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Thursday, 14 March 2013
Page: 2142


Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (11:39): I rise to speak on the issue of trade, which is incredibly important to agriculture, as it is to the Australian economy generally, and on the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill. The coalition do not oppose the bill in its current form, but we do have some very strong reservations on the approach taken by this government.

I wish to support the shadow minister's comments about Labor jeopardising market opportunities overseas. You do not actually improve our access to Asia by cutting market grants to the rest of the world. It is not as though that money is going to be added to our efforts in Asia. This bill is supposed to enhance what is happening in Asia, but it is not adding to it; it is simply taking it away from our traditional markets. They are still good markets and still exist, and we will, I hope, continue to trade with them for a very long time to come.

I know that this will deliver a decent savings pot for the government of $25 million annually, so this is far more about addressing a deteriorating budget position than looking at market access. It is another blow to business caused by the budget mismanagement of this government, which is a matter of public record and government shame. They need money to make up for their woeful management, so they simply strip it from existing programs. Just because markets are traditional it does not mean we can do better at them. Is this a reasonable decision for the government to be making? Labor are already pushing our exporters out of the market with massive cost increases, through the removal of the export certificate rebate, the introduction of the world's biggest carbon tax and catering to the Greens' environmental whims like making chemical registrations outrageously expensive. It should be up to Australian business to exploit market opportunities according to commercial realities rather than bureaucratic impulse.

Given the government's recent track record of undermining export opportunities, can we be blamed for holding our breath in this instance? In looking at the agricultural sector, the Labor government has heralded the Asian century as the solution for agriculture, yet everything the Gillard government does undermines our opportunities in that region. The Gillard government jeopardised our trade deal with Korea by reneging on a major defence contract. At the same time, the US completed a trade deal with Korea which gives the US tariff advantages in the Korean market for beef exports, which are going up at the rate of about 2½ per cent a year. Labor has dawdled on negotiations for a trade deal with China. New Zealand has secured a deal which gives them, for example, a tariff advantage of up to 20 per cent over Australia on some dairy products.

What about Indonesia? This government has done absolutely everything to completely destroy relations with our nearest, our biggest and definitely our most important neighbour. Indonesia's 237 million people—and that number is rising—are literally on our doorstep. They are 2½ days sailing, on a good day, from Broome and about 3½ from Darwin. Indonesia has a growing middle class well in excess of the total population of Australia and a high propensity for consumer spending. In short, it is an ideal destination for our farm produce. From 1999 until a couple of years ago, its annual growth surged from zero to 6½ per cent and there are no signs of that abating. It is bizarre that we have a $15 billion two-way trade with New Zealand, with 4½ million people, while our trade with Indonesia is only worth $11 billion. But that is shrinking when it comes to beef exports, primarily as a result of the nonefforts or the bad conduct of our government. Citibank has recently predicted that Indonesia will be the fourth-largest economy in the world within 30 years—and it is 2½ days sailing from Broome. Yet this government had a huge negative impact on our relations with Indonesia when it unilaterally banned live animal exports, which led to reduced quotas in both live exports and boxed beef. Having visited Indonesia more than once and having met with government ministers about this issue, with feedlot operators and representatives of the livestock industry generally and having visited their abattoirs, the damage that was caused by the Australian government to both—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! The honourable member will come back to the bill.

Mr JOHN COBB: Absolutely, and this is about Asia and it is about the—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member will take note of the chair. I am asking the honourable member to come back to the bill and the amendment before the chair.

Mr JOHN COBB: I will do that, Mr Deputy Speaker. Expanding these overseas markets will not only allow Australian industries to broaden production beyond the limited domestic market but also provide much-needed competition to Australia's supermarket giants.

So stepping up to be Asia's food bowl does need government to not interfere but actually get off its butt and help in doing deals with different countries. Make no mistake: our produce is highly valued and sought after. From travelling overseas and meeting visiting delegations here, it is evident to me that our farmers are renowned as producers of very reliable, sought-after, quality food. Despite that, this government has not done a good job of not wrecking these opportunities.

The bill does not create much confidence. On the one hand, the bill continues to talk up the Asian century but, on the other hand, does not do anything to enhance it. The amendment focuses on Asia by cutting out export grants and opportunities for the rest of the world—areas where we have longstanding markets—so that it can save money. This is not about exports; it is about saving money. It is not enhancing Asia. It is simply taking money away from our traditional and longstanding trade areas.

There is a better way. The coalition, if elected, will prioritise trade deals that deliver benefits for industry by rebuilding our international reputation and strengthening our relationship with our trading partners, whether they are growing, old—or totally cheesed off. For agriculture, this will be complemented by a government that has agriculture as one of its five pillars and a minister for agriculture that stands up for the industry and works proactively to make the most of opportunities.

This government have listed legislation for tomorrow that will increase the cost of chemical registration. When you add that to the carbon tax and all the things they are doing to make it harder for us to do business with Asia, it is clear we have to rectify that. We are supporting the bill, but it is because of the diabolical budget situation, not because it will increase the potential of our industries to capitalise on the Asian century.