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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1709

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (20:59): Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, you come from Maranoa and know how important the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2013 is to you. I am interested that the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is at the table, along with the former Speaker, the member for Scullin. I also note that the member for McEwen, who is another regional member, is sitting in the chamber, listening intently to my words. I also acknowledge the member for Wright, as well as the shadow parliamentary secretary for regional health, who is also sitting at the table. He was in Wagga Wagga just last week and would have no doubt heard many farmers complaining about how difficult the terms of trade are for them at the moment. It is always wonderful to follow the member for Forrest, Nola Marino, because she is so passionate and feisty about all of these important issues, which are central to trade. I know that the members in the House at the moment all appreciate just how important trade, agriculture and Australia's future food security are.

I note how few Labor speakers are on the speakers list. That is a shame, because perhaps if we were talking about unions or public servants at risk of losing their jobs—one of those sorts of issues—the speakers list would be full. It is just a shame that the speakers list is not full with government members talking about this very important issue, because we have just heard the member for Forrest talking about just how hard and how tough our agriculture producers are doing it at the moment. The shadow minister for agriculture, the member for Calare, told us yesterday in our party room that producers are doing it tougher in some circumstances than they were at the height of the drought—and that is a problem. And it is not just a problem for them; it is a problem for the regional communities that their hard work underpins. It is a problem for our nation because we cannot sell the amount of food that we rely on to help our balance of payments figures, our balance of trade.

We cannot continue to operate this way. Those farmers, let us face it, were once the backbone of this economy, and they still keep it going. Agriculture is still such an important component. Mining may well be one of the big dollar earners, but agriculture helps our balance of payments no end, and we all like to eat food. Only last week I spoke to representatives from the Leeton citrus growers. This organisation has been going since 1942. They are doing it really tough at the moment. They have lost 150 growers in less than a decade. That is the loss of 300 wages. Their costs are now going through the roof. Their power costs are exorbitant and are not helped by the carbon tax. Their wages have not become any cheaper. The high Australian dollar is really killing them, as well as so many other agriculture producers. Bad water policy is just another thing which they are trying to contend with.

I note that the member for Wills is now the Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and has been since 4 February 2013. It is an interesting position which the member for Wills finds himself in, given the fact that he was so stridently opposed to the live cattle export trade to Indonesia when that particular issue blew up after a Four Corners program. It was policy from this government based on a television program. It was a very savage knee-jerk reaction to a television program that saw the live cattle trade stop forthwith—bang—just like that, with no thought given to the cattle producers of Australia's west or north. Indeed, as the member for Forrest just indicated, the shock waves reverberated right throughout the cattle-producing industry and even beyond it. The markets in Wagga Wagga and elsewhere in the Riverina were affected because of it. There was a fear that they would not be able to export a lot of their cattle overseas and they would see them brought south. The people who built stock crates were also affected because orders were stopped.

I am pleased to say that the shadow minister for agriculture visited Indonesia last October, along with the opposition leader and the shadow foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, who has an intense interest in trade and certainly in helping our trading neighbours. The highlights of that trip were the sheer untapped potential, the member for Calare said, for our farm exports—and not just those of Northern Australia. The coalition took the extraordinary step of sending a delegation of senior shadow ministers to Indonesia because of the importance that this side of politics places on our northern neighbour as a valued trading partner—not somebody to whom we can just say, 'No more cattle.' They are not somebody whom we can just bring the gate down upon with our live exports but rather somebody whom we need to be friends with, somebody who is important to us, somebody whom we need to treat like a friend. You do not treat friends in the way that the Prime Minister did when she stopped the live cattle trade.

Indonesia has been vastly undervalued as a trading partner. While every nation across the globe is trying to capitalise on the Asian boom, there are a number of obvious reasons why Australia should be trying to make the most of the opportunities that exist within the Indonesian economy. Indonesia is not in great need of our coal because it has large deposits of its own, and some people foolishly dismiss Indonesia as a trading opportunity because of this. Australia has a unique opportunity to bolster our farm sector with Indonesia. It has 237 million people literally on our doorstep. It has a booming middle class of around 50 million strong and a high propensity for consumer spending. In short, it is an ideal destination for our farm produce. Our farm produce, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, as the member for Maranoa, is the best in the world bar none. I do not mind saying that. I am sure the parliamentary secretary for agriculture, who is sitting at the table, would agree with me.

Mr Sidebottom: Hear, hear.

Mr McCORMACK: 'Hear, hear,' he says. Certainly that is the case. We have the best in the world and we need to protect and preserve it.

The changes proposed in the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2013 are to deliver on the recent Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook decision to concentrate the Export Market Development Grants Scheme more on small businesses exporting to East Asian and frontier and emerging markets. The MYEFO decision and associated policy changes in this proposal will deliver annual savings of $25 million.

