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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29428

Mr BAIRD (10:17 AM) —I am very pleased to speak on the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2004. I follow up the comments by the member for Ryan and say that it is very interesting to note the dearth of opposition members speaking on issues relating to the economy, taxation, trade and tourism. We have had one speaker from the opposition on this matter and he was out the door faster than Speed Gordon. He hardly spoke. It shows a lack of real focus on the economy and the way in which this economy is built. If you look at Leader of the Opposition's response to the budget, you will see that economic management did not come into it. All of the soft options like reading books to your children were there, but where were the hard yards with regard to building the economy?

Without trade, this nation is in big trouble. Without incentives to get the Australian manufacturers and small business people out there in the marketplace, we also have significant problems. The Export Market Development Grants Scheme has been operating under both sides of the parliament. When the other side were previously in government, they had the scheme. Of course, it has been reformed since we have been in government, and the success is there to be seen. The Howard government have had a very strong and effective record in relation to trade and, since we have been in government, trade has increased by over 40 per cent and now reaches $140 billion, which is a great achievement.

The areas in which we have been particularly strong include elaborately transformed manufactures, which have gone up by 11 per cent, and processed primary produce, which has gone up by eight per cent. Service sector growth has also been very considerable. Despite the downturns we have seen because of SARS and September 11 and October 12, this year we have seen the benefits of the increased expenditure by the government and a further $235 million being allocated for tourism promotion. It has been well received by the industry. It is this government that expanded the EMDG Scheme to the tourism sector. The education sector has also increased sevenfold since we came to government, which is an amazing achievement.

The EMDG Scheme has been in operation for some years. The coalition, in coming to government in 1996, changed its operation to maximise the number of companies that would gain benefits, particularly aiming at smaller companies and medium sized enterprises. Following the continuing success of the scheme, a further round of legislation was introduced in 2001 to ensure the ongoing nature of the program, at a cost of $150 million. Last year alone, the scheme contributed to over 3,700 businesses. Those businesses generated $5.5 billion in export revenue and employed over 122,000 people. The overall development of the scheme has been very impressive. Since we changed the scheme in 2001 the number of grant recipients has increased by over 25 per cent. Last year the scheme provided over $800,000 in grants to 20 organisations in my electorate.

Not only is the government providing real incentives in these areas of activity, it is also working on the free trade agreement, which does not get support from the other side of parliament. Benefits of $4½ billion are expected from that agreement. That is a tremendous achievement. We are waiting for the Senate report on the free trade agreement. I think the agreement will be one of the great pluses of the time that this government has been in power. The Australia-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and the Australia-Thai Free Trade Agreement are already in place.

This bill seeks to add a `fit and proper' test to the selection criteria for potential recipients of the EMDG Scheme. The test will allow the administrators of the scheme to exercise a degree of discretion over the selection of grant recipients to ensure they meet the fit and proper test. Currently a number of guidelines, including criminal convictions and previous insolvency, are assessed. This test adds a further criterion. The test will be subject to further review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The bill also provides secondary power to Austrade to request and obtain information relevant to the assessment of the fit and proper test.

This bill should be well received by both sides of the House. It is enthusiastically supported by this side of the House. The EMDG Scheme is integral to the overall success of the Australian export industry. Australia's exports continue to grow and expand, having gone up by over 40 per cent since this government has been in power. They are the strength and backbone of this economy. The free trade agreements will add to the vibrancy of our export program. All members of the House should support these changes. This is a technical bill related to the fit and proper criteria. It is part of the ongoing refinement of the EMDG Scheme, which has worked extremely well to assist small and medium sized companies into the marketplace. I commend the bill to the House.