Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (21:22): It is a pleasure to follow the member for Mayo, who I understand is a member of this society that they have formed, the Modest Members. They are so modest you never hear an idea out of them. That is modesty in the extreme—never having a positive idea to contribute to public debate. We saw more evidence of it tonight.
This resolution and what has been put forward by the member for Throsby—and the member for Cunningham spoke on this earlier—is critical in terms of being able to recognise that this is a sector that contributes a great deal to the Australian economy and is going through one of its roughest patches, brought on by movements in currency—45 per cent in two years. We need to look at what can be done to assist the industry through this difficult period. Overall, manufacturing itself accounts for 34 per cent of all goods exported and generates about $84 billion of income for our country. Output is still growing in the face of pretty challenging times—about one per cent in the past year—and manufacturing creates close to a million jobs. In my neck of the woods, in Chifley, manufacturing generates about 10,000 jobs and 16½ per cent of all jobs in the electorate are as a result of manufacturing activity, probably the 10th highest of the seats across the country. The contribution of manufacturing to parts of Western Sydney is huge, and I think Fowler is the other seat that benefits greatly from the contribution of manufacturing in Western Sydney.
But, as I mentioned before, currency pressures, with the Australian dollar moving 45 per cent in two years and on top of that the Chinese currency being deliberately undervalued to the tune of about 40 per cent, mean that there are huge impacts on our sector. The motion itself talks about the way that we can assist industry through greater industry participation, and it certainly attempts to find ways to help a sector that is under pressure.
Much has been made of the impact of mining in crowding out other sectors, and I wanted to see what some people in authoritative positions would be able to bring to this debate to assist us. I have to say that the Reserve Bank of Australia has made a few statements that have been real eyebrow raisers to me. We have had a lot to say about two-speed economies. While many look at the heat being generated by mining, we do need to look at other sectors of the economy and see what is happening there. It is certainly well documented in retail, for example, that they are concerned about flat retail output and concerned to see what can happen to induce greater growth there in the face of what is happening in the mining sector. Manufacturing is the other sector that has been very concerned about the growth of mining.
When we looked recently at what Ric Battellino, the deputy Reserve Bank governor, had to say, I was quite astounded at what happened when we were looking for answers from someone in a position like that. He said:
The structure of the economy is changing very dramatically and, one way or another, that is going to happen while the demand for resources is so strong—
a pretty straightforward statement, but then he said:
The manufacturing sector is finding life more difficult with this exchange rate, and we’ve seen the result of that in recent days. But I don’t think anybody can really work out what can be done about that—
this from the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank if you are looking for answers, and on top of that—
Mr Briggs: Oh, attacking the Reserve Bank now?
Mr HUSIC: Well, they are independent, but they are supposed to be able to provide some sort of input as to where we might head, particularly in these rough times. Only adding to the position was the governor himself when he appeared on Friday, 26 August before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics. He then went on to make an interesting series of comments about issues regarding individual businesses and negotiating flexibility in agreements—but, at the same time, ignoring fact. He said:
What people say to me, I cannot verify it obviously, from their individual businesses is that they find it harder to negotiate flexibility. That is something that is said. If that is true that I think is a matter for concern—
an astounding comment, particularly when he says, ‘I cannot verify it obviously.’ Secondly, he said:
What we do not do is get into political debates over particular policies.
He ignores the fact that 64 per cent of awards and agreements have flexibility clauses in them. On top of that, it is a slap in the face for employees and unions who worked with employers through the GFC to ensure that there was flexibility through the difficulties of the GFC. If he wants to listen to business, why doesn’t he talk up, for example, the need to tackle currency differentials in the broader international economy or listen to businesses who are keen to see what he might do on interest rates?
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The time allocated for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.