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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11241


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (15:17): My question is to the Minister for Trade. Will the minister advise the House of the importance for Australia's trade relationships of maintaining an open and competitive economy? What would be the consequences for the nation of walking away from these core economic principles?


Dr EMERSON (RankinMinister for Trade) (15:17): I thank the member for his question. It is very important that Australia maintains its open, competitive economy. It is those reforms that were initiated by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and carried forward in places by John Howard that have laid the foundations for 20 years of recession-free economic growth. It is true that there is a sense of rising protectionist sentiment around the world, and that itself is a threat to the completion of the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations. Those protectionist sentiments are not being expressed just overseas; they are being expressed here in Australia, both outside and inside the parliament. We have seen that expressed through a bill that would have prohibited the importation of apples from New Zealand. We have seen it expressed through a private member's bill that would have required the labelling of palm oil in a way that is inconsistent with Australia's World Trade Organisation obligations.

We have seen proposals in relation to dumping measures, and I commend the customs minister for a very comprehensive and sensible WTO-consistent set of measures to deal with dumping, but there is in fact a dissenting or minority report from the Senate which basically says that we should be looking at a reversal of the onus of proof in relation to anti-dumping—that is, you are dumping unless you can prove otherwise. We have had expressed in this parliament the view that that particular measure is a sensible measure and it should be taken seriously and we should proceed with that.

That is notwithstanding the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which says the amendments would result in a breach of Australia's international obligations. This is the problem: we have proposals in this parliament for measures that would breach our international trading obligations. Why is that important? Because we rely on the World Trade Organisation to have a set of rules to protect our Australian businesses from unfair practices by others. That is why we have a set of world trading rules, but if we do not play by those rules, if we do not comply with them, we open ourselves up to retaliation. We have had in this parliament, expressed in relation to international carbon-linking, statements about Iran, Venezuela, Syria and Yemen. Those have not come from this side of the parliament but from the other side.

It reminds me, with this sense of economic Hansonism that is going on, of a statement that was actually made not by a coalition member but by a Labor member, a predecessor of the member for Canberra, who once said that traditionally most of Australia's imports come from overseas. I think that is true, that traditionally they have, but the opposition is on to it now and it has realised that in order to engage in international trade we must engage with foreigners—these rascally, pesky foreigners. The opposition leader is saying he is not against international trade, just so long as it is not with foreigners. The only foreigners that the opposition leader likes are the people smugglers, to whom he is saying, 'Start your engines; come on down!'

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The minister will conclude.

Ms Gillard: Mr Speaker, that being 20 questions, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, I simply ask: is it in order for the Prime Minister to claim 20 questions when in fact only 19 have been asked?

The SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister has asked that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.