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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1268

Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(4.58) —Everybody in this Parliament recognises the importance of trade. I think members on both sides of the chamber would express concern at the present drift of our trade figures. Last month in a speech at the opening of the office of the Department of Trade at the World Trade Centre, the Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen) pointed out that our share of world exports had fallen from 1.7 per cent in 1970 to 1.3 per cent in 1982. He added that we had lost a share of the markets in prime areas such as Japan, the United States, the European Economic Community and the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Those are facts that I also drew the nation's attention to whilst I was Minister for Trade and Resources. These figures are not the only reasons for concern. Our exports are paying for less and less in real terms. In the decade to 1980 the volume of our exports rose by about 36 per cent. Their real purchasing power rose by only 7.4 per cent. The position would have been much worse had it not been for our high self-sufficiency in energy. We should compare our performance with that of our near neighbour, New Zealand, whose purchasing power increased over the decade by 27.1 per cent; or with that of the Republic of Korea which registered an astounding 491 per cent growth in purchasing power. Our 7.4 per cent must be recognised as a matter of concern. Our very large $6.5 billion current account deficit last year coupled with the fact that we were informed by today's newspapers that our credit rating internationally has slipped from sixth to ninth highlights the need for concern with our export performance because all of those things are relative to our export capacity. Of course, part of our poor export performance hinges on the fact that we have exported mainly agricultural-type goods. Because they are our traditional exports, we must not for one minute underestimate the significance or importance for export earnings of our pastoral, agricultural and mining industries.

Our smallest export sector, the manufacturing sector, was by far the largest export sector globally and our growth in that sector was well below world average. It has been calculated that about 60 per cent of the gap between our growth and the world's growth in exports resulted from the nature of our exports . It is clear that the major problem we had in trying to keep up with the world figure was the mix of our exports. These problems were recognised by the former Government and were acted upon. For many years I worked to increase the processing of Australian goods for export. Under the previous Government moves were set in train to boost substantially secondary processing of our minerals. For example, there was a significant increase in aluminium production. Detailed studies were under way into uranium enrichment. Changes in protection policy also helped manufacturers to have a more outward-looking approach. New markets were opened up in the Middle East in particular and the closer economic relations agreement with New Zealand was put into place.

But the Government can do only so much directly. The fact is that imposed on our trade growth by customer countries are brakes which an Australian government cannot lift without their co-operation. However, there are areas that we can act on. We can increase our international competitiveness and decrease our industrial disruption. These are brakes that we have imposed upon ourselves, yet they are the sorts of problems that the Government has totally failed to face up to. The wage pause put in place by the previous Government was torpedoed recently by the 4.3 per cent wage increase which will come into effect this week and which will have the full backing of this Government. Our competitiveness will sink deeper and deeper with a return to wage indexation and the institutionalisation of inflation that indexation has been clearly shown to bring. The Government has stood idly by while industrial action has brought massive disruption to our iron ore mines in the Pilbara. Of course, having done nothing in that area, at the same time it has viciously berated the airline pilots for protesting against the massive boost in superannuantion taxes. Ministers jawbone about the need for greater competitiveness and about low levels of industrial disruption, but when it comes to action they shrug their shoulders and disclaim any responsibility.

Not only has the Government failed to act where it should have since 5 March to increase the nation's export potential; it has also acted to reduce that potential even further. A shining example of this economic vandalism is the Government's sorry excuse for a uranium policy. While the Government dithers and delays its decisions month after month, export contracts are being lost and international confidence in Australia as a trading nation is being lost. The Government is totally ignoring the consequences of its indecisiveness on uranium on our most important trading partners. Our goodwill, which has been very high indeed with these major trading countries, is sadly now being eroded because of our attitude to uranium. Whatever decision is made on uranium mining, it seems that the historic opportunity to establish a uranium enrichment industry in this country has been lost.

In the election campaign the Government promised to rebuild Australia and to put Australia back to work. It has shown, with uranium, what a farce these promises were. One thing that can put Australians back to work is to get the private sector going again. Private sector recovery, if it is to last, must be accompanied by a lift, a turn-around, in our export performance. But the Government's only significant response has been to saddle up a tired and embattled old war-horse-a state trading corporation. The last time it was brought out of the stable was by the Whitlam Government in 1975. It was put limping back to pasture under the weight of condemnation by virtually every person and organisation engaged in exports. Yet the Minister for Trade in the speech I referred to earlier announced that there would be a feasibility study into the establishment of such a corporation.

The same old and weary arguments have been trotted out. The Minister says that many foreign governments prefer to deal on a government to government basis. He does not say that the communist countries, which in the main are the ones involved, in fact deal quite happily with the private concerns and have done so for many years. Nor does he point out that in areas where government to government deals are most preferred, such as agricultural commodities, we already have statutory authorities such as the Australian Wheat Board, the Australian Wool Corporation, the Australian Dairy Corporation and the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation. I certainly hope that we do not drift into a situation in which a State trading corporation will sell our exports by some sort of barter arrangement, which is what most centrally planned economies want to do, because such arrangements lead to exporters receiving the worst end of the deal.

The Minister says that he does not want to hurt private enterprise but to help it by co-ordinating the efforts of small exporters and importers. He does not add that these groups do very well on their own or with the assistance of large trading houses, if necessary. Nor does he say that a government backed trading corporation must put private traders at a competitive disadvantage while chewing up taxpayers' money. These arguments were debated at length eight years ago. The only possible reason for establishing a State trading corporation is to implement the Government's socialist dogma. If the Minister is honest with himself-and I know that he is a very reasonable man-he must admit that. I urge the Minister, as do exporters-

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Mildren) —Order! The right honourable gentleman's time has expired.