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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 2851


Senator IAN MACDONALD (12:45 PM) —The coalition supports the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2008 and is pleased to see that additional money is being provided for this export development grants program. The shadow minister for trade, Mr MacFarlane, in the other place, indicated the coalition’s attitude towards this and I do not want to take up the time of the Senate to repeat what he has said. I will simply indicate that the coalition does support the bill.

The Labor Party indicated prior to the election that they would do magnificent things with the Export Market Development Grants Scheme and they ran around telling that to those who are interested—and a lot of them are in the tourist industry up where I come from in Far North Queensland. Those people believed that there was to be a significant increase in funding for this program. I just want to point out some of the facts of this program. In the 2007-08 year, which is the year just gone, $156 million was provided by the coalition government. That fell short by about $25 million of what was required to pay 100 per cent of the claims made under this grants program. That meant that anyone who put in an application was immediately paid, as I understand it, $70,000 towards their grant. Then the department assessed how many applications were being made. The program was capped in 2007-08 at $156 million. If there were more applications than there was money available then everyone got a rebatable lesser amount.

The Labor Party criticised the coalition prior to the election for the administration of this program, but it was a very good program that the coalition had been running for more than 11 years. I want to point out that until 30 November 2007 the people administering this grant were not aware of what the shortfall might be because the applications did not come in until that time. It was only after 30 November 2007 that anyone would have been aware that there was a shortfall of some $25 million.

The Labor Party provided $150 million in this year, which is less than—and this is the point I want to make for those interested in this particular area—what the coalition provided last year, in spite of the promises of the Labor Party to do marvellous things for the whole program. But the Labor Party have said, ‘Look at the 2009-10 year, where we have increased it to $200 million.’ That is the bit that the coalition support; we do support the increase in the money being made available. If you then look further into the forward estimates for the out years, you will find that the Labor Party, very sneakily, very meanly and with the usual lack of accountability that we have come to expect of it, has set the amount for this grant back to $150 million. I just want to repeat those figures. In the last year of the Howard government it was $156 million. This year, 2008-09, it is $150 million, which is $6 million less than last year. For 2009-10 it increases to $200 million—good luck with that; we support that. Then in the next two out years it is back to $150 million, which is less than it was in the last year of the Howard government.

Time is against me today. This is unfortunately a non-controversial bill and we are rushing to get through an enormous program that the new government has pushed upon the Senate in the last two weeks of sittings for this term, so I do not have a lot of time to go into the details. But this will cause real problems to those who participate in the Export Market Development Grants Scheme because they have come to expect a certain amount of money. The categories which can apply for the scheme have now been broadened and we support that, except that the amount of money being made available for next year is less than it was in the last year of the Howard government.

I am told by those in industries that do make use of the export market development grants that this really means people with small to medium businesses, who are the main people involved in EMDG, will not pursue overseas activities in export market development because they will be unsure of what they will get. On the figures that have been given to me, they may well get a very, very small additional payment, which means that for many of them it will simply not be worthwhile to do the export market development because they know that the grants they have come to rely upon in the last 10 to 11 years will no longer be there. It was suggested to me that, while everyone will continue to get the first $70,000, under the new regime it is likely that they will barely get 10 to 15 per cent of the balance of their claim, which they might otherwise have been given.

Although we support this bill because of the expansion, I just point out the hypocrisy of the Labor government in providing less this year than what was provided last year. While there is an increase in the following year for an expanded range of applications, in the two years following that, according to the estimates figures—I will be interested to hear what the minister says about this, but the figures are there and he can see them as well as I can—it goes back to $150 million. Because of the time, I will leave it there. I simply wanted to alert the Senate to this approach of giving with one hand and taking with the other that the Labor Party has taken on trade matters and on the development of export markets. My own parochial involvement is in the northern Australian tourism industry. That industry does rely on these grants, but, in the future, it will be very reluctant to use them, because there is every likelihood, according to industry sources, that they will get only a pittance back from the money they spend on export market development.