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Thursday, 4 December 2003
Page: 24041


Mr FITZGIBBON (10:45 AM) —The Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Wine Grapes) Bill 2003 proposes an amendment to the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 and affects only the maximum rate of levy that may be applied to the research and development component of the wine grapes levy. The maximum rate currently is $3 per tonne of wine grapes and the present operative rate set under the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Regulation 1999 is also $3 per tonne. This amendment will allow future changes to the operative rate to occur within the proposed $10 maximum rate. Any attempt to increase the actual levy must meet the 12 levy principles introduced by the government in January 1997.

One of the principles relates to the need for demonstrated support from the industry—in this case, the wine industry—for any change to the levy rate. That will require proper consultation with the industry and evidence of support for any increase. Labor will ensure that all 12 tests are met before any levy is endorsed by the parliament, and we will be ensuring that we widely consult with the industry. The Australian wine industry first sought the imposition of a levy in 1979 to assist research and development through the Grape and Wine Research Development Corporation. Since then, the operative rate of the levy has been increased to $3 per tonne, with the last levy increase occurring in February 1999.

This industry has expanded enormously in recent years, with exports now valued at around $2.4 billion. Some of my colleagues from South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and perhaps Queensland may disagree, but the Hunter is Australia's premier wine region. In their own right, winemakers in the Hunter make an outstanding contribution to the industry, the local economy and the national economy and play an increasingly important role in Australia's tourism sector, which, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, you know I have a deep interest in.

As the minister said in his second reading speech, the Australian industry is globally recognised as a technological leader. Australian growers and winemakers have always been open to new ideas and keen to adopt new technology. That is clearly the key to our success in the international marketplace. Support for this amendment from the Winemakers Federation of Australia confirms the industry's commitment to research and development as a platform for the future. The Winemakers Federation is the declared winemakers organisation for the purposes of the legislation and represents some 95 per cent of wine production in Australia. As with other rural R&D arrangements, the government matches the expenditure of these levy funds on eligible R&D projects up to 0.5 per cent of the determined gross value of production of the industry concerned. The amendment will provide the industry with the capacity to seek an increase in the operative rate of future vintages from 1 July 2004. On that basis, the opposition supports the bill and the changes wholeheartedly.

I will just go for one moment to the amendment's impact on my own local region. The Hunter is emerging as an export engine room of the Australian economy. This has had enormous implications for the region's economy. My own home town of Cessnock was founded on coalmining and has, therefore, experienced a massive economic adjustment over the last decade or more, with coalmining moving further up the valley. Only one coalmine now remains in Cessnock. Also, the textile and clothing industry has effectively moved on, and there have been reductions in other areas such as aluminium production. So wine tourism has been my local home town's great saviour. More people now work in wine related tourism than in the coal industry, which is a significant change indeed. As small as this amendment might seem, it is important for the industry in its quest to further strengthen its position in a competitive global market.

On that basis, I want to make one quick reference to a little bit of a disagreement my local winemakers are having with the Geographical Indications Committee—a body under the auspices of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation. They are seeking to have some subregions identified for marketing purposes in international markets. This is always a difficult debate within the industry, and one we have dealt with since the French in particular decided, under the WTO arrangements, to push their right to claim the names of certain wine regions. We accept that, but we must go forward collectively to ensure we have the balance right. In my own area, for example, winemakers are still very keen to export under the Rothbury subregion label, something they have been doing for some time. It is a label that people in our overseas market identify with. It is very important that the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation listen to my local people and what they are saying about these issues. This is no half-smart trick to secure some regional advantage over other winemakers in the nation; this is an issue which they see as being very important in their ongoing efforts to grow their market share in the international marketplace.

So I appeal to the Geographical Indications Committee to have another look at what the Hunter Valley's winemakers are putting forward as a sensible means of protecting the integrity of the branding of our Australian wines but, at the same time, ensuring that the Hunter winemakers continue to make inroads in those international markets. Once again, Labor supports the amendments.