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Monday, 22 October 1973
Page: 2442

Mr KEATING (Blaxland) - I will not delay the House. I will speak for only a moment. I just wish to take the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) to task on one point. He referred to the Coombs Committee report and said that it would be impossible for the Government to buck such reports. Only an infinitesimal number of the recommendations in that report were accepted. The other things were left aside. That illustrates the lack of understanding which the Leader of the Country Party has of this proposal. This proposal is aimed at having complete scrutiny over all assistance to industry in Australia, regardless of whether it is rural or secondary industry. The Country Party is afraid of the fact that there will be scrutiny over the handouts that it has made in the past.

The position of the Country Party members on the corner benches of this Parliament will be weakened because they will not be able to act as the tail wagging the dog, the Liberal Party, and to put up recommendations contrary to the best interests and the economic interests of the country. That is what is at issue, not the bureaucratic set-up. What members of the

Country Party are saying is that the Government should not receive good advice on a broad range of criteria.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr KEATING - Before the suspension of the sitting I was sepaking in the Committee stage on the Industries Assistance Commission Bill. I was referring to the suggestion of the Leader of the Australian Country Party that this Commission denies to the Parliament the right to decision making that it had in the past. I was making the point that the reason for that suggestion - this is fundamentally the objection of the Country Party - is that the establishment of this Commission will rob that Party of its strength in its corner position of the Opposition Parties. When the LiberalCountry Party coalition was in government the Country Party was able to wag the tail of the Government dog, but that position will not be open to the Country Party if this Commission is to inquire into and report upon a range of industry matters, not limited to secondary industry only as was the Tariff Board but including also primary industry matters.

The Leader of the Country Party is opposed to any concept which allows public scrutiny and public assessment of funding from the Commonwealth to specific industries, particulraly primary industries. He is trying to preserve that right and to preserve his strength within the coalition by implying that this Commission is a bureaucracy being lumped on the people and that all the economic decision making will be in the hands of the Commission. In fact, the guidelines to which' he is objecting are designed to provide the Commission with a formal reminder that it is, in itself, part of a general apparatus of economic management and that its decisions cannot be taken out of context with general economic considerations. It does not have responsibility for those economic considerations, it must only take account of them. That is the fundamental flaw in the argument of the Leader of the Country Party. He is saying that it is a bureaucracy which in fact will determine the economic policy of the Government. That is not a fact.

The Commission will be a machine set up to assess assistance to industry on the basis of commercial and economic criteria and its recommendations will be presented to the Parliament. The Government can act on those recommendations by agreeing to them, amending them or rejecting them. It may take advice from a whole range of industry people, industry groupings, from its own departments and from its own Ministers, and weigh that advice against the advice of the Commission. There is no basis in the Country Party's objection to this organisation. Its objection fundamentally is that the setting up of this body will weaken the Country Party's bargaining strength and the strength it derives from the fact that industries come to it seeking subsidies and have subsidies delivered to them. There was no adequate public scrutiny of the decision making processes to determine primary industry subsidies and other subsidies under the stewardship of the Country Party when it was in Government.

The Country Party is the only Party objecting to this Commission. The Liberal Party of Australia supports it, admittedly with amendments, but it supports it in principle. I believe that the Parliament should take no heed of the false and mock indignation of the Leader of the Country Party who insists that this is another extension of what he calls, in the jargonistic terms that he used, a socialist enterprise and another galloping bureaucracy. The Country Party is famous, as the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) said on one occasion, for capitalising its profits and socialising its losses. It never worries about government initiative or government interest in commercial activity when the government is subsidising losses or subsidising the people who support the Country Party. The only time it ever complains about government initiative in industry is, of course, when it is in terms of the holding back of some of the largesse that goes from this Parliament to a lot of different industries throughout Australia. The Government is supporting the setting up of this Australian Industries Assistance Commission. It flows from the report on the establisihment of an Australian Industries Assistance Commission which Sir John Crawford was commissioned by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to make in March. This Bill is constructed from that report. It is to see that adequate assistance goes to all industries in Australia and that there is not discrimination between the primary and secondary area or indeed between the small secondary manufacturing area and the large secondary interests with which the Australian Country Party has identified itself in the past.

That is the fundamental reason why this Labor Government is intent upon extending the Tariff Board, as we know it and as it has existed in the past, from the organisation it is today to this new Commission which will encompass, as I said before, not only secondary industry but primary industry as well. I suppose it is a bit of a knock to the Country Party to think that its decisions in the future will have to come under the scrutiny of this Commission and that its decisions and the reasons for those decisions and recommendations to the Government will be made public. It will not be so easy for it to disregard any of the opposition that is generally offered in counter to its proposals for assistance to the various industries that it assisted in the past. I support the Government in this Bill. I am opposed to the amendment moved by the Leader of the Australian Country Party. His arguments are bunkum. They do not deserve support. They are advanced to prop up the sectional interests of what is the most outrageous agrarian pressure group this country has ever seen.

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