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Tuesday, 6 March 1984
Page: 441


Senator TATE —Has the Minister for Industry and Commerce seen the report that Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd is eliciting reaction to its proposal that Australia produce raw steel products for processing in various Asian countries as part of an international rationalisation of the industry? Does this indicate a further coming together of the thoughts and plans of top management in BHP and that of the Prime Minister during his recent China visit as to the future of the Australian steel industry? Can the Minister inform the Senate of any latest Government reflection or action in pursuance of these exciting possibilities?


Senator BUTTON —The visit of the Prime Minister overseas, and particularly his visit to China, resulted in discussions with the Chinese Government about the possibility of some integration between the Australian steel industry and the Chinese steel industry. Following the return of the Prime Minister to Australia that matter was the subject of formal discussions with representatives of the steel industry and the iron ore industry in Australia. As a result of those discussions a joint working party has been set up between the Chinese Government and the Australian Government to examine the possibility of integration of those activities. That working party will be busy for the next month or two and will then report to both governments in respect of that possibility.

Yesterday at the seminar in Melbourne the Chairman of BHP, Sir James McNeill, in an address to the conference, referred to the question of there being some degree of integration of the Australian steel industry with the steel industry, such as it is, in various countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations. That statement by Sir James McNeill is a particularly welcome one inso- far as the Government is concerned. It is certainly related to the initiatives taken by the Prime Minister when in China and it is vitally relevant in terms of the Government's approach to trade and industry policy that all those possibilities be explored as vigorously as possible. It is very encouraging from the Government's point of view that, in a situation in which there is world overcapacity in steel, the initiative should be taken in Australia to look at the possible integration of steel industries in South East Asia and Australia as , in a sense, a parcel solution to that overcapacity problem.


Senator Peter Rae —It was all looked at years ago.


Senator BUTTON —Of course it was all looked at years ago. I suppose the honourable senator will tell me next that BHP has been trading with China since 1891. That is true. The honourable senator has been sleeping in the Senate since 1961, as I understand it. But that does not mean that all these opportunities should not be explored as vigorously as possible, which is the point I was making. I think even Senator Rae would welcome a statement by the chairman of a company such as BHP which is indicative of an increasingly outward looking approach in Australian industry rather than the sort of introspective, inward looking approach which has been present for too many years and which has resulted from various policies of previous governments which have seen Australian manufacturing industry and productive capacity totally concentrated on satisfying a domestic market with very little emphasis on the importance of exports to this country. It is very welcome to see, particularly in an industry such as steel where, as I have said, there is world overcapacity, that within Australia initiatives are being taken in an outward looking way to try to overcome some of those problems and provide a better basis for the development of the industry both in Australia and in South East Asia generally.