Senate Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees
The First 20 Years 1970 - 1990

Table of Contents


The Committee and its Predecessors

Since the establishment of the Senate Standing Committees in 1970, matters presently covered by the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology have fallen, formally, within the areas of interest of the following Committees:


Current Membership

The membership of the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in December 1990 was as follows:

A full listing of membership and Committee Chairpersons on the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and other related committees are listed in an attachment to this section. Other attachments to this section include lists of committee secretaries and reports tabled by the committees.


The Work of the Committees

The Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and its predecessors have focused on a number of themes throughout the last twenty years including primary industry, secondary industry, trade and commerce. More recently, the Committee has had references from the Senate in relation to bills and annual reports. Attachment D lists Reports tabled by the Committee.

As previously noted the Committee has changed its name on a number of occasions, thereby reflecting its changing emphases. Trade was of special interest to the Committee until, with the re-arrangement of Government portfolios, it came under the purviews of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

The Senate Standing Committee on Primary and Secondary Industry and Trade was one of two Committees selected for first establishment by a resolution of the Senate on 19 August 1970 and as such pioneered the processes of Senate Standing Committee operations. The areas of industry and commerce have continued to be of major interest to the current Committee, since Australian industrial, scientific and technological development is so closely tied to the world economy.


Primary Industry

One of the earliest reports of the Senate Standing Committee on Primary and Secondary Industry and Trade, tabled in December 1971, dealt with the 'Availability of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)'. The inquiry arose from a Petition from the Councillors of the Shire of Shoalhaven, N.S.W., who were concerned about the supply and pricing of LPG.

The Committee decided to proceed with an examination of the supply position in relation to New South Wales and the Shoalhaven Shire Council in particular as it felt that it was likely that the problem was one which would be encountered by other local government bodies and by industrial consumers dependent upon the regular supply of LPG. An analysis of the situation led the Committee to conclude that improvements could be made in the production and storage of LPG as well as the supply of LPG at economic prices.

In 1976-77 the Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce inquired into aspects of the grape growing and wine-making industries. Concern had been expressed both in and out of the industry over the repeal of Section 31A of the Income Tax Assessment Act in 1973; the 1970 excise tax on wine; the threat of further tax on wine and the removal of the brandy excise differential. In its report, 'Tax and the Wine and Grape Industries', tabled in August 1977, the Committee concluded that these problems could be overcome through a stable policy environment, rationalisation and reconstruction within the industry.

The areas of forests and fishing were the next primary industries to attract the interest of the Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce. The forestry reference constituted an all-embracing look at a diverse topic which had been the subject of inconclusive committees, inquiries and reports by other bodies. The Committee's major focus was on the efficient utilisation of forest resources, especially the role of plantations and native forests. The major recommendations contained in 'Australia's Forestry and Forest Products Industries', tabled in November 1981, emphasised the need for States to take action to resolve the dilemma of the forestry industry.

The Committee's next report was also concerned with the efficient management of an Australian primary industry. Tabled in April 1983, and entitled 'Development of the Australian Fishing Industry', it identified the major areas which warranted action by government in order to promote the development of the Australian fishing industry and optimise the utilisation of the Australian Fishing Zone. Amongst the key recommendations was the need to develop and implement a national fisheries policy and establish a national statutory fisheries authority.

A further aspect of Australia's fishing industry came to the attention of the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in 1988 when the impact of the proposed changes to the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Management Plan were referred to the Committee. Concern had been expressed about the depletion of Southern Bluefin Tuna stock and the equitability of determining quotas. The Committee's inquiry confirmed that a severe crisis existed in the state of this particular tuna stock and that urgent action was required. The report on 'Proposed Changes to the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Management Plan' tabled in October 1988, welcomed the decision of the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy to issue quotas to those individual operators whom the Committee considered had been treated unfairly. At the time this was regarded as a suitable and equitable concession, although the Committee indicated that even further substantial cuts in total allowable catch may be needed if stocks were going to be rebuilt.

Soon after the tabling of this report on tuna, the Committee received an urgent reference from the Senate on the state of the sugar industry, the effects of the Sugar Agreement Act 1985, and the likely effects of the proposed amendments to the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1988. The matter was referred on 14 December 1988 with a reporting date of 13 April 1989. The time for presentation of the report was subsequently extended to 9 May 1989.

