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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8764


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (17:29): The Customs Tariff Amendment (2012 Measures No. 1) Bill 2012, which I support, amends the Customs Tariff Act 1995. It does so for good reason. Under our legislation, developing countries are accorded preferential rates of duty under what is known as the Australian system of tariff preferences. The bill contains amendments which list Serbia as a developing country.

The listing will accord Serbia a reduction in customs duty on a defined range of goods imported into Australia. This is consistent with Australia's approach to other states which were formerly part of Yugoslavia and which were also listed as developing countries.

The amendment will also reinsert subheading 5308.10.00 effective from 1 January 2012. Subheading 5308.10.00 applies to coir yarn, which is commonly used in the manufacture of mats and rope. This subheading was incorrectly omitted in the Customs Tariff Amendment (2012 Harmonized System Changes) Act 2011. The remaining amendments in the bill correct a number of technical errors.

As the member for Fowler has pointed out, there is a large Serbian community in Australia. My understanding is that there are over 100,000 Australians of Serbian ancestry and that, of those, over 17,000 were born in Serbia. Although Serbian people began migrating to Australia over 100 years ago, the majority of them arrived after World War II, with a substantial wave coming in the 1980s when conflict began escalating in their homeland. Whilst most of them settled in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, there is a sizeable population of Serbian people in my home state of South Australia, with most living in Adelaide's western suburbs.

Regardless of where they have settled, the Serbian people have added value to Australia's business, sporting, entertainment, arts and academic life, with many Australians of Serbian descent having become household names in Australia. Wherever they have settled, they have also established a wide range of services for the Serbian community, including aged care, broadcasting and sports, and religious, youth and social programs. In the last two years, I have had the pleasure of attending the Serbian Film Festival in Adelaide, held in my electorate of Makin, and viewing two excellent Serbian produced films.

Serbia is a country with a population of over seven million which has been rebuilding itself after many years of hostilities and destruction. In 2009, the Serbian economy's share of the world's total GDP, adjusted for purchasing power parity, was 0.11 per cent. Its major industries are base metals, furniture, food processing, machinery, chemicals, sugar, tyres, clothes and pharmaceuticals. In recent years its main source of foreign trade has been iron and steel, clothes, cereals, vegetables and nonferrous metals. Most of its trade is with neighbouring European countries—and I note that it is now a candidate for European Union membership.

Australia's trade with Serbia, as previous speakers have pointed out, is not very high at all, with around $14 million in total two-way trade in 2011. However, it is understandably important that Serbia is on an even playing field with other nations that we trade with. For Serbia, that is particularly important under the current tough global financial circumstances.

Australia maintains good diplomatic relations with Serbia. We have an ambassador in New Belgrade, and Serbia has an embassy here in Canberra which is headed by Her Excellency Neda Maletic. A memorandum of understanding has also been established between the Serbian and Australian chambers of commerce. At a meeting I had with Ambassador Neda Maletic last year, the issue of trade between Serbia and Australia dominated our discussion. Serbia is growing its economy and looking for investors in Serbia and export markets for its products.

With that in mind, this bill is both timely and appropriate. Indeed, earlier this year the Serbian Prime Minister and Leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia, Ivica Dacic, visited Australia. Several members of this House, including me, had the pleasure of meeting with him over lunch and later at a reception hosted by the Serbian ambassador. At that time, Prime Minister Dacic was Deputy Prime Minister but, following the election in Serbia in May, he is now Serbian Prime Minister after his Socialist Party formed a coalition government with others—and I congratulate him on his election.

The discussions that we had with him on that day when he was visiting Australia also centred largely around trade opportunities between our two countries. Given the large Serbian population that now resides in Australia and the links that we can establish with Serbia through that population, it is understandable that there is a push to try and increase trade between our two countries. I am sure that that would be welcomed also by the Serbian people both here in Australia and in Serbia.

This bill corrects an anomaly in respect of the previous legislation that I have referred to. More importantly, it recognises the importance of the relationship between Australia and Serbia. This government recognises the importance of that relationship and is making the necessary adjustments and amendments to the current legislation to improve trade relations between our two countries. I commend the bill to the House.