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Tuesday, 23 October 1973
Page: 2550

Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) - I desire to take part in this discussion on the statement which has been made by the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns). I note with great interest his journeys in Japan, Korea and China and the discussions that he has had with the leaders of those countries. Japan, of course, is one of our most important customers. I have had compiled for me our latest trade figures with Japan. For the year ended 30 June last Australian exports to Japan were worth $1,933,946,000. This figure represents a tremendous increase over the previous years. We purchased in return from Japan $738,633,000 worth of goods. So there is an imbalance in our trade with Japan, and I have no doubt that the Minister discussed this point with the Japanese.

It would be a mistake to believe that the Minister's statement represents the established views of the Australian Government. It could be even more of a mistake to assume that the Minister for Overseas Trade was able on his trip overseas to speak with authority about the Australian Government's policy. As a result it is difficult to distinguish in this statement between official thinking and the personal inclination of the Minister. This uncertainty is understandable and well founded. The Minister visited Tokyo and spoke with Government officials and leading businessmen. He told them that he approved Japanese equity in Australian enterprises provided there was Australian majority control and maximum processing in Australia. During his speech he said that the Australian Government recognises the value of foreign investment and technology. He admitted that the Government would wish to see a high level of Australian ownership, especially in uranium, oil, gas and coal. His message was one of qualified assurance and reassurance. Unfortunately there seems to be very poor liaison between the Minister for Overseas Trade and his less communicative colleague, the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor). The Minister for Minerals and Energy will be visiting Japan in the very near future and he has said that all overseas investment in minerals and energy enterprises must be channelled through the Australian Industry Development Corporation. He sees no need for Japanese participation in the Pilbara development or the Redcliffs development. The Minister for Overseas Trade said in his statement:

I see this concern for assurances with respect to the supply of raw materials as a legitimate concern on the part of the Japanese and one in which this Government is prepared to co-operate fully in helping to meet.

Once again there seems to be a breakdown in Cabinet communications. The Minister for Minerals and Energy is refusing the export of natural gas from the North West Shelf. We all know that. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) defends action which prevents the securing of long term contracts for uranium exports from the Northern Territory to Japan. We thus have a very peculiar position of a Minister for Overseas Trade preaching goodwill and reassurance in Tokyo while his Cabinet colleagues back at home undermine his efforts. The Japanese are now in for an instructive lesson in open government. Labor style. The Minister for Minerals and Energy intends to embark on a lecture tour of Japan to explain his policy guidelines. I am sure he will have an attentive audience. Will he reiterate to the Japanese the attitude of the Minister for Overseas Trade that direct Japanese equity investment is permissible in our minerals and energy industries? Will he assure the Japanese in his incomparably soothing manner that we recognise the importance of the unimpeded supply of raw materials? I do not think so.

While in Japan the Minister for Overseas Trade discussed with the Nissan and Toyota motor vehicle companies the Government's motor vehicle policy. This is a difficult task for any man to do. He made it quite clear that they would be very welcome to engage in the manufacture of motor vehicles in Australia. The whole matter of the Government's motor vehicle policy is a fascinating one. The market for motor vehicles in Australia is limited. There is competition between domestic manufacturers in this country and importers of cars from overseas. Yet at a time when the Government is trying to encourage domestic manufacturers we have appreciated our currency against the Japanese yen by 10 per cent since November and we have cut tariffs by 25 per cent. The Minister made great play on his overseas tour of the fact that we had cut our tariffs by 25 per cent, which would have a bearing on Australian imports from all the nations with whose officials he spoke. I hope that this cut of 25 per cent in tariffs does not mean that we will have a great pool of unemployment in this country by reason of the effects that it will have on our own industries.

Car imports into the country are now surging ahead. Of course, there is the people's car which the Government wants to manufacture using the unused capacity of the aircraft industry. At present there is considerable unused capacity in the aircraft industry, particularly in the Government Aircraft Factories and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. Government policy towards the rationalisation of this industry is still undecided. The Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) is opposed to private enterprise making money out of defence contracts. Yet although the Government's attitude on this matter is unclear the Minister for Overseas Trade proposes the development of a people's car in the factories that produce the Mirage aircraft. Perhaps this car should be similar in title. Once again there has been a breakdown of communications between the Minister for Overseas Trade and his Cabinet colleagues.

