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Tuesday, 11 September 1990
Page: 1621

Mr ATKINSON(10.03) —I welcome the opportunity to address honourable members for the first time in this place. I thank the electors of Isaacs, who put their trust in me to represent them. I represent an electorate where a great many people worked very hard to ensure that I made it to Canberra as their representative. I thank the dedicated and tireless workers of my campaign committee, who burnt the midnight oil on many occasions to ensure our success in regaining the seat of Isaacs. I also thank the over 600 volunteers, including many non-Party workers, who manned polling booths and carried out other tasks to ensure our victory. I can assure them that I will do my best within the limitations that this place imposes to ensure that their needs are met and their problems addressed.

I would like to take a moment to thank my family, who have stood behind me during two Federal campaigns and several local government campaigns. To my wife, Christine, and my children, Vanessa, Katrina and David, I say thank you for your tolerance, your patience and your assistance. I also thank the Liberal Party for giving me the opportunity to be here. In a society where high-tech developments and academic information are key concerns, I must say that I am pleased to see that the Isaacs preselection panel recognised the need to balance that with grass roots representation.

The electorate of Isaacs is a sandbelt electorate which is adjacent to Port Phillip Bay and includes all of the city of Mordialloc and some of the cities of Sandringham, Moorabbin, Chelsea and Springvale. The electorate was formed in 1948 as a result of redistribution, and has been represented by a number of members, to whom I pay my respects for their past contributions. I consider it a great honour to represent in this place the people of Isaacs and, indeed, a great privilege to represent an electorate named after Sir Isaac Isaacs.

I would like to remind honourable members that Sir Isaac Isaacs was one of the founding fathers of the Commonwealth of Australia and made a great contribution to this nation as a leading State and Federal politician, a prominent barrister, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia and, finally, as the first Australian-born Governor-General. Sir Isaac Isaacs, in a career that spanned more than 60 years, took part in many of the most important developments in Australia's history. Not the least was his pioneering role in the Federation movement alongside men like Deakin, Kingston and Higgins. Of course, he played a substantial role in the development of Australia's Constitution.

We are fortunate to have such a fine and stable foundation. In building upon that foundation, we have come a long way since Federation. That which has been passed on to us to hold in custody for future generations has been fought for by many. Others have provided the eternal sacrifice and some have provided blood, sweat and tears. All of this has provided opportunities; it has provided prosperity; it has provided freedom; and it has provided one of the world's most stable democracies. But this nation over which we hold custody can continue to provide these benefits only if we as a people are prepared to stand up and be counted. We must be prepared to cast aside blind political loyalties and obsolete political ideology and recognise the urgency with which we must turn around the economic demise of this nation.

I would like to refer honourable members back to 1970, in fact to 12 March 1970, when a previous member for Isaacs, Mr David Hamer, made his maiden speech in this place. I quote from that speech:

We must question where we are going and where we wish to go. Not the least of these fields of critical inquiry must be the future of our manufacturing industry which today employs nearly one-third of our national work force. One of the facts we have to face is that we must increase our exports if we are to achieve our expectations of growth. The Export Development Council recently forecast that we have seven years in which to double our exports if we are to be able to pay for the imports necessary to sustain our economic growth at the present rate. No matter how high we set our expectations from minerals and from agricultural products, a very substantial gap will have to be filled by manufactured exports and can be filled in no other way.

Many of those are words which I, as a new member for Isaacs, could repeat today.

In 1982-83, when this Government and this Treasurer (Mr Keating) came to office, the deficit in the balance of payments on the current account was $6,794m. In 1989-90, under the very same Treasurer, that deficit has ballooned to a massive $20,729m, and it will continue to rise because this Government is not in touch with economic realities. Through its mix of academic purists, hard-headed unionists and socialists, the Government has forgotten who provides for this country's services. It is not the Government that provides the money for the needy, for education, for defence or for the massive public service of this country; it is the men and women who make up this country's work force and those men and women who run the businesses. They are the ones who pay the taxes to allow the cogs of government to turn, and they are the people who bear the brunt of the tax increases when this Government gets it wrong.

I believe that we need to take a fresh look at where we are headed and what we want to achieve. I regularly see those who support the needy asking for more government assistance, without asking where the money is coming from. I regularly see people who question the fact that businesses are actually making a profit. I ask: where do these people think the money is coming from to pay for these programs and these services? I believe it is time we got our priorities right. Government can provide assistance only when businesses and individuals are in a position to pay taxes, and this can happen only if suitable policies are put in place that allow profits to be made and wages to be paid. They go hand in hand.

