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Thursday, 18 August 1960

Mr McEWEN (Murray) (Minister for Trade) . - The records of this country will show that this is the first time the Australian Labour Party has opposed protection for Australian manufacturing industries. I am familiar with occasions when the Labour Party opposed protection for Australian rural industries. I recall that when the first wheat stabilization schemes of the 1930's were proposed the Australian Labour Party voted wholly against them.

Mr Pollard - That is nonsense! We were the pioneers of the existing wheat stabilization scheme. We enacted it times without number. We were the pioneers of protection of the dairying industry.

Mr McEWEN - The records will show from to-day onwards that the Australian Labour Party has broken with tradition in respect of Australian manufacturing industry and the employment it gives. For the first time, for the sake of party political advantage in the Parliament, the Labour Party has set itself upon the course of opposing protection to Australian industry. Nothing will expunge that from the record.

The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) is, at the best, confused. He has been talking about import licensing as though in the past it was the same kind of protection of Australian industry as we are now discussing. Import licensing in the past has been used to protect our overseas balances. The honorable member conceded that across the table three minutes ago. In the course of protecting overseas balances, you decide who shall be allowed to import. To decide fairly who shall be allowed to import, you need records that go back, in the case of current licensing, to 1952 and earlier so that you can get a base year of entitlement to determine who shall get the licence to import. You are delving into the past all the time in dealing fairly with the protection of overseas balances.

But that is not what we are now talking about; the confused honorable gentleman opposite does not understand this proposal. What we are talking about is the protection of Australian manufacturing industry to-morrow, not the protection of overseas balances. To protect Australian manufacturing industry to-morrow you do not need records of the past but knowledge of to-day - how much is being produced, the orders that are being placed and how much is coming in. It is the knowledge of to-day that matters. We have a complete experience of that as, I think, the honorable member will realize. I refer to the experience of putting the former chairman of the Tariff Board, Mr. M. E. McCarthy, to the task of estimating the degree to which Australian industry would be damaged by the Japanese Trade Agreement. He has been investigating exactly this question for the past three years. He has been reporting to the Minister for Trade, and the Minister for Trade where necessary has been using import restrictions to protect Australian industry in that one simple respect. What is proposed in this legislation is no novelty. If it is outrageous to ask an outside adviser to the Government to take evidence within 30 days, if it is thought to be impossible for him to accumulate sufficient evidence within 30 days, or if it is suggested that his decisions are likely to be wrong, why has the Labour Party been so silent for the three years during which this practice has been going on? In the press and in the Parliament I have stated that it has been going on. On one occasion Mr. McCarthy made a report and I said that no more than so many pairs of footwear would be allowed into Australia.

Mr Crean - At existing rates of duty. There was no increased import.

Mr McEWEN - At existing rates of duty, but there was a complete prohibition of imports beyond a certain level. We are considering the same kind of mechanism to-day. Our friends opposite are prepared to expose the whole of Australian industry to devastating damage from imports rather than to allow a temporary duty to be applied when the Parliament does not happen to be in session. I cannot believe for one moment that that view represents a proper consideration of the needs of Australian industry, and I cannot believe for one moment that it will find approval at the trades halls.

Mr Pollard - As if you wanted anything approved at the trades halls!

Mr McEWEN - It may surprise the honorable member to know that when members of the Australian Council of Trade Unions - after talking about it publicly for six months but not coming near me - came in force to interview me about protection under the Japanese Trade Treaty, I promised to supply them, if they so desired, with all the factual information on imports that the Government was supplying to the Chamber of Manufactures and the Chamber of Commerce. In my opinion, the Australian

Council of Trade Unions is just as entitled to that information as are those other bodies, and I gave its representatives my answer across the table. So far as this proposal to perpetuate the panel system is concerned, the Government will continue to consult with and hear the point of view of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, and I say now across the table that the Government is prepared to continue to give to the Australian Council of Trade Unions the factual statistical information that is available. I am sure that the council would wish that there should be in existence an apparatus that would enable the Australian Government to give temporary protection quickly to threatened Australian industries, even by means of a temporary duty imposed at a time when Parliament was not in session.

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