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Wednesday, 10 May 1972
Page: 1544

Senator POYSER (Victoria) - I rise to speak on a matter of great urgency and importance that has been placed before me and, I understand, before many other senators. It concerns the imminent closing down of an industry in the City of Benalla in the State of Victoria. This city feels so concerned about the closing of this industry, which may occur in the very near future, that its citizens have established a committee called the Committee for Retention of Renold Chain, Benalla's Decentralised Industry. I understand that this committee has written to most senators and probably most members of the House of

Representatives. It is a very broad committee, established by the whole of the city for the purpose of trying to retain this very important decentralised industry in Benalla. The people associated with this committee are the Benalla City Council, the Benalla Shire Council, the Benalla Chamber of Commerce, the Benalla Branch of the Country Party, the Benalla Branch of the Liberal Party, the Benalla Branch of the Democratic Labor Party, the Benalla Branch of the Australian Labor Party, the Benalla Business and Professional Women's Club, the RSL Club of Benalla, the Lions Club of the same city, the Rotary Club of Benalla, the Benalla Junior Chamber of Commerce, and the Benalla Apex Club. One can see that this is probably one of the broadest committees that any city the size of Benalla could possibly obtain for the purpose of trying to save the city from what would in fact be a tragedy. The letter that has been sent to me, and I understand to many other senators, reads as follows:

Dear Senator,

We urgently appeal to you personally to help save our town from disaster by helping to retain its decentralised industry whose closure is impending because of unrestricted cheap imports.

This industry is Renold Australia Proprietary Limited. Both the Federal and State Governments helped its establishment in Benalla during 1949, soon after World War II, as having strategic importance to our country. Renold is virtually the sole manufacturer in Australia of transmission chain up to one inch pitch which is used both for industrial and agricultural machinery.

Failure of this industry will threaten the whole concept of decentralisation throughout Australia.

Normally, Renold employs about 200 people, but owing to the steady inroads of very cheap imports, has fallen during the last twelve months to about 120 employees. Without . urgent and decisive action by the Government, this industry is likely to be dead by early 1973.

We have approached our own Member for Indi, the Honourable R. McN. Holten, M.H.R., Minister for Repatriation and Assisting .Minister for Trade and Industry, and we seek your support in the efforts he is making on our behalf.'

Local branches of all Political Parties are supporting us in this request.

Quantitative import restriction of transmission chain up to one inch pitch is the only means of saving this highly specialised industry. This action would create no precedent because Renold is virtually the sole manufacturer in Australia, and no economic problem, because total import value is only approximately $lm-

I assume that that is annually - and of very little economic importance to exporting countries.

Loss of Renold would reduce Benalla by some 800 people, counting families, from a population of 8.000 down to about 7,200. There is little other industry, so this would be the beginning of the end.

As decentralisation is a platform of your Party, we are now seeking your practical support by asking you to write directly to, or seek the personal assurance of, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Right Honourable J. D. Anthony, Minister for Trade and Industry, to apply positive protection and save this industry which is so vital for Benalla and Australia.

Mr President,I believe that some urgent action must be taken by the Government if the position is as outlined in this letter. For a town of the size of Benalla to lose an industry which employs 200 persons would create a situation in which up to 1,000 people in the area would be seriously affected. Anybody who knows this area - indeed, anybody who knows country areas anywhere throughout the Commonwealth - will realise that an industry of this nature cannot be replaced easily. As this letter indicates, all political parties have indicated their support for decentralisation. Unfortunately some talk more about it than they act. That applies in particular to the Liberal-Country Party coalition which is in government in Canberra. It also applies to the State Government in Victoria. Both of those governments pay only lip service to decentralisation of industry as such. It is my view and it is a view which is accepted by quite a number of people that neither the Liberal Party nor the Country Party has any real desire to see industries established or flourishing in country areas because they have a vested interest to ensure that voters who support the Australian Labor Party are not placed outside of the metropolitan areas and therefore able to wrest from the Libera] and Country Parties seats that they have held for so many years and which are regarded by them as safe, comfortable seats. The only State in the Commonwealth which has been progressive in any shape or form in this matter is Tasmania. The most decentralised State in the Commonwealth of Australia is Tasmania, which had a Labor government for 34 years. The second most decentralised State is Queensland, which had a Labor government for over 25 years. When Liberal governments have taken over in these States they have shown no interest in the problems of the country towns.

