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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 3982

Senator BACK (Western AustraliaSecond Deputy Government Whip in the Senate) (09:50): Madam Acting Deputy President Boyce, I congratulate you on your last day in the chair. I also compliment Senators Madigan and Xenophon for the spirit behind the Flags Amendment Bill 2014, and the need and desire they have expressed to try to encourage more Australian manufacturing, and I am a hugely optimistic person when we consider this question. Whilst they have mentioned the flag, Senator Xenophon has quite correctly widened the discussion well beyond the flag, and I intend to do so in a few moments time.

As a member of the Defence family I obviously have a very keen interest in the flag, the integrity of the flag and everything that stands behind it, as I know the vast majority of other Australians do. This morning, in considering what I would contribute to this debate, I made email contact with one of my sons, who was a combat officer in Iraq in 2003 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal—the first lieutenant since the Vietnam War to be awarded a Distinguished Service Medal—and followed that up again with a distinguished deployment as a combat officer in Afghanistan in 2006. Indeed, he led American, Dutch and Australian troops. He now resides in the United States. I was very interested to get his take on this. I will quote a couple of his comments. You never know of your success as parents until you actually ask your children a question and get the feedback and then have the opportunity to consider the maturity of the feedback. Justin commented on the fact that our flag displays two symbols, and this, of course, is relevant to this debate. He said:

Our flag itself displays two symbols, the Southern Cross, which is widely regarded as a symbol of our region, our history, and our foreign relations. Australians, New Zealanders and others in our region use the Southern Cross for a wide variety of regional identity purposes.

He said it typifies our unity with and reliance on our friends and theirs on us. Of course, the other part of the flag is the Union Jack, and these were his comments representing the British Commonwealth:

Having begun as a British colony, we have grown as a significant Commonwealth member and as a leader in many multinational pacts, treaties and organisations. Again, this demonstrates our outward focus as an energetic, involved partner on the global scene.

He also goes on to make some comments about overseas trade that I will come back to. I thought he might have picked up on the military heritage and the pride of fighting under our flag, but he did not. He actually focused on Australia's role in the world and Australia's role in the region, and for that I certainly was very proud.

I, like everybody else, want to see the encouragement of more Australian trade, more Australian manufacturing and more opportunities as the world changes. I know Senator Xenophon and Senator Madigan—I know Senator Xenophon more than I know Senator Madigan—and I respect them both very highly. But they, too, both understand that we are an exporting nation. We export more than 65 per cent of what we produce and our wealth depends largely on two areas. One has been the supply of cheap energy, which has attracted so much business and manufacturing and other industries to Australia. The other is the strength of our relationships with our trading partners.

I want to reflect on some examples of where this is helping, has helped and will go on helping our relationships and our Australian jobs into the future. The first is a company of which I had the pleasure of being chief executive officer from 2000 to 2007. It is a Western Australian based company. Why do I make the point? Because that company provides very high-level hardware and, particularly, software to protect the integrity of the supply chain in the fuel industry. It is a company that provided services—and still does—to organisations such as Shell, BP, Esso and Conoco Phillips in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. For better or worse—and I think it was worse—I took the company into India with the Indian government owned fuel companies and also into the Middle East, where it is still very active.

The point I want to make here is that, because of the trade relationships between us and Singapore, this relatively small Western Australian company was successful in winning a contract with the Singapore Armed Forces to provide the hardware and the software that control the supply chain for their entire fuelling from their underground tanks right through to their military vehicles. That is not a bad effort for a company that is not a Singaporean company. I make this point because it speaks to the strength of the opportunity that results from our trading relationships with other countries. We did not have a free trade agreement at that time with Singapore, but I can assure the chamber that that led to an increase in employment here in Australia and in Australians having the opportunity to then go and work in these countries as we transferred technology that was Australian owned and Australian designed and of excellence. That is the sort of issue I want to put before the chamber today in this debate over the flag and the symbolism of what goes beyond it.

