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Thursday, 8 September 1983
Page: 572

Mr MAHER —My question is directed to the Treasurer. In recent days the Amalgamated Metals, Foundry and Shipwrights Union and the Australian Council of Trade Unions have expressed concern that the new Australian $1 coin will be made overseas, depriving Australians of jobs. The unions have threatened to impose bans on the imported coins. Is it a fact that the $1 coin will be made overseas? If so, what is the background to this decision?

Mr KEATING —I am pleased to give the honourable member a reply on this issue in order to shed a bit of light on some of the issues which have been canvassed in the Press in recent days. The first thing I should like to say is that the $1 coin will be minted in Australia at the Royal Australian Mint. The finishing and burnishing of the coin will be completed here but the blanks for the coin will be imported from abroad. I might mention that 60 per cent by value of the imported coin is in the form of Australian content-Australian copper. The coins will be minted from an aluminium-bronze alloy.

It might be worth recalling that in respect of the coin the Mint carried out a survey of the public, the vending industry and the banks, et cetera, and looked at the present metals which were used in coinage. It determined that a shaped coin, which Mint officials had in mind as a distinguishing characteristic, was not favourably endorsed by the public, the banks or manufacturers in terms of sorting and vending machine equipment. Therefore the preference was for a round coin. With a round coin it was thought desirable to move to a metal of a different colour, one which did not stain and which was distinctive. Therefore the aluminium-copper alloy was chosen.

Tenders were let, but there was not one Australian tenderer. Indeed Austral Bronze Crane Copper Ltd, which of late has indicated some interest in this matter, did not tender. The only tenders received by the Government were overseas tenders. The view has since been put to us by a number of unions that Austral Bronze has said that it was not apprised of the metal content of the coins until the tender was in fact let. The Mint informed me that as early as February this year it approached Austral Bronze about the prospect of its laboratory doing some aluminium-copper alloy samples, but it was not able so to do. Indeed, the superintendent of the Mint met with representatives of Austral Bronze on 4 February and again on 23 March when these matters were discussed. That was, of course, four months before the tenders were even opened. I think the proposition that the Government did not make the tendering available to Austral Bronze does not stands up to scrutiny.

Since 1981 Austral Bronze has received all the Mint business except for some of the 50c blanks. This is in line with the Government's policy of Australian preference. Indeed the latest tender awarded to the company involved a preference of some 36 per cent, which was very much beyond the normal 20 per cent which applies. There are employment difficulties, I believe, at Austral Bronze. Frankly, I think Austral Bronze is putting its troubles on to the Government's back by suggesting to the unions, which to this time have believed the company, that in some way the Government discriminated against Austral Bronze for not tendering. It has been indicated to the Government by Austral Bronze that it does not have the technology to handle this metal; that it was not prepared to invest for the supply of 1,400 tonnes of the metal to replace the dollar note, which will be a very big issue of coinage in a short time; that in fact there are continuing orders for the other coins; and that the company is working within its capacity.

The company was not prepared to tender. It was not interested. Now that it has some pressure from the unions it has decided to turn that pressure on the Federal Government. We think we have treated Austral Bronze very fairly. In the Budget the Government has allocated funds for the upgrading of the Mint in Canberra where the blanking equipment will be cleared away and the finishing will be improved, with the installation of machines to finish the dollar coin. Indeed, when that blanking equipment is taken from the Mint, Austral Bronze, amongst others, will have the opportunity at least to tender for that blanking work. As the company has been a successful tenderer for a while one would expect that it would be competitive. I think this indicates that the Government has been entirely fair. The claims which some union officials have made-although they may have quite earnestly believed what they said-in fact are erroneous.