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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 111

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (3:42 PM) —I move:

That the provisions of paragraphs (5) to (8) of standing order 111 not apply to the Customs Amendment (Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2004 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2004.

This motion would allow the Senate to debate during these sittings the legislation that will give effect to the Thailand-Australia free trade agreement. It is legislation that puts in place an agreement that is quite historic, without using a hackneyed cliche. It certainly underpins Australia's ever expanding engagement with our region. Australia pursues multilateral trade agreements, trying to ensure that trade in the world improves for the benefit of developed and, in particular, developing nations and for the great benefits that improvements in trade can bring to alleviating poverty, hunger and starvation. Although multilateral improvements to trade can certainly achieve that, the Australian government certainly believe that it is not prudent to wait for a breakthrough in multilateral negotiations. It is actually in Australia's interests—the interests of trade and the interests of the people of both Australia and, in this case, Thailand—to pursue bilateral free trade agreements.

Of course, we as a nation have been very successful at doing that. It has occurred in the past under both coalition and Labor governments. The world-leading bilateral trade agreement is Australia's closer economic relations agreement with New Zealand, which was the forerunner of successful trading relationships. That agreement has been a tremendous boon to the people of New Zealand and the people of Australia, and it was a phenomenal achievement in the relationship between our two countries. It is still regarded by both sides of politics on both sides of the Tasman as having brought an incredible improvement to the relations between our two great countries.

I had the great privilege 10 days ago to be a guest of the New Zealand government to discuss climate change issues. It was interesting, in meeting their environment minister, their industry minister, their energy minister as well as their Prime Minister, to see that the depth of the relationship between the two nations is cherished by people on both sides of the political divide. There is still clear recognition of that many years after closer economic relations were established by the Fraser government—I think my history is correct. They were enhanced by the Hawke and Keating governments and have been enhanced more lately under the leadership of John Howard, with great support from Peter Costello. Both sides of politics recognise that.

I think it is fair to say that the free trade agreement recently entered into with the United States had significant bipartisan support. There were some relatively minor disagreements over some aspects of it, but generally speaking there was tremendous bipartisan support. I think this is, again, a commitment that both Latham Labor and the Howard coalition would support. We expect that the US-Australia free trade agreement will deliver substantial benefits to the people of the United States of America and the people of Australia and will deepen what is an important relationship.

The agreement with Thailand entered into within a similar time frame puts the lie to those who would say that this government is too preoccupied with the US relationship. It shows that we can have a substantial relationship with a country like Thailand, a nation which is a very important part of our region, which is successful and which many Australians have a close affinity with. We believe this agreement will deliver substantial benefits to the people of Thailand and to the people of Australia and that it will contribute to ever-deepening relationships in our region. The government believe that, to maintain faith between the countries, this agreement should be entered into. We seek to have it commence by 1 January, the date which was provisionally agreed with the government of Thailand. This government fully respects our parliamentary processes, as I am sure the Thai government does, and we see no reason why that provisional agreement with the government of Thailand should not be supported if the Senate focuses on the legislation during the balance of this week.

We are seeking in this motion to have legislation relating to the Customs Act 1901 and the Customs Tariff Act 1995 exempted from the cut-off order—that is, under standing order 111. I seek the support of the Senate in progressing legislation which will significantly enhance Australia's trade performance, increase jobs in Australia, enhance relations with Thailand and be to the benefit of the Thai people as well. I commend this motion to the Senate to achieve that end.