If we are to succeed we need conciliation, not confrontation. We need the opportunity for enterprise bargaining-real enterprise bargaining where employers and employees can determine their future together. Successful policies will reap the rewards for the employee in the form of earnings; for the businesses in the form of profits; for the Government in the form of tax collections; and for those who receive assistance and services in the knowledge that the government programs will continue and can be maintained.

To those organisations in my electorate which need assistance, and I know there are many, I will fight to ensure that they get maximum support. I assure the people of Isaacs and, in particular, those in need that I will push this Government wherever and whenever possible to ensure that their needs are met and their problems are addressed. I will push this Government to ensure that this generation of children and the next will have the opportunities that we had in our youth -opportunities that are sadly missing today.

I happen to know a little bit about the needy. I come from a low income family. As a kid, I lived in a tent and a caravan for a number of years. I know what it is like to go to school with your trousers patched and to be hungry because the weekly pay packet had run out. But at least then the opportunities were there to better oneself and to achieve. But in this, the last decade of the twentieth century, with all our technological advances and social developments, these problems should not happen.

I believe that this country needs leadership, a sense of direction and courage as it approaches the twenty-first century. In this Budget, the Government has exhibited very little of these objectives. The Government's leadership should have seen real privatisation of a number of government bodies, but all it has done is produce a Clayton's privatisation to get its mates in Victoria off the hook. Government direction would have seen programs setting out plans until the turn of the century, but it was not forthcoming-and, based on the promises to solve child poverty, I can understand why. Government courage would have seen this Government free itself of the accord, which is the major contributor to this country's inflation, but it could not bring itself to tell the Australian Council of Trade Unions that for the financial survival of this country the arrangements must be terminated.

On all counts this Government has wimped out. It has lost its way. It has done so many deals with unions, big business and entrepreneurs that it has a ball and chain around its neck which it cannot remove. This Government is in trouble because its policies are coming home to roost.

But for now, I would like to turn my attention to another area in which I have been involved over many years. Of interest may be the fact that I am one of very few members in this place who have come from a manufacturing background. This is an industry which I believe we must support and continue to develop if we are to get this country back on its feet. We must look at exporting and import replacement if we are to solve the current balance of trade situation. We must look at value adding to our raw materials and our exports to ensure that we are getting value for them, and it is to that end that I would like to address some of the problems facing businesses in my electorate.

I find it difficult to accept that in this country, which is a major iron ore supplier and a steel producer, Australian manufacturers are left at the bottom of the heap when it comes to price and steel supply times. It may suit statistical whiz kids to sit behind their computers and look at the increases in export sales we are achieving in raw materials, but it would impress them even more if they could look at the imports we could replace or the exports we could generate if only our manufacturers were able to purchase steel at the prices we are selling it to our competitors. It is difficult to expect manufacturers in this country to compete when they are forced to buy through distributors because their orders are not an economic quantity and they find that the very same steel in the very same uneconomic quantities is being supplied to overseas clients at hundreds of dollars less than our manufacturers can acquire it here.

I find it disheartening that a confectionary manufacturer in my electorate of Isaacs is experiencing difficulty competing with imported confectionary because of the high price that he has to pay for sugar. He tells me that it is not so bad when one is exporting one's product because of the duty drawback. I find it difficult to believe that, as a major sugar producing nation, it is more economical for companies in this country wishing to export their products to import their sugar.

I find it even more difficult to understand how much of this sugar is of Australian origin, yet can be imported cheaper than the sugar which is available from Australian manufacturers, even after paying the import tariffs and freighting costs. I quote from a report jointly prepared by the Australian Soft Drink Association, the Ice Cream Manufacturers Federation and the Confectionary Manufacturers of Australia. This report was recently forwarded to the Queensland sugar industry working party. That report says:

The fact that Australian food and beverage processes are, for commercial reasons, compelled to import sugar for manufacture of export product is a national embarrassment.

I would call it a national disgrace.

But let me not stop there. There are machinery manufacturers in my area who take pride in building Australian machinery to send overseas. They are losing their markets to other exporters who choose to buy their components from overseas and use the duty drawback on the products when they leave our shores. Is this the way we should treat people who have their hearts in this country? Is this the way we should treat those who would employ our youth and give them a trade? Without a healthy manufacturing industry in this country, who would provide export dollars to solve our balance of payment problems? Who would provide the taxes to sustain our needy and educate our nation to provide opportunities for future generations?

