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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 517

Senator MARGETTS (6.30 p.m.) —I rise to speak on the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 1994. The Greens (WA) have little problem with this bill. We certainly do not object to the government trying to ensure that grants are not used for holidays or to giving more time to consider them.

  I recall my remarks about the export market development grants scheme in the context of the Australian National Audit Office report No. 33 of 1993-94 efficiency audit of the Australian scheme managed by Austrade to provide taxable cash grants to assist Australian exporters in developing export markets. The two major issues I highlighted then still remain: the need for improved accountability to parliament and the need for a greater measure of performance assessment. No substantial action has been taken on that issue. The audit report states:

While there appears to be widespread support for the scheme the nature of the scheme has made direct measurement of effectiveness illusive. The lack of performance measures combined with Austrade's minimal annual reporting of its largest budget item leaves Parliament inadequately informed of the scheme's effectiveness given the high profile of the scheme and the frequency of legislative changes required.

  The lack of performance measures is considered to be a function of the initial establishment of the scheme. If the scheme had been devised in such a way that its rationale was clearly stated so that its impact could be measured, considerable savings would have resulted from the ease with which the focus and impact of the scheme could have been monitored and regulated.

Nothing has been done in this regard. There is still no measure of the goal of this program, nor any system to assess its performance. Thus, we are going to get arguments such as we have had today as to whether the grant is a good thing or not, when in reality we are not doing any proper follow-up in terms of strict criteria assessment.

  The program receives very substantial funding for private industry from public funds. The parliament, comprised of the elected representatives of the people who pay the taxes and levies that comprise those public funds, has the right to scrutinise the expenditure of public moneys.

  The Hilmer report, and other reports, examine expenditure and performance on all services to ordinary people. Yet, government steadfastly refuses either to set transparent goals or to examine the performance of schemes that give money to industry for various purposes. In examining social services, the criterion is cost per person serviced with little regard for quality of service provided or ease of access to services. In not examining industry, apparently the giving of support—giving public money—is an end in itself.

  I stated in the context of the export market development grants scheme that I hoped the government would consider implementing the recommendations of the report with respect to performance assessment and, at the same time, review the nature of the criteria used in that assessment. I also stated that there is a need for the inclusion of other criteria—those relating to the environmental impact of both production and products used for assistance under this scheme. There is also the issue of equity and the promotion of undesirable goods and habits. Those who saw last night's Cutting Edge program on advertising of western consumer products and their impact on developing nations will know what I am talking about.

  The export market development scheme is still problematic. While we must support the fact that effort has been made to cut down on rorts and to allow small and medium enterprises some of the benefits handed to big corporations on a platter, this amendment is not the same thing as introducing accountability or responsibility. The scheme remains primarily another way for government to give tax money to business.

(Quorum formed)