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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 908

Mr JOHN BROWN (Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, Minister for Administrative Services, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Industry and Commerce)(3.55) —We have heard before all this flamboyance from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) again and again when he was in this position. Let me make it quite clear at the outset that there is no conflict within this Government over protection policy, nor is there any confusion or uncertainty in Australian industry over our policy. If there is any confusion, it is in the minds of the Opposition members. We have made our position quite clear, and if honourable members opposite will just sit there and be quiet for a few minutes they will have it spelled out for them again.

This Government recognises the long term benefits of reducing protection. It is our intention to reduce gradually industry's reliance on protection. However, our view is that there should be no general reductions in protection in current economic circumstances. That position is entirely consistent with the statements of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). Attempts by the Opposition at dredging up fictitious differences for the purposes of political point scoring do not serve industry will. The words 'confusion' and 'uncertainty' have a familiar ring. The Liberals, when in government, made these words an art form.

I remind honourable members, particularly members of the Opposition, that their former Prime Minister, the chameleon Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, could alter his colours to suit any circumstances. He strutted the world stages as the world's great free trader, aided and abetted by his Deputy Prime Minister. When he came home to face harsh reality where did he retreat? He was the arch protectionist. The Leader of the Opposition is in a similar position. We do not know where he stands. Is he now a wet or a dry? When he was surrounded by his unfortunate weird and wonderful collection of West Australian colleagues, now happily departed, he of course was a dry, but they have been removed. They were Mr Hyde, Mr McLean, Mr Bungey and Mr Shack, and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) who is now a shadow Minister and has gone from being a dry to being thoroughly saturated. He is left here on his own not knowing where he is, whether he is an iceblock or a stone. Is the Leader of the Opposition a dry or a wet? His speech proved nothing. It covered the whole range from one end of the spectrum to the other. At no stage did he tell us where he stands.

Mr Peacock —I think you are a drip.

Mr JOHN BROWN —At least we are on this side of the House. The drip, drip, drip of the election barometer caught up with the Leader of the Opposition. He sits there absolutely bereft of any policy. Has he espoused an industry policy for Australia to hear and for industry to back up? Has he espoused anything in the wages and incomes area? No, there is no policy whatever. I remind honourable members that this Government in its historic prices and incomes accord stated:

Agreed that neither current economic conditions, expected future trends, nor balance of payments constraints justify reduction in protection in the foreseeable future

This is something the Leader of the Opposition ought to listen to and understand . It continued:

Agreed that changes to protection in the future will be determined within the planning mechanisms in which unions and business will play key roles

Agreed where protection is reviewed increased emphasis must be placed on the need for business to account for or justify the distribution of the gains resulting from the maintenance of, or an increase in the levels of, protection. In particular, employment targets must be specified

That is the position of this Government, stated at the historic National Economic Summit Conference that took place in this very chamber, a Summit which has been accepted by industry, by unions, and by the public alike as a major breakthrough in terms of a tripartite look at industry.

Mr Peacock —What do you say to Bill Hayden's statements?

Mr JOHN BROWN —If the Leader of the Opposition listens he will hear. Industry policy in the past has had too great an accent on tariff related measures, and I am sure the Leader of the Opposition would agree with that. Indeed, tariffs mesmerised the previous Government. So obsessed was it with protection-none more so than the present Leader of the Opposition-that it totally failed to formulate a consistent set of policies for manufacturing growth. Too great an emphasis was placed on propping up particular industries and too little on developing an environment conducive to industrial growth. The culmination of this neglect was the helter skelter demise of industry during the Liberals, last year in power.

I will quote a few statistics that might sum up the sorry record of the Leader of the Opposition, when he was the Minister for Industry and Commerce. In 1982, when the stewardship of the industry portfolio was under the control of the present Leader of the Opposition, industry sustained sledge-hammer blows. In that year production declined by almost 10 per cent. Employment fell by 7 1/2 per cent. Investment fell by nearly 30 per cent. Profitability hit an all-time low. A man of his extraordinary flamboyance and influence certainly had some say in the industry policy which his Government allegedly pursued! I will say this about industry when this man was the responsible Minister-there was certainly no confusion or uncertainty! It knew exactly where it was going; it was headed for the graveyard of despair! Every manufacturing industry in this country was on the decline when he was the Minister. Yet he has the gall to talk in here about uncertainty and confusion. Far from sharing this obsession with tariffs, the present Government has employed a sensitive policy framework in respect of individual industries and in setting a broad environment in which industry can recover and flourish. I refer you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the sorry record of this group of characters when they were in government. Let us take the steel industry. They were quite happy to let the steel industry disappear into oblivion.

Mr Peacock —We sent the reference to the IAC.

