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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 1970

Senator COTTON (New South Wales) (Minister for Civil Aviation) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill arises from the Government's wish to speed up the progressive review of the Tariff which was initiated by the

Government last year. It was foreshadowed in a statement made in the House of Representatives on 12th April 1972 when the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) announced that the Government had decided that the Tariff Board Act should be amended to enable the Tariff Board to comprise 11 members instead of the present 9 members. In January of last year, after considering the views expressed by the Tariff Board, the Government decided that there should be a progressive review of the tariff and one of the major tasks for the Minister since becoming Minister for Trade and Industry has been the setting in train of this review.

The review commenced in May 1971 when the Minister for Trade and Industry referred to the Board 10 references covering those items of the 'Machinery' Chapter of the Tariff which were not already under reference. These references were as suggested by the Tariff Board and are to be followed by references in the area of manufactures of metal. It became apparent that with the additional workload, and given the time it takes for the Board to conduct its usual inquiries, it would be many years before the review could be completed by the Board as at present constituted.

The Minister therefore asked the Department of Trade and Industry to address itself to the question whether fair and equitable procedures could be evolved which would enable the review to be completed in quicker time, without the quality of the reports to the Government being lessened in any material sense and with industry retaining its right to a full opportunity to be heard by the Board. The Minister for Trade and Industry also sought the views of the Chairman of the Tariff Board on this matter and at the same time made it clear that he would value the views any sector of industry might have on it.

It was appreciated that, as well as its importance in connection with forthcoming international trade negotiations, a proposal from the Department of Trade and Industry for an 'excess margin' items reference would, in addition, be of value as an interim measure in relation to the review. As honourable senators are aware, the reference, which was foreshadowed in my statement to the Senate on 18th April 1972 and which has now been forwarded to the Tariff Board, seeks a report by the end of the year on whether the General Tariff rates of duty on over 1,000 items can be reduced. However, on the basis of the examinations by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Tariff Board it became clear that the only way to complete in a reasonably short period such a massive task as the progressive review - one which had never been undertaken in Australia before - would be to make additional resources available.

Accordingly, the Chairman of the Tariff Board submitted to the Minister detailed proposals which if adopted would, he believed, complete the review by December 1978. In particular, he proposed that two additional members be appointed to the Board and that the restriction on the number of public-servant members be eased. The present Bill proposes amendments in the Tariff Board Act to give effect to these changes.

Provision is made for the Board to comprise 11 rather than 9 members as at present. However, to provide for future flexibility, it is proposed that the Act be amended in a way which permits the actual number of Board members to ranga between 7 and 11 members at any particular time. Thus when the progressive review is completed it would be possible for the Board to be reduced in size without the legislation needing further amendment.

With the enlarged Board the Chairman of the Tariff Board has informed the Minister that he has in mind that the Board's work be handled in the following way: Three 2-member divisions of the Board to be employed full-time on review references; two 2-member divisions to handle the normal tariff-revision inquiries; and one member divisions to handle the normal non-tariff revision inquiries.

As the Act stands at present, the number of members who were public servants at the time of their appointment cannot be less than 2 or more than 3. The proposed amendment increases the permissible number of such members to 5. With an enlarged Board the existing arrangement would be too restrictive and an easing of the provision will widen the range of choice open to the Government in making the additional appointments. Provision is also made in the Bill for a presiding member of a division of the Board to carry out the functions of the Chairman, as set out by the Chairman in writing on each occasion and confined to the purposes of a particular inquiry and report. In addition, in line with the general policy applying to statutory bodies, the present salary and allowances of the statutory officers concerned have now been set out in the legislation.

The Minister was assured by the Chairman of the Tariff Board that the appointment of the additional members, as provided for in this Bill, should assist materially in the speeding-up of the progressive review. At the same time I take this opportunity of assuring honourable senators that it is the Government's intention that the review inquiries be full and thorough and that every opportunity be given to manufacturers to put their case. I should also repeat what has been said by the Minister for Trade and Industry and other Ministers on numerous occasions: The Government itself is responsible for all decisions relating to tariffs. As the review reports come forward one by one the Government will apply itself to the Board's recommendations in the same way as it does in the case of all Tariff Board reports. They will be examined thoroughly, and action taken to implement or amend the Board's recommendations only after the most thorough examination and after full account has been taken of the considerations set out in the Minister's tariff policy statement to the House on 29th April last year. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator O'Byrne) adjourned.

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