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Thursday, 22 May 1980
Page: 3105

Mr HURFORD (Adelaide) -As we have just heard, we are debating cognately the Customs Tariff Validation Bill 1980 and the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1980.I say straight away that the Opposition does not oppose either of these Bills. However, we do remain concerned at the way in which the Parliament deals with proposals for tariffs and exicse. I will be moving a second reading amendment dealing with this matter at a later stage. Firstly, let me deal with the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1980. The main purpose of this Bill is to enact tariff changes which were made by Customs tariff proposals Nos 3 1 to 35 of last year and also proposals Nos 1 to 7 of this year. These proposals have been tabled in the Parliament at various times since 25 October last year.

In accordance with current practice, the rates of duty imposed under the respective proposals generally took effect on the day after they were tabled, although in some cases the tariff changes had been implemented originally by notices in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette during the last parliamentary recess. In practical terms this debate is thus the first opportunity that the Parliament has had to consider measures which have been in effect for some time. That is a small mercy when it is noted that the tariff changes enacted by the Bill are very large in number and have little, if anything, in common. Let me just run through the list of changes. They include such matters as baby carriages and parts therefor, coated copying film, certain engines not exceeding 7.46 kW, rotary cultivators and tractors having a power of less than 15 kW, dental materials, furniture, grapes and wine, passenger motor vehicles and components- that is, the removal of import restrictions in relation to thosethe removal of primage duty, rubber products, ships, boats and other vessels not exceeding 6,000 tons gross register, spirits, spirituous beverages and so on.

The importance of this Bill is revealed by this long list of the industries to which it relates. The total number of workers directly engaged in these industries and hence directly affected by this legislation is approximately 100,000. That is, one out of every 12 workers in Australian manufacturing industry is directly affected by this Bill, which is rather quietly wending its way through the very limited process of parliamentary scrutiny which belated debates such as this one can provide. I cannot in the time available make detailed comments on the wide range of goods and products which are included in this Bill. As a matter of general observation, it can be stated that the measures contained in the Bill either accord with the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission or, where they do not so accord, they err on the side of slightly more gradual reductions in the level of tariff assistance accorded to local industries. The word err' should be taken with a certain qualification. The fact is that, where the Government has disagreed with the IAC, the Government has been rather more kind to the industries than the IAC was.

This overall approach of maintaining current levels of assistance at present while looking towards a limited and phased reduction in protection over the long term is in accord with the Opposition's attitude to industry protection in

Australia. The Opposition, I repeat, does not oppose this Bill. That is not to say that we accept the present policies of this present Government towards Australian industry. The policies of the Government are clearly inadequate and destructive in that they prefer confrontation to consultation in so many cases. They enforce fiscal and monetary cutbacks which continue to cause grievous damage to the Australian economy and the level of employment in industry in this country. Most importantly, in the context of this debate, the tariff policies of the Government stand in glaring isolation from other essential industry and industrial manpower policies which are needed to achieve a sustainable economic recovery in our country.

Until this government begins to show some sign of recognising the human impact and the social basis of industry policy, it cannot expect to gain any support from working people of this country. To rely on the operation of so-called market forces in a country where every market is distorted by a wide range of factors and where the basic conditions in the market depend upon the supportive activities of government is, to us, completely unacceptable. Perhaps of the most crucial importance in this respect is the need for a flexible, highly trained and adequately rewarded work force. It is absolutely essential that manpower and training programs which are aimed at the needs of the 1980s and the 1990s are developed in Australia. We are short of skills now, yet we are bumping along on the bottom of one of the longest recessionary troughs that we have had. What enormous bottlenecks there will be for skilled people if and when we at last get the economy moving.

All that this Government offers is everexpanding dole queues and a callous disregard of the manpower requirements which structural and technological change are imposing on Australia. At the same time workers who do have a job have been subjected to the most divisive and substantial tax slug in the history of our nation. One only has to look at direct taxes in proportion to the gross domestic product to know that this is so. Whilst the Opposition supports the Bills before the House dealing with tariffs, it nonetheless condemns the Government for its obvious and tragic failures in industry and economic policy over the last four and a half years. In other words, there are errors of omission in relation to the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill. 1 draw attention to some of those errors of omission.

