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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 2344

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (16:55): I, and also on behalf of Senator Xenophon, move:

That the Senate calls on the Government to alter Commonwealth procurement policy in order to require all government departments to only use Australian made products where possible, and, in particular, paper products.

I am pleased to speak on this important topic today. It has been more than two years since I took my seat in this place. As a tradesman, a boilermaker and a blacksmith, it is fair to say that I look at things differently to most others here. I believe my background gives me empathy and common ground with our manufacturing sector—a sector which I believe has been ignored by this place for far too long.

It should be with a sense of pride that all parliamentarians and all Australians view this building. This is one place that should be showcasing the very best Australia has to offer. It would not even cross the minds of Australians that the national symbol on top of the Australian parliament in the nation's capital was made anywhere but in this country. However, the Department of Parliamentary Services, acting under Commonwealth procurement guidelines, cannot even guarantee our flag on top of this building would be made in Australia. It is not just unfortunate that our coat of arms is emblazoned on coffee cups, plates and glasses that are made in China, the UAE or elsewhere; it is a real slap in the face of our manufacturers in this country who have the skills and knowhow to make these items here.

As many of you may know, Senator Xenophon and I took steps to ensure that at least some Australian-made products were represented in the parliament. We took it upon ourselves to purchase a 120-place setting—750 pieces of Australian-made crockery to stock the Members' Guests Dining Room. Two Victorian manufacturers made the plates and delivered them to my office here at Parliament House, and there the boxes sat. It was only after intense media pressure that the Department of Parliamentary Services accepted our gift. Since the boxes of plates were moved from my office to the office of DPS, they have disappeared, I fear into a bureaucratic black hole—the rabbit warren of unaccountability. They have not been seen in the dining room to date, so where are they?

Australian government procurement goes far beyond cups, plates and bowls in the dining room. The Commonwealth is a huge consumer of products. Everything from tissues to office chairs and copy paper in offices through to uniforms, food and fighter jets for our defence personnel is an opportunity for Australian manufacturers to supply a need. Since taking my seat, I have had the opportunity to meet with a multitude of manufacturers across my home state of Victoria and across the country. I know Australian manufacturers are amongst the best in the world. They have to be to have survived in a country that has not supported them. I have met workers from everywhere: from Gold Acres in Ballarat to Flip Screen in Wagga Wagga, Rossi Boots in Adelaide, Baum Cycles in Geelong, Brobo Waldown in Dandenong, Parken Drills in Clayton in Victoria and Molnar Hoists in Adelaide. All these firms and their workers have one message for the government: they just want a fair go.

On 14 November 2013, Senator Xenophon and I referred a motion relating to Commonwealth procurement to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee for report. In my speech today, I would like to concentrate on a line from that motion: 'the economic, social and environmental benefits of utilising Australian goods and services.' Over the Christmas break almost 50 submissions were received. Many of the submissions highlighted the need for our government to consider not just the bottom-line dollar value but the real benefits of buying Australian made.

The submissions confirm what I have said all along. No imported manufactured goods can compare when you consider the economic, social and environmental benefits of buying Australian made. It is not rocket science. Australian manufacturers are the custodians of all that makes this country great. Australian manufacturers are an integral part of Australia. They contribute to their families and their friends who make up the Australian community, they care for the environment in which they live and they care about the economy which they support and which supports them.

I can talk in broad brush strokes about the benefits of supporting our country, but let me give you an example of one product, the people who make it and how buying from our manufacturers supports our country. That product is paper. In the Australian Forest Products Association submission to the inquiry, they gave us the statistics on paper. Annually, the Australian government purchases approximately 6½ thousand tonnes of copy paper, uses an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes of paper for external printing of publications, pamphlets, forms, brochures and envelopes and purchases around $100 million worth of tissue paper. Buying paper made in Australia means we are supporting not only companies that pay tax and employ Australians but also a product that complies with Australian standards. Supporting our own companies means that social, environmental and economic benefits stay in our country.

The Australian Forest Products Association made the case better than I could ever do in their submission to the Commonwealth procurement inquiry. They said:

… Australian Paper is the largest private employer in Victoria's Latrobe Valley, and contributes more than $750 million annually to Australia's GDP and supports over 5,900 flow-on full time jobs. The construction of Australia's only de-inked recycled paper plant at the Australian Paper Maryvale mill is also supporting 950 direct and indirect jobs during construction and around 250 new jobs ongoing, as well as contributing $160 million in value to the economy. This project will produce 50000 tonnes of recycled pulp each year, diverting up to 85000 tonnes of wastepaper that would otherwise end up in landfill.

That is socially, economically and environmentally responsible. With good news like that, you would think it would be hard to find anyone who does not value the industry for all the good work it does. However, you only have to look as far as our own government departments to see how short-sighted our government is being.

When AFPA consulted the Australian government procurement coordinator, they discovered that, of the 84 copy paper products sourced under the whole-of-government stationery and office supply arrangements, only 45 per cent of the products were sourced from Australia. Let me put that in different words: less than half of government paper products come from Australia. Forty-five per cent comes from Australia, 36 per cent comes from Europe and 19 per cent of our paper products come from Asia. If the company Australia Paper can so vitally support workers in the Latrobe Valley when they are competing with other Australian paper mills for less than half of the total federal government pie, imagine the social, economic and environmental benefits the country could be experiencing if 60, 80 or 100 per cent of government paper products were purchased in Australia.

During the public hearing held on 21 March Mr Ross Hampton, chief executive officer of AFPA, said:

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge the economic, social and environmental benefits of utilising Australian paper products. The Australian paper industry directly employs 15,000 people in both outer metropolitan and, importantly, regional areas and supports a further 22,000 indirect jobs. A sales turnover for the sector averages around $9.6 billion per year and the wood and paper products industry collectively represents about five per cent of the total manufacturing value added in this country.

The Australian government annually purchases up to 6½ thousand tonnes of copy paper, and by some estimates—this is important—a further 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes of paper is used for external printing and that sort of thing. Purchasing decisions therefore by the Australian government consequently have a direct impact on national, economic and social benefits.

Let me repeat that last line:

Purchasing decisions therefore by the Australian government consequently have a direct impact on national, economic and social benefits.

Our manufacturers and our industries recognise the positive flow-on effects of buying Australian made. These effects include greater employment, more tax paid to the government and better environmental outcomes. Australian manufacturers deserve a government that puts the interests of our country first. It is dangerous to view procurement through the narrow lens of value for money alone.

Our procurement policy needs to take into account the social, economic and environmental effects of buying in Australia from Australian companies that manufacture in Australia. If we save a few dollars bringing in paper from Asia and use that paper to print welfare cheques for people in the Latrobe Valley, how is that value for money? If we save a few dollars by importing the Australian flag for the top of this building while watching our own flag makers go out of business, how is this value for money? If we save a few dollars by importing crockery from China for Parliament House, putting our own crockery makers into the dole queue, how is that value for money? And if we save a few dollars by sourcing 250 drills from China—as was done recently for our defence forces—instead of buying them from one of our own drill manufacturers, how is this value for money? This last purchase, if Australian-made, would have ticked all the boxes socially and economically—to say nothing of the skills that would have been boosted and kept in Australia.

I will finish my speech today by reminding everyone in the chamber exactly why we are here. We politicians are elected to represent the people of this country. Politicians are elected to represent the interests of the people who elect them. We are not elected by the people of other countries, nor are we elected by foreign corporations. Thank you.