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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 1299

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - I have waited for a debate on trade in the House of Representatives for something like 3 years since this Twenty-seventh Parliament came into being. I would direct the attention of the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) to the fact that it was on 3rd November last year that I asked him when we were to debate the statement made by Sir John McEwen on trade with the United Kingdom and the levies on imports, which statement incidentally is still on the notice paper and dates back to 28th October 1970. The Minister made a subsequent statement but we have debated neither statement. The Minister said on 3rd November 1970 in reply to me that he would try to have a debate on the paper he presented soon. This is not November 1970; it is September 1972. There have been a great many statements on trade made outside the House but no opportunity has been given until now to the Australian Parliament to debate the momentous decisions on trade which have been made across the world in recent times. This is the first opportunity.

I would like, to refer to the situation in which we find ourselves. The honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) very rightly pointed out that whatever claims might be made by the Minister for the expansion of our trade and our balance of trade, the fact of the situation is that in net terms we are a long way behind - over 20 years by about $8,000m. This is hardly a record to be proud of. I would say in relation to the. industries that are affected by Britain's entry into the European Economic Community that we have overall primary exports worth $2,000m, of which probably only $158m worth will be affected by the decision of Britain to enter the EEC. But those industries to some of our communities are particularly sensitive. The Minister made a rather doleful reference today when he said:

The Government remains very concerned, nevertheless, about the fate of those exports which still go to Britain. It is not possible to say now what the final effects of British entry will be but satisfactory alternative markets will be found for some of the displaced trade.

I emphasise that 'some' only are to be satisfactorily adjusted. The statement continued:

But there can be no question, that for a number of our export industries, the consequences will be severe. Fresh, canned and dried fruits, dairy products, wines, and possibly sugar are among those likely to be affected most.

That is a most doleful statement for these industries and the people engaged in them. The Minister referred to the fact that the Government had been farsighted enough 10 years ago to make great adjustments. After 10 years of great adjustments, to make that doleful statement today is not a terribly impressive performance. I am not at all clear what stage we have reached either with our negotiations with Britain or with anyone else on these matters. The Minister, in his statement, also said:

I made certain proposals designed to ameliorate the expected difficulties which our trade will encounter. These proposals are in the process of being considered and there will be further discussions later this year.

I have been trying and the industries also have been trying to find out exactly what is proposed, because the Minister, in addressing a meeting of the Western Australian Country Party on 24th July 1972 stated - I quote his own Press release:

I put forward some specific proposals which they are now examining-

Apparently this was referring to Britain and the European Economic Community. In fact, of course, I have been trying to establish just what were these proposals and with whom he talked because Sir Alex Douglas-Home, who is the British Foreign Secretary, in reply to Mr Leslie Huckfield, M.P., in a letter stated:

Australian Ministers, including Mr McMahon on bis visit to London in November last year, have expressed their satisfaction at the steps taken in the EEC negotiations to safeguard Australia's interests over the transitional period.

That is a very big statement for the British Foreign Minister to make - that our Government has expressed satisfaction at the arrangements made for our industries. Sir Alex Douglas-Home's letter continued:

No Australian Minister has criticised the UK. for joining Europe, and many Australians welcome the prospect-

That hardly seemed to be satisfactory to me, as a member representing industries in trouble. But I did try to make sure just what was being done. Writing again to Mr Huckfield, M.P., on 8th June - shortly afterwards the Minister for Trade and Industry in Australia said that he had proposals before the Government of the United Kingdom and before the European Economic Community - Sir Alex DouglasHome stated:

This is why I emphasise the fact that we have received no formal communication. from the Australians since the time the negotiations were completed.

I am quite confused by the procedures which have been adopted in these negotiations. Firstly, it was indicated by the British that there had been no negotiations at all. Then it was indicated that there had been no formal communication. The Minister for Trade and Industry, in reply to a question on this matter from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), said that he had made his position clear and he did not have to say any more. If it is clear to him, it certainly is not clear to members of the Parliament. It is not clear to some of the industries. I am most concerned about the canned fruits industry. I might say that following the last visit overseas of the Minister for Trade and Industry I did try to find out whether any specific arrangements had been made there. I was most anxious to find out whether there had been any particular proposals because this is an industry which touches on a number of communities. If it is one of those for which the Minister has indicated that the consequences will be severe, then we should know urgently. On 13 th July in the British House of Commons Mr Redmond, asked the Prime Minister whether he would make a statement on his recent official discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Another question on the same subject was asked in the British House of Commons by Mr St John-Stevas and the Prime Minister of Great Britain replied:

Mr Anthony,the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Industry in the Australian Government, visited this country from 25th to 28th June. My ministerial colleagues and I had a most useful exchange of views with him, particularly on commercial relations between Britain and Australia in the context of the enlargement of the European Communities.