The Australian Labor Party has a vision of a developing decade before us in the 1980s, but it wants that development to not only be in Australian hands. The Labor Party wants the benefits of that development to be spread amongst a greater number of Australians than is envisaged by the present Government. That means manufacturing jobs; it means tying the fortunes of our Australian manufacturing industry to the development which we are all expecting in the 1980s and which we, in the Labor Party, want to nurture int he 1 980s. To tie manufacturing jobs to the great development projects in this country does mean being much more resolute when it comes to ensuring that a lot of the machinery for that development is made here. If that machinery is not totally produced here, offset arrangements have to be made to ensure that a great deal of the heavy equipment and many of the parts are made in Australia.

We talk a lot about the offset arrangements, for instance, in relation to defence equipment. We in the Opposition blame the Government for not being more resolute in that respect. We in the Opposition talk also, although we do not hear this sort of talk from the Government, of the need for offset arrangements in relation to the manufacturing of computer equipment. This is a computer age. The advantages of mechanisation are going tremendously to overseas countries because we are importing many of our computers. We believe that we ought to be manufcturing more of the parts in Australia. More than anything else, in this context of developing new jobs in manufacturing industries in the decade ahead, which is so much the subject of this Bill, we must ensure that they are manufacturing jobs related to the manufacture of the heavy and other equipment and indeed jobs in relation to the services which are needed in the development industries of this country.

I wish now to make particular reference to some of the specific proposals which are enacted by this Bill. The rates of duty applicable to grapes and wine are an exception to the general rule in that the recommendation of the IAC that the level of tariff be reduced to 25 per cent was rejected. Whilst the Opposition accepts and supports this decision it must be restated that the fundamental problems of Australia's wine industry remain. I refer in particular to the excise impost of $16 a litre on brandy produced in Australia. This compares with an impost of $10.21 a litre which prevailed before the 1978 Budget. The Fraser Government has done much to hinder development in the State from which I come, South Australia. This is a clear example what this Fraser Government has done to the Australian brandy industry which is so important to my State. This is yet another example of the high tax policy of this Government. It is a particularly pernicious tax because it both distorts the market for grapes in Australia and imposes a heavy burden on a small sector of Australian industry. Whilst the Opposition supports the Government's decision on rates of duty for this industry, it condemns the Government for its sleight of hand in continuing to rob the Australian wine industry through its notorious high taxation policies.

The second specific matter in this Bill to which I would like to draw attention and which should be commented on is the decision to increase the range of goods which are eligible for new or increased margins of tariff preference and higher quotas where these goods are imported from developing countries. We support this decision. We believe increasing trade with the developing nations, particularly those to our north, is essential provided that such trade does not unduly hamper the development of our own industries. The use of a preferential tariff system can be designed to ensure that such countries can compete with other nations on the Australian market while, at the same time, providing an overall level of assistance which is needed to secure the viability of local producers.

Before moving onto the matter which I mentioned previously relating to the procedures whereby this Parliament reviews tariff decisions, I should like to say something about the Customs Tariff Validation Bill 1980 which is also being considered in this cognate debate. The purpose of this Bill is to deem as lawful all customs duties collected pursuant to Customs Tariff Proposal No. 8 which has been brought into this Parliament this year. This was the only proposal not covered by the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1980. Customs Tariff Proposal No. 8 relates to gearboxes, gears and shaft couplings. The Government has essentially accepted the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission which were to increase the level of tariff protection for this industry, given its declining share of the total Australian market. In fact, the Government has been slightly more generous than the IAC in that it has extended the period of short term additional assistance from two years to three years. The total number of people employed in this industry is about 710 of which about 45 per cent are employed by one company, David Browns. Just as I indicated in relation to the various products dealt with by the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1980 the Opposition supports the Customs Tariff Validation Bill 1980 because it adopts a responsible approach.

