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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 5699

Mr RIPOLL (9:16 AM) —It is a pleasure to speak on the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2010. I have spoken on EMDG bills in the past, because I am a supporter of this type of legislation and this program. It is always a pleasure to speak on one again, although the context of this amendment bill is unfinished business from the previous government in relation to the Export Market Development Grants Scheme.

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the Hon. Simon Crean, the Minister for Trade, for his good work in this area. I know his commitment to export business, to export companies, to Brand Australia, to a range of key issues around Australia as an export nation. I strongly support this amendment bill because it will enhance Australia’s ability to export and will encourage business, particularly small and medium enterprise, to participate in an important part of Australia’s economy, and that is exporting.

This bill will reduce the demand on the scheme. It needs to do that because the previous government, in an unfunded manner, overran the scheme, causing a range of problems in funding years for people who had applied for funding and grants—the budget for this program had actually run out. This is not good enough. It is not satisfactory for business to be placed in those circumstances. The reason we are here debating this bill, the reason we have this amendment, is to fix up a problem left over from the previous government, who saw fit, during a heated election campaign in 2007, to overrun this program without funding that overrun.

This amendment bill will increase the minimum requirement for export promotion expenditure from the current $10,000 to $20,000. That will mean that organisations will have to spend $20,000 before they are eligible, before they can apply. I think that is a fair and reasonable beginning point, given that the $10,000 figure has not changed for quite some time. We propose to reduce the maximum number of individual grants that are available to an applicant from eight to seven—a reduction of just one. We also propose to reduce the maximum that is payable per grant from the current $200,000 to $150,000. That will mean there are more grants available for more individual companies and businesses. We also propose to cap the maximum amount claimable for intellectual property expenses at $50,000.

Most important is the fact that we will be extending this program for a further five years, giving certainty and confidence to a whole range of mostly small businesses, but some larger ones as well, that rely on these programs to develop their export markets. We need to understand that in its context. It is a grant to help them develop those markets. Once a company can stand on its own feet, once it has established itself overseas in the particular market that it has chosen, then it no longer needs the assistance of the Commonwealth and should be able to make enough profit, have enough revenue from its export markets, that it no longer needs the assistance of the government.

The amendments we have placed on the table are fair, equitable and reasonable. They were done in consultation with the sector, and the sector supports them. The sector understands that, if we are to continue this program, the program needs to be checked and measured against expectations and funding. It is never satisfactory that a program is left unchecked or that a government overpromotes and overruns a program deliberately but then does not fund that overrun. I just do not think that is a satisfactory position. We have taken action to do something about this. We have increased the funding that is available, to make amends as best as possible and fund the unfunded liabilities that were left over from the previous government. As I say, these unfunded liabilities were run up close to the election last year.

These are good changes. They do provide some certainty. They do provide for an extension of the program by five years. What this program does is build on that contribution that small and medium enterprises make to the nation now. It does provide for a strong export culture to grow even stronger and it helps to reduce that information gap between government organisations and the export markets they are particularly targeting. It is done in coordination and cooperation with Austrade and a range of other government service bodies. Most importantly, if you are a small business owner, it reduces your costs. It means what you actually spend can be reduced because the government will foot part of that bill, which I think is very important. Australia is a competitive export nation. The program is about trying to assist those very important small businesses that we all acknowledge are the backbone of our national economy, the largest employer in the country. It is the small businesses, the mum-and-dad businesses and the unexpected businesses that are very important exporters. It would surprise a lot of people who they are.

I have spoken in the past on these grants, because I think they are very important. I recall very early on in my tenure as a member of parliament visiting Claypave, a paver and brick manufacturer, which was then in my electorate but, sadly, is no longer. They are a great local business, a large employer, and they do a fantastic job. It would probably surprise people to understand that a brick manufacturer, a paver manufacturer, would export its product. Bricks are pretty big and heavy. They are not something you would naturally think Australia would export if you think of the labour costs. It is a labour intensive production, which would suggest that it was not a viable export product or that exporting a product such as bricks to a nation such as China is counterintuitive, but that is exactly what Claypave do. What they did was differentiate themselves from every other brickmaker in the world with a high-quality, well-manufactured, highly labour intensive product and exported it to the rest of the world. They export to China, the United States and the Middle East and they are looking to other markets. I know, because I have spoken to the CEO and the company on many occasions, that a part of their success—it is only a small part—and a part of the confidence they had to go out and spend the R&D and marketing development money they needed to in those markets was due to the federal government standing there behind them with a really good program.

We have always been supportive of this program and it is good to have the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, in the House today speaking on this particular bill. He knows just how important this bill is. That is why these amendments are on the table. We want to make sure that this program not only survives but grows in a properly funded manner and not in the manner that was left behind by the previous government. For our enterprising, innovative companies around the country, the biggest tick of all is that we have extended this program for a further five years. I could not think of a better way to promote a whole range of businesses.

Just in case people are listening or later read these speeches, think in just one seat how much impact a grant has. How much impact does it have in a seat like Oxley, which is my seat? I can tell you it is enormous. Over the years I have had dozens of companies not only apply for but also receive grants. I will run quickly through a list. In my electorate I have got companies like Majans and Leslie Consulting, which is another incredible story.  Bruce Leslie is the proprietor of Leslie Consulting, a mining engineering firm in my electorate. Counterintuitive to what you might think would exist in Goodna, on a small plot in Goodna we have a small firm of highly skilled, highly dedicated individuals that provide services and intellectual property to NASA, to the United States, to German engineering companies and to European mining engineering companies. In South-East Queensland, in a small suburb in Goodna, is this incredible company that is doing global things. Most people who drive past never know that, but it is a great story to tell and I congratulate Leslie Consulting, Bruce Leslie and his team for the great work they do. They have applied for funding and they obviously deal in export markets.

There are companies such as FARMkids, Acoustic Technologies Electronics, Aren Education, Eighteen Hunter Street, Australian Cotton Shippers, Very Small Particle Co.—it is not half obvious what they might be into—and companies like Welding Sales, Decina Export, Specialty Products Group, Excel Technology Group, PR Polymers, Global Chef, Tooltech and John Woodward’s Australian Finegrain Marble. These companies are in a range of sectors from food manufacturing and product manufacturing to professional services to scientific and technical services, to motion picture and video production, to election equipment manufacturing, to higher education, to toy and sporting goods wholesaling, to cotton growing, to basic chemical product manufacturing, to hardware goods wholesaling and to other basic polymer manufacturing. There is a bit of a pattern building here with lots of manufacturing companies. There are lots of highly skilled, highly trained expertise that small Australian companies are exporting to the rest of the world. We are exporting toy, sporting and recreational product manufacturing, non-metallic mineral mining and quarrying technologies. Companies such as Cooke Freeze, Mox Products, Metal Storm, PR Polymers, Decina Export and a whole range of other companies are all exporting.

I wanted to read the names of those companies out and talk briefly about the industries involved not only to demonstrate just how important the program is and the money that is spent on promoting export markets but also to highlight the variety and the manufacturing base of the sorts of companies that you do not see in the headlines and that you do not really see when you drive past commercial or industrial states or even in parts of suburbia where some of these businesses exist. They are the backbone of this country. They are, in totality, the largest employer by a lot, which would be the easiest way to describe it. Those small- and medium-sized enterprises are the biggest employer in the country. I congratulate the minister for his work in this area, for supporting this very important program and for ensuring its survivability and its sustainability over a long period of time and particularly for extending it for the next five years. I commend the amendment bill to the House.