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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 3993

Dr F CAIRNS (Lalor) (Minister for Overseas Trade) - I will not take more than a minute or two. First of all, when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch), spoke to us on this matter he told us in his first dozen words that he rejected every aspect of the Bills, lock, stock and barrel. He was not concerned to examine the legislation to see whether some of it was good or some of it was bad. In those circumstances the debate becomes a second reading debate. It is nonsense for the Opposition, having said that it will reject the whole of the Bills, to say that it wants time to consider the detail. I considered this was nonsense. I therefore thought that the move made by the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) to limit the debate to a reasonable time for a second reading debate was not unreasonable. But I have now mentioned that some specific questions of importance are current in respect of the Australian Industry Development Corporation. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition questioned me about that this morning. I told him that was so. I have told him I will show him if he wishes the letter from Sir Alan Westerman to show that that is true. There is a considerable amount of detail in its annual report showing -the limitations of the scope of AIDC in the past because of a lack of funds and those limitations are getting worse. It has not been the practice of AIDC to use money drawn from the Treasury. It has scope to draw money from the Treasury for ordinary lending operations. It has kept that scope fairly distinct and we wanted to do this in the legislation. We wanted to say, in effect, that if we are going to use Treasury money we want to put the matter specifically to the House to get the agreement of the House.

The reason I accepted the amendment that was proposed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and incorporated in the legislation that went to the Senate was that that would be made clear. I do not want to leave the door open so that AIDC or any other body can draw on the Treasury without the matter going through this House. I do not want to have to turn to that direction for funds. AIDC is limited for the greater part of its financial operations to what it can draw from the money market overseas or in Australia. It is limited by the Bill to borrowing principally overseas. The whole power in the Bill and the emphasis in the existing Act limits its borrowings in Australia. We are seeking to have those limits lifted so that the AIDC can establish a national investment fund to give the ordinary Australian citizen on his way home from work an opportunity to invest in national projects through AIDC if he wishes. We do not have that power at the moment. We want to be able to reach a situation in which we can get more funds from life offices and other financial sources. I do not want to use compulsion about this. I am quite prepared to go a long way, in fact all the way in reaching agreement with those institutional lenders.

I say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that I am prepared to agree to the Senate referring this matter to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations. The Opposition can fully probe and examine through that Committee every aspect of these 2 Bills. But I want to make sure that that is a genuine move, not just an obstruction - not just something to push this matter off into time with a view to gaining the political capital that the Opposition might think it would gain from doing that. I feel that the Democratic Labor Party was genuine about this but I wish I could feel that the Opposition as a whole was genuine, too.

Mr LYNCH(Flinders)- by leave - I do not want to extend this opportunity at too great a length. I just want to say 3 things to the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns). First of all, it is not for the Minister to agree to have this matter referred for examination by a Senate committee. As I understand it, the Senate has so determined that the matter will be referred.

Dr F Cairns - Has the Senate determined that?

Mr LYNCH - That is my understanding. It is not a matter, in terms of procedure, to which the Minister needs to give personal assent. The matter is being referred. I imagine that there will be a genuine and bona fide inquiry. The Opposition parties welcome that inquiry because it will enable the searching out of a number of quite specific areas of concern which we share and which were not brought out in the debate in this House. Secondly, so far as the procedures of the House of Representatives are concerned, the Minister will be aware, as I recall it, that the second reading debate was gagged. The Opposition parties, of course, can never assume that they have a majority in the Senate and for that reason we positively and constructively went through the whole series of amendments which could not be brought on in any realistic fashion. Thirdly, I specifically again ask the Minister whether he is prepared to have the annual report of the Australian Industry Development Corporation debated in the Parliament. I have just obtained from the Clerks a copy of the report. The opening statement of it reads:

During the year the Corporation undertook new financial commitments totalling $61 million in respect of 34 projects in the manufacturing, processing and mineral sectors. In addition, conditional approval has been given to providing finance for several relatively large-scale projects that are still at the planning stage. All told, AIDC has undertaken commitments for $115m to 60 projects since it became operational in April, 1971.

I want the Minister to be quite clear about what I am saying. Specifically, is he prepared to have this report subject to a response from the Opposition parties? If he is not, I put it to him that he is indicted by that approach and, quite clearly, his bona fides are subject to very great suspicion, to put it at its least possible moment. If the Minister is prepared to tell this House that this Corporation has the significance which he attaches to it and which I do not deny, and if he is prepared also to seek to appear, in this House and outside it, to assume a mantle of sweet reasonableness, let him put his answer on the record and agree that this matter should be the subject of debate.

The real problem in relation to the AIDC and so many other significant areas of legislation in this House has been that we have not had the opportunity to put on the record the full and considered view of the Opposition parties. If the Minister is genuine and sincere about this matter, he will come forward and say: 'Of course the matter can be subject to debate next week'. I remind the House of the facts on the first page of the report. It states that an expenditure of $61 m has been undertaken in respect of 34 major projects. We are a little tired of reading in the newspapers of Australia about the AIDC and the leaks that come out of it as to what money has been lost on certain projects. Is the Minister prepared to allow the House to have a fair scrutiny of the activities of the Corporation? If he is not, one wonders whether he might have the view that they cannot stand the scrutiny and examination of the House.

Mr Keating - You appointed it.

Mr LYNCH - The honourable member, who is a junior in this House, is interjecting from out of his place, and he should know better. If the Corporation can withstand parliamentary scrutiny, as it must if the democratic institution of this Parliament is to be preserved, let the Minister now say that this matter will be debated during the course of next week. I say to the Minister again - if I labour the point it is because I want to make it perfectly clear where we stand - that we want the matter debated. We believe that it ought to be debated. This is a report of such significance that it cannot be allowed to go by default. If the Minister refuses debate, he does so only on the basis, as suspected on this side of the House, that in this report there are matters that would not withstand scrutiny.

Dr J F Cairns - Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make another statement.

Mr SPEAKER - Is leave granted?

Mr Lynch - No. We want to know yes or no. You have had enough licence.

Dr J F Cairns - And you have exercised a tremendous amount of licence. You have slandered the AIDC.

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

DrJ. F. Cairns - You have slandered your own Liberal Party Treasurer, and I want an opportunity to say something about it. I am sick of your slander.

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

DrJ. F. Cairns - I will not give you any opportunity in this House to continue it. If you want to go anywhere else, go to the Senate committee and examine the report there.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Minister is out of order. Is leave granted?

Mr Lynch - No.

Mr SPEAKER - Leave is not granted.

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