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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1378


Senator SCOTT (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(3.54) -I rise to support the matter of public importance which alleges 'The deception of the Australian community by the Prime Minister on the prospects he had secured for Australia's steel and beef industries on his recent Asian visit.' The word 'secured' is the operative word because there really has been no suggestion that the maintaining of the share of the Japanese market was anything other than something that was a virtual guarantee, barring only problems that related to Australia's capacity to supply or which, indeed, related to the quality of the product. Of course, they are natural provisions.

In listening to Senator Button I was impressed with his statement that he had a university education and was able to understand the problems relating to the debate this afternoon. Even though perhaps a year or two after Senator Button I also had a university education and I probably have a closer actual association with primary industry than the learned Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator Button impressed me in that he displayed a real measure of caution. In doing that he was significantly different from his leader, the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke. If he had not displayed that sort of caution and commonsense then perhaps he would be another Mr 74 per cent. Senator Button at least has an indication of how he might rise to those giddy heights. I do not think it would be good advice because in the longer term the Australian people will prove to be extraordinarily intelligent and will not be fooled by ecstatic views or by pipe dreams. At this stage I am reminded of Michele Grattan's observation in the Age newspaper of 24 April. She said:

Bob Hawke's excess of enthusiasm during his Asian trip has caught up with him. Yesterday he was the emperor clutching for the bathrobe.

Perhaps that will be proven to be even truer as time goes by. From the point of view of the Australian beef industry one certainly hopes that it is not true. One would have thought from the ecstatic reports of 3 February that there would really be no need for tripping backwards and forwards to Tokyo and that there would be no need to confirm matters that were made clear at that time. This was to the extent that the Australian people and the Australian industry in particular were delighted with the proposition that the Prime Minister had put forward whilst he was in Tokyo. Ever since then there seems to have been a negating of those glittering reports and those great hopes for this most important industry.

Senator Button in his remarks referred-as honourable senators on the Government side in this chamber so often refer-to the seven lost years or the dark years, call them what you will. I think in passing that Senator Button should be reminded that six of those years to 1981 saw some remarkable successes. It is worth remembering that inflation in that period from the end of the Whitlam era dropped from 17 per cent to 8.8 per cent. It is worth remembering that the Australian deficit in that period dropped from nearly $5 billion to practically level pegging. They were very significant achievements during the years that Senator Button chooses to describe as dark years. Indeed it was only the rapid onset of a world recession, the wages spiral in this country and the onslaught of the worst drought recorded that finally brought the disastrous economic circumstances not only to Australia but also to a major part of the trading world. I think there is a lesson to be learned from the subject matter of this debate. Indeed, there is a lesson which all Australians and indeed all people living in democracies around the world could well look at and think about.

This debate has been brought about by the pipe dreams of a Prime Minister who, through media presentation and various other measures, has been seen to be something deserving of great popularity. He has been seen to be developing-I hope he has been seen to be developing-the politics of personality. It is therein that lies the great danger to the Australian people and to people who treasure democracy anywhere around the world. I am quite sure that many of the things that the Prime Minister says from time to time which I might from time to time find acceptable do not sit terribly well in a theoretical sense with his own socialist supporters. So we have to be careful that we do not find ourselves swamped by what can most easily be called the politics of personality, whereby the level or curve of an eyebrow or the mannerism of a brushing of the hair is more important than economic policy or political philosophy. That is something that even the learned leader of the Government in this chamber probably believes . I am sure he will devote some thought to it.

The glowing stories that have emanated from the trip to South East Asia and in particular to the Japanese area concerning steel and beef have been dampened very significantly. From the point of view of the steel and beef industries and from the point of view of the Australian people at large that is a great shame. It would seem those stories were the product of significantly over enthusiastic statements. The view of Mr Loton of the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd was that he could see no way in which an expenditure of $7 billion to establish the sort of steel production that Prime Minister Hawke was talking about could even be contemplated, particularly in a situation in which Japan, next door to China, stood there with some 40,000 tonnes of surplus steel and a massive vacant capacity to produce even more. One would think that BHP and its directors had virtually no knowledge of the steel industry or of potential markets for their product around the world. One would think that after almost a century's association with the great land of China they had no idea that she wanted to be involved in some sort of steel deal. Of course they are very well aware of trading circumstances in their industry, be it in the Far East, in Europe or wherever.

I turn to consider for a moment the beef industry in Australia because that is the industry that bore the greatest brunt of this unfortunate enthusiasm. Indeed , it will be unfortunate only if it proves to be significantly untrue. We hope that is not the case. But if it is untrue it is most unfortunate indeed. I am sure it has stirred in an industry which is of great significance to this country-an industry which has enormous potential and an industry which has suffered from a whole range of problems in the last five to ten years-a significant hope that here probably was the capacity for a real increase in the market for its product. The Australian beef industry is an industry which represents in total some $2.2 billion. It is a massive industry. Just over 10 years ago it lost its entry into the whole of the European market. It was faced with an enormous challenge, a challenge to find markets for something like 75 per cent of Australian beef production. It accepted that challenge and, indeed, found new markets. It found new markets in the Middle East, in South East Asia, in Japan of course, in South Korea and so on.


Senator Peter Rae —Eighty five per cent of Taiwan.


Senator SCOTT —It found markets also in Taiwan. Now, somewhat ironically, those markets, carefully established over the years, are being threatened by the surplus of the European Economic Community. The beef industry in Europe has grown so dramatically under the subsidised system that it adopted in the common agricultural policy that European subsidised surpluses are entering the markets of Egypt and indeed other areas in the Middle East, and are now even spilling over into South East Asia. In the short period of movement by the Prime Minister in South East Asia, Japan and China we have lost very significant markets. Indeed, we have lost the total Singapore market. We have lost a very significant share of the Korean market. Now it would appear that we may well have lost a proportion of the Japanese market.

I want to make it absolutely clear that the industry was concerned on very sound grounds. I think I should quote just briefly from what Mr Hawke said in Japan to indicate why this problem has arisen. In a joint communique with the Japanese Prime Minister this was said:

The Japanese side believes that the position of Australia as a supplier of primary products including minerals will not decline so long as these Australian products maintain their competitiveness and the stable supply is assured.

Further, at a Press conference in Osaka the Prime Minister said:

First we have had discussions with leaders of government and industry to ensure that Australia maintains its share in the traditional areas of supply which, of course includes mineral products and primary products-particularly beef.

So there can be no doubt that on the basis of those words there was a real reason for some measure of enthusiasm in the industry. One can only hope that the ultimate result of racing to and from Tokyo is that that sort of extended market will become a fact. As I said at the beginning of my speech, there can be no doubt that this is just one other exercise in the politics of personality. It is one other desperate attempt to vindicate and to run off some of the problems that are confronting this economy as a result of this Government's policies in recent months.