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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12114


Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (21:22): What a difference a change in government can make, as happened in Australia two years ago. What a difference one man has made in this particular case, and that man of course is our trade minister, Andrew Robb: not one, not two, not three but now four free trade, or, if you like, freer trade agreements—it is an astonishing performance.

Australia, of course, was built on trade. We are major exporters, and access to markets is absolutely everything to us. Any restrictions inevitably lead us to less competition and lower prices for our farmers, manufacturers and miners. Modern transport and communications mean that we are moving closer to a single marketplace in the world and, increasingly, it emphasises the necessity for nations to invest in and expand the sectors of their economies in which they enjoy a natural advantage.

Last week in this place I raised the persona of Bert Kelly. Bert Kelly is not perhaps well known to a lot of Australians now, but he was in fact the member for Wakefield in South Australia. He entered parliament in 1959 and he remained the member for Wakefield for 19 years. He is remembered as the man who blew the whistle on protectionism in the sixties and seventies in Australia—an individual who Gough Whitlam later described by saying, 'No private member has ever had as much influence on changing a major policy of the major parties.' And of course we were talking about protectionism. Bert recognised that protecting unproductive industries always came at the expense of the productive industries. In his first speech to parliament he said:

… the free flow of world trade is the best hope we have of raising the standard of living all over the world.

And he said that in 1959. Bert Kelly knew that protectionism was not only futile but also actually tore down our most efficient industries and increased poverty throughout the world. He would be well pleased with Andrew Robb and the coalition government's commitment to freer trade and, in particular, today, he would be well pleased with the ChAFTA—the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

The World Bank has told us that China became the biggest economy in the world in 2014. Some other banking bodies actually dispute this, but, if it is not the biggest now, it certainly will not be long. It is already Australia's biggest trading partner: $98 billion worth of goods in 2014—around one-third of our total exports, and growing. There could not be a more important trading partner to Australia than China.

Much of the focus on the advantages of this deal, the ChAFTA, has been on what it delivers for agriculture. It is easy to see why. From the very first day, tariffs on dairy, horticulture, wine, beef, coal and a range of manufactured goods will be slashed, giving unprecedented access to Chinese markets.

Just as we have watched wistfully from the sidelines as New Zealand has reinvigorated its economy—and they certainly have the jump on us in that area—now we have a chance to join them and an opportunity, perhaps, to reel in the New Zealand economy. So we can go and join them.

By the end of day one, 85 per cent of our exports will enter China duty-free. When fully implemented, this figure will rise to 95 per cent. However, there is a hook in the tail here, and it is that if the agreements are not signed off by the time we rise for the summer break then we will miss the first tranche of all these benefits and they will probably be delayed for at least 12 months—if, indeed, they are ever implemented at all. It is highly likely that the Chinese would quit—that they would walk away from the negotiating table. And who could blame them? In fact, the Chinese Ambassador, Mr Ma Zhaoxu, said: 'ChAFTA took both countries 10 years of negotiation. It represents a hard win, and this is an opportunity that should not be allowed to slip away.'

Today we received the very welcome news that the Labor Party is putting the national interest in front of politics, and I congratulate them and thank them for the support.

I condemn the CFMEU campaign in particular. It was disgraceful, particularly with the elderly—truly disgraceful, but not really surprising. And we are learning more about the CFMEU every day as the royal commission unfolds. I am just going to take a short break because I think we might move a change of standing orders.