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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8608

Apple Imports

Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (15:20): My question is to the Minister for Trade. Will the minister advise the House of the consequences for Australian farmers of rejecting the World Trade Organisation's ruling that New Zealand apples be allowed into Australia? What are the risks to Australian exporters and the economy in overturning this decision?

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! I simply say to all those that are interjecting—I assume on some occasions so that I take disciplinary action and they can go out and become heroes in their own electorates—that there are other avenues you can use to prosecute cases if there are differences. This is question time. A question has been asked. The Minister for Trade now has the call to respond to the question.

Dr EMERSON (RankinMinister for Trade) (15:22): I thank the member for his question. The World Trade Organisation ruled in November last year that New Zealand apples be allowed into Australia subject to scientifically based conditions. The government accepted that ruling in compliance with Australia's obligations as a member of the World Trade Organisation. Since that time, Biosecurity Australia, at arm's length from government, has been working on those scientifically based conditions. This has involved extensive consultation with stakeholders, from November last year until yesterday. Yesterday the director of quarantine announced the scientific conditions established as a result of those independent scientifically based processes. That does pave the way for the importation of apples from New Zealand. This morning, however, despite my urgings yesterday in this parliament, the shadow agriculture minister went ahead and announced that he will be proceeding with a bill that will overturn yesterday's decision.

Opposition members: Hear, hear!

Dr EMERSON: I hear, 'Hear, hear!' coming from members of the National Party. The opposition's bill is in direct contravention of the World Trade Organisation's ruling and would, therefore, put at risk Australia's agricultural exports by putting us in breach of the world trading rules. This would be the first time in Australia's history that Australia refused to accept a decision of the World Trade Organisation. Passage of the opposition's bill would open up Australian farmers to retaliation by New Zealand, which could legally apply tariffs of up to 100 per cent on Australian agricultural exports to New Zealand.

Of course, in seeking to score some base political points against the government, the coalition is signalling its willingness to sacrifice the livelihoods of Australian farmers. The National Party should be ashamed of itself. Let us hear from an authority on this. Former Prime Minister John Howard once observed, when he was being urged to reject a World Trade Organisation ruling, that 'Australia would be murdered in a trade war'. Those are not my words; those are the words of former Prime Minister John Howard: 'Australia would be murdered in a trade war.' He pointed out that we export four times as much agricultural produce as we import and that we could suffer four times as much damage in retaliation.

The present opposition leader has not prevailed over the shadow minister from the National Party because he has refused to show any leadership whatsoever. He is doing what he always does, and that is seeking opportunistically to harvest a few votes and to sacrifice the living standards and the livelihoods of innocent Australian farmers, who could be caught in the crossfire between Australia and New Zealand in a trade war. The opposition leader is willing to trash the so-called free trade credentials of the previous Prime Minister and of the Liberal Party. Why? Because he thinks there might be a few votes in it.

What about the farmers who would get caught in the crossfire? Why is the National Party not concerned about them? Why is the opposition leader so gutless that we have the National Party tail wagging the coalition dog? Show a bit of leadership. That is what you need to do. Show a little bit of leadership for once in your life. Resist the opportunism for which you are famous. You are cutting the throats of Australian farmers by not wanting to upset the shadow agriculture minister, because we know that the National Party determines the policies of the Liberal Party and that One Nation advises you on your xenophobic, disgusting and appalling policies— (Time expired)

Ms Gillard: I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.