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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2687


Mr PRICE(7.36 p.m.) —I support the amendment proposed by the shadow minister, the honourable member for Perth (Mr Stephen Smith), to the motion for the second reading of the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill (No. 1). I will not read the amendment into Hansard . However, it is very disappointing that a government which claimed that it was setting new standards of, I should say, good behaviour—in view of the events over the last two days—and probity in government and which made an election commitment to the tourist industry has introduced a bill that fails to reflect that commitment.

I also express my support for the remarks of those members that have expressed real concern about the longevity of this program. As you are aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, I think it was in 1974 that this type of program was established; that is, assisting people in their efforts to export goods and services from Australia to other countries, thereby increasing our own national wealth and increasing the number of jobs that Australians can aspire to or have. It is in fact a very worthwhile activity.

It is interesting to note from searching the Hansard that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Downer) asked a question of the then Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs regarding aid. The reason I am quoting it is that I want to demonstrate that when you are in the export business it really does take a long time to build up the market. You cannot expect Australian companies—small companies, medium companies—to place an ad in the classifieds, be it in the Telegraph or the Sydney Morning Herald, saying, `We want to export our product,' and anticipate that product orders are going to flow. Exporting is a long-term strategy by any company.

The interesting thing arising out of the McKinsey report is that there are a lot of small Australian companies who have got into exporting for the first time, have utilised things like the EMDG grants and have seen exports as a proportion of their business increase quite dramatically.

Whilst I guess it is reasonable or perhaps understandable that some members of parliament want to score points on either side of the House, I think it is fair to say that the previous government really was the first government that tried in a very meaningful way to break out of our core export activity, the things we have come to enjoy and very much appreciate as a nation: the exporting of our primary produce and our mineral exports. These are still very important today, but if we are to succeed as a nation, if we are to maintain and indeed improve our living standards, it is in the elaborately transformed manufactures and in the service industries that we need to really lift our game.

It is interesting that when Mr Downer asked this question about DIFF funding in September—the answer was given in November 1995—there were expectations that for this financial year there would be some projects worth $267.9 million and it was anticipated that $60 million would be funded during the year.

Often it is the case that exporters can first establish their reputation by bidding for projects overseas under the DIFF scheme. These are very worthwhile projects and they can vary in type from the one we are very familiar with—the patrol boats to the Philippines, which was going to be a `first in' order by the Philippines navy but with the expectation that, having gained that order, there would be many more flow-on orders—to projects such as rural power, education, water supply and water treatment. They are all listed in the Hansard in response to that question.

It would be a real double blow to exporters in Australia, the small and medium businesses of Australia, if, having witnessed the abolition of a scheme that at least put them on par with overseas competitors—that is, the DIFF scheme—the government of the day not only breaks a promise made solemnly in the election to incorporate the tourism industry but in fact hacks into or even abandons the scheme itself in August.

So concerned was Wonderland, located in my electorate, about the possibility of this scheme being cancelled that they wrote to me and expressed their utter and extreme disappointment that this should even be contemplated. I must confess that I have very much a vested interest in this because Wonderland provides employment opportunities for lots of young people in my electorate. Whether they are at high school or studying at university, they are able to supplement their incomes by working at Wonderland. Of course, they have a vested interest in seeing Wonderland develop and grow, to get even bigger. Whilst it is very popular, the key to its longevity and expansion is the ability to attract tourists to Wonderland from overseas. They saw the threat very directly and wrote to me. I have to confess that I am standing up here trying to represent their views, particularly those of the young people who have such a large stake in it.

Indeed, one of the amusing things about the western suburbs of Sydney, particularly the area I come from, is that we do not tend to think of ourselves as a tourist area, but in fact we are. We have Featherdale, which is now located just outside my electorate. Up to the redistribution I used to represent it. It is one of the Japanese tourist hot spots because they can get to see, and until recently handle, koalas there.

The Rooty Hill RSL, which is known to people even outside my electorate, had the great courage to build a motel, which is part of the Country Comfort chain now. They built a four-storey motel. They fitted out two floors, and I am pleased to say that the other two floors are now open. They enjoy an occupancy rate of between 70 per cent and 80 per cent. They have packages associated with Wonderland. We used to have packages associated with Eastern Creek until that was lost to Victoria.

There are quite a number of other features—Parramatta, being a very historical part of Sydney; and the lower mountains and the Nepean River, et cetera, in the neighbouring electorate of Lindsay. We see tourism in my part of the world as one of those areas where, if we can tap into that market, we are going to be able to increase the number of jobs and job opportunities available to us.

As an urgency motion has been carried on the Export Market Development Grants Bill I cannot say all the things that I wanted to say. But I want to repeat that there is no joy for the opposition in seeing the government fail to live up to its commitments. Unfortunately, members of parliament are not held in high esteem by the Australian public. We have all got a stake in lifting the standards, and I think that is why everyone initially welcomed the statements made by the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and the Speaker of the House (Mr Halverson).

There can be no more devastating blow to credibility than when you fail to live up to promises. I make no apologies about expressing concern about that possibility. Paragraph 3 of the amendment states:

. . . condemns the Government for its failure to meet its election commitment to extend the Scheme by making full Export Market Development grants at 50% available to the tourism industry.

This is an absolutely diabolical blow to the tourist industry but it is also a diabolical blow to the credibility, standards and status, if you like, of all members of parliament. The government members are the ones who are breaking the commitments.

We worked very hard when we were in government to actually develop an export culture, to get Australian management and Australian business thinking about the opportunities that were available in our region and the wider world. There is a long way to go. I think we made an impact, but there is a long way to go. For the life of me I do not understand why, when other countries have much more generous schemes to encourage their companies, we would want to contemplate—after cutting out DIFF—cutting out this scheme. It is just too horrible to contemplate.

Certainly, the Australian public is going to mark the government down for its failure to live up to its election commitments. It will mark it down again if the government abolishes this scheme or, indeed, attempts to hack or truncate the scheme. In marking the government down severely, it will indeed also mark us down, as members of this House, for failing to have made the government accountable for its words, accountable for its election commitments.

I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (Mr Abbott), who is at the table, to use his undoubted influence within the government to point out the high costs that the government will pay, given its handsome majority and the way in which it won the trust and confidence of the people of Australia, and to ask it to think again before breaking these election commitments.