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Thursday, 27 April 1972
Page: 2164

Mr O'KEEFE (Patterson) - I would like to bring to the notice of the House tonight a situation which is developing in the textile industry of this country which, of course, is of vital importance to my electorate and also to the electorate which you, Mr Deputy Speaker, represent as the honourble member for Lyne. The textile industry in Australia employs some 142,000 persons in the manufacture of yarns, textiles, clothing and knitted goods. It is one of the largest decentralised industries in Australia. The huge Bradmill factory which is situated at Rutherford in my electorate, employs 1,200 people at present. In normal circumstances and conditions it employs more than 1,500 people. You, Sir, represent the electorate of Lyne in which the huge Courtaulds factory is situated at Tomago near Raymond Terrace. You know only too well, Sir, that the executives of Courtaulds are very concerned at the conditions in the industry at present. Other textile mills are situated right in the Hunter Valley at Cessnock and Kurri. These factories also have a big employment complement.

The textile mills in Australia are concerned with imports of textiles from the cheap labour countries of Singapore where the rate of pay is 24c an hour, including fringe benefits; from Hong Kong where the rate is 20c an hour, including the same benefits; from South Korea where the rate is 8c an hour; and from Taiwan where it is 13c an hour. The rate in Australia is $1.30 an hour. Added to this Australian workers have long service leave benefits and other costs which can be added to this rate. By contrast the Asian workers receive little or no fringe benefits and work much longer hours than the 40-hour week which is adopted in this country. The overtime rates in Asian countries certainly are much different from the Australian rates. It can be readily seen that Asian countries with cheap labour and inferior working conditions can undersell our manufacturers by a big margin unless we protect our large work force which is engaged in the textile manufacturing industry.

In 1970-71 textiles worth $379m were imported into Australia. Only 3 years ago textile imports totalled $305m. Therefore it can be seen that the increase in imports from Asian countries is very rapid. The increased pressure of textiles from the Orient is most obvious from the following figures: In 1967-68 Mainland China exported textiles worth $14.4m into Australia. In 1970-71 such exports totalled $ 18.5m; in 1967-68 we imported from Taiwan $4.8m worth of textiles and in 1970- 71 the amount was $1 1.4m. From Hong Kong in 1967-68 imports totalled $20. 8m and in 1970-71 the figure was $22.3m. In relation to Japan the figures were $80.9m and $100.2m. Imports from Singapore in 1967-68 were negligible and in 1970-71 they were worth $400,000. The total amount of textiles imported into Australia in 1967-68 was $120.9m and in 1970-71 it was $162.8m.

It is estimated that the total Australian textile fibre consumption, made up of locally produced and imported yams, fabrics and garments, was 390 million lb in 1967 and it is now running at an annual rate of 500 million lb. It is also estimated that in 1967 40 per cent by weight was locally produced. But this share has now fallen to 35 per cent. The increase in imports is gaining momentum. Recent import figures show that in 1969-70 manmade fibre yarns totalled 23.9 million lb and in 1971-72 33.1 million lb. In the same period knitted fabrics totalled 1.5 million lb and 8.5 million lb. Knitted garments amounted to 5.6 million lb and 36 million lb. The annual rate for 1971-72 is derived from import statistics for the period July 1971 to January 1972. From the figures quoted it is obvious that some means of protection other than the tariff must be found for the Australian textile industry. It is now operating at well below capacity. Only if it can obtain a greater share of the market can it develop efficiently and achieve the economies of scale which result from increased output. It will then continue to provide maximum employment. At present this industry employs about 10 per cent of the work force employed in Australian manufacturing industry.

These figures conclusively prove that this is a very important matter indeed. Most developed countries in addition to the tariff employ some form of quantitative restriction on textile imports as a means of protection because experience appears to have shown these countries that this is necessary. As the position across the board in the Australian textile industry is becoming serious and as it will affect the employment of people in this great industry it is important and urgent that we as a Government and as a Parliament take immediate steps to investigate the situation with a view to giving protection to the textile industry. This matter is very serious as far as my electorate is concerned because of the employment situation in the Hunter Valley and Newcastle areas. I hope that some investigation is made very quickly into the problem. Unless it is many people will lose their jobs in the textile mills in the areas which I have mentioned.

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