It sounds like a most chummy little discussion. But it does not say that any formal proposals were presented and that they would be under consideration. I think the Minister for Trade and Industry has a responsibility to this Parliament to say exactly what is being done because we are no wiser following his statement. His statement, after 3 years of silence by him and bis predecessor, ls certainly inadequate.

The British Parliamentary UnderSecretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs is a Mr Anthony Royle and his report on the visit of the Minister for Trade and Industry was in these terms:

Mr Anthonymet a number of Ministers and officials during his visit and both sides were able to benefit from a useful exchange of views on a whole range of questions. The question of canned fruit exports from Australia is one which falls within the responsibilities of MAFF and you will by now have seen Anthony Stodart's written answer of 18th July ... to your question seeking similar information to that for which you ask in your letter under reference.

The information was that there had been some discussions but that no proposals bad been put forward. Surely the Parliament of Australia has a responsibility to ask for and to receive further information after 10 years of expectancy that there will be serious consequences of Britain's entry into the European Economic Community. Surely it is time we knew precisely what the proposals are and what they involve so that we all can comment on them and perhaps add to them and even contribute to them in the national Parliament. It is time industries themselves knew what is going on.

However, it is fairly obvious to me that the Minister's statement leaves all these questions unanswered and we are now no wiser as to what he did in London other than that he had some talks. But what are the proposals? I suggest that what we should have done a long time ago. when apparently the Minister said that every body was aware that Britain would go into Europe and that the Government was gearing itself for this event, was to renegotiate the preferences which we had been given and which had some value and significance at that time. Was that in fact done? The honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) pointed out that there has been a considerable display of enterprise by Australian businesses and exporters, but what did the Government do in those 10 years? What specific steps were taken?

I draw attention to the fact that one industry with which I am familiar, namely, the rice industry, faced a problem 10 years ago. This industry tackled its problem successfully. It did not really get any specific assistance from government but, to be fair in this regard, it did not really ask for assistance. The industry recognised that if the bulk of its exports were still going to the United Kingdom 10 years later the industry would be in serious trouble. So, quite independently of government, this industry diversified to Asia, to such an extent that the bulk of its export traffic now goes to our neighbouring countries and not to Britain. This is an example of an industry with self-help and I think a tribute should be paid to it. The rice industry probably was the first industry so to move and to display this kind of enterprise. Of course, the canned fruits industry was in a different situation because it came into being under the umbrella of imperial preference and treaties which were entered into between the Australian Government and the British Government. What I am pointing out now is that this industry, which was born of government decisions and born under an umbrella of government aid, protection and assistance, is now finding that the umbrella is being taken away.

The Minister for Trade and Industry has pointed out previously when this question has arisen that there will be a phasing out period of 1 year. However, unfortunately, we are already facing the crunch, as the Minister has indicated in his statement, which is associated with currency problems and other decisions of government. This is not just an abstract question. It is a question that surely deserves some clear indication by the Government to this industry firstly, that it desires the industry to continue, secondly, the scale of its continuance, and, thirdly, the arrangements which are in prospect. If there are no arrangements in prospect after 10 years of anticipation, it certainly is an indictment of the Administration.

So. I draw attention to these great gaps in the statement of the Minister for Trade and Industry and also to the great differences between what he has said in Australia and what the British Prime Minister, the British Foreign Secretary and other British Ministers who have given replies on this subject have said in their country. Either we are speaking in different languages or we are being mas.ively misunderstood. It is possible that the Deputy Prime Minister has been misunderstood and that his proposals have not been understood by the people to whom he addressed them, but I think he owes this Parliament something better in relation to these industries 10 years after the first intimation was given that there was a future for them. We should know what that future is and we should also know what the Minister proposes to do to ameliorate the consequences which, he has told us, will be severe.

Debate (on motion by Mr Giles) adjourned.

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