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Wednesday, 9 October 1985
Page: 941


Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(6.52) —The Government does not accept the amendments moved by the Opposition. I indicated why earlier. I do not have any hostility to the amendments which have been moved; I cannot think of what else I would have done had I been in opposition. But, as I have said, we had to make a decision about this matter. We believe it important that the industry be given assistance beyound 1990 so that it will be able to plan a little further into the future with a necessary degree of confidence. We also think that the long term rate of bounty proposed by the Industries Assistance Commission is correct. In the next couple of years, when this industry is getting over some very important structural and investment problems it will benefit from the additional bounty level in that period. For those sorts of reasons we do not accept the amendments which have been moved.

Senator Chaney asked the rhetorical question-I think it was a fair enough question-whether we can be certain that in two years time this industry will be in good shape. Like everything else, of course, it depends on a wide range of issues. I think we can be certain if it rains a lot and the Australian dollar stays much as it is at present. If the Australian dollar appreciates a lot and there is a drought I think we can be quite sure that the company concerned will be in trouble. There are a range of factors which affect that.

I do not wish to be dismissive of the importance of the other matters raised by Senator Chaney. I am fully aware of the very substantial and long term structural problems that this country faces. However, I think it is fair to recognise that Australia will not be a low wage country under any government. We will have to arrive at a competitive situation in that understanding. Many of the most significant manufacturing countries, including Japan, are not low wage countries. They are countries which, by a combination of a variety of policies, produce many more competitive industries than we have. Of course, the question of costs is important in that broad spectrum of issues. I do not think it is correct to say that Australians a high wage country compared with the United States of America across the board. In individual industries where I have have looked at figures that is simply not true. I am talking about productive industries as distinct from the broad level of wages across the United States, in which case this situation might be much truer than in respect of particular industries.

In chastising the Government about these things I think it is important to remember two points: Firstly, earlier in 1985, when we were debating this legislation, real unit labour costs in this country were lower than they had been in any period of our history since 1968; that is to say, real unit labour costs have reverted to that level. Secondly, I think it is important to remember that the profit share of Australian industry is at its highest, certainly since the early 1970s. Those are important factors which have to be remembered in terms of commenting on the Government's attitude to industry and business and the success or otherwise of government policies.

It is not correct, as Senator Chaney said, that the Government broke a commitment in the last Budget. I invite Senator Chaney to read the Budget Statements again. There was no such commitment in the last Budget. There was a commitment in respect of taking into account the effects of the devaluation in the wages system. There was no commitment about devaluation in the September case. If Senator Chaney reads the Budget Statement again he will find that that is quite explicit. He can ask me a question about it tomorrow at Question Time if I am wrong. He should have a look at what the Budget Statement said. What the Government has done is quite consistent with what is in the Budget Statement and there is no breaking of a commitment.

A number of other issues were raised in the course of Senator Chaney's remarks, many of which I agree with. He raised the question of workers compensation on-costs, payroll tax on-costs, and so on. I commend to the New South Wales Government and other governments the steps which have been taken by the Victorian Government in relation to workers compensation. I mention that these steps have been vigorously opposed by the Liberal Party of Australia in Victoria on behalf of the insurance industry. Nonetheless, they are sensible steps which have been well received by industry in Victoria. They have reduced considerably the premiums which will be paid by industry in respect of workers compensation. I believe that the South Australian Government is following that course and I hope that other State governments will do so. So there are a number of things which are important in that regard. The Government does not accept the amendments. We commend the Bills in their original form.