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Tuesday, 9 May 1972
Page: 1442

Senator JESSOP (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I was getting around to that point. I drew Senator Cant's attention last time I spoke on this matter to the fact that Mr Tonkin, the Labor Premier of Western Australia, only recently returned from a trip overseas on which he tried to attract Japanese capital into Western Australia in order to develop effectively the natural gas resources of that State. I have heard the figure of $400m mentioned as being required for that development. I certainly agree that we must protect Australian interests in all possible ways but we must also face, up to the hard economic facts of life and realise that Australia needs now and will need for a considerable time an infusion of overseas capital in order that industrial expansion in Australia can continue.

Senator Georges - But on our terms.

Senator JESSOP - I agree; that aspect ought to be considered. I believe that the Government recognises the need to reassess attitudes to overseas investment in Aus tralia. This has been quite clearly demonstrated by the fact that the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) has instructed the Treasury to produce a White Paper on this very matter to assess the effects on the Australian economy. I hope that White Paper will be presented in the House of Representatives in the not too distant future.

Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.

Senator JESSOP - Prior to the suspension of the sitting I had referred to the need to look into the matter of foreign investment in Australia. I think we have to look at the matter in 2 ways, firstly, in a developmental sense and, secondly, in the take-over sense, which is what is creating so much concern in Australia at the moment. I do not think one would have to be a master economist to appreciate the need to increase our productivity at this stage when inflation is presenting us with such a problem. For that reason I believe that we must not disregard the importance of foreign capital in developing Australia's resources. I submit that at this time it would be wrong to forbid or inhibit the inflow of foreign capital to assist or sustain certain Australian industries because the lack of liquidity could cause serious impediments to the ability of an industry to remain viable. Nobody can say that the Government is not aware of the need to look into this matter.

I have said that the Treasurer has called for a White Paper from his Department on this matter and that a Senate select committee has been set up to deal with the subject in fine detail. No doubt the prominence given to the Rocla pipes case and the attempted take-over of Ansett Transport Industries by Thomas Nationwide Transport Ltd have drawn a lot of public attention to the matter. The Government must look at this subject very carefully in the future. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and indeed the Government are not unaware of the need to do this and to take steps to prevent such take-overs in the future. Not long ago the Prime Minister made a statement to that effect. He referred to legislation to be introduced, such as amendments to the Trade Practices Act, to deal with future take-over bids. I am no lawyer but I do realise that the legality of the matter is complex. I know that the Attorney-General (Senator Green- wood) has burned the midnight oil in giving these matters consideration so that ihe Government's actions, whatever they may be, will bc accurate in every respect when it takes legislative action in this area.

I have indicated previously that it is necessary to work out areas in which foreign investment does represent majority interest, and to give a careful assessment of whether Australian capital could be used in those areas. I noticed that Senator Douglas McClelland referred to the awakening of the Democratic Labor Party to the matter of foreign investment in Australia. I could not help noticing a certain division of opinion between the Australian Labor Party and the Democratic Labor Party in this debate. Senator Douglas McClelland mentioned that the Australian Labor Party has been raising this matter in Parliament and in public on many occasions over the years. It worries me when I hear members of the Opposition discrediting the advantages of foreign investment in Australia, particularly when they have clear evidence that State Premiers who are members of their own Party have travelled overseas deliberately trying to entice foreign investment to their States. I refer particularly to the Premiers of South Australia and Western Australia. I read with interest some time ago that even the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions has travelled overseas in an attempt to obtain advice from West German and Israeli trade unionists with the object of attracting, and even using, capital from West Germany in order to provide the trade union movement in Australia not only with expertise but also with possible ways of financing the establishment of a finance corporation designed to enable trade unionists to borrow from it for hire purchase requirements. I suppose it is fair to say that Mr Hawke should go overseas to attract expert advice in the matter of finance because the enterprise that the ACTU took over recently - Bourke's store - is not doing too well. So it was not surprising to me that he should go outside Australia to obtain financial advice, and probably to attract financial assistance, in order to form a corporation that would be of some benefit to Australian trade unionists.

Senator Poke - You said 'probably to attract financial assistance'. There, is nothing definite about it.

Senator JESSOP - I make the observation that it seemed to me to be significant that West German trade unionists came to Australia recently. It was clear to me and to everybody else in Australia, if they can believe what is written in the Press, that the object-

Senator Poke - You cannot believe what is written in the Press. You should know that by now. You have been in politics long enough to know that.

Senator JESSOP - My friend says that we cannot believe what is written in the Press. That is true, because for a number of years the Press has been conducting a campaign against the Government, lt seems to be mounting. Therefore I am glad to hear Senator Poke's statement that he does not believe what the Press may have been saying in recent times. Nevertheless, I think that there is a lot of substance in what I believe to be the intention of the ACTU - to attract foreign interests into Australia for its own purposes. I share the concern of the DLP in the matter. Together with my colleagues on this side of the chamber who have demonstrated an equal interest in the matter of foreign investment in Australia, I will urge the Government to look at the matter urgently. 1 do not think we will gain anything at this time by freezing any take-over bids, firstly, because of the action that the. Government has taken in calling for a Treasury document enunciating clearly the effects of foreign capital on the Australian economy and, secondly and not insignificantly, because the Senate has appointed a select committee, to inquire into all areas of concern with regard to the matter. This job will not be completed in a short time. It will require a lot of very careful attention to define clearly the areas in which foreign investment is applied in Australia to work out the precise and significant effects that it will have on the Australian economy.

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