In its report, 'Assistance for the Sugar Industry', tabled in May 1989, the Committee recommended that the Government proceed with its proposal to remove the embargo on the importation of sugar; introduce a sliding scale tariff when the value of sugar fell below a certain level; conduct an Industries Commission inquiry into the longer term rates of protection for sugar; and establish an Australian Sugar Industry Council to allow direct representation of all participants in the industry thereby providing a mechanism for consultation to occur in the future.

The Government lifted the sugar embargo from 1 July 1989 and indicated that there would be an Industries Commission inquiry in 1991 into the long term tariff arrangements to apply from 1992. The sliding scale tariff was not accepted by the Government which implemented specific rate tariffs on raw and refined sugar. These tariffs, nevertheless, provided a measure of protection for the industry which was the Committee's goal in making this recommendation. Negotiations as to the possible formation of a Sugar Policy Council are continuing.


Secondary Industry

A number of areas have occupied the attention of the Committee under this broad theme. In the first few years of its establishment two references before the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade addressed such diverse issues as manufacture of steel and leather. The report 'Supply of Steel Pipes for the Moomba - Sydney Gas Pipeline' tabled in October 1973, arose out of concern by Australian steel manufacturers, especially BHP, that they had not been considered by the Australian Gas Light Co. Ltd. (AGL) for a contract to supply steel pipes for AGL's proposed natural gas pipeline between the Moomba field in South Australia and Sydney. Just over a month after the Committee received its reference, a compromise arrangement was agreed to to ensure Australian manufacturers satisfactory access to the market for steel pipes being established by AGL. The subsequent establishment of a National Pipeline Authority in February 1973 obviated the need for the Committee to conduct a full scale inquiry.

In the same year concern was expressed in the Senate that the Australian tanning and leather footwear industries were being prejudiced through lack of opportunities in acquiring their basic raw materials. In its report, 'The Reference Relating to the Leather Industry', tabled in December 1973, the Committee indicated that it was within the power of the tanning and footwear industries to resolve their problems and that there was no case made for the Government to take steps which would lead to a control on the export of hides and skins from Australia.

It was not until 1986 that the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade again chose the area of secondary industry for its attention. The Committee was concerned about the need for Australia's manufacturing sector to become more internationally competitive and export oriented. A preliminary inquiry into 'Certain Aspects of Australia's Manufacturing Industry Revitalisation', tabled in September 1986, paved the way for the Committee to conduct an inquiry into prevailing Australian attitudes towards manufacturing. A key recommendation of the report of the newly appointed Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, 'Manufacturing Industry Revitalisation - Making it Together' tabled in September 1988, was that new management techniques should be introduced into the manufacturing sector. This report, in turn, gave rise to the Committee's next reference in this area. 'People and Technology - New Management Techniques in Manufacturing Industry', tabled in May 1990, set out to evaluate current experience in Australia with new management techniques and made a series of recommendations which would help to improve Australia's performance in the manufacturing sector and restore world competitiveness to Australian industry. The Government is currently considering its response to this report.

The Committee's current reference on the contribution that Australian industry, science and technology can make to reducing the impact of the greenhouse effect has arisen out of concern expressed about the effect of human activities on the composition of the atmosphere. The views of industry groups, public utilities, state and local governments, relevant commonwealth departments and authorities, and other organisations and persons with expertise have been sought. The Committee plans to table its final report late in 1990.


Trade and Commerce

One of the first inquiries of the newly created Senate Standing Committee on Primary and Secondary Industry and Trade arose out of concern and alarm among Tasmanians at the decision to increase Australian National Line (ANL) freight rates in Tasmanian services. Many Tasmanians believed that the services between the mainland and their island were subsidising unprofitable trades of the ANL on other parts of the Australian coast. In its report, 'Freight Rates on Australian National Line Shipping Services to and from Tasmania' tabled in September 1971, the Committee concluded that the proposed increase in freight rates was fully justified although it did acknowledge that, in terms of freight costs, Tasmania was at a disadvantage relative to other States.

Shortly after this inquiry, the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade received a reference from the Senate on 'The Proposed Takeover of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd by Thomas Nationwide Transport Ltd' in 1972. During the course of this inquiry the Victorian Government brought down an Act which resulted in TNT deciding not to proceed with the proposed takeover. The Committee referred the matter of foreign ownership of such companies to the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control for further investigation and report.

