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Wednesday, 23 June 2004
Page: 31265


Mr BAIRD (1:50 PM) —It is my pleasure to rise today in this debate on the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 to support this most significant of agreements. I listened to the member for Rankin as he outlined at some length the position of the Labor Party. I do not know whether he was using his old speech—because we read in the paper today that the US free trade agreement is part of the backflip that the Labor Party have been through over the last 24 hours. Concerned about their stall in the polls, they are busy jettisoning those areas of their policy that they think might be an embarrassment.

The FTA resonates extremely well with the Australian community, because they recognise several things. Firstly, they recognise that America is one of our greatest markets. In terms of many of our markets, it is No. 1 for Australia. Secondly, they recognise that the relationship between Australia and the United States has always been very strong. We are strong allies of the United States, and we have a long and rich history in the economic area and in being together in areas of conflict.

I listened to the member for Rankin as he outlined various areas of complaint and struggled to find reasons to object to the agreement. But the fact is that this is a momentous agreement that is worth a large amount of foreign exchange earnings to the Australian economy. The Centre for International Economics estimates that, overall, the deal is worth some $52.5 billion over the next 20 years. It is estimated that in 2015 alone—its peak year—it will be worth $6½ billion.

So we are not talking about a will-o'-the-wisp issue; these are real jobs for the Australian community. The agreement will be a major job creator in the Australian community that we can all be proud of. The levels of return that we see in this bill pay tribute to the work of the Minister for Trade, Mr Mark Vaile, and to the leadership of our Prime Minister. We have a very strong relationship with the United States. It is estimated that the agreement will create some 40,000 new jobs in the Australian economy. This is in addition to the 1.3 million jobs we have created in the Australian economy since this government came to power. Job creation is important. In my electorate the unemployment level is some 2.6 per cent. This is a record level since this government came to power. These benefits will be widespread across many areas of Australia.

The member for Rankin objects, saying that the agreement is out of line with community views. He should read the editorial in the Australian on 22 June headed `Time for Labor to sign on to the FTA'. It says:

For Labor the time to hesitate is through on the free trade agreement with the US. Congress is expected to shortly agree to the arrangement.

We understand that they are going to let it through. Despite the protestations from the member for Rankin, this is another backflip. Labor realise the embarrassment, the lack of support from the community and the lack of support from the media. The editorial continues:

Would any other country knock back vastly improved access to the world's biggest economy? Obviously not. If Australia backed away from the FTA we would not see other Southeast Asian nations for dust as they dashed to do a deal with the Americans.

... ... ...

But the bottom line is that it is an agreement for the future. It offers Australians the chance to both sell more of our existing goods and services and to build new industries. Opponents of the FTA come in various shapes and sizes.

The editorial then outlines how the arguments that Labor put forward are not realistic. Of course this agreement is not perfect. We would have liked to see sugar included in the deal, and we would have liked some other concessions made. But the bottom line is that it protects our pharmaceutical agreements—our PBS; it protects the cultural aspects of Australia's film production; it protects our arts, our environment and our community; and it protects Australian content. But it also provides access to the largest economy in the world. The US economy represents some 34 per cent of world GDP, yet the Labor Party would say that we need to continue with unilateral agreements and the multilateral forums with the WTO. Only recently the WTO met at Cancun in Mexico. That ended up being a disaster, as the G20—the newly formed emerging group of countries—formed their own views on the WTO. The result was that the progress that had been made was stalled.

Isn't it more important that we reach agreement where we can? We have reached a free trade agreement with Singapore, and that has been hailed on both sides of the House. We have worked towards a free trade agreement with Thailand, and that has been very successful in opening up new markets to Australian exporters. We are also working on an economic agreement with China, a very important emerging world economy. This agreement can provide a template for the agreements that we will reach in the future with other economies.

In February this year I was in Washington and I found that there was a great level of support for the free trade agreement and for Australia generally. We have things in common in our past, and we will have things in common in the future. Why wouldn't we build on that? Why wouldn't we see the great opportunities for Australian agriculture and for Australian manufacturers? For example, Australian utes previously faced significant tariff protection in the United States but they can now be exported to the United States without a tariff being applied. This is a significant benefit for all of us.

The US economy represents a market of some 300 million people and a GDP of almost $11 trillion, a figure that most of us never contemplate. For Australia's exporters this is very significant. Revenue from the import of Australian goods is $41.3 billion. Two-way trade between Australia and the United States in the 2002 financial year amounted to $41.3 billion. The US contribution in terms of foreign direct investment in Australia was worth $66.5 billion. Australian investment in the US was worth $65.4 billion in foreign direct investment. This is significant; this is important to the Australian economy.

Peter Hendy, the chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said yesterday that the Australian parliament should quickly pass the package of enabling legislation to facilitate the Australian FTA. He said that our political representatives should put aside their differences and support this unique trade opportunity.

Honourable members interjecting


Mr BAIRD —I heard the comments from the members opposite, who are busy doing backflips. I remind them that the free trade agreement has the support not only of this side of the House but of all the state premiers. For example, we have heard comments from Peter Beattie in which he outlined his strong support for the US free trade agreement. We have heard from Bob Carr that this is a great plus for the Australian economy, with some 40,000 jobs.

I am very pleased to see the Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, come into the chamber. This is the man who put the deal together. This is the government that made it possible. This is the government that believes in a strong economy and in putting together the important factors that create the jobs and the export opportunities for Australia. To put us in line with the world's largest economy and to create a free trade environment which is going to be the template for our agreement with China is very significant. The Labor Party leave the Australian community behind in their failure to support the agreement.


The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Cook will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.