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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 71

Mr BILLSON (Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade) (1:54 PM) —in reply—There are only a few minutes available to me to put in context some of the remarks that have been made. At the heart of it, though, we are trying to implement an agreement. We would have had a bit more time to discuss some of these points had another agreement stuck. But never mind; we will push on anyway. We are aiming to implement the Thailand-Australia free trade agreement within the time frame that was agreed. That is why this is an urgent matter.

The Labor Party has had successive speakers who have not offered any real issue or substantive opposition to TAFTA but who have chosen to talk about other issues—the broader trade performance—at a time when Australia's export performance has strong forward momentum. In the year to September, exports increased by 7.3 per cent. That strong momentum is becoming increasingly broad based across our economy. Exports of resources are benefiting from strong demand and high prices for minerals and energy, and there is a whole account of how that export momentum is quite positive. We are looking forward to bright prospects into the future.

In fact, our export outlook is very promising. The IMF, Treasury, the Reserve Bank and ABARE all point to continued strong export growth in 2005. As I mentioned, that is happening across a broad range of economic endeavours. I have mentioned resources. Also, rural exports are on the rebound from record winter crops and strong demand for Australian beef. Manufactured exports are also recovering in the face of challenges from weak prices and a strong Australian dollar.

Despite that, the Labor Party seeks to characterise our export performance by cherry picking some of the statistics. They mentioned manufacturing and ignored the huge growth in beef, dairy, cotton, wine, seafood and passenger motor vehicles—up by over 400 per cent, I think. Sure, one can pick bits of the trade performance out—and the Labor Party has done that. Look at some of the key sectors in the service area: tourism, education, financial services. There is a fivefold increase in the computer and information area. Things are quite encouraging in that area.

The thing that is most interesting, though, is that there must be a new trade doctrine from the Labor Party: if it is not `all in' then nobody should seek to gain advantages from freer trade. That seemed to be the message that was coming out. The world trade round focuses on—and certainly the government's No. 1 priority is—multilateral trade negotiations, but governments would be foolish not to take gains where they are available. We would be foolish not provide new opportunities for our exporters in markets where we can meet what those domestic economies want and secure economic and employment gains for our citizens. It would be simply naive and ignorant to do that, yet that seems to be the Labor Party's emerging trade doctrine.

They have talked about a balance of benefit, as though we should not do trade deals with countries that were highly restrictive in the past and are therefore likely to gain most. We have had a lower trade protective regime. The Labor Party is saying: `Another country is gaining more than we would; why should we enter into a deal?' Why? Because there are gains to be had there. It is evidence of why a more open economy presents greater economic benefits, and for those economies that are most closed those gains will obviously be quite substantial. There is no dispute on the data; the Labor Party's new doctrine is just a little confusing.

They go on to talk about the government not carrying forward the trade agenda. Minister Vaile and his colleagues have not only been carrying the ball forward; they have been building alliances and building teams to make ground where it can be achieved. As leader of the Cairns Group and as a member of the five interested parties, with India, Brazil, the United States and the EU, Australia has been instrumental in putting in place a negotiating framework to move forward—for agriculture in particular—as part of the Doha Round. This work is continuing, so it is quite inaccurate to suggest that the government is doing anything other than carrying the ball and carrying it very vigorously.

Instead, Labor wants to put more things on the agenda—the very thing that is slowing up the Doha Round. Labor wants to put more items on the agenda at a time when we are trying to focus the negotiations. There is talk about environmental and labour standards, and the member for Corio wants human rights added to the discussion, if you relate to his contribution.

The picture is positive. This is unquestionably a positive deal for our community. There is no weakness in the quarantine framework, and there are sensible review revisions. I encourage the parliament to get behind this legislation.

The SPEAKER —The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Hotham has moved as an amendment that all words after `That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.