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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31598


Mr WINDSOR (9:08 PM) —I have been involved in farming organisations for a number of years. During the eighties, and prior to coming into politics in 1991, I was very much involved with the New South Wales Farmers Association and the Grains Council of Australia. I was one of those who, during the eighties in particular, argued that one of the problems we had with agricultural exports in particular was that we were dealing with a corrupt world market which was establishing most of the prices for our products. We also had as a basis for our business activity in agriculture an artificial cost structure domestically. That was driven by a number of things, not the least of which, in my view at the time, were the union movement and others within our community who were driving some parts of our productive sector to accept a higher cost of production that was not economically sustainable.

I think that over time there has been a drift and drive towards service provision so that we could utilise some of the offshore impacts of service provision and other financial services et cetera to try and bolster the economy. I think that one of the things that the member for Kennedy hinted at during his speech was that we have, in a sense, in agriculture in particular, suffered as a consequence. We are out there struggling against the global marketplace. We are quite often called the most efficient farmers in the world, and I believe that we are. I think that a number of factors indicate that in our position within agriculture, particularly within the dry lands sector of agriculture.

But our farmers are struggling. I think there are a number of areas that we really do need to address. One of those, as I said, is the artificial cost structure that we have built up over time and this constant barrage directed towards the farming community that says: `Get bigger or get out—if you can't compete, you're not in the game. You are not required in this economy anymore because we have moved towards a more globalised economy.' During the eighties, as I said, when I was involved in various organisations, there was a constant thrust towards liberalising the global marketplace so that our farmers would have a better go in that community. I was one of those who believed that, and I believed it quite passionately. I campaigned for that to happen. I do not believe that anymore. It is only in recent years that I have stopped believing in Santa Claus as well. It is not going to happen.

I am not going to support the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation (Customs Tariff) Bill 2004. It hurts me to say that. I am glad that the Minister for Trade is here tonight, because I think there are a number of factors that have become very clear in the way in which this legislation has been dealt with by the parliament. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties was set up to investigate this agreement. I cannot call it a free trade agreement. It is a trading arrangement—there is no doubt about that—but it is not a free trade agreement by any stretch of the imagination, and I think that anybody who suggests that to the people of Australia is being quite untruthful in its interpretation. It is an arrangement. There are certain benefits for Australia, there are certain benefits for America and there are certain unknowns in the process.

I would like the Australian people to be fully aware that yesterday JSCOT—the treaty committee of this parliament—made a report to this parliament about this 1,000-page arrangement. Within an hour a debate started on the arrangement that the committee had reviewed, various views were expressed by the committee members about the committee and, within 24 hours or a bit more, we are making a decision on something that took two or three years or perhaps even decades to drive towards.

There have been a number of assessments made of this process and people have spoken of them. The CIE assessment made certain predictions about the outcomes of this arrangement before Minister Vaile went to America and made the arrangement. That suggested that Australia was going to be significantly better off—I think it was to the extent of $6.1 billion. That was before an arrangement was struck. After that, there was a reassessment of the process, which indicated another number. When various commentators were asking questions about the way in which those numbers had been struck, there were indications that various assumptions had been made on various factors within the economy. I notice the differences between the CIE, for instance, and ACIL in assessing the impact of the arrangement. CIE had 24 sectors for their economic activity and the assumptions that were made. They came up with a good scenario for Australia in their modelling.

ACIL also did some modelling on the process. They used 57 industry sectors for their assumptions on the economy. They came up with a bad scenario of outcomes for the Australian economy—industry and agriculture et cetera. I have not run into anybody in the agricultural sector who has said that this is going to have a significant positive impact on their capacity as a farm business other than possibly some of the wine producers. The beef producers are very disappointed and, obviously, the sugar producers are devastated that they were left out. In all fairness to Minister Vaile, I think he was probably devastated that he could not drive a harder agreement. But, at the time, given the international circumstances and the relationship between Australia and America there would have been obvious political pressures brought on him to come up with an arrangement that looked as though we were going to be a major beneficiary from the trading arrangements between the two nations.

I think it is unfortunate that he has had to bring this legislation before the parliament and, within a day, drive it through. As the members for Calare, Kennedy and Cunningham have pointed out, there is a requirement for the Australian people, through their parliamentary representatives, to sit down and examine this. The Senate Select Committee on the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the United States of America was one of the committees put in place to do that. I am told that it will not report until 14 or 17 August, so the outcomes from one of the structures that the parliament has put up to assess the ramifications of this arrangement will not even be known until after what is supposedly going to happen here tonight when I think the lower house of the parliament endorses the free trade arrangement. That is disappointing and is something that this parliament does not really have to do. The main reason I will not be supporting this legislation tonight is that I do not think we have to rush into it. I do not think we have to make a decision within one day of the committee reporting on this 1,000-page document.

A number of people who have done modelling using a number of assumptions have come up with different determinations as to the net impact of benefit to the Australian community. I was interested that the member for Kennedy and the member for Calare raised the issue of the Productivity Commission not being engaged in a way in which it should have been to assess this matter. I asked the Prime Minister a question in this parliament on 14 February. I do not want to verbal the Prime Minister, but essentially the question was: given the fact that there were different views being expressed as to the benefits and disbenefits of this legislation—or the arrangement to the Australian people—would the Prime Minister look seriously at giving the Productivity Commission, as an independent assessor of the benefits and disbenefits, the opportunity to look closely at this piece of legislation? That has not occurred to the degree that it should have, and I think that says a number of things—the member for Kennedy may have hinted at those a moment ago. Obviously the government would have made some approaches to the Productivity Commission. There were probably some people within that commission who indicated privately that this arrangement was not as good as was being proposed by the government. I think it is extremely disappointing that the Productivity Commission has not been engaged.

