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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 945

Mr McGAURAN(9.25) —I wish to express my thanks to the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) for allowing me to contribute very briefly to this debate on the estimates for the Department of Trade. Being one of the newer members of parliament, I am often asked what my most overwhelming impression of public office is. That is a very easy question to answer. The answer is simply that Australians are living in a fool's paradise, so much so that it is my belief that within 10 years we will have a significantly lower standard of living than we enjoy at present. The reason for that is the declining position of Australian trade in the international market. As the Minister for Trade, who is at the table, would be so well aware, our position has significantly dropped over a period by an amount which, admittedly, may only be percentage points; from approximately 1.8 per cent-the share of international trade we used to hold about 20 years ago-to 1.3 per cent or 1.4 per cent which it is at present. That is only a few percentage points but in terms of monetary value it amounts to billions of dollars.

Mr Barry Jones —But proportionately it is enormous.

Mr McGAURAN —As the Minister for Science and Technology points out, proportionately it is enormous. There are a number of reasons for it. Nothing contributes to it more that the fact that over the last 20 years our growth rate , as against the growth rates of other Western industrialised nations and South East Asia, has been nothing short of disastrous. Since 1961 our economic growth rate has averaged 2.5 per cent. Some 13 Western industralised nations have averaged a better growth rate. Of course, that is not taking into account the dynamic economies of our South East Asian neighbours, the most glaring example being, of course, Japan, which averaged a 6 per cent growth rate over that period. Of course, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and even Indonesia also have far greater growth rates than we have.

Another major contributing factor to my conviction that within 10 years, if not by the end of the decade, Australia will have a significantly lower standard of living, is our declining competitiveness on international markets. I do not have time to examine the reasons for that but certainly there is no question in my mind that the fact that we are locked into a centralised wage fixing system which does not take into account the individual capacity of industries to pay is a major contributor. Australians are extremely complacent because in real terms our standard of living has increased over the last 20 years. But I think that is a short term view of our economic well-being in the future, given that, relatively speaking, our position has declined.

Australians are somewhat myopic. It is almost impossible to stress strongly enough that this country relies largely on agricultural, mining and metal exports to maintain our share of international trade. The simple fact is that, in relation to all of those exports, extracts as well as primary produce, a declining volume is required and prices are depressed. The Japanese, for instance, are sick and tired of telling Australians that they have less and less need for our iron ore and coal, that they wish to diversify their markets, and that they wish in some instances to diversify to a more reliable supplier.

Mr Cunningham —You are not knocking Australia now, Peter, are you?

Mr McGAURAN —Interjections of honourable members such as the honourable member for McMillan represent the myopic single vision that is restricting this country from realising its problems and taking steps to address them. Japan advises us that its economy is changing, that it is becoming more sophisticated, if you like. It has told us very plainly that either we change with it or we will be left with more coal and iron ore by the end of the decade than we can possibly export to it. Of course, that is complicated by the fact that countries such as South Africa and Brazil, as was mentioned by a previous speaker, and Canada are in many instances able to trade more competitively. Simply, the challenge is before us. It is an enormous challenge for the Government. I am not satisfied that there is anywhere near enough the restructuring of our economy required to deal with the realities of the international market. I am pleased to note that there has been a substantial increase in trade promotion that will give us the possibility of searching out new markets. But it simply comes back to the fact that the world economies are changing; we must change with them.