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Wednesday, 28 February 2001
Page: 24667


Mr ROSS CAMERON (5:06 PM) —We are going through a period where words such as `globalisation', `multilateral trade', `deregulation' and `competition' are suffering a rather bad press. When I indicated to my colleague the member for Wentworth that I intended to discuss them in this contribution on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2000-2001 and cognate bills, he gave me an ancient Japanese expression, which is `yabu hebi', meaning that he instructed me: `Don't poke at the bush or the snakes will come out.' I have on one other occasion been accused of poking at the bush, but it is not my principal purpose today. In that rare moment of timidity from a very courageous colleague, whom I greatly respect, he drew to my attention the importance of us confronting our national demons, if you like, and being prepared to take them on.

I am more attracted to the story brought to my attention this week by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, which was the story of the Battle of Copenhagen. This maritime battle, conducted on 2 April 1801, John Keegan, the military historian, describes as one of the 15 great battles in history. It is the battle in which Admiral Nelson had command of the HMS Elephant, a ship of the line, with 74 guns. The British admiral in charge of the engagement was Sir Hyde Parker. At the height of battle Parker formed a view that it had been lost, and gave the order for all ships of the line to withdraw from the contest. Nelson, as the junior officer there, could sense that victory was still within their grasp. So it is recorded that he raised his telescope to his blind eye as he studied his commanding officer's signal and insisted to his crew that he could not see it, whereupon he charged his ship into the midst of the French fleet. His heroism resulted in a subsequent turnaround in that battle—a rout for the English fleet which gave them command for years to come of the North European waters.

It is my view that Australia as a nation should take the approach of Admiral Nelson. We ought not to be looking at those queued up in protest outside the G7 or in Seattle or in Melbourne—all of those who are, in effect, saying `Stop the world—we want to get off.' We should bravely seize the opportunities which globalisation presents to this country—and they are significant opportunities.

I want the House to reflect on the fact that Australia is a nation of 19 million people occupying an entire continent, but one country. If we look at the member states of the United Nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and spread across seven continents, we note that there are 189 recognised members of the United Nations. If we look at the World Fact Book 2000 we see that there are 261 countries, territories and dependencies beyond our shores. We may reflect on the fact that those 19 million Australians are but a drop in the ocean of—according to the US Census Bureau's daily estimate of world population—the 6,131,375,217 potential customers of Australian goods and services who live beyond the shores of this magnificent, vast continent. There are markets out there for our products that we have not even dreamed of.

I reflect on the fact that in the past 12 months exports have been the fastest growing component of Australia's gross domestic product, with a staggering increase of 25 per cent. So when we are asking ourselves which side of the bread the butter is on in terms of national interest and sovereignty, which side of the bread the butter is on in engaging with the rest of the world or in building a protective wall of tariffs and insularity around this country, the choice is unequivocally one of engagement.

I want to bring to life these statistics with one example from my electorate, which to me is an inspirational story. It comes out of a relatively nondescript factory on Brien's Road in Northmead, the suburb in which I live. I had passed this factory on many occasions and noted almost subconsciously, or in my peripheral vision, that it had no signage on the walls but that clearly there was some activity taking place. A wonderful set of circumstances began in our own joint party room when the then Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, gave me a business card and said, `You should meet this guy.' So I did meet him. I rang him up and said: `The Deputy Prime Minister has told me I should meet you.' He said: `Come and see what we are doing.'

Behind this relatively anonymous, nondescript factory there was the unfolding of a dream taking place. Rod Hunwick is a humble man. He is not a person to seek the glamour or the glitz or public recognition. He is one of Australia's larger motorcycle retailers. He is a young bloke for his achievements, in his late 30s. It has always been his dream to re-establish the manufacture of motor cycles in this country—not just to sell them but to build them here. He said: `Why do I have to spend my life selling Japanese motor cycles to Australians when we could build them here?'

