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Thursday, 14 November 1985
Page: 2180

Senator PUPLICK(3.54) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This is my day for being kind to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button. I want to say a few things about the report of the Steel Industry Authority, which I think is not only an excellent report but also a very encouraging report in terms of what it indicates as the long term prospects for the Australian steel industry. I am pleased to see an authority indicate in its annual report these words:

The Authority's objective must be seen to be to preside over its own demise.

I think that in terms of the Authority's task over a specified period, to bring some greater rationality and some greater degree of success into the industry, it is approaching its task in a very correct and proper fashion. The Minister is to be congratulated for the way in which the Authority has been set up.

It is interesting to see that there is some renewed confidence within the steel industry for reinvestment. I note that this year the Japanese steel industry has announced that it proposes to invest about $US42billion into the process of upgrading its plant and machinery. There is evidence within this report that the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd and the industry as a whole are doing likewise. The report draws attention to the fact that the devaluation of the Australian dollar ought to provide some benefit in terms of increased competitiveness, both on the domestic scene and in the export market. It draws attention to the fact that although there has been a reduction in labour within the steel industry-the figure is 856 persons-that has been achieved without any retrenchments. It has been done in an orderly fashion by voluntary early retirements, resignations and transfers out of the industry. From time to time honourable senators on this side of the chamber are often accused unjustly of not having any degree of sensitivity to these matters. I think it is proper to quote from the report, where it states:

Man hours lost through industrial disputes when compared with total possible manhours worked have shown a substantial fall over the last five years from 3 per cent in 1980-81 to 0.4 per cent in 1984-85, a tribute to all those in the industry.

I think it proper that it should be recorded that the industry, in terms of management and the unions, assisted by the Authority and by the support it has been receiving from the Government, has managed to achieve a substantial breakthrough in an area in which industrial disputes were part of the problem of the declining competitiveness of the Australian steel industry. That ought to be recognised as a matter for some congratulations to all parties concerned.

There is, however, one particular matter which does concern me as a senator for New South Wales-that is, the report on pages 21 and 22 discusses the impact of State government taxes and charges on the steel industry. Mr Acting Deputy President, as a South Australian senator, you would know that it is South Australia and New South Wales in which these things particularly matter. The report draws attention to the fact that in those States imposts by State government taxes and charges have had a deleteriuous effect upon the development of the steel industry. In particular, the report singles out the situation in New South Wales. It states that payments from the various parts of the steel industry to the New South Wales State Government have been increasing at a faster rate than movements in the consumer price index. Indeed, while the consumer price index has moved from a base of 100 in 1980-81 to 131.6 in 1984-85, charges in New South Wales moved from that same base of 100 in 1980-81 to 165.8 in the current period.

Senator Button —Senator, I think the New South Wales Government has made some concessions recently, has it not?

Senator PUPLICK —It has made some concessions recently in terms of electricity costs, that is correct. Nevertheless, it simply draws attention to the fact that all these on-costs in an industry which is in some degree of difficulty must be carefully monitored. As I say, I think this is an encouraging annual report in regard to the steel industry, which is one of the most important industries in my State of New South Wales. The attitude of management and unions, and the underpinning support given by this Government, with the support of the Opposition-indeed, initially put in place by its predecessor government-indicates that many of the problems in manufacturing industry and in heavy industries in Australia can be overcome. The situation is not necessarily as despondent as many people have made out.

Question resolved in the affirmative.