Senator Cavanagh - South Australia is establishing a new town.

Senator POYSER - It is establishing a new town because it has a practical Labor Government which is prepared to encourage decentralisation. Up to the time of the Dunstan Government the most centralised State in the Commonwealth was South Australia which had the. longest run of Liberal governments in the history of Australia - and it was a gerrymandered government at that.

Getting back to the original point that I wish to make, I ask the Government to take very quick action because the situation in Benalla is acute. Only some rapid positive action by the Commonwealth Government will save this decentralised industry. The Commonwealth Government has it within its powers to assist this industry by quickly acceding to the request, not just of the company itself but also of a committee representing all sections of the community in Benalla, for consideration of the imposition of quantitative restrictions on cheap imports from overseas. The committee has examined this matter very closely and it has determined that that is the only way in which the industry can be saved.

I believe, that this matter is of sufficient importance for me to take up a few minutes of the Senate's time this evening. I wish to air the situation publicly and show that at least members of the Australian Labor Party do not want to see an industry destroyed in a town the size of Benalla. We do not like to see any industry destroyed, but we particularly do not like to see an industry destroyed in a town as small as Benalla. A community of 8,000 people will lose something like 10 per cent of its number. When one takes into consideration the effect of the loss of this industry on education, hospital, medical and other facilities one can appreciate the situation in which this community will find itself. The town will start to die.

We have seen this happen so often throughout Australia. It happened in the early history of Australia to the mining towns and it is now happening in many of the rural towns throughout Australia. If industrial problems such as this are to be added to rural problems we will have a situation which is worse than that which already exists in Victoria where something like 70 per cent of the total population of the State lives in the city of Melboune The difficulties of the capital city will be exacerbated. It costs a city of the size of Melbourne millions of dollars to handle only its traffic problems. Ten per cent of the money it is costing that city to handle those problems would be sufficient to establish industries in areas to which people, would be happy to go and in which they would be happy to live. The Government has a duty to give urgent consideration to this matter. It should show its sincerity as a Government and accede to the committee's request, particularly as it professes to believe in decentralisation. But action must be taken quickly. The Tariff Board or any other government department must not be allowed to take 2 or 3 years to make up its mind. If this were allowed it would be too late as the industry would have already gone. I ask for immediate action in this matter to ensure that thus industry is saved before it disappears altogether.

Senator McLAREN(South Australia) (11.19} - I rise to support the case that Senator Poyser has put to the Senate tonight for the retention of the Renold chain company in Benalla. I do so because I have lived for 22 years in Murray Bridge, which is a town in South Australia of a similar size to Benalla, and I know of the real problems that would be created in Murray Bridge if an industry of this size - and we have several of them in Murray Bridge - were suddenly to fold up because of the lack of support of a government which was prepared to allow cheap imports into the country. It would have a very grave effect on all of the residents in the town of Murray Bridge. On receiving similar correspondence to that received by Senator Poyser - as Senator Poyser stated, probably all honourable senators and members of the other place received similar correspondence - I did as I was requested, namely, made immediate representations to the Right Honourable J. D. Anthony, Minister for Trade and Industry. I did this by way of telegram on 2nd May. I set out the case very briefly, explaining to the Minister the real urgency of doing something for the people of Benalla, but apparently the Minister for Trade and Industry does not consider that this case warrants urgent attention because it is now 8 days since I despatched that telegram and as at this point of time I have received no reply.

It will be recalled by those people who have taken an interest in decentralisation and in the governments which had been prepared to support it, that a Federal Labor government was in office in 1949 when this industry was established in Benalla. I am sure that the people of Benalla are well aware of this fact. No doubt they are hoping that in the very near future there will be another Federal Labor government so that if nothing is done between now and then we will be able to come to their rescue and save this industry for them. The peope of Australia were so concerned about the drift to the cities of country people and the effect that this was having on the rural areas that on 19th and 20th August last year they convened a conference which was held in Canberra. It was attended by representatives from all over Australia. The result of this conference was the setting up of an organisation called the Australian Council for Balanced Development. The 3 major points contained in the policy of that organisation are as follows:

1.   To ease the pressures on capital cities;

2.   To consolidate development in all country areas;

3.   To secure a major Commonwealth Government commitment to and financial participation in decentralisation and belter balance of population and employment.

