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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 11972

Mr NIKOLIC (Bass) (12:56): I welcome the remarks by the member for Rankin in support of this bill and also for acknowledging that 'perfect' can often be the enemy of the possible. I also welcome the opportunity to make a contribution, and I acknowledge in the gallery my beautiful wife, Christine, who is here with us today.

The measures in this bill are modest, but the benefits of more trade between Australia and China are so important for our future prosperity. This enabling legislation ensures growing trade with our biggest trading partner and the world's second biggest economy. Tapping into growing middle-class markets from India to Asia will be a vital enabler of growth and new jobs beyond the mining boom. Those middle-class markets are projected to grow from 500 million people today to 1.7 billion people in the next 15 years. That is why free trade deals with South Korea, Japan, China, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries are a key component of our microeconomic reform agenda and efforts to diversify Australia's economy.

Just as the Howard government left a strong legacy of no debt and money in the bank, which enhanced our economic freedom of action, these free trade deals put us in the best possible position to take advantage of looming opportunities. But it is equally apparent that few if any other nations have afforded Australia economic opportunities like those provided by China. After all, it was trade demand from China, both before and during the global financial crisis, which helped support our economic stability—allowing us to remain in the relatively tranquil eye of the economic storm during this unprecedented economic event. In short, Australia weathered this storm because of economic prudence and the deliberate building up of a surplus in good times—a bounty which was buttressed by the sale of our natural resources to China. But this new agreement with China goes further still. It signals a maturing of the valued relationship that exists between Australia and China.

This trade agreement will prove to be a significant business multiplier—not only growing existing business links but also spawning new shoots of commercial activity. There can be only one outcome from such growth, and that is buoyant and far-reaching business confidence. I call it the 'Pacific ripple effect': the unfolding of a growing trade tsunami between Australia and China which will, over time, advantage every part of the Australian economy.

The story can be told much more compellingly in numbers rather than in words. Preferred access status to a market of 1.5 billion people is, for a nation like Australia with approximately 24 million people, an opportunity that is all but unheard of, especially in modern times. Indeed, 85 per cent of our goods entering China will do so tariff-free, and at full implementation 95 per cent of our goods will enter China tariff free. Especially for our farmers, this will be like manna from heaven. Consider Reid Fruits in Tasmania as a compelling example. Their cherry exports have risen from five tonnes in 2014 to 185 tonnes in 2015, thanks to our free trade export agreements.

I note particularly that tariffs will be abolished for Australia's $13 billion dairy industry—great news for Tasmania, where dairy production is increasing, but also for beef and sheep exporters, who will gain from the abolition of tariffs in the order of 12 to 25 per cent. Additionally, 30 per cent tariffs on Australian horticulture will be entirely eliminated. And the future anticipated gains to sectors like resources and energy, and manufactured exports, are anticipated to be of similar magnitudes over time. This opportunity beckons now and deserves to be more widely acknowledged and celebrated in every part of Australia, if only because the bountiful returns of Minister Robb's efforts will fall so uniformly across our nation. For my home state of Tasmania, which has an enviable and growing reputation for clean, green, fresh, quality produce, these trade deals will be most beneficial. All of these statistics reinforce my view that we should really be seeing the 21st century not just as the Asian century but as the Asia engagement century. The House will no doubt be familiar with the Chinese proverb 'let a thousand flowers bloom' and, while I do not wish to overblow the simile, there is a compelling parallel to be drawn with respect to the flourishing of new business opportunities in our region.

I have acknowledged the brilliant work of Trade Minister Andrew Robb, in securing this high water mark trade agreement on behalf of all Australians. But I also take the opportunity to recognise the dedicated work undertaken by so many officials—Australian and Chinese alike—to realise this opportunity. Their efforts have helped Minister Robb bring off the largest deal of its type that China has undertaken with any developed nation. It will support innumerable economic, social and cultural benefits for both countries. Foremost among these will be its anticipated critical contribution to regional strategic security. Free trade is one of the strongest contributors to regional and global peace and stability; indeed, reciprocal barter, exchange and interaction all work as constructive agents to dissolve and dispel fear, misunderstanding and xenophobia, which are the basis of much international armed conflict and aggression.

I would hazard saying that Australians and Chinese want essentially the same things in, and from, life—a better and brighter future for current and future generations. This agreement reflects and reinforces that laudable objective. Regrettably, the other side of the House have been overly cautious about seizing this rare gift. They have been afflicted by a combination of myopia, as well as a desire to strive for the perfect outcome. As the member for Rankin quite appropriately illuminated, the perfect can often be the enemy of the possible. But what is worse is the appalling campaign against the China free trade deal by some militant unions like the CFMEU and the ETU. The fact is that the deal secured by Minister Robb is as good as it gets for both sides—China and Australia. This is a reality that has been publicly recognised by Labor luminaries of substance and foresight. The list includes former Labor prime ministers, some current and former and senior federal ministers and state premiers. I note the announcement earlier today that Labor has now decided to support this free trade deal. That is a welcome outbreak of common sense and I congratulate members opposite on ensuring that the collective wisdom of their caucus has landed where it has.

The bottom line is surely this: trade deals of this type and constructive interdependence do not get any better, and their coaxing to fruition occurs perhaps only once in a generation. This is particularly the case with a potential trade partner like China, which has shown itself over millennia to be a shy and reticent giant. Yes, it can be coaxed from its natural introspection and caution, but this is not easily done and perhaps is more easily undone. I welcome Labor getting on board so that the train of international trade opportunity can depart the station—with the clear destination being a better and brighter future for all of us and future generations.

I acknowledge the wisdom of the member for Rankin and his knowledge of history in saying that Australia's engagement with Australia's engagement with China commenced with the Whitlam government, and it did, with the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in late 1973. Now, just over four decades on, this trade agreement significantly reinforces our existing ties and optimises our relationship. In the process, it establishes the conditions for greater mutual wealth and enhanced understanding between us. The latter—understanding—is the true basis of reciprocal respect between our great nations, and will be the principal commodity, as opposed to what we grow or mine, which will sustain and nurture our joint trade partnership.

I will not use all of my time; I know an extraordinary number of my colleagues want to make a contribution. Let me conclude on this: this trade agreement is good for all Australians on three counts. It will improve Australia economically, it will act to support regional stability and security and it provides a firm basis for even greater renewal of our existing links and engagement with a true global giant. I commend the bill to the House.