Mr JOHN BROWN —What a startling record of service to that industry! The steel industry was in absolute and abject confusion when honourable members opposite left the treasury bench. In the few short months that we have been in power the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) has been able to transform that industry and to breath life back into a decaying corpse, only by virtue of this Government's capacity to develop a tripartite policy. Whenever could those opposite, either in government or in opposition, come to an agreement between industry, unions and government-an arrangement which may well resuscitate that industry more quickly than they think? The Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd has agreed to invest $800m over five years to modernise the industry, the Government has agreed to a subsidy of $70m per year to help it and the unions have agreed to industrial peace an an increase in productivity-an absolutely miraculous breakthrough which in seven years of government those opposite could not have approached. You should stand there and bow your heads to Senator Button because he has been able to break through in this fashion when in seven years all you could do was wind industry down. That is the breakthrough with steel.

Mr Howard —The first five years-

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) — Order! I ask the Minister to make his comments through the Chair and not incite a noisy response from the Opposition. I would like all honourable members to make comments only through the Chair and only when they have the call.

Mr JOHN BROWN —Madam Deputy Speaker, I apologise. The policy that Senator Button has been able to formulate with the steel industry has been welcomed by all sections of this community-by the economic Press, every political pundit, the public, the industry and union alike. I defy the Opposition to question that. The range of policies addressed by this Government to industry provide tangible measures to encourge investment and to make funds available for more investment. We will make greater efforts in training and in research, and in fact those claims have been justified in budgetary allocations. We have enacted a set of depreciation provisions which are as supportive as any in the world. We have made available to the Australian Industry Development Corporation a vast increase in funding of up to an additional $1 billion through greater supplementary resources. That is something which this Opposition was never able to do when in government. I will relate to the House exactly what we have done with the AIDC. In order to make more investment funds available to Australian industry we have increased the capital base of the AIDC by $12 1/2m to $75m. We have increased the gearing ratio from eight to fifteen, which has made available $1 billion extra to Australian industry, something those opposite, with their absolute negativism, would never have thought of. This Government in its few short months of office has produced a positive set of policies which is now coming to fruition with manufacturing industry picking itself up off the deck. Those opposite had it on the ropes and hit it with an upper cut; it went down for the compulsory eight count and staggered to its feet. We have been able to breathe some life back into it, the results of which are now clearly shown. I hope that the former Minister for Industry and Commerce is sitting there embarrassed.

I wonder just how members of the National Party deal with the wet and dry situations? Sheep, wheat and beef all want free trade. Dairying, horticulture, sugar and tobacco all want protection. Where do members of the National Party stand? Are they wets or dries? The Leader of the Opposition stood here for a quarter of an hour and lectured us in his usual pompous fashion, but in no way did he give us a clue as to where he stands on the question of protection. Increasing protection, decreasing protection, phased protection-where does he stand on tariffs? This Government's position has been made very clear, not only in the steel package but also in the other measures that we have incorporated in the Budget.

Mr Peacock —Whom are you backing-Bill or Lionel?

Mr JOHN BROWN —I am backing Parramatta to beat Manly, if the honourable gentleman must know. We have increased greatly the funds for industrial research . Yesterday the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) announced new measures to encourage the development of venture capital by allowing tax deductions for inscription into designated management investment companies. Did that ever happen under the previous Government? No, of course it did not. It is a positive measure to assist industry. These companies will inject risk capital into new ventures, especially the high technology areas. Those opposite used to have a bumbling Minister for Science and Technology, the former honourable member for Leichhardt , whom we used to call Basil Fawlty. He did not have the slightest clue about science and technology. Fortunately this Government has a Minister who has probably one of the best minds in the world in respect of high technology and new technology industries. His influence is reflected in the industry policies that are now flourishing. The Budget brought in a massive increase-a 36 per cent increase-in funding for training, funding which will contribute to higher levels of skill, higher productivity and greater industry competitiveness. The accord that we instituted in this place back in April of this year, combined with the policies we introduced in the Budget and with the imaginative efforts of the new Minister for Industry and Commerce, has given industry in Australia new hope and new life. Steel towns are now being resuscitated; employment is picking up. This marvellous tripartite arrangement that Senator Button has been able to introduce is a full example of how this Government views industry.

Mr Peacock —Will you tell Bill Hayden that?

Mr JOHN BROWN —Our long time aspirations are in line with the statements of the Foreign Minister (Mr Hayden). We will move, of course, to a reduced level of protection-something which those opposite could never do. All they ever did was increase tariffs and protection, although they sprouted long and loud about their free trade propensities which never came to light. We will sensitively reduce protection over a period of years without in any way prejudicing the rights of the work force to jobs. By doing this we will provide long term hope for industry.

Mr Peacock —When are you going to start?

Mr JOHN BROWN —We have started already, you dope. If you would listen you would know. We will provide an incentive for industry to invest in its future. That is something which never happened under those opposite. They left industry in 1982 in an absolutely shocking state of disrepair. It has now revived because of this Government.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Minister's time has expired.

Dr Harry Edwards —Madam Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. Is it proper for the Minister to refer to a former Minister in this place in such disparaging terms when that former Minister is no longer here to defend himself? The former Minister, the Hon. David Thomson, initiated the inquiry that resulted in the very incentives for venture capital the Minister referred to a few moments ago.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. The discussion is concluded.