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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9490

Senator KETTER (Queensland) (11:44): I rise to make a contribution in respect of the Fair-Trade (Australian Standards) Bill 2013. I regret to say that, despite the well-intentioned motives of Senator Madigan with this bill, I cannot support it. There probably would not be a parliamentarian in this place who would not want to see proper standards being imposed in respect of manufactured goods in Australia. When we look at the explanatory memorandum of this bill, we can see some quite laudable objectives. The memorandum says:

The Bill will require Australia's trading partners to ensure that companies that export goods to Australia take responsibility for ensuring that their manufactured goods meet Australian Standards prior to being sold on the Australian market. The requirement will require the Minister to ensure that appropriate requirements are included in any trade agreement that Australia enters into with another country.

That all sounds very good and there probably would not be too many people that would object to the intentions behind the bill. Unfortunately, there are a number of shortcomings with it.

One of the concerns that I have, as a senator for Queensland, is that I live in a state which is currently being mismanaged by the Newman government. The other factor that I think is relevant here is that Queensland is a state which depends upon trade. It is a very important part of the Queensland economy. Unfortunately, it would appear that Senator Madigan's bill has the potential for damaging Australia's trading arrangements with other countries. If that is in fact the case, then we certainly have some major concerns about it. If we look at the Queensland situation at the moment, we see that our state cannot make any further changes which would make it more difficult for our struggling Queensland government to meet its obligations to ensure that we have a thriving economy. Right now, we have got very big employment worries across regional Queensland. It has been revealed that we have seen unemployment at seven per cent, seasonally adjusted, in Queensland, with youth unemployment rates particularly high. This is a concern that I have: if we have a bill which, despite its good intentions, may lead to retaliation from our trading partners, then this could particularly adversely affect the good people of Queensland.

Apart from the intention behind the bill being quite laudable, we have some concerns about the way in which the bill has been drafted. We are concerned about the fact that it may not have the effect that Senator Madigan intends for it to have. The bill, unfortunately, has not been drafted or explained in a way that would allow the Senate to have confidence that, if it were enacted into law, it would achieve those laudable objectives.

As I have said, the bill would probably lead to some retaliation. I heard the contribution from Senator Macdonald, and it is probably one of the rare occasions that Senator Macdonald and I would agree on something. Unfortunately, if you leave things fairly loosely worded in the bill then it is likely that there are going to be some unintended consequences.

The bill, unfortunately, imposes higher regulatory burdens and additional costs on Australian exporters and foreign firms, for what would appear to be little benefit.

Trade liberalisation is essential for Australia, and particularly Queensland, to secure markets for our exports, so long as we do not sell out our national interest in meeting those liberalisation objectives. The opening-up of the Queensland economy and the Australian economy, including the dismantling of barriers to trade, has been one of the very important reforms that have occurred in recent times. I am very proud of the fact that Labor was at the forefront of that in the eighties, expanding the Australian economy and making the Australian economy much more outward looking. This, over time, has had the effect of improving the living standards of millions of Australian working people. And of course it has stimulated growth of innovative and entrepreneurial Australian businesses.

Whilst Senator Madigan might be seeking to protect Australian consumers, what he seems to be, in effect, doing is protecting Australian industry. I understand the intention behind that, and perhaps in other circumstances I might be more supportive of this type of approach, but the current bill does not advance the cause in a way that is helpful or constructive. We recognise that Australia is no longer a closed economy, and this is not something which just happened in the last five years or so; it has happened over the last couple of decades.

I would also like to point out that we understand that reducing barriers to trade can boost our economic growth but, unfortunately, this bill is not going to achieve this objective.

Debate adjourned.