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Tuesday, 25 September 2001
Page: 31357

Ms KERNOT (2:28 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, have you seen the announcement by Daimaru that it will be closing its Victorian and Queensland stores, with another 1,000 jobs to go? Prime Minister, have you been advised by Daimaru, as I have today by their director of operations, that:

... increasing competition and the introduction of the GST have not assisted with the company's efforts to turn the stores around.

Prime Minister, how can you claim Australian families are so much better off under your GST, when so many are losing their jobs—70,000 at Ansett, 1,000 at Coles Myer and 1,000 at Daimaru?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —In answer to the member for Dickson, I have not sighted that communication. I am not saying that it has not been sent, but I have not sighted that communication. I have, however, sighted an interview between Michael Donovan, the state secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, and John Fayne on Melbourne radio this morning. I think he was being pretty objective. He is the secretary of that union and I guess he votes Labor, but I am not absolutely certain. Not all shoppies vote Labor, but I think one or two of them do, and one or two vote elsewhere as well, I know.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The Prime Minister has the call. The member for Brisbane has drawn his interjections to my attention for the third time. The member for Dickson has asked her question and the Prime Minister is responding to it.

Mr HOWARD —Mr Donovan actually said, `No, it is not totally the GST.' He then went on to say, `Daimaru's problem has been that it has not been making money in Australia, so obviously the company has made a decision that it is not going to make money so it is going to close.' I think what the secretary of the union was doing was acknowledging that the level of competition in the retail industry was such that some companies had done better than others. Clearly, what has happened in the Australian retail industry over the last couple of years is that Woolworths has outcompeted all of the other major operators. One of the reasons why Coles Myer is not doing as well as it used to do is that Woolworths has done extraordinarily well. If the thesis being advanced by the member for Dickson and by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were correct, presumably the same thing would be happening to Woolworths and to all retailers as is happening to Coles Myer. The reality is that, if you look at the retail sales figures over the last year, they have been very strong, despite all the predictions of doom and gloom from the opposition.

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Brisbane!

Mr HOWARD —Retail sales have been one of the elements of the Australian economy that has held up extremely well. I happen to have in front of me a news release from Woolworths, which says, `Woolworths announces a double-digit growth year. Sales profits and dividends rise double-digit. Sales up 10.1 per cent, earnings before interest up 13.7 per cent, average return on funds employed up 35 per cent, normal operating profit after tax up 17 per cent, earnings per share up 24.1 per cent, dividend per share up 17.4 per cent.' That is the performance, and that happened under the GST.

Incidentally, the Labor Party, if they win the election, are going to hang on to the GST for dear life. If the Labor Party win the election, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will not be abolishing the GST. They will be clutching the GST to their collective bosom with great enthusiasm and great energy. Let me simply say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and also to the member for Dickson that, if the GST were the ogre you argue it is, two things would occur: its impact on retail sales would be across all companies and, secondly, the Australian Labor Party would embrace a policy, if they win the election, of getting rid of it. The reality is that in the retail industry Coles Myer has not fared well in the face of very strong competition from Woolworths. For the reasons outlined by the shoppies, Daimaru has had great difficulty in making money in the whole time that it has been operating in Australia, and it has been operating in Australia now for a number of years.

I also remind the House that Coles Myer is not closing down. Coles Myer is not in difficulty. Coles Myer is proposing to retrench 1,000 people in its head office, and it believes that it is going to replace that number of people through new store openings in other parts of Victoria. I say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who represents a seat in Melbourne, that, instead of trying to talk down the employment prospect of Victorians, instead of trying to spread doom and gloom, instead of trying to talk down a great Australian company that has had a great tradition of serving the people of Melbourne, he should be out there encouraging Coles Myer, he should be out there looking in a very positive way and he should abandon his doom and gloom talk. It failed in relation to the Australian economy, and it will fail in relation to Coles Myer.

Ms Kernot —Sixty-seven thousand full-time jobs.

Mr SPEAKER —I remind the member for Dickson that she is among those who, rightly, are most anxious to be heard in silence when at the dispatch box. I expect her to extend precisely the same courtesy to those who are at the dispatch box.