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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 4282

Mr INNES (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - Has the Minister for Overseas Trade received a submission from the electronics industry setting out that the increase of imports of electronic components and made up television, radio and other sets, as a result of the reduction of tariffs recently made, will be such that nearly all component manufacturing in Australia will cease and that some 7,500 to 10,000 people will lose their jobs? Does he consider that the electronics industry may have a special technological significance in the present industrial revolution equal to that of steel in the first industrial revolution? Will he consider calling an industry conference so that management, unions and others may have a chance to submit plans to retain technology in Australia, to ensure that people now employed in the industry will not suffer undue hardship and, further, to ensure that consumer protection will be such that adequate protection will be accorded to them against surreptitious dumping by overseas manufacturers?

Dr J F CAIRNS (LALOR, VICTORIA) (Minister for Overseas Trade) - I have received a submission from the electronics industry which, among other points, claims that the tariff reduction and the increase in imports of components and made up sets that will come as a result of that reduction will bring an end to electronic components manufacture in Australia and will cause disemployment in the industry of between 7,500 to 10,000 people. I am aware of the significance of electronics technology. It may well be, as the honourable member suggests, that electronics technology in this industrial revolution is of equal importance to steel in the first indus'trial revolution.

When the Government recently introduced the reduction in tariffs on television sets and components and other electronics components it did so with a full sense of the importance of technology and with a full sense of the desirability of not pushing people around merely to bring about general economic changes unless there are proper safeguards to ensure that re-employment is looked after, that training is attended to and that assistance is given where proper and justified.

The Government decided to make a somewhat smaller reduction in tariff than the Tariff Board had recommended so that the changes would not be too vast and extensive and there could be some reasonable control of those changes, consistent with securing the lowest possible prices for television sets and other electronics components for the consumer. This was a balance which, I think, was sensible and completely justified. We also adopted measures to provide a subsidy to preserve the desirable technological aspects of the industry for future development. That subsidy will be applied, and it is a matter of detail and of work to find out where it is needed and in what way it can be applied. Nothing in the report of the Tariff Board or in the decision of the Government automatically solves that problem. I would be pleased to have discussions with my colleague, the Minister for Secondary Industry, and other people who are concerned, and meet with people from the industry and the unions and other people concerned to ensure that we maintain the desirable technological aspects of the industry for the future. I also will be concerned to see that the provisions for assistance, retraining and so on that I have mentioned are applied properly.

I am concerned also about the latter aspect of the honourable member's question, namely, that the consumer receives the benefit of the tariff reduction. This will not follow automatically. We are dealing with an importing system that is far from perfectly competitive, and simply to believe that all one needs to do is to reduce the tariff and one gets a cheaper set is nonsense. It will be necessary for the Government to act through the Prices Justification Tribunal and the use of its prices power, if the people next Saturday vote for the Government proposal for a price control power. If the people vote on that proposal sensibly and wisely in their own interest, we can ensure that the benefits of the tariff reduction on television sets will be passed on to the consumer.

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