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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 2227

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Primary Industry) - Senator Jessop,who has just resumed his seat, engaged in the normal sort of emotional thinking and expression of attitude towards the whole concept of this legislation which is representative of the attitude of the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party. I take this opportunity to point out that it is in direct contrast to the attitude adopted by the Australian Democratic Labor Party. It is true that there have been some misunderstandings about the intention of the Government in enlarging the activities of the Australian Industry Development Corporation but at least the Democratic Labor Party has been prepared to discuss rationally with the Minister for Secondary Industry, Dr J. F. Cairns, the whole question of what we intend to do. However, the colleagues of Senator Jessop adopted an attitude of dogmatismthat no matter what the Government was trying to do they did not want to understand it because it must be wrong and has terrible socialist overtones.

I cannot see what is wrong with the principle of trying to ensure maximum Australian equity in Australian industry. Surely it is evident, in the light of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control, that there was a need for some action to be taken. This is what this Government is endeavouring to do by expanding the activities of the AIDC. The principle of the AIDC was accepted by our predecessors. I find the present attitude of the Opposition so difficult to understand now. Foreign domination of the ownership and control of Australian resources and industries has been a national issue for quite some time. The Committee, which provided some very interesting information, found that many of the major growth industries were predominantly in the hands of foreign multi-national companies.

During the course of the election campaign the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) made it quite clear that we would take action in this area if we were elected to government. He said:

A Labor Government will enable Australia and ordinary Australians to take part in the ownership, development and use of Australian industries and resources.

We will expand the activities of the Australian Industry Development Corporation to enable it to join with Australian and foreign companies in the exploration, development and processing of Australian resources.

Australian capital will be effectively mobilised through the issue of national development bonds, and by encouraging Australian insurance companies to invest in approved development projects.

We will issue national development bonds through an expanded AIDC- not just because we are determined to reverse the trend towards foreign control of Australian resources, but because we want ordinary Australians to play their part in buying Australia back.

Is this an objective to which one should object in principle? Is it not in the national interest to ensure that these activities are under the control of Australians? Is this not the basic intention in expanding AIDC and was it not the basic intention of the AIDC in the first place?

These are important Bills. They are important for diverting into basic development some of the money that now goes into bricks and mortar in a plethora of city office blocks, and the like. They are important for putting together significant Australian shareholdings in major resource development and industrial expansion. They are important in enabling ordinary Australians to share in the income and capital gains of Australia's growth. They are important for taking up opportunities to buy back some of Australia. They are important as a complement to the machinery for examining foreign takeover bids, and important for helping to finance efficient structuring of Australian industries.

The Government has no intention of swerving from the nationally endorsed policies contained in these Bills but it is prepared to do everything practicable to allay needless apprehensions, not just by offering explanations but by accepting, and indeed proposing, constructive amendments to put beyond doubt that the intentions and effect of the Bills do not run to the kind of rape of Australian private enterprise about which, genuinely or otherwise, fears have been expressed. We also wish to ensure that honourable senators are not misled by foreign-connected elements of the financial community who have managed to find a malicious intent in virtually every clause of the Bills.

Senator Cotton - Some of the wholly owned Australian banks find it reprehensible too.

Senator WRIEDT - If Senator Cotton can wait patiently I will deal later on with what he had to say.

Senator Cotton - I do not think that I can stand the strain.

Senator WRIEDT -The honourable senator will have to, I am afraid. We would therefore welcome an opportunity for senators to undertake a factual and balanced examination of the Bills. For that reason we on this side of the House accept the amendment which has been moved by the Democratic Labor Party. We believe that the in depth analysis suggested by Senator Byrne's amendment will result in the Committee endorsing the principles set out in the Bill.

In agreeing to this action the Government remains mindful of the urgency of this legislation. Without it the AIDC will have neither the charter nor the financial capacity to act on many of the dramatic opportunities now offering. We have watched the alienation of Australian resources through the mining boom of the 1 960s. Now, in the 1970s, when the emphasis is more on processing of minerals and on mineral-based manufacturing, we will see it all happen again unless we have the means- the finance and the institutions- to bring together the strong Australian participation which we want to see in these ventures. This is not just a vague generalisation. I am informed that the AIDC is already involved in negotiations with Australian and foreign firms in connection with several large scale industrial developments of undoubted national significance. By bringing together interested Australian companies, and with some participation by the AIDC itself, there is every likelihood that these major projects can be structured under predominant Australian ownership and control. Every single such case would be a major achievement.