In my electorate a company has established a plant producing dehydrated beef powder. The factory is fully approved by the Victorian Department of Labour and Industry. The product complies in every respect with the Australian food regulations. The product is accepted by major international food product companies in Australia. The company has identified companies in South East Asia which are prepared to take its product. A submission that the company prepared for me says that, although there are no major problems with the construction of the meat factory, it fails to meet the regulations for export meat premises because in the main it does not provide for, first, a meat inspectors' office; secondly, a dry ingredients store; thirdly, a packages store; fourthly, a clean materials store; and, fifthly, an existing separate amenities block is not conveniently located and does not meet all the regulations covering export meat premises amenities.

The business is prepared to put in suitable portable buildings to enable it to have the time to organise, firstly, council permits and approvals and, secondly, the finance for the $300,000 that this work will cost. The company is prepared to put in these funds to make sure that it gets the export work. I have not even looked at businesses outside my electorate of Isaacs, but I happen to think that if this company is prepared to put in those types of commitments then we should be prepared to help it. I am not seeing a great deal of help around at the moment.

Over the last 10 years or so we have lost a lot of our small and medium manufacturing businesses in this country. Some of these have been lost through natural attrition, but many of them have been lost because of the program of acquiring businesses developed by some of our entrepreneurs. Such acquisitions provide few benefits for the manufacturing industry. Instead, they provide dollars for the businessmen who pick up the businesses at written down book value, use the tax losses, sell off the written down plant and equipment, centralise the administration putting many workers on the scrap heap, and displace many tradesmen who find work in other industries and are lost to the rebuilding of the manufacturing industry process forever.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not know who you want to blame. Is it the entrepreneur who bought the business and has taken the pickings? Is it the businessman who sold his business? Is it the financier who provided the foreign funds at low interest? Is it the Government which did little? I do not know the answer, but I do know that this exercise has substantially cost the manufacturing industry in this country.

I bring this matter to the attention of honourable members because I see a new problem arising. Many Australian companies which sell an interest to foreigners are eventually becoming sales outlets for them rather than continuing in the manufacturing sector. This results in more imports, more tradesmen out of the industry and, naturally, a worsening balance of payments. While I am not supportive of restricting the operations of businesses, it is a problem which we must address to ensure that a viable manufacturing industry continues.

I said at the outset that I have always had a hands on approach, and I will stand up and be counted for manufacturing industry in the electorate of Isaacs. These manufacturers form a very important part of this community, a part which we desperately need in this country's rebuilding process. I would be happy to take honourable members around the industrial base of my electorate-the Moorabbin industrial estate and the Braeside industrial area-for them to see the effect of this Government's policies. Many have gone, and many more of these businesses are simply becoming warehouses for imported goods as the task of manufacturing becomes too difficult for many.

I invite honourable members to count the number of manufacturing businesses that have survived. I ask of those who talk of the level playing field and those who will implement the tariff reforms to take into account the effects of the raw material prices, the effects of intervention in our currency value on repeat orders for exporters, the effective lead times for materials compared with that which is offered overseas and the high interest rates which are being paid on stock and work in progress. I have not even considered work practices, transport costs or the cost of Government intervention which is regularly spoken of and which also needs attention.

I am not opposed to the removal of tariffs, but I want to make sure that the economic purists take into account the pitfalls. I want to make sure that manufacturing industry in my electorate is not faced with a level playing field that has lush green grass at one end and is a mud patch at the other. I want to make sure that we get it right, because if we do not, our balance of trade suffers; our tax collections through viable, profitable businesses suffer; and our employment suffers, creating additional pressure on our welfare services. If we are to stop the continual cuts in expenditure and maintain a truly Australian lifestyle where people are able to own their own houses, run their own businesses and live in a way that we would wish for our children, then we need to address the problems and we need to address them now. We must address them as Australians, not as a number in a game of political ideology.

Thinking back to the words used by the honourable member for Isaacs in his maiden speech some 20 years ago, I just hope that a future honourable member for Isaacs in some 20 years or so from now does not have to stand in this House and quote as being relevant then extracts from my maiden speech, in the same way as I have quoted today from Mr David Hamer's speech of March 1970. I will not rest until I see this Government take an interest in those Australians in whom we must take an interest if this country is to prosper once again. They are the Australians who show initiative, those who are prepared to work hard in the development of the country, those who are prepared to work hard in businesses, and those who are prepared to work hard to achieve the Australian dream. Unless we are prepared to offer incentives to those who can return this country to prosperity, then I am afraid that we will continue to see funding cuts in this country, our standard of living will continue to decline, and my words and the words of a past member for Isaacs will echo in this chamber for a long time to come.