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Thursday, 28 September 1972
Page: 2142

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) (Minister for Customs and Excise) - The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) misquoted me. I did not say that this debate was ludicrous. I said that it was a facetious debate or that it was brought on facetiously. I said, in answer to a question this morning, that I regretted that the Australian Labor Party found it necessary to bring on this matter today. It is perfectly proper, in fact incumbent upon it as a Party representing certain sections of the work force, to bring before this Parliament matters which are of concern to those sections of the work force. It has to obey dictates, persuasion and pressure from the trade union movement at certain times. This is prefectly proper and I do not quarrel with it. But what use has this debate brought on at this time been to this dispute? There is a dispute occurring. The honourable member for Cunningham Ls well versed in industrial relations. He has spent a life time at it. He would know that one of the cardinal rules when parties are in dispute is that you cool it; you do not inflame delicate situations.

What have we had today from the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns)* and from the honourable member for Cunningham? No doubt my friend the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) will add further flame to the fire which separates the parties by highlighting accusations that have already been made in public. There seems to have been criticism of statements made by Sir William Pettingell against the Australian steel industry and against the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. I regret, firstly, that the statements were made by that gentleman and, secondly, the prominence which they were given. Those sorts of statements made in a moment of heat - this is the point I was making this morning - do not engender an atmosphere in which a dispute can be settled. Today in Sydney the permanent head of my Department with most senior officers of my Department are in conference with the parties to this dispute in an endeavour to find a solution which would be in the best interest of the work force, the nation and the consumers. That is the reason I suggested that this was a facetious motion brought on by the Labor Party today under pressure from trade unions and to satisfy their demands.

The name of this game is politics. The aim is to make political points particularly a couple of months before an election. 1 concede that, but one would have thought that a party which pretends to be the alternative government, which is asking the people to make it the government, would not act irresponsibly and inflame a situation which is of enormous national significance by driving the parties further apart for the sake of gaining a few political points; political points against whom? Having listened to this debate so far I am not aware that any points have been scored but something fascinating has come out of this debate. That is a clear indication by the Labor Party that if it formed a government it would engage in direct intervention in commercial decisions. I suggest this must raise the most serious questions in the minds of those in Australian business. It must force business and industry to ask themselves how much confidence they can have in freedom of choice under a Labor government to go about their business without government interference. One statement by the honourable member for Cunningham was fascinating and enough to send a chill of fear down the spine of every businessman, big or small. He said: This is not a question of professional judgment; this is a matter of national emergency.'

Mr Keogh - It is a matter of national importance.

Mr CHIPP - I am not disputing for a moment that it is a matter of national importance but that is the thin edge of the wedge of Labor's policy and philosophy of intervention in commercial dealings, and on that basis a Labor Government could and would interfere in any commercial dealing. I thought some of the comments by the honourable member for Lalor were quite interesting. He said that if Sir William Pettingell had said what he is alleged to have said about the Australian steel industry he should be brought to account.

Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - 1 said that if he was wrong he should be brought to account.

Mr CHIPP - He said that if Sir William

Pettingell was wrong he should be brought to account. The honourable gentleman did not elucidate what that delightful phrase meant. Brought to account by whom, to whom?

Dr J F Cairns (LALOR, VICTORIA) - Surely you have enough common sense to work it out.

Mr CHIPP - It is obvious and something for which I am thankful that the level of my common sense does not run parallel with that of the honourable gentleman. Let us look at a hypothetical situation. Does the Labor Party say that if an Australian company wants to build something that is for the ultimate benefit of the nation and the Australian consumer; if it can buy a better product overseas and pay the duty on it; if it can buy overseas a product that is safer than the Australian product; if it can buy the product overseas more cheaply even after paying the duty levied by this Parliament; and if it can get it in half the time or a quarter of the time, the company cannot have freedom of choice and buy the product overseas? That is a monstrous suggestion. If the Labor Party, as the pretending government is to go to Australian industry and say: 'All of your transactions will be subject to our judgment of whether or not it is in the national interest for you to do this or that', the whole freedom of choice of private enterprise will be taken away. The dead hand of socialism immediately comes on to industry and commerce and they wither away and the size of the cake gets progressively smaller. I think that is the most fascinating thing that has come out of the debate today.

Running through the speech of the honourable member for Lalor like the thread of Ariadne was this question of the steel industry. I think he took secret delight in Sir William Pettingell's criticism of the Australian steel industry. He deplored it but with so much faint condemnation as to indicate that he loved the steel industry to be criticised. I would have thought that this delight in the breast of the honourable member for Lalor indicated this sort of thinking: 'Once I am in government and Minister for Trade this will give me the stick I have been wanting for years. As soon as we get into power the first cab off the rank for nationalisation is the steel industry because an industrialist himself says that it is inefficient'. The honourable gentleman could almost not hide his glee.

Let me repeat as Minister for Customs and Excise - this is the only area in which I exercise responsibility in relation to the matter that is being discussed today - that if a suitable equivalent of a type of steel required by AGL is not reasonably available in Australia, by-law will be granted. If in the judgment given to us a suitable equivalent is reasonably available, by-law certainly will not be granted and AGL will pay the 35 per cent duty on the imported steel. I have an enormous respect for the knowledge of the steel industry of the honourable member for Cunningham. He knows a lot more about it than I do or am ever likely to do, but with great respect to him, I as Minister for Customs and Excise would not accept his judgment that the question of safety is tripe or that our steel is better than that which is to be imported. I give the House an assurance that before we make a judgment we will go to the highest and best professional consultants that the universities and other institutions in Australia can recommend to us to see if there is evidence to back up the claims of Sir William Pettingell of AGL before making a judgment.

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