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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2729

Mr ENDERBY (Australian Capital Territory) (Minister for Secondary Industry and Minister for Supply) - I should like to intervene briefly in this debate on the estimates for the Department of Secondary Industry to make a few points. I will not take up very much of the time of the House. The matter which I wish to raise was brought to my attention by an honourable member who approached me after question time and told me that he had been trying to ask a question of me dealing with one aspect of the Department of Secondary Industry. It is relevant in the debate on these estimates that that question and the answer I would have given be put before the House at this stage. The honourable member's concern was for the lack of consultation that he felt had previously existed between the Australian Government and secondary industry and in particular the leaders of secondary industry. As I understand it he would have asked me a question with regard to the intentions of the Government in establishing better consultation than our predecessors had between the Government at this level and the leaders of secondary industry.

It is a very serious problem. We have in Australia, as we all know, a Federal system. As honourable members would know I am no great admirer of it in its strict, present form. I have been heard to criticise it often because of the difficulties it places in the way of giving assistance to secondary industry and. other industries by governments, whether State governments or the Australian Government. In the last few days I have had the opportunity of having discussions with many leaders of secondary industry and they have repeated this same complaint. They have told me that the lack of consultation goes right back many years into the days of the previous Government. The policies of the present Government include a determination to establish very close consultation with the leaders of secondary industry. Given the difficulties which exist and which arise from the existing division of functions between the States and the Australian Government, it seems to me that there is considerable merit to be obtained from regular meetings that might take place between State Ministers who have responsibilities in the area of secondary industry and Ministers of the Australian Government who also have responsibilities in the area of secondary industry.

I have already had discussions with my ministerial colleagues, the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) and the Treasurer (Mr Crean) on this point. They have given their enthusiastic support for the proposition. I hope to put the proposition to some of the State Ministers. I have reason to believe that some State Ministers who have been approached already are warm to the idea of perhaps bringing into being something that could be called an Australian industries council. It could be a model of and perhaps taken beyond the level of the Australian Agricultural Council. It would consist of 6 State Premiers and, shall be say, three principal Ministers of the Australian Government who have direct responsibility in secondary industry. I refer to the Treasurer, the Minister for Overseas Trade and the Minister for Secondary Industry, and perhaps the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor). Meetings could be held regularly so that the problems that face the country could be thrashed out and better understood and the problems which have produced ad hocery in the past could be more particularly overcome. It might make it easier for us to develop what I would call long range indicative planning for Australia as a whole.

I should also like to indicate to the House that it seems to me that there would be great advantage in such a council, if it could be brought into being having not only Ministers from the States who have direct responsibility for secondary industry and those Ministers from the Australian Government who work in the same area but also having a certain number - say 6 - of the leaders of industry representative of Australian-wide industry as a whole. Of course that makes one think of leaders of the trade union movement and perhaps they should play a role in it as well. It is a matter for consultation. I should say that I have already spoken to departmental people on the matter and was pleased to learn that they had taken some initiative some time ago but it had led to nothing then. They will be exploring and making a detailed study of the whole problem. We know that can happen under the system which we have inherited from the previous Government. There are occasions when the States are played off against each other, sometimes by overseas investors. We know that sometimes States operate unilaterally on schemes of national significance, sometimes to the non-advantage of the national interest. We know that there can be fragmentation of industry between States which inhibits the development of large scale industry, competitive by international standards.

All in all it seems obvious that there is great scope for complementary action between the States and the Australian Government. It could be called, as it has been called by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on other occasions, a new form of co-operative federalism. The other principal disadvantage of the existing system is that all too often Australian Government involvement in manufacturing tends to be reactive to a particular situation as it has emerged and not been known about sufficiently in advance because of this lack of consultative machinery that has not been in existence and which we have missed in the past. There is a difficulty in identifying priorities. There is a difficulty in obtaining responses from States which request help on particular projects. Those are the matters I wish to bring to the attention of the House in debating the estimates for the Department of Secondary Industry. I would have done so this morning if the honourable member had had the call at question time.

Progress reported.

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