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Wednesday, 12 February 1986
Page: 206

Senator ARCHER(5.49) —I wish to speak on the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade on closer economic relations with New Zealand. This is another of the good references that the Committee has handled in the 10 years that I have been a member of it. While its inquiry into closer economic relations is not yet finished-this is the third report on it-it has been a thorough investigation and I believe that this report does justice to the work that the Committee has done previously. We started this reference with Senator Coleman as Chairman and we regret that she was not with us during a substantial portion of the inquiry. However, we battled on without her. I am very pleased to say that Senator Childs is now the Chairman. I refer once again to the secretaryship of Peter Keele who has been very conscientious, thorough and helpful to us all in circumstances that have not always been terribly easy.

In this section of the inquiry we took evidence from people involved in primary industries all over Australia. We heard submissions from witnesses from Brisbane to Hobart. In particular, I thank the New Zealanders who gave us voluntary evidence and who made the trip from New Zealand, in some cases, to see that we got the information. That helped us to build a very good relationship with the people from the New Zealand High Commission and with various industry personalities. It is just as true in this instance, as it usually is, that the time we spent with people over odd meals or cups of coffee has been very rewarding to us. It led them to understand us better and us to understand them.

We looked at all the primary industries that are involved in the trade, such as meat, dairy products, vegetables, timber, fish and so on. After dealing with them for some months, trying to look for the common thread, it turned out that the big issue was the currency question. The value of the respective currencies is far more important than any amount of subsidy or support that is provided from time to time by the various governments. It took us a bit of selling to get across to some of our witnesses that we felt that was the case. However, by the time the inquiry was finished and, as Senator Childs said, by the time we had seen the currency go from about $1.20 to about $1.80 and then back again, the people on both sides of the Tasman could see that that was the important issue. It was a matter of how we were to tie that in with normal trade and commerce to keep it intact. It is very disruptive of trade between two countries to have currencies fluctuating like that. It makes it very difficult to enter into any long term arrangements, certainly, and even short term arrangements. In one instance one firm spent $1m preparing for a major advertising campaign at a time when the dollar was very favourable to it. It then became disastrous and the campaign was finished in a lot less than a satisfactory manner.

It is a matter of looking at what progress we are making in eliminating the undesirable features of the arrangement. That process has substantially got under way. I believe that now that we know as much about the trade between the two countries as we do-I do not blame those before us for some of the mistakes that were clearly made and some of the over-generosities that were committed to compensate for the mistakes that were made-from now on there should be much more concerted discussion between the two parties to the agreement to tidy up the loose ends as fast as possible and to see that some of the arrangements go on for many more years. I believe that it should be possible to re-negotiate those arrangements in the interests of both parties. We are one another's favoured customers in so many ways. We need to keep it that way. The only way we can do so is by having complete trust in one another as to what we are doing. We need to have these joint operations, as I said when speaking to the dairy Bill a few minutes ago. We need to achieve far greater loyalty in Australian retailers as to Australian produce. I think a disgraceful state of affairs currently exists. If I had my way the next inquiry the Committee would carry out would be into retailing practices in Australia.

Senator Button —Hear, hear!

Senator ARCHER —With the support of the Minister, I make that recommendation to the Committee. Undesirable practices do exist. Senator Childs alluded to most of them. I wish to make it clear that the undesirable practices are not all against us. We engage in some undesirable practices against the New Zealand producers of various commodities, which does not do us a lot of credit either. I believe that we should eliminate these practices as soon as we can. We should offer to eliminate them, perhaps by bartering them against things we may not like from the other end. We need to co-operate far more. We need to know the extent of one another's plantings of various commodities. We need to know the livestock numbers. We need to know what arrangements are being made to sell various products in other markets. We need to get all that sort of information from one another on a monthly basis. I see no reason why we should not be able to share that sort of information much earlier than we have done in the past. Most of that information until now has been obtained very late in the piece or by some form of subterfuge which should not be necessary.

It has been a pleasure to deal with the rural industries of both countries in this inquiry. We hope that in the next couple of months we will be able to put down our next report, which is on manufacturing industry.