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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2679


Mr LEE(6.57 p.m.) —I listened with great interest to the remarks by the honourable member for Dawson (Mrs De-Anne Kelly).

Government members interjecting


Mr LEE —The honourable members interjecting might think it was a wonderful speech, but I have got good news for the member for Dawson. She will not have to wait as long as she perhaps thinks before she can give the Australian tourism industry a chance to be paid at the same rate as other industries. If the honourable member for Dawson has the courage to enter the chamber when the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Martin) moves his amendment, she will have a chance to vote with the Labor Party to ensure that the House of Representatives carries a motion tonight ensuring that the tourism industry does get paid at the same rate as other industries.

Mr Katter interjecting—


Mr LEE —I would be interested to know whether the honourable member for Kennedy believes, like the member for Dawson, that the tourism industry should be paid at the 50c in the dollar rate, because they are going to get a chance tonight to vote on their election promise. We will not only give the National Party a chance to let the tourism industry be paid at the 50c rate but also let the honourable member for Bass (Mr Warwick Smith), who claims to be a friend of the tourism industry, ensure that all the people who work hard in the tourism industry in Tasmania get a chance to be paid at the 50c rate.

Some unkind people in the opposition might say that the Labor Party, having granted only the single service tourism operators the 25c rate, does not have the right to speak out on this issue. I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the two of us on this side of the chamber and the honourable member for Aston (Mr Nugent), who is in the chamber at the moment, have a special reason for being able to speak in favour of paying single service tourism operators the 50c in the dollar rate.

The reason we have got that special right is that, for our sins, we served on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. I had the privilege of chairing the committee which carried out a number of public hearings on this issue. While I did not have the honour of being the chair of the committee when the report was actually delivered—that was handed over to my colleague the member for Brisbane (Mr Bevis)—it is no secret that I was one of those people who argued most strongly within the committee, within cabinet and on many other occasions to pay the tourism industry the full 50c in the dollar rate.

What I can say is that, in the Working Nation package, single service tourism operators got their foot in the door—they went from zero to the 25c rate. While I know our friends from Austrade and the department are always very keen to see export-generating industries like tourism do better for their country, I have to say there was the odd sceptic both in Austrade and in the department—and even in the tourism industry—who had doubts about whether that was the best way to provide new assistance to the tourism industry. It was always my view that providing that 50c rate would be achieved eventually, and we would like to now make sure that this government is held to its promise. Having gone to the people saying that they would ensure that single service tourism operators did get paid that 50c in the dollar rate, we are quite determined to make sure that they get a chance to vote to implement their election promise. That is the amendment that we will be moving later tonight.

I was intrigued that the member for Dawson said that she supported savings measures which, as she put it, need to be found to meet the $8 billion deficit which she claims is there. I will leave for another occasion the argument about whether there is an $8 billion deficit and simply address—


Mr Anthony —There is.


Mr LEE —The member for Richmond interjects and says there is. He might not understand that fourteen-fifteenths of the $8 billion is a result of changes in growth and the inflation estimates. One-fifteenth is due to additional spending that was announced by the Labor government between the 1995 budget and the last election. Fourteen-fifteenths are due to some of the bodgie figures—the very pessimistic figures—that have been factored into the calculations of the Treasurer (Mr Costello). But let us leave that argument for another time.

The member for Dawson said she supports savings measures to fill that gap. I would like to ask the National Party and the member for Dawson—and any other National who is going to jump up tonight—whether they include in any of the savings measures that you might support the complete abolition of the export market development scheme, because we all know that that is one of the measures that is at risk in this budget. We know that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the member for Mayo (Mr Downer), has been arguing with your leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Trade (Mr Tim Fischer), about where the savings will be found in his portfolio.

We know that Alexander Downer, the member for Mayo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, is trying to shaft your leader. I see that the Deputy Prime Minister is actually in the chamber at the moment, and I would like to say to the Deputy Prime Minister that, in any battle between Tim Fischer and Alexander Downer, we are with you, Tim. We think that Tim Fischer should win this battle in his attempt to make sure that we protect the export market development scheme.

I hope the member for Aston will declare his support for the Leader of the National Party, despite the fact that he is a member of the same party as Alexander Downer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The point I make is that there is a fight going on at the moment between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade—


Mr Marek —What's this got to do with trade?


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Quick) —Order! I would ask the members at the back to keep their remarks to themselves, thank you.


Mr LEE —The member for Capricornia interjects and says, `What's this got to do with the bill?' The proposal we are fighting about is the abolition of the export market development scheme.

Mr Marek interjecting—


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I warn the member for Capricornia!


Mr LEE —If Tim Fischer loses this battle, not only will there be no additional grants or extra money for single service tourism operators but the grants will go from 25 per cent to zero, and every other industry will also lose their export market development grants. The reason we are so concerned about it is that we know the impact it will have on all sorts of companies and industries that have had some success in developing new export markets because of this scheme.

