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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2044

Mr COLLARD (Kalgoorlie) - We are debating the estimates for the Department of the Treasury, and in the short time of 10 minutes at my disposal I want to deal with 3 subjects. Firstly, I want to refer to the estimated expenditure for this year on providing assistance for the gold mining industry, lt is a very substantial and unwarranted reduction on the actual expenditure of last year and an even more substantial reduction on expenditure in 1967 and 1968. Last year the expenditure amounted to approximately $2. 9m, but the estimate for this year is the unrealistic figure of only $1.9m, a reduction of almost Sim. Of course, this simply shows that the Treasury is completely aware of the decline which must take place in the industry under the present rate of assistance. That Sim represents a reduction of 125,000 ounces of gold and a loss of well over $4m in export return and value to the industry. It is a clear indication of just how serious the decline will be in all respects. It is a decline which could be prevented if the Government were prepared to grant just that little bit of extra help which would not only bring about an increase in production but also, much more importantly, would mean that many more men would be employed and many more families would be retained in or attracted to the areas concerned.

It is a normal procedure in estimates debates for the Minister in charge of the particular department or his representative to answer any queries, suggestions or criticisms offered by honourable members during the course of the debate. For that reason I raise the subject of assistance to the gold mining industry in the hope that the Minister will give me soma definite answers and information. I remind him that several weeks ago the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) assured us that he would give the matter further consideration. To this day we have heard nothing further from him. Because of its value m the employment field, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) should also be very vitally interested in ensuring the continuation of the industry. In that regard I would like to point out that the deterioration now being experienced in the world market for aluminium has brought a report from Alcoa of Australia Ltd showing that between now and July of next year that company will be retrenching at least 1,500 men from its projects in West: ern Australia alone.

In addition, the President of the Chamber of Mines of Western Australia has made it very clear that we must expect a lull in nickel sales during at least the next 3 or 4 years. This also may cause a situation in which there will be no demand for additional workers in that industry. Further, during the 18 months up to March approximately 4,000 farmers, share farmers and farm workers were obliged to move away from their normal source of living and seek employment elsewhere. Unfortunately, that move will continue. We must also consider the forecast regarding Japan's intention to reduce her steel output. If this comes about it will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on future demands for a work force in the new areas of iron ore development in the north. Those several reports and the general concern of the unions, I suggest, must make it clear that a very serious situation may shortly develop. That situation will be very much worse if the existing gold mines close down, as they certainly will do if the estimated assistance of Si. 9m is not increased very substantially.

Surely the threat, indeed the certainty, of large scale unemployment calls for. positive action by the Treasury to provide reasonable finance to open up new avenues or to extend existing avenues of employment, as would be the case in relation to the gold mining industry. Surely the Government must now realise the error of its claim previously that plenty of alternative employment would be available to the mine workers if the mines did close. It is important to realise that for the year ended 30th June 1968 the amount of assistance to the industry was S4.3m. In 1967 it was $3.3m. So it can readily be seen that the request for a 50 per cent increase in subsidy to save the remnants of the mines in the circumstances that we can see for the future is not unreasonable. After all, it is unlikely to raise the total amount above the 1967 figure and certainly not above the amount for 1968. I suggest that it would be substantially less than what we would have to pay out to import gold for industrial purposes alone.

I think we should compare the amount with what will have to be paid out in relation to the rural reconstruction employment training scheme. It must be clear to all those people who are not deliberately blind that a serious situation is developing with regard to retrenchments and dismissals from industry generally. It must be clear that other avenues of employment are going to be difficult to find. It must be clear that the retention of the gold mining activities, by granting further Treasury assistance, could go a long way towards solving this particular problem as it did in the early 1930s. There is little more I can add in the limited time of this debate to make the picture any more clear. I simply satisfy myself by asking the Government to take a common sense, more practical and responsible view. I ask the Minister to advise the Committee of his Government's intention in that regard.

The other 2 matters 1 wish to deal with are zone allowances under the Income Tax Act, and sales tax. Both of these matters are of considerable interest and concern to a large number of people in the northern areas of Australia. Of course, when seeking improvements to the zone allowance provisions one must bear in mind that when the Labor Party introduced them in the first place, in 1945, the then Leader of the Liberal-Country Party coalition, Mr Menzies, and his Deputy, Mr Holt, strenuously opposed the provisions. Unfortunately, experiences during more recent years indicate that the present Government takes the same view. Certainly the zone allowance provisions of the Act fall far short in several respects of what is actually required. While the present Government cannot be blamed for the initial legislation, it- can be blamed for not correcting several of the shortcomings in the Act during the 20-odd years in which it has been in office. After all, there are a few anomalies which could be corrected very easily if the Government had a mind to do so.

At its recent conference in Launceston the Australian Labor Party reaffirmed its decision that, upon becoming the Government, the existing anomalies in relation to zone allowances would be eliminated speedily. One anomaly which requires attention is that which prevents a taxpayer with almost 12 months continuous residence in a tax zone from obtaining any concession while at the same time the taxpayer living next door to him can get the full benefit even though he has been there only 6 months. We have continually asked the Government to correct that anomaly but it has always refused to do so on the ground that it raises other problems. Let me refer to the situation in which a taxpayer on an offshore island or on the mainland nearby can obtain a full concession while another taxpayer working on an offshore oil rig between the mainland and the offshore island cannot qualify. That is a really stupid situation that could be corrected simply by adding about 3 words to the particular section of the Act.

The argument raised in relation to sales tax, and quite properly raised, by people residing long distances from metropolitan areas is that sales tax is applied on the wholesale price of the article whether the price be at Port Hedland, Perth, Wyndham or anywhere else. In other words, sales tax is also paid by the final purchaser on whatever it costs the wholesaler to freight the article to the place of sale. Here again I would like to point out that the Labor Party, if it were the Government, would take the necessary action to amend the existing sales tax regulations to remove the inclusion of freight from capital cities to country centres as part of the landed cost of any item. There are other things I wished to say, but as my time is almost concluded I would like to take the opportunity of extending my thanks to the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation and his staff in Perth for the courtesy that they have always extended to me and for their prompt attention to matters I have raised with them.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Hallett) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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