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Thursday, 14 November 1985
Page: 2211


Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(7.03) —I thank honourable senators for their contributions to this debate. I should point out that I heard only what was said by the last speaker, Senator Michael Baume. I think the honourable senator would be well advised to compare notes with Senator Puplick who made a totally different speech about the Steel Industry Authority report when that report was debated in the Parliament earlier today. It would be helpful if he did that. I think that Senator Baume is wrong about a number of stroppy allegatioins he made. He says that there have been retrenchments in the steel industry. There have been no retrenchments in the steel industry since the steel plan was introduced.


Senator Michael Baume —What about since March 1983?


Senator BUTTON —Yes, there have been retrenchments since March 1983.


Senator Michael Baume —That was the election date.


Senator BUTTON —I understand that. The essence of what the Government said in opposition was that it would stop the rot as far as disemployment in the steel industry was concerned, and that happened.


Senator Michael Baume —How many thousands of workers later?


Senator BUTTON —Most of the workers were thrown out of the steel industry in 1982. The honourable senator would probably remember that, even though he was not here at the time. A number of other suggestions have been made in terms of comparing productivity figures in various countries and so on. I think the more important comparison is the condition of the Australian steel industry compared with the condition, for example, of Bethlehem Steel in the United States of America, to which the honourable senator referred. I would put my two bob into the Australian steel industry rather than Bethlehem Steel any day. In fact, there are very grave dangers in comparing international productivity figures because the statistics are compiled on totally different bases. Some steel industries include all the management and all the white collar staff in the productivity figures. The Australian industry, for example, does not.

The other important consideration which Senator Baume raised is the question of industrial disputes. I do not think he referred to the figures in the Steel Industry Authority report on the reduction in industrial disputes. Another interesting comparison which he might like to make, if he is a student of the steel industry, is wages in the steel industry in Australia compared with other industries overseas. From recollection, the more dramatic figures are that Australian steel workers are paid about $13.50 to $14 something an hour. Korean steel workers are paid about $4 an hour, United States steel workers about $28 an hour and British steel workers about $10 an hour. I think it will be found--


Senator Michael Baume —And the Japanese about $14.


Senator BUTTON —Yes, more than us.


Senator Michael Baume —The Japanese are about the same.


Senator BUTTON —I agree, they are about the same. But they are, in fact, ahead of us in terms of wages. So the comparisons are fairly dramatic and stark. It is interesting to find that we are at the bottom end of the pecking order in terms of wages, and not at the top end which is occupied by the Americans and some Europeans.


Senator Michael Baume —Except the British.


Senator BUTTON —I said `some Europeans'. I have never regarded the British as Europeans. This is not the appropriate time to debate these matters. I thank honourable senators for their contributions.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 7.07 p.m. till Tuesday, 26 November 1985, at 2 p.m.; or such other day and/or hour as may be fixed in accordance with the Resolution agreed to this day.