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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 703

Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science and Minister assisting the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(5.43) —in reply-If a debate extending temporary protection to commercial motor vehicles for another 14 weeks attracts five speakers in the House of Representatives, I imagine that the substantive debate, when the real legislation is brought down, will go on for days and days. Anyway, I thank honourable members for their contributions. I stress again that the Bounty (Commercial Motor Vehicles) Amendment Bill 1985 does not affect the current assistance arrangements which apply to the industry. It will merely ensure that one aspect of the present arrangements, the bounty, does not lapse before the Government considers the report of the Industries Assistance Commission and decides on a long term assistance regime. It is therefore neither practical nor appropriate for me to comment on the IAC recommendations or to debate possible industry policy issues now. I just assure honourable members that the concerns regarding Australia's commitment to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade are fully appreciated by the Government and will be borne in mind in the development of a long term assistance package for the industry.

The Bill proposes an extension to 31 December 1985 in the event that it is not possible for the Government to reach a decision before 30 June. As I have mentioned, the Government is concerned to encourage full industry discussion of the report. So it is not just a matter of our making a decision in isolation. There has to be that full and sometimes lengthy consultation process. To facilitate this process, we have sought the views of the Automotive Industry Advisory Council. We expect to have its comments shortly but we do not have them now. For some sound reasons the Swedish example is often cited as one Australia should emulate, whether it is in the area of industry policy, social welfare or whatever. It is true that the two countries have similar living standards and labour costs, although Sweden's are higher in both cases and, of course, it has only 55 per cent of our population. But at least in the heavy commercial vehicle area there are some major differences in our circumstances. These reflect partly Sweden's proximity to the large European market, although it has to be recognised that one or two heavy motor vehicles are made in Europe as well, and the dominance within Sweden of one major locally owned heavy truck manufacturer, Volvo. But it also reflects a long term tradition of locally owned industries with an international reputation for excellence compared, I am sorry to say, to our tradition in Australia of foreign ownership, truncated development--

Mr Jacobi —Almost 100 per cent.

Mr BARRY JONES —Yes, it is. In the motor vehicle industry, it is 99.8 per cent, with all its implications for cultural colonialism. It is less, of course, in the components sector. Australia has a small domestic market, little access to overseas markets and no major locally owned manufacturer with a volume base on which to build exports. A further consideration is that transport distances in Australia are significantly greater than those in Europe. I have no doubt that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) was correct in saying that we are the highest per capita users of heavy commercial vehicles. The country which is most like Australia in respect of the demands it places on heavy commercial vehicles is the United States of America. It is therefore no accident that the heavy end of the commercial vehicle market should be dominated by United States makes such as Kenworth, Ford and International Harvester.

In addition to Australia's long haul transport requirements, it also has an urban transport task, vehicles for which are increasingly being sourced from Japan. That country, by virtue of its large domestic market, is able to realise scale economies which are not available to an Australian assembler. These scale economies enable Japan to be very competitive in the international market for trucks suited to urban transport needs and Japan sourced vehicles now dominate this sector of the Australian market. In the circumstances I have to say that I am sceptical of whether a comparison with the Swedish experience provides the ultimate answer to the issues confronting the heavy commercial vehicle industry in Australia. The honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer) sought some answers to specific questions. I regret that he is no longer gracing us with his presence, but I will still provide the answer.

Mr N. A. Brown —I will pass it on.

Mr BARRY JONES —The honourable member for Menzies will pass it on. Because of the nature of the IAC recommendations there is a need for extensive industry consultation. The national road freight industry inquiry report and the IAC report will need consideration together. The national road freight industry inquiry report was presented to the Government in September 1984, but, as the honourable member for Menzies (Mr N. A. Brown) well remembers we were doing lots of other things around that time. The election period intervened before it was possible to deal with it. The report is now with the Automotive Industry Advisory Council for comment and, as I mentioned earlier, it is expected shortly. A submission will then be made to the Government and, without promising anything, we are hopeful that an announcement will be made before the end of June. We will not call that a final solution, but we certainly want to see what we can do.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.