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Wednesday, 29 August 2001
Page: 30528

Mr St CLAIR (3:08 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. While Australia's agricultural producers are amongst the most efficient in the world, they are marketing their products in extremely competitive world markets. What is the government doing to help exporters achieve new, expanded international markets?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the honourable member for New England for his question. It comes on a particularly significant day for agricultural Australia—we had the great news about our wonderful trade performance and the contribution that rural and regional Australia has made to the best trade statistics since 1959. That is a real credit to the tremendous effort that people in the electorate of the honourable member, and indeed others, are making towards developing a very strong export focus for our nation. Earlier today the Deputy Prime Minister delivered his landmark Stronger Regions, A Stronger Australia statement, which is a real blueprint for the future progress and development of people who live in regional Australia. I take the opportunity to congratulate him on a very forthright and visionary statement.

There are a number of very significant issues to help particularly those areas of rural and regional Australia that are still doing it tough and that have not yet had an opportunity to share in the broader prosperity and development of our nation. Those things will certainly be welcomed in electorates like my own and, I am sure, the electorate of New England. One of the particularly welcome announcements was the decision to reduce AQIS inspection charges by 40 per cent across the board. This is a magnificent initiative, something that has been demanded by the exporting sector ever since the days when Labor introduced full cost recovery in 1991. This is consistent with this government's efforts in reducing costs and taxes on exporters. We have, after all, taken through the new tax system around $3.5 billion off the costs of our exporters.

If we are looking around for any single factor that has contributed to the great trade statistics reported today, it certainly has to be the reform of the tax system. Not only are we taking positive steps in this regard to introduce new measures; we are reversing many of the negative elements of the policy mix that were put in place by Labor—whether it is reforming the waterfront or reforming the costs of AQIS. AQIS costs went up year by year under Labor. As the Deputy Prime Minister remarked, under the direction of the ex-ACTU president who was in charge of quarantine policy at the time the costs simply blew out because no-one was prepared to take on the unions. No-one was prepared to do anything about costs that were just redundant in the whole system.

There were actually scores of meat inspectors in towns where there were not even any meatworks. Labor did not have the guts to shift them. The union said, `No, they will stay there and enjoy a life of luxury and ease.' They were not prepared to move people to places where the work was, and so there were something like 800 meat inspectors around the country. Now that number has been halved because we have them where they are doing the work. On top of all that, there is going to be a significant reduction in the costs that will be applied. It will apply not just to the meat industry—although that is the biggest cost of the inspection charges—but also to grain, dairy, live animals, fish, horticulture and organic foods. They will all enjoy lower cost impositions on their exports. That will help our people, who have to work in anything but a level playing field, to achieve a satisfactory export performance for our nation.

Mr Speaker, it may not surprise you to know that this announcement has been very warmly welcomed by Australian exporters. Livecorp: `Industry applauds reduction in AQIS charges', and of course that will be across the board. What about the Cattle Council? `Beef producers over the moon on $20 million saving.' What a difference it makes to have a government that cares about exporters, that wants to do something about building a strong rural and regional Australia, that actually helps our exporters rather than hindering them. That can only happen when you have a coalition government.