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Wednesday, 6 June 2001
Page: 27347

Mr HARDGRAVE (10:05 AM) —I am pleased to rise in support of the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2001 before us today. I note that the Australian Labor Party spokesman's contribution to the debate lasted seven minutes, so the export marketing development expertise of Australian small business is worth seven minutes of time for the member for Kingsford-Smith, which I think in itself is very sad indeed. All I know is that over the past five years that I have been the member for Moreton, $12½ million—that is not counting what has happened in this calendar year—has been given to small businesses and businesses of a medium size in my electorate to help them generate more business for Australia as a nation and more business for the Australians who are part of those businesses involved in export trade.

We all know, as we look at our trade deficit figures that have been legion in this nation for decades—although we note that the most recent one shows a surplus, a bettering of the position, and we hope that that can be sustained—that exporting goods and services offshore is the secret to our success as a nation. We need to sell more of what we make, more of what we can provide as far as advice and other services are concerned—educational services is one that immediately springs to mind—to reverse the circumstance of this nation being an importing nation rather than a major exporting nation.

The Export Market Development Grants Scheme is the principal financial assistance mechanism the Commonwealth provides to exporters to reward them for their efforts and encourage them to do even more. In fact, we provide up to 50 per cent of the money spent by exporters during a financial year on export promotional activities, generating interest in us as a nation. Of course, this takes on a lot of different spheres. Minister Vaile, who is doing a superb job in the area of trade, has put together the magnificent document From sheep's back to cyberspace, which sums it all up as far as Australia's changing export position is concerned.

In my own electorate, schools as diverse as Mount Gravatt State High School and Redeemer Lutheran College through to my alma mater, Griffith University, are actively exporting their services to a range of people in other parts of the world, encouraging them to spend money on what we can provide as education in this nation. Just the other day I heard of a rather exciting prospect from Garden City Christian Church, which has put together a 350-strong choir which performed at Southbank last Christmas and produced record attendance figures there at that time. They see themselves as offering something as far as export potential for this country is concerned, be it not just the CD recording of their performances or the performances themselves but also the videos and the prospect of exciting more people about Australia. They are looking at ways and means of perhaps being able to access the Export Market Development Grants Scheme for the products and services they believe they can offer people in other countries.

This is a very important bill for the amendments that are being made as a result of the review process undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Professor Bewley of the University of New South Wales which recommended an extension of the scheme. The bill contains findings of that review, including the provision for the payment of export market development grants to businesses that promote attendance by foreign residents at conferences, meetings, conventions, exhibitions and sporting, cultural and entertainment events held in Australia on behalf of the owners of those events. In other words, this grant is now taking on a real understanding of the changing export environment and exciting more people to want to connect with Australia in more and different ways. I applaud the measures in this bill. I agree it is only right that we do extend it into those areas because that recognises the way things have changed.

The sort of export this country is about is no longer something ploughed up in a field or picked off a bush or shorn off a sheep's back, placed into a container, trucked to the ports, fighting its way through the Maritime Union's best delaying efforts, and sold offshore. It is no longer about digging it out of the ground, crushing it, putting it on a coal train and sending it off through a port to somewhere else. It is about e-business, education, cultural activities and biotechnology, which I would like to spend a bit of time talking about. So this government is understanding the real world and making the necessary improvements to a scheme that has essentially been redefined and that is working extremely well as a result of the efforts of this government over the past five years.

This amending legislation also extends the range of export promotional expenses which are eligible under the EMDG Act to include transport, accommodation and meal expenses incurred in relation to the visits to Australia of overseas buyers or potential overseas buyers. When I look through the list that has been compiled in my own electorate of the record of achievement of this government, it deals with everything from the marvellous biotechnology company Alchemia, which I will talk about a little more in a moment, through to Tube Specialist, Filter 2000 and so many other companies. There are hundreds of companies that have products and services ranging from agriculture, clothing, furniture, jewellery, sporting, technical and engineering services, health, education, retail, industrial, medical, machinery and equipment, dairy, grocery and soft drinks right through to photographics, household appliances, publishing and media, and chemicals. You name it, it seems to be coming through companies in my electorate. People are out there selling those goods and services, trying to excite more trade for Australia, more jobs for Australians as a result, and less debt for all of us to put up with in this country.