This has been a very successful scheme. There have been analysis and reviews and studies into how effective EMDGs have been, and one of the fair assessments has been that, for every dollar you spend in providing export market development grants, you get $9 back in extra export earnings for Australia. Leaving aside the fact that the government rakes about 45 per cent of the grant back in extra tax revenue and leaving aside the fact that every dollar spent in promoting the Australian tourism industry brings back not $9 but about $30 or more, you can see why it is so important that we make sure that this government does not break its election promises and abolish EMDGs.

There are all sorts of industries that are concerned about all this speculation. With the Deputy Prime Minister in the House at the moment, I was interested to read that he has had some correspondence from people involved in the Australian publishing industry. We know that before the election the coalition in its trade policy, `Meeting the challenge', committed the opposition to making sure that they would retain the export market development scheme. Yet, when Peter Campbell from the Australian Publishers Association raised this matter with the Deputy Prime Minister, he received a letter back which said:

The process, as you say, has still not been resolved and will be an ongoing process. Consequently, I am not able to comment on the future of the scheme.

So we have the spokesman for the government—the Deputy Prime Minister—saying he cannot tell us whether there will be an EMDG scheme after 20 August.

I would like to challenge the member for Aston, the next speaker in this debate, to give us his personal assurance that he will be one of those who will be fighting for the retention of the scheme, having signed a unanimous report recommending that EMDG should be extended at the full 50c in the dollar rate to the tourism industry. I am sure he understands how many of our service industries and how many of our manufacturing industries rely on the EMDG scheme to make sure that they can compete in overseas markets.

I, for one, think that Australia should never be ashamed of grants schemes such as this. Sure, all of us—especially the National Party—like to support free trade. Sometimes I think we do not look closely enough at some of the export facilitation schemes that other countries have developed. I think EMDG is a very good example of a scheme that has provided a great deal of assistance to industries in days gone by.

I do not think you need me, Mr Deputy Speaker, to quote again from the numerous clips that abound from industries that have expressed concern about the abolition of export market development grants. Anyone who has had any dealings with Glen Taylor and the Inbound Tourism Operators Association of Australia knows that ITOAA is one of the strongest supporters of the EMDG scheme. They have issued a number of press releases expressing their concern about the cloud over the very existence of the export market development grants scheme. We have the people who represent the accommodation industry expressing concern; we have the recent meeting in Sydney of all sorts of industries representing people involved in information technology industries; we have had people such as Don Larkin, the spokesman for the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry saying that he is concerned about whether or not Tim Fischer will lose the battle with the Minister for Foreign Affairs; we have had people such as the former chairman of Austrade, Bill Ferris, strongly criticising any move to abolish export market development grants.

Lest some people think this is a battle between only the National Party and the Liberals, I would like to tell the member for Aston that Jeff Kennett, the Premier of his own state, has come out in favour of the Leader of the National Party and has supported the retention of export market development grants. I know that the member for Aston is a strong supporter of Jeff Kennett and a strong supporter of some of the measures that have taken place in his state that those of us on the Labor Party side have reservations about, but if anything will persuade the member for Aston to break ranks with the Liberal Party and support the National Party it will be the fact that Jeff Kennett has come out in support of the retention of the export market development grants.

I make the point once again that many studies have been carried out into the operation of the scheme. We know that every one of those studies has concluded that providing incentives to people involved in increasing their exports has been very successful, and I think that the amendments that will be moved by my colleague the member for Cunningham will give every member of this House a chance to make sure that the government keeps it promise, that it does provide equal treatment for people involved in single service tourism operations.

Finally, I have to say that I do have one or two concerns about some of the measures that are in the detail of the bill. I think that the new requirements that provide for entry testing for future applicants will need to be watched very carefully. I was interested to note that the member for Dawson claimed that registration would be simple. I am not sure if everyone agrees that it will be as easy or as simple as the member for Dawson has claimed. You certainly want to make sure that we are getting genuine companies which are prepared to put in additional effort to increase Australia's export earnings, but at the same time there will be a concern amongst some people involved in industry that this will be additional paperwork, which might make it a little bit harder for the Minister for Small Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Prosser) to claim that he will achieve that target of a 50 per cent reduction in paperwork. If the amendments that are before the House tonight result in a heavier burden for people who are applying for export market development grants, that will put extra pressure on the government to cut back other paperwork burdens to ensure that they meet that target of a 50 per cent reduction.

For my part, if the changes that are before the House at the moment mean that we are placing an unfair burden of bureaucracy on people involved in applying for export market development grants, I think that is another matter that should come before the House on a future occasion. If the promise from the member for Dawson that registration will be simple proves not to be true for the people involved in the tourism industry in her own electorate, she might like to join us on a bipartisan basis in future attempts to simplify some of the additional bureaucracy and paperwork burden which is being placed on small business in her electorate by her own government's legislation.