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Monday, 11 October 1999
Page: 9417

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL (9:19 PM) —I also want to speak in support of the amendment to the ACIS Administration Bill 1999 and the two related bills, moved by Senator Conroy on behalf of the opposition. As someone who has spent a lot of time in the 1980s and the 1990s talking to governments about policy in this area and who has spent a lot of time and energy on the Australian Manufacturing Council talking about the future directions for the automotive industry as well as many other industries, it is pleasing to see that this bill will attempt to bring some stability to the automotive industry for at least a period of time. But it beggars belief as to why you would put in place legislation that would provide stability for a five-year period and then say to the industry, `But we're going to blindfold you, and you will have to guess at the end of the five-year period what we are likely or not likely to do with support for your industry into the future.' That seems to me to be an absurd policy position for any government to adopt.

The proposition put up on behalf of the Labor opposition—and I understand that it will be supported by the Democrats—is eminently sensible. It is that we should have a review well before this current package of support expires so that the industry can be given some window into the future to make the decisions that are necessary to ensure the continuity of the industry in this country. Car manufacturers do not make decisions about investing in new models or new production lines five minutes or five days or five months out from when they are about to do it; they do it five years out and beyond. They will make only those decisions which are substantial. When you talk about investment in the automotive industry, you are talking in millions and millions of dollars when you want to make significant change. No company is going to make those decisions unless it has some reasonable expectation of what the future will hold for it as an investor.

We said in a Senate Economics References Committee report on promoting the future of Australian industry—and Senator Ferguson, who is sitting beside Senator Minchin and holding his hand in this debate, was on that committee—that we ought to have a bipartisan approach towards industry policy. We ought to be looking at setting a time frame for industry policy outside of the political cycle. We ought to be locking it into the business cycle. We ought to be doing it in a 10-year time frame—

Senator Alston interjecting

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —I know, Richard, you cannot think beyond 10 minutes. But we ought to be doing it in a 10-year time frame so that when businesses have to make investment, they will, in fact, have a focus upon where that investment will take them and will have some degree of stability in what they believe the government policy will be.

It is interesting to look at some of the comments that were made in 1997 when the government adopted the Labor Party's position on this industry and on the TCF industry. The current policy that is now being implemented is not the government's policy. They picked up the policy that was put on the table at that point in time by Simon Crean, who was the then shadow minister for industry. They adopted it, like they do with a lot of the Labor Party's policies, and put it in place as their own. We did not have any qualms about that because it was in the best long-term interest of this industry. We were quite happy for them to adopt our position, put it in place and give some stability in the industry.

It was reported by Malcolm Farr on 31 March 1997 in the Daily Telegraph that the Prime Minister had told a Shanghai business luncheon—

Senator Conroy —Who was that?

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —The Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, told a Shanghai business luncheon that he considered the car industry of strategic importance and could not envisage Australia without a strong manufacturing capacity. If he believes it to be of strategic importance, then we ought to be actually sitting down and planning with the industry now what we are going to do in 2005 or 2010, not five minutes out from it happening but now if it is an industry of strategic importance. I actually agree with the Prime Minister. It is not often that I agree with him, but on this I actually do agree with him. I think it is a strategic industry. It has always been a strategic industry, not in terms of the volume of cars we produce necessarily or the volumes of models we produce or the number of cars we export, but it is strategic in the sense that our engineering capacity is built upon the skills that have been developed out of that industry.

The automotive industry has been the driver of skills development and engineering right throughout the world. It is a key driver in the development of those skills. If you lose the automotive industry, you lose a major component in developing engineering skills and an engineering base in this country that go beyond just the manufacturing of car products. It is a central component of our manufacturing sector, not just of the component sector which feeds off it but also other components of manufacture that feed off the component sector.