This bill and the measures in it deserve support from those opposite. I am pleased that the opposition, while making only a small contribution to the debate, are going to support this bill. The review the government commissioned found that the EMDG Scheme had been an effective tool for encouraging businesses to seek out and develop export markets. Australian businesses enjoy being able to access this and feel a sense of justification in the way this scheme operates and the way it can improve the business plan of a company. We believe extending the scheme for another five years highlights the government's support for Australia's export sector, its commitment to encouraging small and medium enterprises into export and, of course, to providing some great certainty to those grant applicants that have already made good use of the export market development grants to date.

Sometimes, though, I think a lot of small businesses forget that they are able to access this. I have a constituent who runs a small sandstone mine outside my electorate, but he lives within the electorate of Moreton. He came to see me recently about his efforts and his expense in heading off to Europe, taking samples of his sandstone with him, to attend a marvellous exhibition where people from around the world who are into sandstone and masonry are getting together. That is taking place in Germany at the moment. This gentleman has seen it as part of his role to expand his business offshore because he sees its huge potential, but he had not realised that access to EMDG may have been something he should have taken up. I have sent him down that path and I would be optimistic that his own entrepreneurial flair, backed by the government once he makes a submission for assistance, will generate even greater possibilities than he would have generated from his own initiative. So one critical comment I would make is that there is a need for more marketing of the EMDG Scheme to more small businesses to make them realise there is the potential of government assistance which will enhance their own efforts, on behalf of themselves and their employees, to grow their business by taking business offshore.

The main amendment bill also gives small business far better access to the scheme by reducing the minimum expenditure threshold from $20,000 to $15,000, essentially adopting the `little fish is sweet' principle and encouraging even very small businesses to understand that an investment in themselves can be supported by government. That expenditure threshold reduction will be welcomed by many in my electorate. We have also removed the requirement to register before applying for a first grant, so that they can come back to us and make a submission on an expenditure based claim and get that support from the government once they have established their qualifications.

We are also giving access to the scheme to professional conference organisers, as I said, which means that we will encourage another raft of businesses—people who are out there advocating for Australia, its cause and all the things we have to offer as a nation—by offering them some of the assistance that is given to those who produce tangible items. These sorts of services are generating real jobs. Consider the number of major conference venues that are being built and the magnificent conference facilities that are being installed all around Australia. I am thinking of the Clunies-Ross Centre at Eight Mile Plains in my own electorate—a building that is constructed in the midst of the Eight Mile Plains Technology Park, a place where a lot of EMDG money has gone over the past few years and a place which offers a magnificent venue in Queensland for people to come to learn about space technology and the initiatives of space launch platforms, but also a place where there are now professional services—something that was not there a few years ago—providing facilities that people from overseas can be attracted to, and all the more so because of the changes made in this legislation.

The fact that we have made claimable the transport, accommodation and meal expenses for bringing overseas buyers to Australia is really only dealing with the real world. It will assist Australian businesses of all kinds to promote their exports by bringing buyers to Australia, by showing them what they are getting and where they are getting it from. A company called Australian Sandstone Industries, which is different from the one I was talking about before, has the Helidon sandstone mine in the electorate of Blair—therefore it is out of my own electorate—and is owned by a Chinese gentleman who is becoming a permanent resident in this country but is in the process of signing a one-quarter of a million dollars contract with authorities outside of Beijing for the construction of new civic facilities there, using sandstone out of Australia. It has promoted hard its product in that country. It has brought people over this week from China to inspect the mine itself, to make the decision to purchase, sign the contract, leave, generate jobs and improve Australia's balance of trade. These are real-world examples of what this legislation is attempting to assist.