In his statement the Minister made a triumphant reference to the 3-year wheat agreement with China. In this House he has linked this agreement with the policies of the Labor Government. Presumably the implication is that the Chinese decision to sign a 3-year wheat agreement was brought about only by the election of a Labor Government in December 1972. This is absolute rubbish, because the Chinese over the years have purchased Australian wheat when the price has been right and when the quality of our wheat has been to their liking. In 1949 they purchased all our damaged wheat when we had wet harvesting conditions. They took the lot because it was cheap and the price suited them. This has been the pattern of their operation over many years. In carrying the argument a little further, it follows from what the Minister implied that those governments that have similar philosophies to those of the Chinese Communist Government have the best chance for trade with Australia. However, the Chinese are more pragmatic than that. They buy wheat because of market factors and quality and because it fulfils a requirement in their economy. I need hardly say that wheat sales to Communist China from Australia did not begin on 2 'December 1972. One has only to go back over our trade figures to find that there have been many sales of wheat to China over the years.

The Minister for Overseas Trade may be interested to know that the British Government and the Chinese Government are on the verge of concluding a massive industrial agreement. With the approval of the British Government, the Rolls Royce Co. in England is preparing to conclude an agreement with the Chinese Government involving the sale of about 800 Spey jet engines and the licence rights for the Chinese to manufacture this engine. Does the Minister really imagine that those negotiations have been brought about because of the sympathetic and compatible philosopies of the Heath Conservative Government? It is a pointless and futile exercise trying to extract political credit from a commercial agreement. It is also a futile exercise for the Minister to try to discredit the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) by quoting Chinese Ministers and their views. The only ones who could accurately say what the views of the Chinese Government are in this matter are the Chinese leaders themselves, and I would certainly not rely on the interpretation of the Minister for Overseas Trade to establish the facts. Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of his trip was his continued contact with Prince Norodom Sihanouk. What did they discuss, and what authority did the Minister for Overseas Trade have to discuss relations between Cambodia and Australia with the leader of forces that are in military combat with the forces of the Government that Australia recognises? Was he discussing with Prince Norodom Sihanouk future trade relations? Was he discussing possible Australian investment in Cambodia? I think not. If he were discussing political matters, it is both an insult to the Government of Cambodia and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the present Australian Government.

I referred earlier to the confused state of Australian trade policy. To compound the confusion the Minister for Overseas Trade said on 6 September this year that the Government might set up an overseas trading organisation to buy Australian products and sell them overseas. Exactly what does this mean? The confusion is understandable when it has been previously thought that one of the key roles of the AIDC was the channelling of the flow of exports to developing countries. Exactly where does the shadowy Minerals and Energy Authority fit in with the concept of the Minister for Overseas Trade of the Australian Government influencing the flow of exports to see that the poorer countries are treated fairly?

What a confused perception of Australian trade policy must exist overseas as Government leaders and officials attempt to untangle the tangled web of Government policy statements and Ministerial pronouncements. I would, however, wish to assure the Parliament that the Minister for Overseas Trade, although not consulted about the latest revaluation of the dollar, is well able to speak with full authority on Government policy regarding multi-national corporations. He made considerable mention of these organisations in his statement and I feel that his speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Sydney recently must be taken as the definitive Government statement on this matter. On this occasion he said to assembled businessmen on this matter:

This is too short a period for us to be able to tell you what we want. We will be able to show in 12-18 months what we want you to do.

He concluded on this reassuring note:

Australia has been too predictable in the past; this is not the case now.

I think that excerpt from his speech is a fitting comment on Government policy towards multinational corporations in particular and on trade and investment in general. Great play has been made on the statement with regard to our trade with China. Looking at the figures for 1972-73 I find that we have exported to China goods to the value of $62,849,000 and that we have purchased in return from them goods to the value of $49,924,000. It is quite understandable that these figures will increase. As I have said before, with the cutting of our tariffs cheaper textiles and goods will come in from China and textile industries in this country will be under threat unless the Government imposes quantitative restrictions or takes some action in this regard. Little Taiwan which the present Government booted out of this country when it took over purchased more goods from us than mainland China did. These are comments which I have been pleased to make concerning the statement of the Minister for Overseas Trade.

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