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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1365

Mr BRUMBY(11.54) —I will also make some very brief comments regarding the Bounty (Injection-moulding Equipment) Amendment Bill. As many speakers have pointed out, this Bill basically concerns one manufacturer, that is Battenfeld (Aust) Pty Ltd in Albury. It should be noted that Battenfeld (Aust) Pty Ltd has increased the number of people employed from 81 to 93 since the granting of temporary assistance. In my mind, there is no doubt that the assistance recommended will lead to an increase in employment activity in that firm's operations in Albury. The simple fact is that without the level of assistance which is being recommended by the Industries Assistance Commission, manufacturing operations of that firm in Albury would most certainly cease. That would mean a consequent loss of at least 43 jobs and a reduction in administration, sales and distribution.

The IAC, in its recent report, concluded that Battenfeld could eventually be competitive with tariff-only assistance at a level of 15 per cent. If we compare that with the general rate of tariff assistance to Australian industry, we see that it is relatively low. The Commission also concluded that further assistance was justified to facilitate that adjustment to the longer term. There has been some discussion about the use of bounty. The Government would say that bounty is the preferred method for providing adjustment assistance in this case, for three reasons: Firstly, because there is only one firm that can supply only a limited part of the market; secondly, it does not directly increase the price of imported or locally produced machines; and, thirdly, the provision of assistance by way of tariff as an alternative would affect the competitive position of user and plastics industries, in which there is a current employment of about 12,000 people. I do not think there is any doubt that the assistance proposed will improve the price competitiveness of locally produced machines and will assist the firm's efforts to raise its current market shares. In other words, the assistance provided today is essential to the future viability of this industry. It is also essential for a number of obvious defence and strategic reasons, namely, that it is important that Australia should retain a design and manufacturing capability so that in times of emergency those machines can be quickly adapted.

This has been a very interesting and illuminating debate. It has indicated very clearly indeed that there is a major split in the Opposition ranks over attitudes towards Australian manufacturing industry. Nowhere has that split been more obvious than in this debate today. We must ask the question: Does the Opposition in any sense at all support a continued maintenance and expansion of manufacturing industry in Australia, or is it prepared-as it seems to be from the attitudes expressed here today-to close down this firm in Albury? That is what a number of speakers have suggested. It is rather interesting to refer to a recent article in Business Review Weekly of 5 April, which I am sure many honourable members will have seen. That article says:

During the parliament's Easter break, Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock will be pondering the implications of the first direct clash in his ranks between the economic policy factions.

The so-called 'dries' made their first specific stand at last week's coalition parties meeting on a minor bounty bill, which will dispense about $2m to one manufacturer of injection moulding equipment.

That is Battenfeld in Albury. The article continues:

Not a big deal by any standards of protection, but the first in the new parliament and it brought immediately, strong opposition from a group of dries headed by NSW Liberal Jim Carlton and, interestingly, the new Victorian MP Julian Beale . . .

The article goes on to say that the Opposition took the soft option in terms of the dries and that pragmatic politics won the day. But what we have heard in the majority of Opposition speeches today is an attitude which purveys the continuing destruction of manufacturing industry in Australia. Some nice, glib, glossy terms have been used by Opposition speakers. They have said that they would like to see a more competitive manufacturing industry in Australia. Let us look at the record on competitive factors in Australian manufacturing industry. The Opposition has been the government for more than 20 of the last 25 years. If any political party is responsible for the problems of manufacturing industry today it is the Opposition parties because they formed the government for 20 out of 25 years.

Let us look at competition and what this Government has achieved in the space of just over two years. Let us look at the things that affect firms, particularly those competing against imports or exporting. We have seen the inflation rate halved from more than 10 per cent to 5 per cent. We have seen industrial disputes in Australia reduced to their lowest level for 17 years. Importantly, in terms of restoring competitiveness to Australian industry, we have seen direct labour unit costs reduced to their lowest level for 14 years. All of those things have been brought about by the policies of this Government because this Government has a policy which is quite distinct from and quite opposite to that pursued by the Opposition when in government. Our policy is to maintain and strengthen manufacturing industry in Australia.

Many of those who are listening to the debate in the House or to the broadcast might wonder what the Opposition's policy is in relation to a number of other crucial Australian industries. Let us look at the steel industry. When we came to government that industry was decimated. We put in place the new steel industry plan and, because the policies pursued by this Government are effective and cost competitive, we are now seeing record profit and employment levels in that industry. What did the Opposition do to the steel industry? It decimated it and brought it to its knees. Let us look at the footwear, clothing and textile industry. There is an IAC review on that area at the moment. Our Government acknowledges the need for industry to be more competitive, but some of the remarks made today by Opposition speakers indicate that there is no doubt that there is a significant and growing element in the Opposition ranks which would see all protection removed from that industry and 10 per cent of manufacturing employment cast to the winds. There would be no other jobs, no other prospects, and no future for that industry. That is what the Opposition means when it talks about cutting protection entirely.

I am aware that time is short, but I want to reiterate that our Government has restored and will continue to take every initiative to restore competitiveness to Australian industry. We have halved inflation, we have brought industrial disputes down to their lowest level for 17 years, we have seen real labour unit costs at their lowest level for 14 years, company profits have been restored, and exports are starting to increase again. Those are the results of positive policies, not the knee-jerk reactions that have been expressed today by the Opposition which, if it had its way, would close down industry throughout Australia.