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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4267

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Minister, what are the export figures for the 10 months of this financial year, and how is the government ensuring Australia's export performance is maximised during the current financial and economic instability in Asia?

Mr TIM FISCHER (Trade; Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Dawson for her question. I know she is a very vigorous support of exporters in the Dawson seat, including the $500 million of sugar exports which flow through the port of Mackay, and the coal exports through Abbot Point, Hay Point and elsewhere.

I am able to inform the House that, for the period from 1 July 1997 to 1 May 1998, the first 10 months of this financial year, exports of goods and services were $94.31 billion—an increase of 10.5 per cent over the 10-month period of the previous financial year. Imports over the same period were $97.44 billion—up 13.5 per cent. Clearly, in that circumstance, given all the challenges the Australian economy is facing and given what is happening in Asia, that is a very satisfactory set of figures which I am now able to present to the House for the first time. In fact, rural exports are up 6.7 per cent, non-rural exports are up 13 per cent and services exports are up 3.1 per cent over the first 10 months of this financial year.

This is a gold medal performance by our exporters. It is a fantastic effort by small business, by medium business and, indeed, by large business in exporting to the world. I know that if you accept the logic of one, the shadow minister for trade—

Mr Costello —Who?

Mr TIM FISCHER —The member for Perth is not the shadow minister for trade any more—it is someone up there in the Senate. I think the shadow minister for trade is now the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Peter Cook.

We have brought about 273,000 extra jobs as a consequence of this climb in exports. This has come about with the help of the policies pursued by the government and by me as Minister for Trade. Firstly, we have diversified our markets beyond Asia. Exports to Egypt are up over 50 per cent. Exports to South Africa are up over 30 per cent. Exports to Iran are up over 70 per cent. Exports to Europe and Northern America are holding up very well indeed. There has been a lot of market diversification, reflecting the facilitation provided by Austrade and other government agencies. Secondly, we have put real effort into bilateral arrangements, as I have mentioned previously—not just with Mexico, but in a range of other directions. There have been regional and multilateral negotiations as well.

There is a very helpful person sitting behind me on the left. He is hard-edged, but he is helpful and he has a very nice character. The Treasurer of Australia has been very helpful in presenting a budget surplus. The thing that has helped exporters even more in the circumstances we face with the economic firestorms in Asia is a federal budget surplus of $2.7 billion. Had we still had the Beazley budget deficit of $10½ billion we would not have these trade figures for the first 10 months of this financial year.

I have been fortified in saying that by the press gallery. I know that they now accept that, in their professional role, they have a right to an opinion, they have a right to an intelligent opinion and they have a right to state that opinion. So, when I asked them all at a doorstop on Friday afternoon whether they felt our trade figures would be this good if we had had a $10 billion deficit this financial year, their silence was absolutely admirable. In fact, they concurred with that notion.

We have helped our exporters where it counts. I have to say there is no such thing as a level playing field—we recognise that. We are providing facilitation of our exports. Our figures for the first 10 months of this financial year are outstanding in all the circumstances.

Mr O'Keefe —Self-induced circumstances.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Burke will remain silent.