The second illustration is that excellent company Cochlear which, as we know, produces implants for different medical situations associated with hearing. These days Cochlear does manufacture in Australia. It is also manufacturing, I understand, in Sweden in Scandinavia. But their products were developed in this country, providing manufacturing opportunities, skills, training and employment. This is the type of area which I believe Australia needs to get itself into very much more actively and strongly. With the deepest respect to the movers of the amendment bill, I say that these opportunities exist because of Australia's relationship with its trading partners around the world, and I think there is enormous opportunity into the future for that to happen even further.

A third example is another Australian product in the health related areas. That is the product ResMed, which is an Australian designed product now globally available and manufactured here. It is a product for the treatment of sleep disorders. Acting Deputy President, I do not know if you suffer those problems—I probably should consult with your spouse—but sleep apnoea, as we know, is a very dangerous condition. Why do I say 'spouse'? Because it is generally the spouses who grumble most and who drive their partners towards the sort of technology that this company develops. When I was residing in Tasmania—through you, Acting Deputy President, to Senator Urquhart—there was that terrible circumstance of a school principal, I think, who drove off the road between Launceston and Hobart back in the 1990s. I believe that particular accident did lead to some fatalities. It was then discovered that the person suffered sleep apnoea—am I not correct? I think I am, but I will stand corrected. ResMed is the sort of technology, again, that is Australian designed and Australian developed, and it is creating employment opportunities and, more to the point, training opportunities for new skills development as the world evolves.

The fourth example is CSL Limited, once known as the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. As a mark of confidence in the expansion of that industry and its products and its services, only last month the new CSL Behring Biotechnology Manufacturing Facility was opened in Broadmeadows in Melbourne by the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, Minister for Industry, along with the Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Denis Napthine MP, and the Minister for Technology, the Hon. Gordon Rich-Phillips.

We all know the value of CSL in the world of vaccines, with Fluvax, for example, and the pioneering work they have done in the provision of blood products over the years. CSL provide plasma and vaccines both for human use and for use in my area of background, the veterinary world. The excellence of that company is there to see. As the CEO of CSL observed on the occasion of the opening:

This world-class facility is key to the ongoing success of our global R&D strategy and reflects our commitment to providing better treatment options for people who are managing certain bleeding disorders and other life-threatening conditions.

What pride do we in Australia have that our country is producing and has produced products and services that are so vitally important in the area of haemophilia?

Senator Xenophon: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. There is a relevance issue. It is all very well and good to hear about cochlear implants and Australian manufacturing technology, but what relevance does this have to the subject of the bill, that Australian flags flown on top of Australian Commonwealth government buildings be made in Australia?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): You have made your point. The point of order is on relevance, and Senator Back is very clearly explaining the proud tradition of Australian manufacturing and innovation. There is typically a free range and quite wide latitude. I am sure that Senator Back will be directly referencing the flags very shortly.

Senator BACK: I actually took my lead from Senator Xenophon when he widened the discussion, during his contribution, to matters well beyond the flag, where he was discussing the levels of protectionism versus the opportunities of free trade. If I recall correctly, Senator Xenophon spoke of free trade widely in his contribution. The points I have been making go to the value to Australia, and I am giving an illustration of the number of companies, products and services which are benefiting and have benefited from the wide trade distribution in our region and around the world.

I will conclude my comments on CSL with the observation that this particular factory, opened by the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, will be doing a lot of work in the development of blood-clotting factors—

Senator Kim Carr: How much money came from the Labor government for that?


Senator BACK: and the treatment of haemophilia. And I am absolutely delighted that my colleague Senator Carr has joined me in agreeing with the position that I am taking about the excellence of it. Who would not recall the book by Bryce Courtenay April Fool's Day, where he wrote so eloquently about his haemophiliac son? At the opening of that laboratory in Broadmeadows, Mr Alain Weill, the President of the World Federation of Hemophilia, took part in the ceremony and made the observation:

The ongoing development of new and improved therapies for haemophilia couldn't be more important to the bleeding disorder community. It's very heartening to see CSL working with governments in Australia to invest in new technologies and facilities that may benefit people with haemophilia all around the world.

I think that is the important point that needs to be made in this debate.

