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Wednesday, 31 May 1989
Page: 3142


Senator HILL(5.07) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The report on the Code of Conduct for Australian Companies with Interests in the Republic of South Africa, which we have just received, is an interesting report. It is the second report under the Code of Conduct for Australian Companies with Interests in the Republic of South Africa. Mr Bannerman, in his report, brings to our attention the fact that there are now only seven Australian companies in South Africa, employing about 740 black workers. He makes the point that this interest in South Africa is tiny by comparison with the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries. Of course, compared with the South African economy itself, it is minute. In fact, he reminds us that South Africa's population is already more than twice ours. So we are looking at seven Australian companies to which this report refers, in a country with greater than twice the population of Australia.

He raises the interesting question of whether the code is serving a worthwhile purpose and whether it need continue, not only because of the very few companies involved under it but also because of growing evidence that questions the value of such codes within the South African economic environment. He says in the report that industry groupings at the peak level tend to see the codes as obsolescent and having mainly domestic value for the home countries of the companies concerned. Perhaps we should think about that. Unions at the peak level do not believe in codes but rather in what they can achieve themselves. He says that workers at the plant level are a little more unsure, with some thinking that they might bring some marginal benefit.

The paramount point he makes is that the Australian companies operate in an economic environment in which they cannot get far away from the industry norms. In other words, what will occur will really occur because of pressures within South Africa. He mentioned the view, which he seems to endorse, that benefits on the small achievements that have been made by blacks to date-when one looks at changes to the pass law, black taxis and changes in the group areas-seem to have been largely achieved through pressure from within. He therefore asked whether in such marginal circumstances the code is serving a continuing worthwhile purpose. It is an interesting subject for us to consider, because we in the Opposition have supported a voluntary code of this nature. It is in our policy to support such a code because we, as with the rest of the world community, have seen it as a useful vehicle for influencing change for the better in South Africa, change away from apartheid and towards equal rights for all the residents of South Africa, no matter what their colour. Of course Australia was one of the last nations to adopt the code idea, being a long way behind the United States of America, the United Kingdom and so on.

I guess the important thing to note in the difference between the Opposition's policies and the Government's policies towards South Africa is that we have not seen isolation as likely to achieve the benefits which this Government claimed it was seeking. In other words, we have said that a genuine and continuing dialogue has the opportunity of achieving greater benefit. We have therefore not supported the use of punitive economic sanctions. If we look at Australia's influence in terms of its corporate life in South Africa being down to only seven companies, we will see that in effect we have no influence left whatsoever. We have therefore adopted a series of policies that really do involve much more in the line of constructive engagement. Not only do we believe in bringing political pressure and other influences to bear towards change, but also we believe in keeping open the doors of commerce and industry, so that through influence in commerce and industry we can bring about changes for the better. We would want to maintain that policy, not to impose obstacles to investment and to business, commercial and travel links with South Africa. We will support the code until we are convinced otherwise. But we will certainly look at this report and encourage Australian businesses operating in South Africa to provide housing loans and grants, technical and managerial training, scholarships and other similar programs for black South Africans; in other words, a constructive way of trying to pursue our objectives.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Crichton-Browne) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.