 1033

Mr CHARLES JONES —by leave-I join other speakers in this debate this evening in welcoming the short respite that the Government has given to the steel industry. I think we can accept the remark of the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) that the steel industry has problems. He does not get any marks for coming up with that phrase because all of us know that the steel industry is in trouble. It is obvious to those people who have had any interest in the steel industry and in a number of Australian industries for that matter that so many of them set out to rely on being able to fall back on some form of protection from the Government. They have not kept pace with the modernisation that is so necessary to keep them in a competitive position.

One of the questions we have to ask is: Who are they in competition with? Why is the overseas competition so fierce that Australian products are not in a competitive position? I draw the attention of honourable members to the fact that this is a situation which develops from time to time. Over my years in this Parliament I have seen not only the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd but also other Australian industries in the situation of having to seek from the government of the day assistance in the form of protection to tide them over a time of economic crisis and to enable them to outstay it. Boom conditions have then developed throughout the world and the industry, whether it be the steel industry or the motor car industry, has been able to carry on. That situation is brought about because of the pressures that are applied.

Some years ago the capital of the world was centred on Japan. Japan was a cheap -labour producer of steel and other commodities. Japanese steel products became serious contenders on the Australian market purely and simply because Japan was a low income country. Now South Korea is the selected site for world capitalism. The world has concentrated its capital investment in South Korea where the labour conditions are such that people work and live on the smell of an oil rag. I have been to South Korea, admittedly many years ago. It is a socially suppressed country run by a dictatorship which so controls the industries that it determines the conditions under which people live. In that country there are no unions as we know them in this country, in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in France, in Germany, or in any country that one can name.

We have to face the facts of life: This country is a high income country. That is our desire, our decision. The decision of the people of this country is that that is what they want. If those are the conditions they decide on, we have to introduce this form of protection to protect efficient Australian industries. There is no way in which any Australian industry with our level of wages, or any industry in America, Britain, Germany or France, can compete with these low income countries unless it has some form of protection. Let us face the facts of life. That is what we are faced with today. Back in the early 1950s Courtaulds ( Australia) Ltd was set up in Newcastle. It closed down roughly five or six years ago. One day I spoke to the Newcastle manager in the passageway outside this chamber. He told me that Indian companies had come to Australia to buy the equipment. He was talking to the Indians about annual leave and long service leave conditions. They said: 'What are you talking about? We don't have long service leave or annual leave; we don't have paid holidays; we don't have a 40- hour week.' This is what members of this Parliament have to face up to. Are they the conditions that the dries want? Is that what the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde) wants? Do honourable members opposite want Australia to have the employment conditions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and such places? Do they want Australia to have the living standards of those places? Do they want a situation in which there are no leave conditions and no 40-hour week? That is really what they are after. They want the Australian workers to be coolie labourers. They are the conditions that the honourable member for Moore and his associates-the dries-are after. I would love to see them working under those conditions.

I welcome the statement that has been made by the Government. I hope that BHP will use the breathing space that it has been given to modernise its plant and bring it to a standard comparable with standards in the rest of the world.

Mr Spender —Where will the money be coming from?

Mr CHARLES JONES —From the profits that this company has made. Let us get the facts clear. BHP is making hundreds of millions of dollars out of Australian oil , being fortunate enough to be associated with Esso in Bass Strait. The money it got out of steel allowed it to get into oil. Now let us have some of the money it has made out of oil turned back into modernising the steel industry. The coal industry in which it is involved is a very profitable one. From where did the company get the money to move into coal? The money was made originally in the steel and oil industries. Let us have some of the profits from coal used to modernise the steel plant. The company participates in the iron ore industry from which it has made hundreds of millions of dollars profit. Let us have some of that profit turned back into the steel industry as a whole.

BHP is the largest company and the largest employer in Australia. Let it use its resources to modernise its various plants. It was employing some 12,000 people in its Newcastle operations. Little by little the numbers have been cut back. It has never laid anyone off but it has not put anyone on either, and that is just as damn bad. It closed down the shipyard at Whyalla. Representatives of the company came to me when I was Minister for Transport and said: 'Unless your Government is prepared to do certain things we will close the industry down'. BHP closed it down all right; it finished up when the last two 45,000 tonne ships were constructed. When honourable members opposite came to government they did not succumb to the demands of the company and today BHP's Whyalla shipyard is no longer in existence. The company has scattered it to the four winds. Honourable members opposite are the people who allowed it to be closed down. I am asking them not to do the same with the Australian steel industry.

Dr Edwards —Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to make a brief statement.

Leave not granted.