Senator WRIEDT - Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was referring to the need for this legislation to move forward to enable the Australian Industry Development Corporation to participate in the structuring of the ventures that are taking place in Australia at the present time. The planning of these ventures will not wait indefinitely. But to participate the AIDC must have the charter and the sources of funds which these Bills will give it. Without them it must withdraw. In view of this urgency and to minimise the loss of opportunities which may result from further delay the Government believes that the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control should complete its considerations of the Bills as quickly as possible consistent with its proper discharge of its responsibilities. Therefore we would like to see the Committee report by the end of February. But the Government accepts the amendment which requires the Committee to report by 12 March 1974. We would then hope that the Senate would be in a position to complete its consideration of the Bills by about the end of March or perhaps early April.

There remains the immediate problem posed by certain provisions of the existing Act that are severely hampering the continuing operations of AIDC. These matters are, firstly, that the Corporation lacks the function of securing Australian ownership and control of Australian industries and, secondly, that it is required to seek to borrow principally from outside Australia. The Bills we are now debating include amendments to remove these limitations. It is apparent from the amendments moved by the Opposition in the other place that the Opposition does not oppose the removal of these limitations. Therefore we propose to act immediately to remove them by interim legislation pending passage of full legislation after receipt of the report from the Select Committee. For this purpose I propose at the earliest opportunity to introduce a short Bill to amend sections 6 and 7 of the current Act. This interim Bill contains no provisions to which honourable senators have expressed opposition. If they are genuine in their professed concern about the great national problem of foreign ownership and control of Australian industries I am sure that they will help to ensure the speedy passage of that Bill when it comes forward.

Senator Cottonled for the Opposition in this debate. There are 2 or 3 points which he made during the course of his speech to which I wish to make fairly brief reference. The points he raised are important points if they are indeed valid. The first point with which I want to deal concerns his assertion that not sufficient is known of the AIDC and its activities and that there is not sufficient parliamentary control over that Corporation. Today we saw tabled in the Senate the annual report of the Australian Industry Development Corporation. I think that any reasonable person would say that it was a fairly detailed document. Most statutory organisations are required to present to the Parliament a proper and reasonable accounting of their activities over the previous 12 months, but there is a limit to which any statutory organisation ought to be expected to go in divulging detailed information of its activities. There is a certain confidentiality between an organisation such as the AIDC and its clients because, in effect, it is acting as a bank or merchant bank. The Australian National Airlines Commission, the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission or the Commonwealth Banking Corporation are all required to present reports. But they are not required to go beyond what would be the normal propriety of any commercial undertaking. I trunk that if Senator Cotton were to reflect on that point he would agree that the details that are now given by the Corporation to the Parliament are, in fact, a reasonable accounting of its activities. It should not be placed at a disadvantage any more than any other statutory organisation which is acting in a commercial capacity should be placed at a disadvantage in relation to its competitors.

Senator Cottonalso made reference to the attitude of the life offices to the AIDC. It seems to me that the only matter in these Bills which could bring about some conflict with the life offices is the reference to the authorisation of the Corporation, through the National Investment Fund, to operate savings schemes and retirement schemes. Of course, these schemes in fact would mean competition with the private life offices or the life offices generally. But these offices have already indicated that they do not oppose the introduction or the implementation of such schemes by the Corporation even though they know that it means added competition for them. But they would object- and I think legitimately so- if the Corporation were given any special taxation privileges which did not apply to the life offices. The Government does not intend to do this. I think it is fair to say that the Corporation will be required to act in the same way as the life offices will be and that, therefore, there is no special advantage obtaining to the Corporation in these activities.

The third and last point to which Senator Cotton referred and on which I wish to make a brief comment was broadly the statement that a bigger AIDC is not needed. He said that the existing Corporation in conjunction with the Australian Resources Development Bank in fact should be sufficient to do the things which the Government would like to see done under this proposed legislation. But surely the record over the past 25 years suggests that these organisations have not, in fact, been able to do this through lack of will, through lack of resources or through lack of machinery. Over those 25 years we have seen very great inroads by overseas interests in Australian enterprises. The Australian Resources Development Bank is not a body which one could claim has as one of the main objectives in its function the protection of Australian equity. So we need to equip the AIDC and to give it the resources and the power to be able to resist the inroads of the big multi-national companies in Australia and to ensure that Australian participation can not only be maintained in new development but also can be expanded in current Australian industries.

I believe it is unfortunate that this legislation has to be deferred for what will probably be 3 or 4 months. It would have been desirable for these Bills to have been passed by the Senate and to allow the provisions that apply in this legislation to get under way as quickly as possible. However, the Government accepts the amendment moved by the Australian Democratic Labor Party. If there are some doubts in the Senate as to certain points and objectives in this legislation, the Select Committee should be in a position to make a proper analysis of them. I feel quite confident that when the report comes back to the Senate after such an analysis it will be a vindication of the Government's intentions and the manner in which this legislation has been drawn up. Not only will it assist in the future development of Australia but also- and equally important- it will protect the interests of Australians in that development.

Amendment agreed to.

Original question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.

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