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Tuesday, 24 November 1998
Page: 562

Mr KATTER (10:41 PM) —I would like to continue the speech I was giving this morning. This government deserves enormous praise for two of its decisions: (1) to continue with a free float of the Australian dollar—no, not to continue but to change from a dirty float, under Keating, to a free float—and (2) to go to a regime of low interest rates.

This is of enormous importance to people who live outside of Australia's big cities and who man our export industries, particularly the agricultural industries. Agricultural debt is $800 million and, since our interest rates dropped from about 22 per cent to about 10 per cent, there has been a saving for the agricultural sector in the order of some $200 million a year. So this government has provided us with an extra $200 million a year.

Far more important still: whilst the last government abolished all tariff protections that existed in this country, removed all tariff protection—and there may be some on our side of the House who agreed with those decisions of course—the current government, by allowing the dollar to fall, has effectively put in place a 30 per cent tariff regime to protect and help those industries in Australia.

I am speaking particularly of industries like the great sugar industry—an industry which I have the privilege to represent in this place. As I need say over and over again, our sugar industry competes in the international market against the world's biggest exporter, the European Community, which enjoys subsidy tariff levels of 193 per cent—and that 30 per cent is very, very important to us indeed.

Moving on, I come to three of the better intellects whom this country has produced, particularly in the field of economics since the Second World War—and in order of priority maybe. William Wentworth, I think one of the better intellects to have gone through this place, most certainly since the war, has advocated primage very strongly—and he believes in it so strongly that he recently came out of retirement to contest an election. If we are seeking to raise taxation, the best possible way to do so is to tax people who want to buy a Canon camera produced in Japan, or a Volvo motor car produced in Europe. Let them pay to the tune of some 15 per cent extra for that product if they do not want to buy an Australian produced product.

B.A. Santamaria, the head of the National Civic Council, in his columns in the Australian newspaper, continuously hammered exactly the same point on primage. Also, there is Tom Fitzgerald, connected with the best of the ABC annual talks that are given—most certainly the best that I have ever heard were his Boyer lectures—who for some 17 years was the economics head of the Sydney Morning Herald. He also advocated exactly the same position. I do not think it is possible for those three people to be totally wrong. They have made the point that this is GATT neutral, and I think their arguments most certainly stand up.

It has been said that government cannot help Australian industries. I was very much in the inner leadership team of a government once upon a time, and I found out that we could help people magnificently. In government contracts alone, one-quarter of the cars that are purchased in this country today are purchased through government contracts. Simply allocating those contracts to an Australian manufacturer is of immense importance. Noam Chomsky in the United States constantly makes the point that the American military industrial machine provides enormous markets for industrialists in America and provides a subsidy for them in the export market. Chalmers Johnson has written a wonderful book, MITI and the Japanese Miracle, the quintessential book on the Japanese economy. The Japanese economy is easily the most successful economy in the world, and we keep getting told that it should keep in step with the rest of the world with economic rationalism.

This country that defies and refuses to go along with economic rationalism last year had a $136,000 million current account surplus. To put that in perspective, we also live in Asia, and our current account deficit for this year will be $30,000 million in all probability. You tell me which economy is operating splendidly and which is not. The United States economy has a $106,000 million current account deficit. The average income for a Japanese person is $36,000, the average income for an American is $27,000, and Australia is languishing and falling through the floor with an average income of about $20,000. So you tell me which is the success story and which is not the success story. (Time expired)