So he got together with a few mates and drew together a team of some of the most gifted creative designers, engineers, toolmakers and manufacturers. He went out and got venture capital. I regret to inform the House that his venture capital provider is a Japanese bank. I say to Australian venture capitalists: let us continue to support great Australian ideas. It was an idea, it was a dream, it was a long shot, if you think about his competition. His competition, the market that he is pitching to, is for the high capacity, high cost touring bikes which have been made famous by the American company Harley Davidson. But Harley Davidson is a $1.5 billion US company producing 1,000 motorbikes a day. This was his competition.

For every believer there were a dozen who said it could not be done. But he believed. So in his factory in Northmead, with his team of collaborators, virtually in secret, working night and day—when they finished in the shops in retailing they would come at nights and at weekends—he worked to build the bike.

Can I tell you that Rod Hunwick has just returned from the United States where this Australian-made motorcycle, which is called the Hunwick Harrop Phantom 1500 v-twin, high-performance, fuel-injected super cruiser, has just been launched in the North American market in Indianapolis. Rod Hunwick has come back from the United States with requests for agency representations to sell his Australian motorcycle in 180 motorcycle dealerships spread throughout North America. Those who want to see the Hunwick Harrop Phantom for the first time in Australia ought to roll up to Jeff's Shed, where the Melbourne Motor Show is being conducted. When I talked to Rod this afternoon, they were just putting up the stand. It is an absolutely stunning looking motorcycle. It reflects—this 1500cc, 90-degree angled v-twin engine machine—a magnificent achievement and it represents one guy's dream to take on the world.

It is interesting that he first showed the bike not in Australia but in Indianapolis, because he said, `If I am going to succeed, I have to crack a bigger market—I have to take on the world.' I have got tremendous admiration for him and the rebirth of the Australian motorcycle manufacturing industry right there in Northmead in the middle of my electorate. That is the sort of champion that this government wants to get behind and that is the sort of psychology which is going to transform this country.

Let us go on and look at discussion about foreign investment, where there is this apprehension and fear about the rest of the world swallowing us up at a time when, as I say, we have just had a 25 per cent growth in one year in Australian exports. There has been quite a bit of discussion and speculation, for example, about this bid by Shell, the Dutch multinational petroleum company, to purchase an Australian company, Woodside. I respect colleagues on both sides of the House, particularly from Western Australia, who have expressed concerns about the national interest implications of this purchase, but I just want to set out my view, as the member for Parramatta and as a person who believes in free enterprise and the free market—a person who believes in giving others the chance to compete.

Shell is not coming down here with troops or the barrel of a gun; Shell is not acting with any kind of force: Shell is merely offering to purchase the shares of an Australian company. If I, as a legislator down here in Canberra, turn around to my constituents—who may be Woodside shareholders—and say to them, `My view about your shares and what you should do with them should be preferred to your view about them. My vision about whether you should buy or sell them is superior to your vision,' then I had better have a pretty compelling rationale and it had better be something more than just the immediate attraction of a populist but, I believe, misguided conception of national sovereignty.

I believe in the principle that the person who is prepared to place the highest value on an asset will usually do the most with that asset. That is a principle in the allocation of capital which builds efficiency, which builds productivity, which creates employment. I mention the creation of employment very deliberately, because I should declare my interest to the extent that Shell is a major employer in my electorate. Shell's refinery at Clyde directly employs 400 people and indirectly employs another 400 subcontractors, making Shell the largest employer, public or private, in my electorate.

When those 800 people go home to their families—and they are supporting about 2,500 Australians with the income they are earning for being employed at Shell—with their pay cheque every two weeks, they do not say, `Look darling, here is the pay cheque, but I am sorry, it is coming to you from a foreign multinational.' And when they write out the cheque for the quarterly fees for their kids' kindergarten, the management of the kindergarten does not turn around and say, `Well look, I'd love to accept it, but that cheque comes from a foreign multinational.' Recently I asked for volunteers to come and join the Parramatta Save the Mission Soup Kitchen committee, a soup kitchen which provides 40,000 meals a year in Parramatta and which was being booted out of their premises and had to find another. When Shell came forward to offer someone to serve on that committee, and when that person, Glen Smith, said to me that Shell would like to donate a virtually new portable building for the task, I did not turn around to him and say, `Well Glen, I really appreciate the offer, but I understand that Shell is a foreign multinational.'

