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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2665

Mr MARTIN(5.30 p.m.) —As always, I thank my colleague and very good friend the member for Watson (Mr Leo McLeay) for entertaining the parliament until I arrived—

Mr Melham —The old Speakers club.

Mr Prosser —And your colleagues opposite.

Mr MARTIN —And also my friends on the other side for supporting him. There is something about the old Speakers club; it is very important.

I was saying last night that the export market development grants bill is important and that the opposition was not going to decline to give it a second reading, although we were moving an amendment. I had foreshadowed that I would be moving a number of amendments in the consideration in detail stage. Those amendments have been circulated through the House.

I was also talking last night about the reaction from the industry to the suggestion that the EMDG scheme was going to be cut, saying that this was clearly against not only the spirit but also the actual words of the then opposition, now government, in their policy towards tourism. I referred to what Mr Bruce Baird from the Tourism Council of Australia had had to say about this.

I was also about to refer to some other comments. The Hotel Motel and Accommodation Association, for example, under a press release on 19 April headed `Dumping of Export Scheme to Spell Disaster for Tourism', also hopped into this suggestion that the government's promise was not going to be delivered. That is not language that people in the industry would use lightly if they did not think that this was a concern. They went on to say:

. . . reported threats by the Federal Government to scrap the Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) scheme represented a `kick in the pants' for Australia's biggest and fastest growing industry . . . Any move to scrap EMDG would also be a bad omen for this Government's attitude to an industry that generates so much income and employment for Australia.

The Inbound Tourism Organisation of Australia had similar concerns. I referred to those in a speech I delivered in this place on 7 May. They said:

Tourism was one of the nation's biggest export earners and it would be devastating to the industry and the Australian economy if the export assistance scheme was abolished.

Tourism Now , a publication of Tourism Council Australia, had Mr Baird being quoted as saying that the coalition's agreement to wipe out the discrimination relating to the export market development grants scheme as soon as possible was restated by the minister in a meeting that he had with Mr Baird. Quite clearly, there was an agreement reached with the tourism industry before the last election campaign by the then opposition. That agreement was that the full 50 per cent rate would be extended to the tourism industry—that that would benefit small operators particularly.

I am delighted that the honourable Minister for Small Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Prosser) is in the chamber tonight because, as I have oft remarked to him in this place, it is small business that makes up a very large proportion of the Australian tourism industry. He is one that is championing the role of small business in Australia at the present time, as is the Prime Minister (Mr Howard), and saying that, at the end of the day, this economic resurgence that is under way will come from small business.

It may happen that way and it may be that small business will contribute as it should and that employment opportunities will be generated. But, as I say, a promise is a promise. A commitment is a commitment. Those on the other side have made much of standards inside and outside this place, and one cannot help but remind them of that at every opportunity.

My colleague the member for Perth (Mr Stephen Smith), in introducing the opposition's position on this matter yesterday, said that a report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology of June 1993, Undersold overseas, recommends the application of the export market development grants scheme be extended to include all the tourism industry. It goes back as far as that when we had a parliamentary committee with a unanimous recommendation that that should happen.

Subsequently, the very famous House of Representatives Standing Committee on Banking, Finance and Public Administration brought down a report called Taxing relaxing. They were looking into the tourism industry specifically. They talked about the EMDG scheme. They said—I will send you a copy of the speech, Geoff—that, once the export market development grants scheme is fully implemented, consideration should be given to the provision of equal access to the scheme for single-service providers at the rate of 50c in the dollar—again, increasing it in line with the coalition's commitment to this policy in the last election campaign.

I find it distressing that, when you go and talk to people in the tourism industry, you find that the extent to which the EMDG scheme and its elimination might be detrimental to tourism is quite staggering. Look at, for example, a letter that has been sent to the Prime Minister from Flag, the group of hotels, inns, resorts and apartments. The language is extraordinary. It says here that, should the EMDG scheme be abolished, Flag would have to seriously reconsider its overseas activities and such an action would have serious ramifications on the employment prospects of a number of Australians and have a negative impact on the viability of Flag member properties. I think that puts an added dimension on this matter.

I notice the honourable member for Dawson (Mrs De-Anne Kelly) is in the chamber this evening. I am not sure if she is down to speak. She comes from a very important part of Australia where the tourism industry is of great benefit to not only the local people but also those in the wider region. I know that she made a submission to the inquiry following which the report Taxing relaxing was produced, because I have read it. She said some interesting things about the diesel fuel rebate scheme. She said some other things about tourist operators in her area. She was not a member of parliament then, but that is fine; she is here now. She is a voice for tourism from the Mackay region. I will look forward to her contribution here.

The purpose of my amendments, which I have already circulated in the House, is just to keep the government honest, to get them to adopt the policy which they clearly enunciated in the election campaign. These amendments, therefore, I would think would be overwhelmingly supported.

If a division is called, the member for Dawson will have to go over to the other side. We will go with her; we will all go over to that side. All the members of the government will still be over there because we will all be supporting these amendments. By way of these amendments we are saying, `Let's give the same break to the tourism industry that is given to others eligible under the EMDG scheme.'

I think it is fair to say that, in the past, there might have been some criticism levelled at the former government for keeping it at 25 per cent. Now we are saying that it should be 50 per cent. I think that was more a response of economic rationalists looking at what it might cost than anything else.

I can clearly say to all those in the House that this policy should be supported. We certainly do. We are serious about it and will be moving amendments, which we hope will be supported by everybody in the House this evening. I hope that in the consideration in detail stage all members of this chamber will rise in their places unanimously to support these amendments. After all, at the end of the day we are simply trying to ensure that the honesty in politics that we hear so much about from those in government will be put in place.