What has this government done to manufacturing? When the government was elected in 1996, John Moore, the then minister for industry, stood up and said, `We will grow or create 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing by the year 2000.' What has been the result? There has been a net deficit of over 60,000 jobs in manufacturing since this government took office. So we are actually 60,000 behind the target. The current minister for industry was smarter when he came in to the portfolio. He ditched the 200,000 jobs commitment. He is not committed to creating any jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Senator Minchin —Don't you talk about jobs.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —He is not even committed to the manufacturing industry. He is more committed to the monarchy than he is to protecting manufacturing in this country. I would like to see Senator Minchin, as the minister for industry, spend a little bit more time going around regional and rural Australia, the various capital cities or even his own capital city of Adelaide, to talk to car workers or whitegoods workers about their future, about the policies the government is putting in place to defend their jobs and to develop new jobs in the manufacturing sector, rather than spending it running around, trying to beat up support for the monarchy and the Queen. Your time, Senator Minchin, would be much better spent undertaking that task to the one you have currently got.

Senator Ferguson —What is Beazley doing?

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —I did not know that Kim Beazley was running around beating up support for the Queen.

Senator Alston interjecting

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —The thing that is laughable about the interjections from Senator Alston, despite the fact that he is not in his seat, is that he is the only minister for telecommunications in this country who does not understand telecommunications or know what it is about. He is an absolute embarrassment on the international stage as he is on the national stage. Do the right thing, Richard, get up and leave because you know you are being got.

It is also interesting to look at some of the comments that have been made, again at around the period when this policy was put in place. An article in the Australian of 24 July 1998 states:

Automotive analyst David Warner, of accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand in Melbourne, says it is a much-needed vote of government confidence in the car industry.

Figures support this claim. With the freezing of tariffs, local automotive investment is tipped to increase by about $4 billion in the five-year period . . . increasing the value of exports to about $6 billion.

Last year exports exceeded $2.5 billion according to the FAPM.

. . . . . . . . .

The Australian Automotive Export Group says component companies should be able to lift their offshore sales to more than $3 billion by 2005.

. . . . . . . . .

Mr Warner sums it up: `The bottom line is that the auto industry can get some benefits out of it . . . and when this tariff thing hits the wall in 2005 we can make sure that the automotive supply industry and the automotive industry can go on from 2005.'

That is a very important point: the industry can go on from 2005 when the current policy hits the wall. We cannot stand back and wait for 2005 before we make a decision as to what will replace it. It is unrealistic and nonsensical to believe that any manufacturer will have confidence in investing in the future of his industry if that is the environment that confronts him. The Labor Party's amendment is a reasonable position to put and it ought to be supported by the government, because it will provide the opportunity to assess what the circumstances are in 2003 in terms of what other countries are doing in opening up and liberalising their trade. They are compet ing with us in this area. It will give us a reasonable opportunity to assess what is happening in the aftermath of what has occurred in many countries in Asia and where they are at with their manufacturing and automotive industries. It will enable us to make reasoned and balanced decisions about what we should do in this industry. If this industry hits the wall, we will not get it back: we will put a significant hole in our manufacturing capacity and our ability to sustain an engineering industry into the future. That has all sorts of implications, and not just in terms of those manufacturing jobs in regional areas like South Australia, Senator Minchin's home state.

Senator Ferguson —We're not regional. It's a city.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —That just shows how dumb you are, Senator Ferguson, and how little attention you pay to what is going on in this country. If you had read anything at all you would know that South Australia is regarded as being part of regional Australia. You would know that Elizabeth has been regarded as a regional part of South Australia. You don't have to live in the bush to be regarded as living in regional Australia.

Senator Ferguson —Yes, you do.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —I would like to know how many days you spend in the bush compared with how many days you spend in Canberra and Adelaide over a 12-month period.

Senator Ferguson —Not nearly enough, George.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —You may well not be a bushie in real terms; you may well be one who relies more on what is happening in city living than in the bush to sustain yourself. The reality is that many of these car component companies that rely on the automotive industry are located in rural and regional Australia. I have visited many of them, in Bendigo, Ballarat and Nowra—

Senator Ferguson —They're cities.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —They are in regional Australia, Senator Ferguson. If you want to have a debate as to whether or not Nowra, Ballarat and Bendigo are in regional Australia, I suggest that you pick up the phone and ring Jeff Kennett. Jeff Kennett will tell you what the swings were in Bendigo and Ballarat, which are part of regional Victoria, and how people voted in the last state election. I assume that Jeff Kennett has the same view of the world as you do in terms of what constitutes regional and rural Australia. Had he paid more attention to regional Australia in Victoria, he may not be in the extreme difficulties that he is in at the moment.

