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Thursday, 31 August 2000
Page: 17149

Senator HOGG (6:45 PM) —This is a very comprehensive report; I was involved in the committee that brought it down. One should realise the reason for the committee first deciding to look into the issue of Japan. It arose out of a previous inquiry that the committee had conducted on APEC and the importance of APEC to Australia and to the region—and, of course, Japan is very vital for our export industries. When we set about the compilation of this report, we looked at every aspect of the Japanese economy that we could look at and at its social and political life. This was a very serious attempt by the committee to assess the importance of Japan to our future—to see where it would place us and the steps that we should take as a nation to foster closer relationships with Japan.

It is interesting that, arising out of the release of this report, there have been comments that we do not understand the Japanese fully even today and that they do not understand our attitudes on some issues as well. Really, this boils down simply to the fact that I do not believe we take enough time and put enough effort and skill into fostering and developing our relationship with the Japanese people in a broader sense—whether it be in a political sense, in an educational sense or with exchanges of students or whatever it might be.

This is the first part of the report, which simply looks at the Japanese economy. As my colleague Senator Sherry noted, the Japanese economy has been in great difficulties. As we went through the inquiry, there were some signs that the Japanese economy was emerging from its difficulties—but, of course, it has slipped back slightly since then. Nonetheless, it is a very important economy for Australia. The report shows that Japan gets somewhere in the vicinity of a 20 per cent share of Australia's total exports and that 14 per cent of Australia's total imports come to us from Japan. So it is a very significant market for Australian exporters.

One of the pluses to come out of Japan's economic woes has been the fact that Japan has had to modernise many of its practices in terms of its economy. It has had to remove some of the restrictions that were placed there that kept many overseas businesses from gaining access to the marketplace. So what we are seeing now are emerging opportunities for many Australian companies. Those opportunities will only be as good as our contacts with the Japanese at the governmental level, and I think that this report should encourage this government to do all it can to improve our relationship with the Japanese.

There is no doubt in my mind, from having been on this committee and involved in considering the depth of information that came to us, that there are emerging opportunities, particularly in the finance sector, the banking sector, the insurance sector and the IT sector. Opportunities are there which, if they are capitalised on, will help us greatly in our own economy.

Part of the problem we are confronted with, though, is the non-tariff barriers that are still put in place by the Japanese themselves. That is where this issue emerging out of the APEC report is so important, because APEC is that ideal vehicle for us to seek the removal of both tariff and non-tariff barriers. Whilst a lot of focus has been placed by many people on the tariff barriers that exist—they are quite real and they do place an inhibiting factor upon our exports or some of our potential exports to Japan—non-tariff barriers, which are just as inhibiting, exist also. Many of those are fairly seamless barriers that need to be dismantled.

Representatives of a housing group in Sydney who appeared before the committee told us of some of the problems that they had had getting their product into the Japanese market. Many of the problems that they were confronted with related to specifications, local building codes, the contracting of labour, getting supplies into the country and so on. There were a range of problems, none of which was related to a tariff directly—but they were related to non-tariff barriers that were put as obstacles to their becoming competitive in the marketplace.

The product that they had to sell was of world quality. Of course, when they actually got access to the market after a great deal of struggle, it was found that they were indeed very successful. But it was that initial breakthrough into the marketplace that was very hard for them. Part of that is due to the Japanese culture, but the other part is due to the non-tariff barriers that exist there. Australia should seek to use forums such as APEC to do all that it can to dismantle these tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers to assist the expansion of Australian industry. There are many industries here that could gain access once those barriers were dismantled.

The other thing that I want to briefly refer to is the importance of the export industry of tourism. Not many people inside Australia really see tourism as being an export industry, but, as my colleague Senator Sherry said, the number of tourists arriving here has increased dramatically since 1978 to 479,000 in 1990. It is interesting that during that year the number of Japanese tourists that came to Australia exceeded the number that came from other countries: New Zealand with 418,400, the United States with 250,000, the United Kingdom with 277,000, Canada with 53,000, Germany with 74,000 and Singapore with 75,000. So it can be seen that that is a very important export industry to us, though it did slip back during the economic crisis in Japan. That was very much brought home to us by the appearance of Qantas before the committee, where they outlined how they had had to cut back some of their flights to Japan. Hopefully now those numbers are on the increase again.

According to a BTR report, Japanese visitors spend an average of $114 per day when in Australia, whilst the average spent by other foreign tourists is $80 per day. You can see in that figure alone that there is a significant differential. Japanese tourists do go to a number of confined destinations within Australia: Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Cairns. That was another thing that came out in the report—that we need to get them back for repeat visits. We should not be just a one-stop market for them. It should not be that they come once and never again. They are an important part of our export market, and Australia's promotion of tourism to the Japanese as an export is very important indeed. I commend the report. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.