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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7231

Mr NEUMANN (3:08 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Will the minister inform the House on the outlook for agricultural exports? What opportunities are there for the government to drive efficiencies to further advantage our agricultural exporters?

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the member for Blair for the question. A good part of the positive economic story that has been coming out in various reports of late has been the success of Australian agricultural exports. The government has been determined through the process following the Beale review to continue to advance that. Members would be aware that, previously, questions have been asked by the opposition on the cost impact that would come about as a result of the abolition of the 40 per cent export subsidy. Following that first being announced, representations were made to me by industry to seek out ways that we could perhaps kick off a reform process which would allow a whole lot of efficiencies to be driven so that, instead of a cost-recovery process which demanded that the public servants would have to make themselves more efficient directly and then industry would just have to wear whatever cost the outcome was, industry would have the potential to take control of some of those efficiencies on a more direct basis.

Those discussions have been continuing with industry, and last Friday I was able to jointly announce with industry a $40 million package, all of which was extra money being made available to deliver those reforms over the next 12 months.

In the days that have followed, there have been very constructive conversations with all sides of parliament and all sides of the Senate, which came to a head today in a discussion as to whether or not the Senate would pursue issues that had already been flagged with respect to disallowance of the fees that have come through as a result of the abolition of the 40 per cent export subsidy. All members of the Senate have been involved in constructive conversations. I want to particularly acknowledge the work of and the discussions that we had with the Greens on particular undertakings that they sought with respect to the horticulture sector and making sure that the refund process could actually be done across the entire 12 months, taking account of the seasonal nature of those exports. I also acknowledge the discussions with both the shadow minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry here and his representative in the Senate in terms of particular guarantees that they have sought on both a 12-month review and a review that would take account of the impact on small abattoirs in the lead-up between now and August.

I am pleased to say that the Senate ended up determining to defer that disallowance resolution. What that allows now is for the reform process to go ahead. Had that disallowance been carried, there would have been a $40 million hole in the quarantine budget, and the quarantine services would not have been in a position to continue to fund themselves throughout the whole financial year.

It has been a situation where a lot of constructive work has been done during the course of the week, and Australian agricultural exporters have an opportunity now to be the long-term beneficiaries of a long-overdue reform.