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Thursday, 13 April 2000
Page: 16024

Ms ROXON (12:13 PM) —I wish to speak today on the report from the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Resources tabled in the parliament on Monday called Of material value? Inquiry into increasing the value added to Australian raw materials. What we are looking into is the capacity of Australian industry to add value to the raw materials that we have in such abundance in this country. We are only tabling the first stage of our report that deals with an overview of where the different industries are at in Australia, some comparisons between industries and also some international comparisons.

We have tried to set out a framework of questions that we hope to have answered when we take our second step of this inquiry. That is to look at a number of case studies and try to go beyond what unfortunately is so often dealt with when we talk about value adding in industry in Australia which is some of our very general positions. Whilst I compliment the other committee members as well as the secretariat for preparing this report as a starting point for us, I must say it is actually a relatively bureaucratic report.

It is helpful because it sets out some parameters and it certainly gives us an overview of the different departments' perspectives. However, it does not go underneath some of the general statements that people like to make when they talk about the importance of value adding in this country, and this is what we hope to do in the second stage of our report. The reason we want to go beyond the normal glib assertions that can be made is that this is of great importance to every member of this House and potentially of great importance to all of our electorates.

This government is looking at whether there are things it can do to encourage industry to develop in this country and, as a natural consequence of that, to employ more people. The member for McMillan is in the House today. We both represent electorates that have been at the absolute industrial base—they are the industrial backbone, if you like—of industry in Victoria, let alone Australia. There has been a downturn in a lot of the major industries that have operated in our areas and we are extremely concerned, as are other members. We need to improve the unemployment statistics in our area and, particularly in the second stage of this report, we need to look at ways to provide more employment opportunities for people in our electorates and elsewhere. By doing that, we can improve Australia's industrial base.

It is intentional—I know other committee members and the secretariat share this view—that we have a question mark here. We want to know whether there are ways to do things better in this country. We will always have debates about whether it is appropriate for a national parliament to intervene or to have an interventionist industry policy. Some people want to totally nationalise industry; others think that we should have a completely free market. Most people in this House know that there is a lot of sense between those two positions and not much sense at either extreme. By setting some parameters, we are hoping to identify a proper role for the federal parliament to play—not necessarily in investing directly in particular industries but in making sure that we have an environment which is conducive to industries investing more money in our country and providing further jobs. That could be done through processing our raw materials further down the track rather than exporting them directly or dealing with better marketing programs so that the things that we already process have growing markets in our neighbouring regions. There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed. This report provides a starting point for these issues.

I am particularly interested in looking at what has worked in creating and growing markets. The marketing of particular products is not generally regarded as something that we should consider when we talk about value adding to a product. People normally think of further processing. It is clear that you can add value to a product by improving its market value. That can be done by building on the strengths that we already have, particularly in our food industries. There are enormous markets in the South-East Asian region that we probably have not captured to the extent that we should. I am hopeful that in the second stage of the inquiry we will look closely at some of the things that do not fall within the traditional areas, which is what everyone wants to talk about with value adding.

For the information of the House, the industries that have been picked for us to examine in great detail in the next inquiries are the aluminium-magnesium industry and the wine, dairy and grain industries. We have chosen five areas. Some have been very successful; others have not been as successful as we might have expected. We hope to draw some specific conclusions from studying these industries in great detail and to apply them at a more general level.

Given the nature of the electorate that I represent, which is in the inner western suburbs of Melbourne, the particular interest of the businesses in my area is focused primarily far down the end of the chain of processing. I do not represent an area which is concerned particularly with the initial production of raw materials or mining interests, for example, or agricultural interests, but I do have a large number of industries in my electorate that are involved in food processing and in warehousing and distribution. I have firms like Bonlac, which has one of its major cold stores there, and dairy processing and marketing has been one of our success stories. George Weston has its glucose and starch plant in my electorate. Pampas deals with a number of bakery products. There is also a major wine distributor. The Davids cold store deals with the distribution of processed dairy materials. The old Grain Elevator Board has silo storage for bulk handling of grain materials, and there is also a range of light metal manufacturing industries, which I am certain in some parts would deal with materials at the end of the stream in the aluminium industry.

I would like today to encourage those industries in my electorate to be involved in stage 2 of our inquiry. I think the committee process is one opportunity where our community can more generally be engaged with the parliament. We go outside Canberra. We seek in this inquiry to go down to the grassroots level, if you like. We do not necessarily want to talk to only the industry representatives; we want to know what individual companies have found successful, what barriers they experience, and ways that we may be able to make recommendations that would improve and develop their businesses in the future. I would like to encourage my local industries to be involved in stage 2, and I know that other members who speak after me would also be keen to encourage as many people as possible to be involved in this inquiry.

I know that a number of other members want to speak so I will limit myself to those brief comments. I commend the report to the House. To any members who are interested in industry policy, let me say that I think the report sets some parameters for further discussion. I urge committee members who are here, and others, that we do not want to limit our second stage inquiry to the parameters that we have already identified because we know that there are some things out there that we have not yet identified. That is the very purpose of us going into great detail with these five industries.

I commend this report to the House and I encourage businesses in my electorate and elsewhere to be involved in the second stage of our inquiry into the aluminium-magnesium, wine, dairy and grain industries.