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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 4323

Dr J F CAIRNS (Lalor) (Minister for Overseas Trade) - Let me begin with the point made by the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) about the unsatisfactory circumstances that come from discussing in this House the details of many tariff proposals such as those that are before us now. I agree with the honourable member completely. I hope that before next year, when we will be involved in the discussion of quite a number of important changes, we will be able to make some changes in the way we handle the situation. It is rumoured within my own Party that I am in favour of making some changes. Those rumours are sound. I am also in favour of making some changes to the way in which the House or the members of the House may be able to handle tariff matters. The honourable member said that it is not proper to handle in the House tariff matters such as those we are discussing at the moment. He said that we should try to have a more intimate committee system such as the one used in the Senate. He said this House was not a proper place to analyse matters of this sort in detail.

The honourable member referred to boredom. I am worried whether members are interested in these matters. I have been taking part, as has the honourable member, in debates on tariff matters for some 17 or 18 years. Generally speaking there has been a small number of contributors to these debates. I am not sure that the House consists of members who are dying to take part in discussions about tariff changes. Before long we will have a number of significant changes proposed for specific industries such as the domestic appliance industry and the automotive industry. A number of other matters which will be referred from the Tariff Board during the course of the year will affect the employment directly of many tens of thousands of people. We may not then have the general state of excess demand which has prevailed in the last 12 months. We will have to handle those matters fairly carefully.

I should like to give a warning not only to those in the House but also to people outside in industry and the unions who will be concerned with these matters after the events. It would be much better if they could become concerned before the event and be in a position to express their interest and point of view before we have to make a decision here in the last few hours of a session. I will be concerned to attempt to bring about changes in the way that these matters are handled by the House next year so that we can have a better opportunity - I refer to those who wish to take that opportunity - of analysing the questions in the kind of detail to which the honourable member for Wakefield referred.

Of course a number of proposals are before us now. They involve part of action taken by the Government to attempt to deal with the inflationary situation that we have experienced in the last 12 months. The proposals also reflect, in part, the attempt by the Government and its advisers to arrive at a suitable policy for the particular industries concerned. Both those things have been happening. I think the result has not been perfect. No one can suggest - I have not suggested and the Government has not suggested - that what we have done has been perfect. But what we have done, I think, has not been too bad.

I listened to the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) a while ago and noted that he was forced to recognise that the 25 per cent tariff cut seems to have paid off. Imports have increased, he said. Imports have increased, as measured by a comparison of the quarters ending in September 1972 and 1973, by 34 per cent. There have been some $400m or $500m more of imported goods, some of which might have come in anyway if there had been no tariff cut.

Mr Edwards - Such as defence items.

Dr J F CAIRNS - There are some defence items. All these things can be taken into account. But in taking them into account I would hope for some open recognition from the Opposition-

Mr Peacock - Do you feel that tariff cuts would have contributed-

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