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Thursday, 13 April 1972
Page: 1613

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - It was interesting, listening to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon), to note the approval of his speech by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) who has been running around the country talking about not talking about personalities but policy. If the Treasurer cares to read Hansard tomorrow he will see that the speech of the Minister for Shipping and Transport was a direct attack on personality and this apparently meets with the Treasurer's approval. I rise to raise only one or two matters. In his statement the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) indicates that the reference to the Tariff Board is expected to cover some 1,000 items of the tariff and that a report is to be requested by the end of 1972, which is some 8 months away, on 1,000 items. It is a pity that the Minister did not include in his statement a listing of the 1,000 items which are to be reported on by the end of this year.

Any proposal to reduce or adjust tariffs can have long term and very substantial effects on many areas of industry and the capacity of those areas to survive. It can also have fairly dramatic effects on certain provincial areas which are largely one industry centres. I would have liked to have seen a listing of the items on which it is proposed a report will be provided by the end of this year. It is very easy to get up and talk in an academic manner about efficient production and about displaced employees being diverted into more efficient channels of production. But one of the things which is not generally appre ciated is that this just does not happen in practice. I cite as one. instance the textile industry. In the provincial towns where textile mills mostly operate they are the only substantial employers of female labour. When employment opportunities in that industry are reduced, largely through dumping practices and not through the inefficiency of the operators, there are no alternative areas of employment. The alternative is unemployment benefits and I do not think that is an efficient use of resources. So I am concerned with the fairly substantial areas of investigation in what apparently will be a very quick review. These areas are not set out in the Minister's statement so that we might know exactly what industries are likely to be affected. As I said before, this is very important to employment, especially in non-metropolitan areas where alternatives do not necessarily exist.

It is also false to assume that because an industry's end costs are greater than the imported costs, it is necessarily less efficient than the industry producing the goods which are imported into this country. It is also false to assume that if we close the Australian industry by removing or reducing the tariff, the goods we import will be cheaper. There is at least some evidence to suggest that where an Australian industry has been forced out of the market the importer takes the opportunity of free access to the market immediately to increase his charges, especially with international cartels, to cover the lower cost which he is forced to place on his goods on other markets. Farmers in Australia are aware of this situation in relation to urea. They really did not get a benefit from the reduction of the tariff. All that happened was that the importers made more money out of the goods which they brought into Australia and sold on the Australian market. I am concerned that the Minister has said that this is part of the Government's anti-inflation programme because the connotation of the Government's anti-inflation programme is the. placing of some more people out of work. That is the only thing the Government has done so far to combat inflation. In the 8 months since the last Budget something like 3.6 million man days have been lost through additional unemployment created by Government policy and that figure does not take into account the numbers who were unemployed in the same month the previous year. It is only the additional number.

It would appear that if the Government intends to adjust tariffs as an antiinflationary measure in a manner which will force Australians out of work - and that must be the result of replacing existing manufactures with imported goods - it will be adding to the loss of production and reduced capacity of Australian industry and will add greatly to the already too low increase in job opportunities which exist in the Australian economy today. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) has drawn attention to the very low number of new jobs which have been created in each of the last 2 years. The honourable member said that there were 66,000 in one financial year and only 39,000 in the last 12 months period. This is not sufficient to absorb the natural increase in our population. If by this action, which is supposedly to curtail inflation, the Government further reduces job opportunities, especially in nonmetropolitan areas, we will have in Australia cheaper goods on the market, but with ever increasing expenditures on operations such as the rural employment scheme, under which we create employment by the expenditure of taxpayers funds, or increased payments of unemployment benefit to people in order that we may import cheaper goods. There seems to be something false about that sort of economics.

An efficient Australian industry - I believe that efficiency should be encouraged - can well have a cost structure which is far outside the scope of some of its competitors. Wages are cheaper in other countries, volumes of production are different and the availability of finance at reasonable rates of interest is quite often an entirely different matter. I can refer to Australian industries which have been completely re-equipped with the most modern machinery available but which are laying off men at the moment because their product cannot compete with overseas government-subsidised imports which are being dumped on the Australian market. These are the industries most likely to suffer in any major adjustments in the tariff structure. Australia cannot afford the luxury of substantial numbers of persons on long term dole payments. That is about all we can say about our present position. When the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) and other honourable members advocate free trade I wish they would also point out the efficient areas of industry which are glibly talked about where alternative employment will be provided. If we use the criterion of efficiency we close the motor car industry and the textile industry altogether. We could not compete with Japanese imported cars without tariff protection and do not make any mistake about that. We cannot compete in costs with Japanese, Hong Kong, Chinese and other Asian textile manufacturers. Do not let anyone kid himself that we can. What I want to see is not only the suggestion that cheaper goods can be made available and that employment in Australia should be in more efficient areas but also where that employment will be made available and in what industries these people will be employed. In the electorate I represent almost every industry is subject to tariff protection of a fairly substantial nature and unemployment would quickly reach the total population of the area, except for public servants if there are any still on the payroll, should tariff protection be cut out on the basis that some honourable members have advocated.

Debate (on motion by Mr Kelly) adjourned.

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