I was one of two senators who attended that conference together with Mr Don Simmons, the member for Peake in the South Australian Parliament. Shortly after that conference I asked in the Senate a question of the Minister repesenting the Minister for National Development. The question I asked, in part, was: . . I was greatly impressed by the determination and enthusiasm shown by the delegates from all parts of Australia in arriving at their decisions. As these decisions were classified by the conference as being extremely urgent and, as such, were communicated to the government and other Party leaders by telegram, will the Minister give an assurance that he too will treat these decisions with the same degree of urgency?

In the course of his reply Senator Cotton stated:

.   . I support the proposition of country development. But we ought not be unmindful ot the cost of doing this and of the fact that one cannot order people to do things which one wants them to do.

I think that the Benalla people also are very conscious of the cost of decentralisation, not in the way that Senator Cotton meant, namely the cost of establishing it, but in relation to what it will cost them because of the fact that the Federal Government is not helping them to keep their industry going. Obviously if this industry is lost to them it will cost them a great deal. I waited for some months to see what the federal Government would do as regards the requests that came forward from the National Development Conference. On 23rd February of this year I asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development the following question:

Has the Government taken any action, in response to urgent requests from the National Development Conference held at Canberra in August last year, with regard to financial participation in decentralisation and balanced development of population and employment in Australia?

On 11th April last I received the following answer:

The Government has not as yet taken any action with regard to financial participation in decentralisation and balanced development of population and employment in Australia, as a result of the National Development Conference. The Government is awaiting the report of the CommonwealthState Officials Committee on Decentralisation. When this report has been received, the Government will be in a better position to define what action ls appropriate in these fields.

Of course, to the uninformed or the illinformed that answer sounds very nice, but I was able to obtain a paper which was delivered by the Leader of the Opposition in another place (Mr Whitlam) at a seminar which he attended at Wangaratta on 29th April. I shall quote from this paper in which he dealt with decentralisation and the Committee which was referred to in the answer given to me on 11th April. The portion of this paper which dealt with decentralisation is headed 'Government's Approach'. It reads as follows:

Decentralisation is a matter on which the present government has been not only dilatory but obstructionist

Sir RobertMenzies promised in his 1949 election policy speech 'a positive decentralised national programme of rural production, to be carried out co-operatively, with the States and with regional and local authorities.' That promise remains unhonoured.

Motions on decentralisation were moved in the Parliament by members of my party in 1961, 1965, 1967 and 1971. Not one of them was allowed to come to a vote.

In 1964, while Sir Robert Menzies was overseas and Sir John McEwen was Acting Prime Minister, the Premiers' Conference agreed to establish a Commonwealth-State Officers' Committee on Decentralisation. That Committee has met on only 4 occasions, 4th and 5th March 1965, 30th November 1966, 7th February 1969 and most recently on 12th October 1971.

Following the October meeting it circulated a report which the Chairman of the New South Wales Department of Decentralisation and Development has stigmatised as 'largely irrelevant'. The Chairman said that the report: . . to the extent that it does concern itself with evaluating the justification for decentralisation fails to do so in any systematic way and avoids any attempt to assemble the sum total of the arguments for and against decentralisation and arrive at an overall conclusion.'

He described the studies commissioned by the Committee as 'limited' and 'marginal'.

As a result of these strictures, the Committee circulated on 23rd February a further draft report which the New South Wales Chairman regards as acceptable but anticipates being difficult to marry to the original draft. The Prime Minister told the honourable member for Calare on 8th March that the final report is 'nearing completion', but how much longer must Australians wait before there is action on this vital matter?

In the absence of action, cabals gather. The present Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, refuses even to disclose the names of departments which are represented on interdepartmental committees, but his predecessor, Mr Gorton, told my colleague, Mr Al Grassby, on 14th April 1970 that the Commonwealth-State Officials' Committee on Decentralisation consisted of representatives from each State, his own department, the Treasury, and the Departments of Trade and Industry, Primary Industry, National Development and Labour and National Service. In the meantime the Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Anthony-

The PRESIDENT - Is this a speech delivered by the Leader of the Opposition in another place?

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