The reality is that we have an industry that is operating both in the capital cities and in rural and regional Australia. The component sector is linked into what the four manufacturers do, as indeed are many other small jobbing manufacturers around the country. If you do not create a policy position on this industry that allows reasonable time for companies to make decisions about their future—how they are going to invest, develop and put in place the framework that will allow them to make sensible investment decisions—not only will it impact upon the plant producers in this industry but also it will impact upon those component manufacturers and the small jobbing shops that supply them. It will impact upon the local corner store and it will impact upon other jobs in the region, because the multiplier effect in this industry is very significant. It is very important that we get it right in terms of future policy settings. One has to be concerned that this government has not given much thought as to how this policy will work out.

Senator Conroy —It's distracted. It's not paying attention.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —It is obviously not paying any attention. The minister has been in the job for about eight months—

Senator Conroy —No, nearly 12 months.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —He has been in the job for nearly 12 months and what do we have? We have a catastrophe in R&D, we have no direction in the manufacturing industry and we have companies not investing in research and development.

Senator Conroy —What's the minister doing about it?

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —He's the minister for research and development, presumably. I think his time would be well spent on doing some research into what is happening in his portfolio. But then you can't do two jobs at once. It is very difficult to sit down, concentrate and worry about textile workers, auto workers and whether people are investing and developing new products or researching new methods when you have to run around defending the Queen. Today in answer to a question Senator Hill recognised the role that Senator Minchin is playing in the debate over the republic. He is the one who has been designated by the Prime Minister to get out there and whip up support for the position that you and I believe in—you and I and a disappearing group around us. Blame Senator Minchin for ignoring what is happening in research and development, for ignoring what is happening in the automotive industry and for ignoring what is happening to jobs in manufacturing. I have told you about the deficit of 60,000 manufacturing jobs since this mob came to power. The minister is beholden to the Prime Minister for his job. The Prime Minister has said, `Senator Minchin, my minister for industry, forget about all that nonsense. You get out there and concentrate on selling the monarchy to the Australian people. If we can boost up a few extra votes as a result of that, your stocks will be boosted in the ministry and I might even think about a promotion for you. Never mind the jobs.'

Senator Heffernan interjecting

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —That is the second speech I have heard Senator Heffernan make in this place in the past year, and it lasted longer than the first one. There were three words in that speech. Senator Heffernan, why don't you come in here and make a contribution about jobs in New South Wales? Your good friend Bob Carr, the Premier of New South Wales, said there would be 70,000 workers in the car industry in New South Wales and that we could lose 18,000 jobs with the reduction of tariffs in this industry. You told me you are a good friend of his. You even turned up at his policy speech. I thought it was amazing. There was Senator Heffernan, prominent member of the New South Wales Liberal Party, with a choice of two policy speeches to go to—Bob Carr out at Penrith or Kerry Chikarovski at St George Leagues Club. Where did Bill Heffernan turn up? At Penrith. He was in the marquee with the other rat. There were two rats spotted in the marquee that day. One was reported in the Daily Telegraph and the other was Bill.

He had a cup of tea and a sandwich with us and then took off. He did not go to see Kerry. He knew where Kerry was going. That is one thing you have to appreciate about Bill Heffernan. He knows where the numbers are going. He did not bother wasting his time turning up at St George Leagues Club and listening to a lot of nonsense being spoken by the Leader of the Opposition. He turned up at Penrith, where he knew the winner was. He came to see how we were going to handle Premier Carr for another four years in New South Wales and what sort of model you needed for the Leader of the Opposition to have a chance of winning. At least there is one thing: we will be able to mitigate some of the worst travesties of what this government does in policy terms in New South Wales because we still have the reins of power. The way you mob are going in New South Wales, we will have the reins of power for a long time to come. And with a bit of luck in Victoria we might be able to mirror the image. We will be able to do something real for the people of Australia in creating long-term growth and ensuring that they have a viable automotive industry into the future.