Labor calls them savings. They really are cuts and taxes. Failed policy is what it really is, and it is having an effect in this particular instance on our trading relations. This is not the first time I have spoken today; I have spoken a number of times, and a number of times I have spoken about particular bills as being cost savings—as in the baby bonus, on which I spoke earlier this evening. Again, these are to try to help the Treasurer, our failed Treasurer, to try to balance his books. And it is not working. The Australian public are not fools; they are not buying it. The fact is that this government cannot properly fiscally manage our economy. And so many people I speak to cannot wait for the next election.

The EMDG Scheme, administered by Austrade, partially supports export promotion expenses of eligible enterprises in order to boost exports of Australian-produced goods and services, which are, as I say, so important for our balance-of-trade figures. The EMDG Scheme reimburses up to half of eligible export promotion expenses incurred by small- to medium-sized enterprises, and then the claims are reimbursed retrospectively for expenditure incurred in the previous financial year pro rata up to the particular cap. Around 5,100 enterprises per year apply for these grants. Prior to now, the scheme has been capped at $150 million per year since 1997, except in 2008-09 and 2009-10, when a $200 million cap applied.

The MYEFO decision late last year and associated policy changes in this bill are designed to deliver annual savings—again, that word 'savings'—of $25 million. According to Labor, the changes will better help Australian exporters maximise the potential of the Asian century by increasing the number of grants available in East Asian and frontier and emerging markets from seven years' worth to eight years. We all know that this is not right; this is just typical Labor spin—typical Labor claptrap. This is more policy on the run. We cannot afford, as the member for Forrest indicated, to hurt our exporters—particularly at this time, when our balance-of-trade figures are not that good, and particularly at a time when our budget is so much in the red.

To offset the additional grant expenditure associated with an enlarged number of grants to East Asian and frontier and emerging markets, the number of grants to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union are to be reduced. The government argues that in those markets the Australian brand is already well known and accepted, and small businesses typically face fewer barriers to doing business—and that may be so. But, even though the Australian brand may well be known, why not promote it even more? Why is it necessary to keep cutting, to keep cost-shifting, to try to balance the Treasurer's failed books? And why is it that all the time the ones who are getting hit in the neck the most are Australian farmers, Australian exporters—the people who put food on our plates and on the plates of so many foreigners as well?

The government argues that the increased focus of the EMDG Scheme on emerging and frontier markets brings the EMDGS into closer alignment with Austrade's broader trade priorities following its review in 2011 and the government's Asian century policy agenda. I will just repeat that: 'Australia's broader trade priorities'.

As to what our trade priorities are or should be: the Prime Minister only last year, in quite a groundbreaking speech, actually, in Melbourne, talked about promoting and strengthening irrigation so that we could grow more food to tap into those Asian markets, but every single policy initiative by her side of government, the government that she leads, does just the opposite. I cannot understand it, nor can the citrus growers and cattle producers, nor can those wonderful lamb producers in the Riverina, who grow the best lamb in the entire nation. They cannot understand it.

They simply cannot understand why this government is doing everything in its power to just stymie them whenever they try to develop export markets, to stymie them whenever they try to have the ability to grow more food to feed our nation and others. It is hurting our balance-of-trade figures. It is hurting our ability to do business in export markets such as Indonesia. And it is hurting our farmers' and agricultural producers' ability to make a profit.

And, when the farming sector is doing it tough, regional towns are doing it tough. You do not have to go too far into my electorate to see how tough they are doing it. Farmers are having to work at two jobs—they are having to source off-farm incomes—simply because there has been bad water policy enacted by this parliament. This government is just so bogged down in green tape. I know there has been a divorce between Labor and the Greens, but still they seem to be in cahoots with one another when it comes to policy, because so much of the policy that we see from that side of government is bogged down in green tape and so often we hear the Greens leader, Senator Milne, make the catchcry and Labor just follow suit. Their policies just follow suit, and it has to stop.

It has to stop because our farmers are the world's best. Our farmers are not asking for a handout; they are just asking for a hand up, a bit of assistance, a bit of an even go, a bit of a level playing field—something that I am sure that the parliamentary secretary for agriculture knows also. I know he has offered to come to my electorate, and I will welcome him soon to come and see for himself and to talk to the sorts of people whom I talk to, because I know he would be interested. I serve on the Standing Committee on Regional Australia, and I know the good work that he did there as the deputy chair. I know he certainly has his heart in the right place. I would certainly welcome him to come to the Riverina to hear firsthand from people. This piece of legislation is not good, and it will hurt our exporters. They are extremely valuable people. I will certainly welcome the member for Braddon to come to my part of the world, hear the sorts of complaints people have and hear of the sorts of ways forward they believe we should be adopting and the sorts of policy initiatives that his government could also be implementing to help them to make ends meet and to help them not just to survive but indeed to thrive as they should. Thank you for allowing me to make those comments, Mr Deputy Speaker.