In 1971 the Committee had received a general reference which allowed it the discretion to examine particular aspects of Australian trade and international trade agreements. Australia's trade relations with New Zealand was an obvious choice for a number of reasons, not least because it was timely to examine the effectiveness of the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but also because concern had been expressed by certain primary producers in Australia. The Committee, in its report on 'Australia-New Zealand Trade' tabled in June 1973, indicated that there was scope within NAFTA for achieving beneficial changes in trade between Australia and New Zealand, closer co-ordination of their economic policies and better use of resources.

The issue of prices was the focus of the Committee's next inquiry in the area of trade and commerce. In its report on 'The Reference Relating to Prices' tabled in November 1973, the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade indicated that since receiving its reference, legislative and administrative measures had already been instituted, such as the establishment of the Prices Justification Tribunal, resulting in the Committee deferring further inquiry into the matter.

Having examined Australia's trade relations with New Zealand, the Committee next turned to examining 'Prospects for Trade Between Indonesia and Australia'. Interest in this inquiry grew out of a desire to adopt positive and responsible long term policies with respect to neighbours in the Asian and Pacific regions. The Committee concluded that the prospects for the long term development of trade between Australia and Indonesia were good, particularly for the export of Australian metal manufactured goods to Indonesia. However, it found it difficult to identify commodities showing clear growth potential in trade from Indonesia.

'The Effects of Currency Alterations and Changes to Manufacturing Industry Protection on Employment and Inflation, including their Effects on the Prices of Manufactured Goods' was the subject of three reports in 1977 by the Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce. It was envisaged that the Committee would take a monitoring role in relation to these issues. The first report outlined the background to currency changes; the second report commented on the effects of 28 November 1976 devaluation; the third report attempted to analyse further effects but found it difficult to do so because of other changes to the economy. In both the second and third reports the Committee indicated that the protective effect of currency devaluation should not be overlooked.

As part of its continuing reference relating to trade, the Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce resolved to examine the effectiveness of Australia's Trade Commissioner Service. The report entitled 'Australian Trade Commissioner Service', tabled in November 1978, was largely an analysis of the function and operation of the Service and the ways in which it could be improved.

Trade with China was the subject of the next trade inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade in 1983-84. At this time, developments were taking place in China which suggested that opportunities existed for developing positive trade relations. The 'Australia-China Trade', report tabled in August 1984, outlined a strategy for Australian people intending to do business with China. The Government endorsed the thrust of the report.

New Zealand again became the focus of an inquiry in 1984-86. 'The Development of Closer Economic Relations Between Australia and New Zealand' was the subject of four Committee reports between October 1984 and August 1986. It had become apparent by 1979 that the former New Zealand Australia Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had become outmoded and that the Closer Economic Relations (CER) Agreement of 1983 required examination in the light of developments such as changes of government in both Australia and New Zealand; devaluation of the New Zealand currency in 1984 and the ending of the drought in Australia.

The first report outlined the strategy developed by the Committee in consideration of this inquiry; the second report analysed the philosophy behind the development of CER; the third report related to the rural sector; whilst the fourth report addressed issues in manufacturing and finance. The reports were the subject of close interest by the government of the day. Amongst the key conclusions of the reports were that factors external to Australia were affecting on the value of the Australian dollar and that financial measures other than trade were required to redress the situation.



Two special remaining areas of activity for the Committee arose out of resolutions of the Senate at the end of 1989. On 5 December 1989 the Senate resolved to adopt a number of procedures to provide for the reference of more bills to standing committees for detailed consideration. The Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has already published its 'Report on the Consideration of the Patents Bill 1990', tabled in September 1990, in which it recommended amendments to the Bill. The Committee is currently considering the Customs (Detention and Search) Bill 1990.

On 14 December 1989, the Senate resolved to refer annual reports tabled in the Parliament to the relevant standing committees of the Senate. The Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology undertook to report on 51 reports from executive departments, statutory authorities, non-statutory bodies and others in the report, 'Report on Annual Reports: Reports Tabled July-December 1989'. In the report, tabled on 1 June 1990, the Committee identified both good and bad reporting practices in terms of the current guidelines.

Since 1970 the Committee has received a number of other general references from the Senate. However, these references were not proceeded with, often because events had occurred which negated the value of the Committee undertaking its proposed inquiry. A number of other proposals for references have been made over the years but were not endorsed by the Senate.