For the tourism industry, a mainstay of the economy in my home state of Queensland, we are unable to take our beaches overseas to show and market them to people and have them enticed enough to come back here and spend money; and so we need to bring here prospective buyers and people who want to see and help promote and in fact sell Australia overseas as a product and a place of great goods and quality services, and this legislation is liberating them from some of the difficulties that have happened in the past.

As I said at the outset, $12½ million injected into small and medium sized businesses in my electorate of Moreton is worth a lot of jobs to people who live and work in the electorate. It is supporting tremendous organisations and companies such as Alchemia, which just four or five years ago was operating out of the back bedroom of one of its founders' homes in my electorate. It is now in a multimillion-dollar building at Eight Mile Plains and is working hard to use carbohydrates within DNA as a way of breaking down some of the causes of disease and to find cures for disease. Money coming to that company from AusIndustry—$2.1 million in 1998; and last week I witnessed the signing of an agreement for $4.6 million to also come from AusIndustry—has been used to great effect by that organisation. Its efforts, using EMD grants to promote what it can do as a biotech company, are growing jobs in my electorate. There are dozens and dozens of jobs that were not there last year, and close to 100 jobs that were not there five years ago: this company has research potential backed by government and, by developing a product promoted by itself and assisted by government, it has in fact been able to attract tens of millions of dollars of investment and joint ventures in its business from overseas, mainly American, pharmaceutical companies.

This government has certainly put its money where its mouth is with a company such as Alchemia, which picked up $60,000 in export market development grants last year—which proves, of course, that it would have spent all of that again, at least, to get access to the money that has come through the EMDG. Of course, the biotechnology applications of Australian industry and the way that biotech is growing as an industry segment and the way that new jobs are being generated as a result of biotechnology initiatives, such as those from Alchemia, are all part of Australia's bettering trade position, all part of the change that we have in this nation in the sorts of products, goods and services that we provide for sale offshore. We are, as the minister's fine document said, no longer just on the sheep's back: we are dealing with e-business—and the way that we promote ourselves offshore is instantaneous, as a result of new technology—and dealing with biotechnology, encouraging more sustainable agricultural products, improving agricultural productivity through some efforts, and finding new technology that will provide the secrets to horrible diseases and ailments such as cancer. This is the work of Alchemia and other organisations.

As genetically modified products are traded more and more, biotechnology will pose a number of issues for producers and exporters in regional Australia. There are a number of great threshold issues to be thought through for those who have done their way of business, in a traditional sense, for many years. These issues will be worked through as personal initiative and drive as people's own incentive is backed by government on a daily basis.

There are out there a lot of other people like Tracie Ramsdale, who runs Alchemia in my electorate. They are people who have an idea and who find a way to develop that idea. In four years, Tracie took her idea from her back bedroom at Tarragindi and turned it into a multimillion dollar complex at Eight Mile Plains.

Mr HARDGRAVE —It is a fantastic result, Minister. It gives me an enormous sense of pride as the local member to know that I am part of a government that has backed that kind of personal initiative and personal investment and that something has been realised out of our investment in those people.

Mr HARDGRAVE —Thank you for that observation, Minister. At the end of the day, these are very good local people who have tremendous ideas that will have world shaping and world changing consequences and who are attracting attention to themselves because of their own ability. Their initiative and drive in marketing that ability offshore, backed by the government and by processes such as those contained in this bill, are driving an agenda that is creating more jobs—jobs that were not there just a few years ago. To Tracie Ramsdale and to all the team at Alchemia, you are now `a light on the hill', to paraphrase those opposite. They are not the only ones with a hold on that phrase. At the end of the day, we need to back personal initiative and personal investment. EMDG moneys and the amendments made by the government updating the real world consequences of export as contained within this bill are certainly matters worth supporting. I commend the bill to the House.