Foreign investment in Australia is good for this country. Companies like Shell also help this country to retain its best young talent. We have benefited here in Australia from significant migration from the Philippines. One of the reasons is that the Philippines has failed to sufficiently attract foreign investment to be able to keep their best people at home. The consequence of this is that the Philippines has become an exporter of their human capital and we get the benefit of it. In the same way, Silicon Valley in the United States has been largely built by gifted Indian software designers because India's prohibitive foreign investment rules meant that major multinationals from around the world would not invest in India and the best talent in the Indian economy got up and walked. Consequently, the United States has been the beneficiary.

We run the risk, particularly when the Aussie dollar is flat, of gifted young Australians—many of whom have been educated at publicly funded Australian universities—getting up and saying, `I am going to go and earn my currency somewhere else.' We are simply not providing the spread of employment opportunities in high value-adding, high earning companies, some of which will be foreign.

I do not want to stand in the way of Shell but, more particularly, I do not presume to set myself up to dictate to the shareholders of Woodside. If they turn around as one and say, `We won't sell our shares to Shell because we believe it is not in Australia's interest,' then that is their decision and I will respect it. If they choose, by contrast, to unload their shares for a generous offer, likewise I say that that is their decision and I respect it. I simply say to Shell that I hope they continue making the sort of contribution to Australia that they are making to my constituents of Parramatta at the moment.

Let me turn to competition policy, much derided, particularly outside the major cities, and I will refer to a couple of examples since we were elected to government. In 1996, in this country, there were two long-distance phone carriers. Today, as a consequence of competition policy, there are 47 long-distance phone carriers. What has been the consequence for the phone bills of Australian families who have a friend or relative in the United States? Phone calls to the United States from Australia since 1996 have fallen in cost by 80 per cent. So we have gone from two carriers to 47, with an 80 per cent saving in costs.

I now turn to the area of bank fees and, in particular, the home mortgage markets. The introduction of non-bank mortgage originators as a consequence of competition policy, the breaking up of this cosy little cartel which the four big banks had, has resulted in the shaving of 1½ per cent off the rate which the banks were gouging from their customers in the home loan market. I particularly congratulate Aussie Home Loans, basing themselves in my electorate of Parramatta, who pioneered, and were the spear carriers of, this revolution. Aussie Home Loans is employing 600 direct employees and contractors. That is 600 families with another income because of this innovation in competition policy. The savings on an average mortgage of $150,000 for the typical Australian family is $250 a month, whether you live in the city or whether you live in the bush. When you are making a long-distance phone call, whether you are in the city or whether you are in the bush, you are deriving immediate benefits from competition policy. We simply cannot turn around and walk away from this challenge. The reason is that Australia is engaged in a contest. It is not purely a question of the distribution of resources among Australian citizens; it is a contest between Australia and our other trading partners from around the world. We cannot walk away from the contest. We need the spirit of the Rod Hunwicks of this world, who get up and have a go.

I am reminded of the experience of another Conservative Party, in the United Kingdom in 1980 and in similar circumstances to ours. They were then grappling with an inflation rate of 23 per cent, driven very largely by a spike in the global commodity price of oil. They were facing a slowdown in the economy and there were calls everywhere for a walking away from the challenges of competition, deregulation, reform and engagement with the rest of the world. The newspapers were calling for a U-turn. The leader of the Conservative Party explained to her faithful that they could turn if they wanted to, but she was not for turning. Over the next decade, Britain went on to become an economic power in Europe, to create jobs, to take her place as a leading economic power in the European Community and in the world. I want us to take her example, Nelson's example, Hunwick's example, and go out and take the world on and win.