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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 3649

Senator IAN MACDONALD (1:48 PM) —As Senator Parry has indicated, the coalition will be supporting this bill, in our approach of cooperating to get essential legislation through the parliament, in spite of the rhetoric of Mr Albanese and Mr Rudd—rhetoric used purely to try and confuse the Australian public. As Senator Parry has said, we are demonstrating again today our keenness to ensure that essential legislation is taken through the parliament before the end of this fortnight—which, it is my personal view, we can expect will be the last time this parliament will meet before the next federal election.

We know that, since the Rudd government has been in power, the number of sitting days—the number of days this parliament has been called together to debate essential legislation—has continually been reduced. One wonders why it is that Mr Rudd does not want the parliament of the nation to have more time to more thoroughly investigate some of the bills that his government is putting through. There is, as I understand it, a huge backlist of bills waiting to be dealt with, but the government never seems to be in any hurry to bring them forward. And they keep reducing the number of days that this parliament sits so that we cannot look at these bills—which, I expect, are important to Australia, otherwise the government would not have introduced them. This bill before us, the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2010, is one which, perhaps, in some circumstances, we might have been reluctant to support, but we understand that the government has got itself into a predicament in relation to the Export Market Development Grants Scheme and that it does need a little legislative support to get this through.

I have indicated that we will be supporting the bill. But I just want to take the opportunity provided by this debate on the second reading to indicate that this is another piece of legislation where Mr Rudd has been all talk and no action. You will remember that, before the last election, he made promise after promise after promise, and very few of those promises have been kept. If I had half an hour, I could run through every single one of the promises Mr Rudd made before the last election that he has since broken. I do not have that sort of time. But this is another one of those bills.

In 2007 the Labor Party promised that it would ‘revitalise the Export Market Development Grants Scheme’. The Labor Party said it would increase the maximum grant by $50,000 to $200,000. It said it would allow the cost of patenting products in the international marketplace to be treated as an eligible export marketing activity. It said that it would allow approved, regional, not-for-profit economic development bodies, including tourism bodies, which promote Australia’s exporters to access the scheme. It promised it would lift the maximum turnover limit from $30 million to $50 million. It promised it would cut the minimum threshold of expenditure by $5,000 to a $10,000 minimum. It further promised to extend the limit on the number of grants from seven to eight annual grants, and to replace the list of eligible services provided in Australia with a negative list which meant that all services would be considered eligible unless otherwise specified.

These were fairly sensible proposals that the coalition itself was getting around to, because it was all about updating the EMDG and assisting businesses, especially small businesses, to break into the export market. The program was to be more accessible, especially to businesses in the services sector and those based in regional areas. This promise, like so many of the Labor Party’s promises, has been broken. They did something for one year, but they have taken it back again. So we find in this bill that the government is actually reducing the maximum grant from $200,000 to $150,000, in direct contradiction of the promise that Mr Rudd made before the last election. In this bill they are also reducing the maximum number of grants available to an individual recipient from eight to seven, again directly negativing a solemn promise Mr Rudd gave to the Australian public before the last election. Under this bill the government will cap intellectual property registration expenses at $50,000 per application, again contrary to the indication given before the last election. They are increasing the minimum expenses threshold from $10,000 to $20,000 and increasing the eligibility income limit for members of approved joint ventures from $30 million to $50 million.

All of these things are contrary to the indications Mr Rudd gave before the last election. That is why so many people now refer to Mr Rudd as ‘blah, blah, blah’: promise everything, do what you need to do and say what you need to say to get elected, but when you get to government just ignore it. Remember the promises about a million computers for high school students? How many have been delivered? I think it is 220,000, which is nowhere near the million promised by Mr Rudd. As I said, if time permitted, I could go on for an hour on all of the promises Mr Rudd made before the last election which he has capriciously broken as he struggles to try to manage this economy.

The Labor Party commissioned a Mr David Mortimer to carry out a review of the EMDG Scheme.

Senator Conroy —A very good man.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —A very good person, do you say, Senator Conroy? Senator Conroy, if you know him he must be somehow associated with one of your stacks in some of your branches or something.

Senator Conroy —He is the chairman of Australia Post.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I in no way impugn Mr Mortimer that he would be so silly as to be a member of Senator Conroy’s branches. But he did, as I understand it, carry out the review. He reported in September 2008, and Minister Crean promised that a government response would be available by the end of the year. I remember questioning the government at length about this at the estimates committee hearings in 2008, and the indication was, ‘Yes, we’ll have a response by the end of December 2008.’ That response did not eventuate, but it was promised again in the 2009-10 budget and then again in the 2010-11 budget. We are still waiting for a response from the government and the minister to the Mortimer report. We suspect that there has not been a response from the government because most of what Mr Mortimer recommended—and I take Senator Conroy’s interjection that he is a very good and very clever man and that he would have done a very good report—was that the earlier changes of Minister Crean be reversed. So obviously Mr Crean is not too keen on an investigation that more or less says, ‘Mr Crean, you have no idea what you are doing and I recommend that your proposals be reversed.’

As a result of this administrative activity and mismanagement by the Labor Party in relation to supporting and developing our exports, particularly by small business, we find that there is no certainty, and business needs certainty. Mr Truss, the shadow minister for trade in the other place, in dealing with this issue listed at length the impact on a number of small businesses that the government’s lack of certainty has caused. People who have spent money in the expectation of getting a full grant or an almost full grant have been disappointed. They have spent the money and they are not going to get reimbursed by the government, in spite of every expectation the government gave them that they would be reimbursed. That again demonstrates that the Labor Party, as is being shown in the mining tax debacle, has no interest in business. They do not understand business and do not understand the certainty necessary. As I indicated, we will be supporting the bill and I commend it to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.