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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6226

Ms SAFFIN (7:33 PM) —I have a question for you, Minister, relating to the budget bolstering of Australia’s diplomatic efforts in support of our trade and investment priorities. But, before you answer it, I would like to make some comments on the record about the protectionism issue and what you have commented on. When I looked at the figures—I got them from the then Northern Rivers Regional and Development Board, which has now merged with Regional Development Australia—I saw that about 19 per cent of jobs across my seat of Page were reliant somewhat on exports. Often people are quite surprised when they actually look at the figures and go through them region by region. That was just a basic rule-of-thumb measurement we did, but it showed that.

Last weekend, I visited Brookfarm, which is just a little bit outside my electorate. They are major exporters who, like a lot of people, started off small—one was a dentist, one was from the film industry. A lot of members here travel on Qantas; well, if you get muesli on those flights it comes from Brookfarm. Their product is really successful: macadamia muesli.

There are lots of businesses and producers and small farmers like that right across Page, and they want the government to continue to make sure that we have access to export markets, because that is important. If we go down the protectionist path, we will close up access to the markets that we need. It is a two-way street. It is vital that the global financial crisis does not result in an increase in protectionism. We know that trade is part of the solution, not the problem. That was clearly demonstrated at the G20 leaders meeting.

A DFAT report released at the beginning of June showed clearly that the benefits of trade were worth up to $3,900 a year to an average family, and one in five jobs was dependent on trade. So it is really important to have that access to export markets and not have protectionism. The report highlighted the danger of protectionism to Australian families and workers, and to producers.

At their London meeting the G20 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to free trade and expanded their pledge to combat protectionism. But I am sorry to say that I did see that our friends in the US have reintroduced a dairy subsidy. That is really disappointing. I have spoken about it before in this place. It is something that is unfriendly and it takes them down the path of protectionism. There are some other signs of it but generally there is a commitment to combat it.

There are a few other things. There are moves towards protectionism locally. I know all of us say ‘shop locally’, ‘support our local producers’; we all do that. We have local producers markets. It is what we do to help. While some grow exclusively for the local market, a lot of those local producers grow not only for the local market but for the export market as well. There is a grower of orchids in Woodburn who exports them. You would not expect it—just small amounts of them, but he exports them. I have such producers right across the seat of Page.

I was at Primex in Casino the other day. It is a huge national event based on the beef industry. The Northern Co-operative Meat Company is also in Casino, which I know, Minister Crean, you have visited and I have visited many times with you. They employ over a thousand people and export to other markets. It is crucial that our efforts in support of our trade and investment priorities also attach themselves to this fight not to go down the protectionist path. So, Minister, my question is, simply: can you explain how the budget bolsters Australia’s diplomatic efforts in support of our trade and investment priorities, please?