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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5136


Senator FERGUSON (3:16 PM) —I present the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade entitled Enterprising Australia—planning, preparing and profiting from trade and investment: a short report on the proceedings of the inquiry together with the Hansard record of proceedings and submissions received by the committee. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.


Senator FERGUSON —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Enterprising Australia—planning, preparing and profiting from trade and investment,is a short report on the proceedings of the inquiry. The Minister for Trade referred the inquiry to the joint committee on 2 November 2000. With the calling of the 2001 federal election, the inquiry automatically lapsed on the dissolution of the 39th Parliament on 8 October 2001.

The committee gave consideration to the re-referral of the enterprising Australiaterms of reference in this the 40th Parliament. However, we decided not to continue with this inquiry. Our decision was based on a number of factors: firstly, the poor response to the call for submissions; secondly, the quality of evidence; thirdly, a review of the Commonwealth's investment promotion and attraction efforts by a task force headed by Dr Ian Blackburne that embraced significant aspects of the enterprising Australiaterms of reference; and, fourthly, broad acceptance by the government of the recommendations made by Dr Blackburne in his August 2001 report Winning investment--strategy, people and partnerships.

Notwithstanding the lapse of the inquiry, we took the view that a short report should be tabled in the parliament outlining some of the issues and conclusions that came out of the evidence that we received. These reflect a similarity of view between our observations and the findings of Dr Blackburne's review team. I do wish to place on record our appreciation of the assistance that the former Irish Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Richard O'Brien, and the Singaporean High Commissioner, His Excellency Mr Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, gave to this inquiry.

We see a number of challenges for Australia in planning, preparing and profiting from trade and investment. No specific development agency model, whether it is an Ireland or a Singapore model, fits the Australian context. What is paramount is a national strategic approach to trade and investment. Additional challenges are regional initiatives that can build a diverse base for regional economic wealth, the provision of the skills in Australian people that will underpin research and development initiatives, and Australia's global competitiveness and the comparative effectiveness of the incentives that we offer. A strategic national approach to planning, preparing and profiting from trade and investment promotes and increases Australia's international competitiveness. Evidence to the inquiry showed that there were a number of federal government agencies that played a role in promoting investment and exports and, as Dr Blackburne noted in his investment review, this is not efficient and does not allow for a single Australian brand.

In the climate of global competitiveness, where national leadership is paramount, the multiple player approach promotes the insular culture of the bureaucracy and the notion of `turf', with government processes cumbersome and sometimes unresponsive. It was evident to us that the degree of commitment to a national strategic approach is a key to advancing Australia's trade and investment competitiveness. The government has agreed to the development of a national strategic framework for investment promotion and attraction, with the Employment and Infrastructure Committee of Cabinet to oversee operations. We are hopeful that this will indeed provide the capacity and the capability to implement a whole of nation approach.

With the intention that this framework is to be developed in the context of Australia's overall economic growth and industry and regional development objectives, we regard the major national issues raised during Dr Blackburne's consultations as very important, and they need to be addressed. These major national issues are set out in appendix E of our report. We are concerned that these issues, which were to be included in the work program of the Blackburne review's proposed Prime Minister's investment council, will not be addressed under the new arrangements of the revamped Invest Australia. These major national issues should not be dismissed as not applicable and lost to examination within the changed operational arrangements of Invest Australia.

In our report we comment on the issues of tax, seen as an impediment to business; the adequacy of Australia's skills base, with investment in education critical to the future of Australia; and the commercialisation of R&D in Australia. On this last issue, for instance, we are of the view that in pursuing commercial outcomes the capability to reach commercialisation should not become the sole criterion for funding an R&D project. Not every project can lead directly to a commercial outcome. If the policy focus on commercialisation becomes the be-all and end-all for Australian R&D, then Australia as an innovative country, for which it is recognised world wide, will lose research capability. Balancing R&D is a fine line. Managing this fine line is critical to the future and needs to be understood in the current policy climate by R&D boards and public administrators.

In conclusion, irrespective of Australia's achievements in encouraging inward investment and promoting export sales, the challenge for Australia and its policy makers at all levels of government is to move forward and put us ahead of our competitors. We need to focus on becoming even more competitive than our competitors and not being both outmarketed and insufficiently aggressive in the pursuit of opportunities. I commend the report to the Senate.