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Wednesday, 12 February 1986
Page: 201


Senator MASON(5.16) —There are several points I want to make in regard to the 1984-85 annual report of the Department of Foreign Affairs. My first point is that, as a member of the parliamentary delegation which visited China last year, I cannot praise too highly the spirit of enterprise and enthusiasm I found among our diplomats in that country. China is probably the most important foreign post we have, in many respects, and it is essential that we get things right there where our work is concerned, especially after such a long period in our history when we did not get things right as far as China was concerned. Looking back, I would especially like to commend to this Parliament the dedication, hard work and intelligence of the head of mission at that time, Mr Denis Argall, who I think at great loss to Australia was not able to complete his term as Ambassador but was forced to return to Australia last August because of ill health. I wish him a speedy recovery and I hope that his knowledge of China and the enthusiasm he showed will again be available somewhere in the service of Australia.

The delegation was able to meet with Mr Hu Yaobang in Beijing. I was struck by the firmness with which Mr Hu insisted that China intended to persist with its open door policy of co-operation in trade and joint ventures with other countries-a virtual open door as dramatic as the one that Japan made at the time of Commodore Perry. It was certainly in vivid contrast with what I found when I visited China in 1975, towards the end of the Cultural Revolution. I stress this matter because I believe that many Australians do not yet understand how much China has changed and what great trade opportunities exist there for Australia; but, I would say, on a hard-headed, businesslike basis because the Chinese are certainly hard-headed enough. That was our experience of them.

Before I went to China, I remember, someone said to me: `What a terrific opportunity it would be if we gave every Chinese one of a pair of Australian woollen socks, as they would then have to buy the other half of the pair and that would be a tremendous breakthrough'. I now hasten to assure that person that the Chinese would immediately trade off a sock so that half of them would have a complete pair of socks. That is the way it is. The Chinese market is available only to Australian business which is adaptable and which is able to supply a good product at a competitive price. However, it is a market that is well worth that kind of effort. It is the world's biggest market, bigger than it has ever been before, and interestingly enough-this is one of the main impressions I think one gets of that country and an impression which our diplomats stress to us again and again-Chinese society is now turning acquisitive.

After the years and years during the Mao era during which the people could not have things-during which time I saw them going through department stores looking wistfully at consumer goods which they could not afford-they are now reaching the stage where incomes are going up, especially because of the incentive situation, and where there is a market. It is a market which particularly we in Australia can get into. The reason for that is that, as far as I can see, the Chinese Government is in favour of Australia. We are a small or middle country. We have never been colonists. We have never really been in a position which would excite the Chinese to any kind of opposition ideologically. That gives us a much more important advantage in China, where ideology is still important, than we might understand. There is already a large number of Australian companies operating effectively, efficiently and profitably in China.

I ask the Australian Government, even if it feels that it has undertaken a public relations campaign among business and the community generally, to ensure that there is a good and up to date understanding of that country. Almost any effort we can make is worth while. As an example, it is striking that the greater part of the earnings of a Chinese worker are in the form of incentives which are assessed regularly on his reliability and energy. The principal of paying people the same whether they work hard or not has disappeared in China. When I asked one of the new Western-suited young technocrats how this accorded with socialist ideas, he blandly told me: `Ah, this is the new socialism'.


Senator Archer —Not in Australia.


Senator MASON —If that is the case, maybe we could do with some of it here, Senator Archer. I commend to Senator Archer and others, Senator Siddons's ideas on industrial democracy. They passed the Senate once. Can we not go back to that workable system of industrial democracy where the work force would be largely self-regulating and we would need the doctrinaire unions less. I repeat that the Government could do worse than look at the Chinese system of worker incentives in that light.