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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5292

Senator SPINDLER (10.37 a.m.) —I seek leave to move amendments Nos 1, 2 and 3 together. Although they deal with slightly different subjects, the underlying principle is the same and it may be convenient to do so.

  Leave granted.

Senator SPINDLER —I move:

  That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendments to the Bill:

1.Clause 9, page 3, line 6, omit the clause, substitute the following clause:

  9.(1) All tariff classifications in Schedule 3 to the Principal Act where duty is ascertained by reference to Schedule 5, other than 0406.10.00, 0406.20.00, 0406.30.00, 0406.40.90, 0406.90.90 and classifications within Chapter 64 are amended by omitting all rates expressed to apply from a date.

  (2) Schedule 3 of the Principal Act is further amended and Schedules 4 and 5 of that Act are amended as set out in Schedule 6.

2.Schedule 6, proposed amendments of Schedule 3, pages 11 to 54, items 1 and 3 to 47, omit the items.

3.Schedule 6, page 58, proposed amendments of Schedule 5, omit the amendments, substitute the following amendments:

  "1.Items 1 to 20 and 24 to 29 are amended by omitting `, entered for home consumption on or before 28 February 1993'.

  2.Omit items 21 and 22.".

When this matter was discussed during the debate on the second reading of the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1992, the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) pointed out that the reduction in employment and the high rate of bankruptcy in the TCF industries occurred some two or three years ago when the reduction in tariffs had only just begun and when the quantitative restrictions were still in place. That may be true, but people running businesses do anticipate the economic climate that they will have to face and, rather than wait to be made bankrupt, they make other arrangements. They move offshore—in other words, they export jobs—or they simply go out of business; they do not wait to be bankrupted by the Government's tariff reduction program. It is much more relevant to look—and I have put that on record before, too—at what is happening to the TCF industries. An industry which employed 120,000 people is now down to 76,000 in March 1992, and it anticipates that it will be down to 55,000 employees and probably fewer when the provisions of this Bill actually take effect.

  Let me restate what this Bill proposes to do. It will remove all quantitative restrictions on TCF products, as well as putting in place the tariff reduction program that the Government has enunciated. It is the considered view of the industry that it will decimate what is left of that industry. I know that it has been argued that we cannot continue to make T-shirts when Chinese factories are able to pay less than $20 for a 48-hour week and when they do not have to cope with the sorts of environmental constraints, social constraints and work safety constraints that we impose on our manufacturers. The question arises: are we prepared to sink to their levels and are we prepared to throw on the scrap heap those people who are now currently in the industry?

  The Minister cited the TCF Development Authority report in glowing terms, and I agree with him that a lot of worthwhile work is being done. However, there is no evidence that the people who are being retrenched in this industry are able to find alternative employment. The point was made by Mr Alan Trumble, the President of the TCF Council, that the majority of people working in the industry—and this is self-evident—are essentially semi-skilled, even unskilled, and very often have a poor command of English. It is, therefore, difficult for them to find other employment. We as a community have a choice: are we prepared to continue to pay a slightly higher price for TCF products that we purchase, or are we going to raise higher taxes to pay more unemployment benefits to pay people to do nothing, with all the destructive social consequences that this brings?

  Mr Trumble also made a very telling point. He said that a lot of his work force and the work force of other people in other enterprises in the industry consist of migrants that have been brought to this country to do jobs that we Australians were not prepared to do, and are we now going to say to them, `You have done your job, we do not want you any more, we will throw you on the scrap heap'? It is for these reasons that I have moved these requested amendments, which will remove those provisions of the Bill which totally remove all quantitative restraints and which institute the tariff cutting program.

  I should also stress—and it has been misrepresented to some extent by Senator Ferguson, speaking for the Opposition, and by the Minister—that we are not suggesting that we should have high tariff walls around Australia forever after. We appreciate that the industry must restructure, and that in time we must reduce manufacturing of products that can be done much more economically in other countries. What we are quarrelling with is the speed. What we are quarrelling with is the fact that it coincides with the current recession, which is deepening the economic problems of the industry and which is deepening the misery of the people concerned with it.

  I believe it is a extremely insensitive step for the Government to implement at this point of time; and at this stage one might say that the only hope appears to be Dr Hewson, who on Friday is possibly going to reconsider the coalition's position on tariffs.