When assistance to industry is reduced to reduce costs it should be done on phased basis over the longer term. That reduction should not be done peremptorily, all at once.

Finally I should like to turn to the question of procedures, whereby this Parliament considers tariff and excise proposals. I indicated earlier the enormous importance of these measures to the Australian economy and to Australian workers. The Bills we are debating today directly affect, as I said earlier, 100,000 workers. That means that 100,000 families will be affected by these Bills. Even more people will be indirectly affected. I am referring to those people who rely for their living on those 100,000 workers. Of course, within a few weeks an even greater number of people will be subject to a Government decision which will have a profound effect on their lives. I refer, of course, to the impending decision of the IAC's report into the textile, clothing and footwear industries. In the normal course of events, this decision will be announced and implemented perhaps six months before the relevant legislation is subject to the scrutiny of this Parliament. I have said previously that I cannot see the logic in a situation where it is sufficiently important for a body like the IAC to put time and effort into individual recommendations; yet apparently it is not important enough for the Parliament of Australia to be involved in the scrutinising process. This scrutinising process is even more important today because this Government, in keeping with its rapacious and callous taxation policies, is now using the Customs tariff device not merely to protect local industry but as an instrument to raise revenue. I refer, of course, to the 2 per cent Customs duty across the board for items which were not subject to another duty. Clearly it is a revenue raising device.

It is a matter of grave concern to the Opposition and to the Australian people that Customs tariffs and petroleum excise taxes have been imposed at a level whereby they have attained the status of major instruments of macroeconomic policy. This is the situation despite the fact that such measures escape the proper scrutiny of the Parliament. The late night readings, usually without more than a few hours notice, of such tariffproposals by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs stand in pale contrast to the public focus on the annual Budget debate. Yet, the tariffproposals are enormously important. In many cases they are as important as the Budget debates which go on for days in this Parliament. The role and conventions of the Parliament have been downgraded and abused enough in the past few years. We saw them abused again today when another matter of public importance was knocked off. We very nearly did not get a General Business debate. As I said, the conventions of the Parliament have been downgraded enough. We have to think about how we can improve that situation now.

For some time I have sought the establishment of a new procedure for properly assessing tariff proposals. I have previously moved an amendment in this Parliament to set up a standing committee of this Parliament to examine in greater detail customs duties and excise generally. I will move that motion again later. On the IS November last year in response to the amendment I had moved the then Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) said:

It has been said by a number of people in this Parliament that there is virtue in having more debate on tariff issues, and with that I concur.

That Minister undertook to take up the matter with the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Six days later the then Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr Fife, reiterated this undertaking. He said that he would take up the matter during the following recess. I do not know what consideration was given to this question, but I do know that on 1 May this year the new Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Garland), the present Minister, when referring to my proposal in the House said:

I must say with all candour that I do not believe it is practicable to adopt his suggestion. It would require a complete change in the proceedings and the legislation. Perhaps that could be debated on another occasion. There will be an opportunity for such debate.

We have been given that opportunity today. I regarded the Minister's response then as a lame response. I hope he will consider this matter again. The Minister is saying that the Government thinks the restoration of the proper role of this Parliament is too difficult. I do not think it is too difficult. I think it is absolutely essential. It is not too difficult for the Government to raise thousands of millions of dollars of revenue from Australian motorists, but apparently it is too difficult to debate properly such measures in the Parliament. I point out to the House and to other people in the community that excise proposals which are dealt with in customs legislation are fleecing the public. I refer particularly to the petrol taxes that have been imposed. I reject the attitude of the Minister and of the Government. I foreshadow that I will move an amendment to the Customs Tariff Validation Bill 1980. The amendment which I will move could well be applied to both Bills. The amendment that I propose to move to the second Bill states:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: whilst not opposing the Bill, the House is of the opinion that a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Tariffs and Excise should be established to examine each change in tariffs and excise following the gazettal of proposals or their being introduced into the Parliament on the one hand and before related Bills are introduced into the House on the other hand '.

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