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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1248

Mr HOLLIS —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Is it a fact that the Government has made a very commendable effort in preserving the steel industry of Australia by providing to the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd bounties for the production of steel? Is it a fact that this action of the Government will guarantee a worthwhile steel industry in Australia? Has the Minister noticed that Mr Holmes a Court is now bidding for shares in BHP and, on previous track records, will speculate in these shares for his personal gain, usually on a tax free basis, without any real interest as to whether or not Australia has a steel industry? Is the Minister further aware that, if Mr Holmes a Court is successful in obtaining control of BHP, he may well decide to abandon the steel industry?

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member should bring his question to a conclusion.

Mr HOLLIS —Will the Government now seriously consider using its bounty support to obtain equity in BHP, thereby guaranteeing that that equity will not be the subject of speculation and that the Government will have some say in the future of the industry with the guarantee that it will remain in Australia?

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member should look at the Standing Orders with regard to questions. However, certain portions of his question were in order so I will call the Minister.

Mr JOHN BROWN —This Government has made a great effort to revitalise the steel industry which had descended into a torpor of despair under the previous Administration. The announcement made by my colleague Senator Button on 11 August has breathed new life into a steel industry that was a decaying carcass. I think this Government should be highly praised by honourable members opposite as well as all the political pundits and economists around Australia for doing just that. In fact that plan involved co-operation between government, industry and unions which is rather unique in industry in Australia. It is clear that this Government has a very firm commitment to the preservation of the steel industry. One of the Government's plans in revitalising that steel industry was to keep the area which the honourable member represents a viable one. That applies not only to Wollongong but also to Newcastle and Whyalla. The formulation of this plan will enable that to happen.

Sections of the honourable member's question related to Mr Holmes a Court's attempts to obtain control of BHP through Wigmores Ltd. I think it is significant that the directors of BHP have encouraged these shareholders not to sell to Wigmores. As I understand it, Wigmores has been able to obtain very few shares. In those circumstances, therefore, the question of Wigmores taking control of BHP is purely hypothetical. I would like to make it clear that the Minister agrees and the Government supports the contention that, if it ever got beyond the hypothetical stage and Wigmores through Mr Holmes a Court, or Mr Holmes a Court through Wigmores, looked like taking control of BHP and the steel industry was then under threat, the Government would do something effectively to halt that position and make sure that a viable steel industry remained in Australia.