I respect the fact that Senators Xenophon and Madigan have made the point about the use of Australian materials and Australian manufacturing in producing our flag, but, if the information that was given to me is correct, it is only contracts over $80,000 that have got to go to tender outside Australia. I learnt a lot as I read the transcript. Senator Madigan made the point, in response to answers given, that the existence of an ABN, an Australian business number, is not necessarily evidence that that is an Australian company. That is quite correct. I do not know how many contracts there are—maybe there are a lot—that exceed $80,000 and go onto the open market. I would have thought they would have been relatively limited in their scope, but I will stand corrected.

Naturally, one would always encourage that, where possible, Australian icons such as the Australian flag should be produced by Australian manufacturers using Australian materials, but, as I think I heard Senator Xenophon say, if those materials are not available, what do we want? Do we not want the products to be produced at all? I for one would always say very proudly that Australia and Australians should not be disadvantaged and should have the opportunity—and I believe they do have that opportunity—but I do not want to see restrictions limiting it to Australians, particularly if retaliatory action by companies in other countries means that we are then denied access to markets in our region and beyond our region.

In the few minutes left available to me, I want to go to the issue of free trade agreements. For those who had the opportunity to join with representatives of the dairying industry this morning in the Mural Hall, it was a particularly interesting exercise. Dairying has been down in this country for some time, and we are now seeing a resurgence. I met with a milk production family in Manjimup in Western Australia's South-West on the weekend, and they told me that they are exporting directly now to the Singapore market. What is produced this morning is in the market in Singapore tomorrow. I just thought to myself, 'What a wonderful opportunity.' I was talking to a gentleman from Murray Goulburn about this question, and he made the observation to me that, as a result of the free trade agreement between New Zealand and China that was signed in 2008, the New Zealand company Fonterra now has 40 per cent of the fresh milk market in China. Think of the excellence of the marketers of New Zealand. Imagine a country that could take a product called Chinese gooseberries, rename them kiwifruit, produce them in New Zealand and then, under a free trade agreement, sell them back into the Chinese market. I think we have a lot to learn from that country.

I go again now to a Western Australian cooperative, Co-operative Bulk Handling, which is the large grain handling organisation with the biggest supply chain in Australia for grain. More importantly, because of our relationships with our trading partners, they now have grain mills, flour mills, in Vietnam, in Malaysia and in Indonesia. In fact, the mill in Indonesia is a fourth largest, I understand, in the world. That is an example of where we do not want protectionism; we want to be able to compete, in my view, out there on the world stage. We want Australian manufacturing to be excellent. We want participation. We want the opportunities for young people to be optimistic about these industries, to provide them with the skill sets and provide them with the employment prospects so that they can participate. To the extent that our Australian flag manufacturers can compete and can produce a product that we want, all well and good. But if it is going to mean that Australian skills development and jobs are denied because of retaliatory action then I for one have deep concern about that and would obviously like to discuss it further with my colleagues.

Finally, by way of examining the world ahead of us, Senator Xenophon made reference to Toyota, Holden and Ford. As a Western Australian, and with Senator Whish-Wilson in the room, I will make observations as a Western Australian about the GST and the contribution of the states. You and I were at a very interesting discussion between Darwin and Katherine just recently. I do not want this morning in the limited time left to me to comment on trade protectionism in the southern states, particularly Victoria and New South Wales, vis-a-vis Western Australia, but I do want to draw the attention of the chamber to the demonstrations given to us yesterday by the 3D company in which they were giving us examples of products being printed. They were telling me that in September this year at the car show in New York over the four days, using this technology, they are going to print a motor car and drive it away. They were telling me that experimentally they are already taking kidney tissue of people who are on dialysis and need kidney transplants, they are growing that tissue out and they will be printing new kidneys to go back into that same patient. It is their own tissue with no rejection, no immunosuppressant drugs et cetera. They were telling me of the instance where astronauts will not take tools into space; they will manufacture and print them in space. That is the world of the future for me. That is the world into which Australia and young Australians must go. That is where they must be trained. That is where their skills must be developed. Anything at all in my view that limits or puts a foot on the hose of that development in the future is not to our advantage.