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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2085

Mr STEWART (Lang) - On Wednesday of last week the Minister for

Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) tabled the annual report of the Tariff Board for 1970-71. In this report 3 members of the Board wrote dissenting opinions on the practice introduced by the Chairman of the Board of using, as temporary staff for post-hearing analysis, academics from Monash University. The Minister, when he tabled that report, made no comment about it. On Thursday, 30th September, I asked the Minister a question about the practice that had been introduced by the Tariff Board. He told me and the House that he was seeking legal advice from the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Greenwood). In his answer to me, the Minister said:

Yesterday I tabled the annual report of the Tariff Board. It contained a dissenting opinion on the practices and procedures concerning some of the activities of the Tariff Board. Those matters would relate very much to the question that had been asked of me. This matter has been referred to the Attorney-General's Department for legal opinion, and until 1 have that legal opinion I would reserve any comment.

The Minister knew, when he tabled that report, that 3 members of the Tariff Board had put in a dissenting report. He made no comment on that fact to the Parliament. He passed my question off, knowing exactly from where it came, by saying that he had referred the matter for legal opinion to the Attorney-General. I ask him now whether the advice from the Attorney-General has been received? If not, why has it not been received? When will the Minister be in a position to release that advice to this Parliament? At the same time, I ask the Minister to answer fully the question that I asked him on Thursday last. I knew nothing about what was in the Tariff Board's report until he tabled it. I looked at it. I asked my question the next day. I asked a series of questions. The Minister pushed me off by saying that he had sought legal advice. On the subject of the Tariff Board, I now ask the Minister to find out what is the real state of affairs behind the reports that we in this Parliament receive these days from the Tariff Board. Most of the reports recommend severe cuts in protection for the Australian industry. In the main the Government is accepting these recommendations without knowing the reasons why the recommendations are made? The reports do not justify the recommendations.

Industry has grown accustomed to giving the Tariff Board the fullest measure of confidential information about its business relating to costs, financial operations, future plans and marketing arrangements. Industry has been providing the Board with this information which otherwise industry guards most carefully. So carefully does industry guard this information that anyone in industry who tries to obtain it from any other competitor in industry is regarded as practising industrial espionage. For SO years, industry has given this information to the Tariff Board to assist the Board to do the best possible job for Australia and Australia's workers. Over 50 years a trust has grown that the information from industry will go no further than the Tariff Board and those members of the Board who necessarily must have access to it. 1 recall quite vividly the former Minister for Trade and Industry, Sir John McEwen, saying on many occasions, when lauding the Australian Tariff Board system, that confidential information given to the Board is not divulged to any person outside the Board, whether the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet or anyone else. As late as February last, the present Minister for Trade and Industry said:

The Tariff Board has always taken great care and will continue to do so in the future to ensure that confidential information it receives does not pass to outside bodies.

It looks to me as though the Minister has been hoodwinked. Australian industry now finds that its confidential information has been handed over to people outside the Tariff Board. The shattering realisation is that the trust of 50 years has been broken and that confidential information from industry has been passed from the Tariff Board to people at Monash University.

Industry has the impression that any matter before the Board is dealt with by the members of the Board who conduct that inquiry. Industry naturally assumes that the great deal of evidence, including confidential evidence, given to the members of the Board will later be studied, sifted and analysed by those same men with the assistance of the staff of the Board. Industry would believe that at the end of the line the members of the Board reach conclusions, formulate recommendations and present a report which is the product of their own work. But that does not seem to be the case. The picture that I get is that, after a public hearing, the members of the Board concerned go about their other activities, their other business, hear other inquiries, inspect factories and, in due course, they then consider the draft reports and recommendations that finally reach them and that have been prepared by the Chairman and the staff of the Board. As 1 understand it, these Board members know little or nothing about what has happened in connection with an inquiry between the close of the hearing and the submission of them to draft reports and recommendations. This is why some of them did not know that people outside the Tariff Board had been called in to work on the reports and recommendations. Board members, I believe, were not consulted before outside temporary staff were brought into the Tariff Board to do the post-analysis work. 1 have heard that one Board member who feels very strongly about this matter did not, simply for reasons of embarrassment, join those who expressed a dissenting opinion. The embarrassment was caused by the fact that he had signed a Tariff Board report on a very important subject, and that that report had yet to be tabled-

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

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