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Tuesday, 8 February 1994
Page: 512

Senator GIBSON —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Regional Development. I refer the minister to his recent comments that the era of direct handouts to industry has come to an end, and I congratulate him on that attitude. However, I ask, firstly, whether he agrees with the recent article by Steve Burrell in the Australian Financial Review in which the suggestion is made that the industry portfolio is therefore irrelevant; and, secondly, whether he agrees with the Burrell suggestion that the industry portfolio should now see itself as a major innovator in ridding the economy of impediments to business competitiveness, or whether he now sees the department as adopting a more interventionist role within Australian industry and retreating to the old business of trying to pick winners?

Senator COOK —This question falls into the category of a fishing expedition, and it is one that will be met with an outcome, but not today. This government, over the past 11 years of our administration, has presided over an industry policy which has seen manufacturing exports from this country boom and a resurgence at the same time as there has been a restructuring of the industry base in this country. We now have, according to the competitiveness index, a much more competitive economy able to cut its way in the international marketplace. I would hope to continue in that tradition of industry policy development and implementation to ensure that the gains that have been made through that restructuring and the increases in our competitiveness continue.

  The questions I am asked today really invite the answer that I gave to a question asked last week by Senator Spindler—that is, I will neither confirm nor deny my approach to industry policy at this stage. I am still working on that. As foreshadowed, I will put down a major statement on industry policy in late April or early May, and that will point the directions of industry policy for this country for the next 10 years.

  But in that policy some things will remain consistent. This government embarked upon a major program of micro-economic reform and the removal of impediments to industry. In my consultations with industry, both in the last week or so and over the last year in my role as Minister for Trade, one of those impediments constantly raised is the issue of micro-economic reform. I think that our record is in fact one of tackling micro-economic reform head-on and making significant gain. But one should never rest on one's laurels; there is always a continuing improvement to be made.

  One of the points that industry makes to me constantly is that while the federal government has embarked on micro-economic reform and deserves marks and recognition for what it has done, the area of micro-economic reform that is lagging and needs most attention now is in the constitutional purview of the states. State micro-economic reform under the control of state governments is a major issue in ensuring that the economy of this country is more competitive in the international marketplace.

Senator Bishop —Blame it on the states!

Senator COOK —I will not rise to the bait by biting back at the comments made about the states. I would like to see a partnership between the Commonwealth and the states in tackling these very serious problems. I have said before that we can no longer look upon our industry base as focusing on a local market within our own region or, indeed, the domestic Australian market; we ought to look upon industry policy as focusing on the global marketplace because that is where Australian companies are benchmarking themselves. That is where their market and their measure of competitiveness is. I would hope to bring that approach to industry policy formulation as well and, as I say, continue in the tradition of restructuring and reform that has gone on in this government over the 11 years of office to ensure that our industry remains and becomes more competitive in the world marketplace.