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Tuesday, 17 October 1972
Page: 1578

Senator COTTON (New South WalesMinister for Civil Aviation) - I listened with great attention to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) and equally with considerable interest to Senator Little who has had some experience in the leather footwear industry to which this matter refers. I have some observations from the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) which no doubt the Senate at this stage in the evening will be delighted to hear. Senator Murphy referred to possible loss of employment by members of the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union of Australia which covers the industry that concerns the honourable senator in this matter. He mentioned that his motion was first put down on 26th May 1972. At about that time the Department prepared some material dealing with this matter. At this stage I do not think it helps a great deal to refer to that but only to the later material which is more up to date and which, therefore, may be more helpful.

A deputation representing the leather tanners, footwear manufacturers and footwear retailers made representations to the Minister for control of the export of cattle hides. The deputation was concerned that current trends in the world hide market would result in the local industry being deprived of raw material. Argentina and Brazil have banned exports and the United States has placed restrictions on exports. The prices on the local market have more than doubled since January 1972. The deputation stated that the industry is prepared to pay world prices for hides. It is concerned with the availability of hides and not the price of supplies. It is also concerned that all hides in Australia might be sold overseas under long term contracts. Footwear manufacturers have announced a rise in prices, as Senator Little observed. This has resulted in increased leather prices in relation to footwear made from local and imported leather. The Department of Trade and Industry undertook to examine the situation as a matter of urgency. The investigations it undertook have shown that hides are available provided local tanners are prepared to pay world prices.

The Department has contacted the Federated Hide Merchants Association which has been told that the Government is concerned about the availability of hides to local industry. The Government prefers to avoid control. It hopes that the industry will make the necessary arrangements to safeguard its own supplies. The merchants have told the local industry that they prefer to sell to the local industry and they have given an assurance that hides will be made available to local tanners provided that world prices are paid. They have denied that they have any long term contracts with overseas suppliers. The question of export control is still being considered. The latest reports from the United States show that the control on the export of hides may be lifted. The authorised removal of control was gazetted for 30th August and therefore should be now in operation. The Minister for Trade and Industry does not feel that it is necessary to refer the matter to the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade as suggested by Senator Murphy and supported by Senator Little. This is not the first time that the industry has approached the Government for export control on hides. A similar approach was made in 1966 and the then Minister for Trade and Industry rejected that application.

It is long standing Government policy to be against direct control of industrial transactions and prices. The Government is examining the industry's request for export controls and is keeping the industry informed. On behalf of the responsible Minister and his Department all I say is that it did not appear to the adviser from the Department of Trade and Industry or to the Minister who read the report of the debate which was given to him that a case had been made out to justify the matter going before the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade which, as has already been observed, has 2 fairly substantial matters before it and they are not resolved. The first matter is:

The promotion of trade and commerce with other countries, the operation of Australia's international trade agreements, and the development of trading relations.

This is not a light matter. It will probably take about 5 years to deal with it fully. The second matter is:

Determination of prices, measures to prevent unjustifiable price increases, and the establishment of a prices surveillance tribunal.

That is another matter which is not light. That is about a 5-year job, so there is about 10 years work ahead of the Committee. But as F understand this issue the Leader of the Opposition is anxiously awaiting a decision. He is supported by the Australian Democratic Labor Party. On that basis it is a reasonable assumption that the Government cannot win this matter, so the vote can be taken on the voices.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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