I noticed recently that JSCOT—and I notice that the committee chair, the member for Boothby, is in the chamber now—heard evidence from Dr Philippa Dee. She indicated that Australia, under the assumptions and parameters that she proposed, would be $53 million better off under this arrangement. I think that displays to many that if there are benefits at all—and, personally, I think there probably are going to be some benefits from the arrangement—then they are marginally close for the beneficiaries. The benefits need to be examined in a much more considered way than they are being now.

The American people are not been rushed into making a decision on this. I have a number of documents from various parts of the American community, and I will not go through them at the moment, which indicate that they are going to have a well-reasoned look at this and examine very closely some of the biosecurity issues, from their point of view, that Australia has embraced or will have to embrace under the arrangements that would be put in place if there were a free trade agreement. They are not rushing into this; they are looking at the import rules and looking very closely at some of the sanitary and phytosanitary issues that they believe will have to be addressed by Australia before they will enter into this arrangement.

As I said a moment ago, Dr Philippa Dee believes there is a $53 million benefit to the Australian community in this arrangement. In an article in today's Land written by that great journalist Alan Dick, who I am sure the minister is quite knowledgeable of, the headline says `Chickens' $3.5b import fear'. It goes on to say that there are a number of issues being raised—biosecurity issues and free trade agreement issues—about the chicken industry's fear that it will possibly be wiped out by overseas imports into this country. It also raises some of the phytosanitary and sanitary issues that could have dramatic implications for the industry.

In one industry there is some degree of risk—$3.5 billion—and according to Dr Philippa Dee's assumptions a positive of a mere $53 million. What that suggests to me is that we have to slow this process down and have a real look at the implications. Forget about whether we are at war in Iraq, Minister, and about George Bush and the election of Labor and all those little things that are happening around you that paint the political picture. This is much more important than that. This is much more important than having something you can stick on the back of the toilet door saying, `We signed a free trade agreement back in 2004 and I was minister.' It is much more important than that. You may be right, but paint the toilet door and give it a few more months to dry before sticking things on the back of it. This needs some further consideration.

I often wonder how serious we are in looking at trade in this nation when we have gone through the fiasco in only the last few days of looking at fuel. We as a nation have a 50 per cent tax on fuel and we are talking about comparative advantage and accessing markets, coming to grips with globalism and all these sorts of things. We sit here and impose a 50 per cent tax on the fuel that we have produced and import. Even worse than that, when we look at some of the renewable energy sources—the replacements for fuel within this nation that we could employ—we could utilise agriculture to a great extent. We would then not be reliant on overseas nations for 80 per cent of the produce that we make. The ethanol producers of this nation—the renewable energy producers of this nation—spent 18 months trying to convince the Nationals, the Minister for Trade, who is at the table, and others in this parliament that they should not tax a new industry at the same rate as the oil industry.

We have gone through this ridiculous arrangement in the last couple of days whereby the minister responsible for energy has white-anted the processes of the renewable energy capital grants that were put in place by this government to encourage renewable energy. I do not believe the government or the opposition are serious about looking at some of these things. We are a nation that is dependent on overseas imports of fuel. We are a nation that is at war in that area and we have great concerns about the reliability of supply into the future. We are a nation that is very efficient in agriculture. We are a nation that can compete globally in terms of our efficiency. We are a nation that needs fuel and we can grow it at competitive rates—whether that be through grain production or sugar cane production. We are a nation that is prepared to spend $400 million in the sugar industry to get rid of it, but we will not spend much money at all to encourage the very same people to produce energy. What the government expects them to do is suffer the same taxation regime that the oil companies that have been round for 100 years have suffered within this place.

I do not think we are serious. We are in here arguing about a free trade arrangement when we are making it much more difficult for our own people to compete. What we are saying to many of our industries through this document is, `You're not required in this nation. We will access our food from other parts of the world which can produce it at lower costs.' I remember a few years ago, when this debate on globalism was happening. The Minister for Trade would be fully aware of this. At that time, Dick Smith made a whimsical comment when he asked, `When are we going to start paying Bangladeshi wages? If we want to be part of the global community, when are we going to start to engage in that?' Obviously, we are not going to engage in that and nor should we. But we have to have some recognition that the people who do produce food and other products within this country are entitled to a fair share. If there are opportunities for those same producers to move away from food and into renewable energy they should be given the option to do so and not be seen as some sort of taxation revenue source for the future. That is exactly what the Minister for Trade, the minister responsible for energy and the Deputy Prime Minister have done. They have allowed these people, who are out there and have responded to the renewable fuel policy of this government, to look at investing in a policy mix that they have constantly changed. To me that says that they are not serious about this issue at all.

In conclusion, I will be opposing this legislation. The member for Calare has proposed an amendment which, because of the procedural activity within the parliament, will not be voted on. I will not be supporting this legislation on the grounds that I do not think enough time has been given for full consideration of the issues. This is a groundbreaking area and we need more time to consider and make decisions. I am sure the Australian people will agree with that.