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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 85

Senator HARRADINE (5:25 PM) —I spoke about the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Strategic Investment Program Scheme legislation earlier this year and I took the opportunity then to express my concern that the Strategic Investment Program Scheme funding—which, as we all know, is very good funding by and large and I think has broad support—was to be linked to tariff cuts to take place in 2010 and 2015. There is, as I argued, no need to decide the tariff cuts now. I listened to particularly the contribution by Senator Murphy, and I was appreciative of that because he knows the industry. I repeat: there is no need to decide upon the tariff cuts now as we are being asked to. I do not think the case has really been made for further tariff cuts, and I agree with what the opposition said in March, the last time we dealt with this: why not review the situation closer to the time and then decide whether there is a benefit in tariff cuts?

I am surprised that the opposition has now apparently decided to support both the SIPS funding and the tariff cuts after its strong opposition to the legislated tariff cuts earlier this year. As Senator Carr commented on that occasion:

We take the view that there should be no further tariff cuts without a comprehensive review of the TCF industries. We take the view that there should be a proper inquiry into the effects of reductions in tariffs up to 2010 and that that should occur before further tariff cuts are undertaken.

Senator Carr highlighted the fact that the Productivity Commission has stated it is not able to show that further tariff reductions would generate a net national benefit. If there isn't a net national benefit, why cut tariffs?

Of course, the government has been intransigent in linking the SIPS payments and funding to tariff cuts. When dealing with concerned industry groups looking to make sure of continued SIPS funding, all it has done is to send those industry members on to the opposition, Independent senators, the Democrats and Greens to act as government lobbyists. The various industry groups that have approached me and my office have said that they do not want tariff cuts but that they would wear tariff cuts some years into the future if they had to in order to get certainty now on funds through SIPS. They were concerned that the government was so uncompromising but were not able to persuade the government to shift its position. So the government is willing to use industry groups to try to blackmail senators into supporting a bad measure because a good measure is linked to it and may be lost. I am sad to see that the opposition has caved in to that blackmail and that the government has not allowed us a vote on each of the two bills on their separate merits.

As far as Tasmania is concerned, there are about 1,500 TCF workers in Tasmania, with around 10 per cent of Devonport's work force employed in the industry. As was said by Senator Marshall, the last speaker, and by others, the back-up industries are also facing job losses. So the impact of tariff cuts on workers in this area is certainly of concern to my state. Workers losing jobs might be forced to look for work elsewhere and leave the state, taking their families with them. Any job losses have a big effect across the community. The lives of real people are affected by these decisions. The unions, of course, who represent the workers on the ground in the various TCF industries around the country, are quite opposed to further tariff cuts.

My concern about tariff cuts on workers' jobs has really not been addressed. I would find it very difficult indeed to vote without the necessary review and examination, and in fact against the will of the Productivity Commission. There is no proven national benefit for cutting tariffs. I would find it very difficult to support this legislation which cuts tariffs, but of course I support very strongly the continuation of SIPS funding.

I believe that we ought to at least bat the legislation back to the House of Representatives. Let us see who stands up on this occasion when faced with the predictability of job losses as a result of tariff cuts. This should be exposed, but obviously it will not be, and I understand why—the opposition have decided on what they will do. At least I would have thought it would be important to highlight this particular measure as unacceptable blackmail.