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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 19995

Mr FORREST (1:36 PM) —I am pleased to support the motion put forward by the members for Flinders and Ryan. I congratulate them on bringing this to the parliament's attention. There is little doubt that, when we regard the economies of both China and Japan, they are the two biggest economies in East Asia—China is the third largest, and fastest growing, export destination for Australia; Japan is our largest export market. Japan's GNP is at $US4.5 trillion, and China's is the sixth largest at $US1.1 trillion. These two economies cannot be ignored.

In response to the member for Lyons, my primary producers are very much interested in what the government is doing on the multilateral front and particularly with regard to these two bilateral negotiations. I will talk a little bit more on the multilateral issue shortly. I was disappointed the member for Lyons focused so much on the negatives. He talked a lot about free trade; let us talk more consistently about fair trade. That is what my farmers are asking for—market access. They are ever more efficient in what they do—the most efficient primary producers in the world, in fact—but are doing it tough with no subsidies at all. They are demanding fair trade, so let us focus on that in their interests and put the interests of other nations behind our own. From my perspective it is about accessing those markets that, before this, have been restricted to us because of distortions in the world markets. We want those constraints removed.

What is wrong in determining our destiny in the best interests of ourselves? What is wrong with that, particularly with regard to primary producers who have a record, in the history of the nation, of carrying the nation? So I am a little disappointed by the contribution from the member for Lyons. I know he is a good bloke, but he should be more focused on the benefits for his constituency—which has some of the elements of primary production in which I have primary interest. His veiled criticism of the outcome at Cancun was not missed by me. Anybody who thinks that the outcome in Mexico was somehow a surprise does not know much about the difficulties of negotiating such large multilateral arrangements. What I heard from the last speaker, the member for Burke, reflects the mistakes that were made in the past—too much of a focus on the multilaterals.

I came to this parliament in 1993 because of the inappropriate decisions that had been made in pursuit of those large, multilateral arrangements—wholesale reductions in Australia's tariffs for imports that saw primary industries thrown to the wolves, particularly the citrus industry. Their tariff was reduced overnight from 30 per cent to five per cent. They were forced to go cold turkey in adjustments, with no help from this parliament and the government of the day. That is not an approach that is in the best interests of the wealth creators of the nation, so let us be done with the suggestion that we have to be entirely dependent on negotiating multilaterals. This government has focused very determinedly on both approaches, and the outcome of Mexico highlights the importance, particularly for these two countries—China and Japan—of negotiating bilateral agreements. We have a fallback; it is like not putting all our eggs in one multinational basket. My constituency, particularly those large primary producers of commodities like wheat and citrus, were brought to the fore by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry a fortnight ago when he was in China. He was specifically negotiating much better arrangements for those commodities that are important to my constituency.

I am about the best interests of Australians, especially farmers. I note the member for Flinders' interest in the tertiary sector, and good on him. Those benefits will all be there, but let us focus more on having a balanced approach to creating access to those important markets. This will put the economy of this nation on a sure footing, supported by primary producers who have objectives and can set targets with confidence. The wine industry, which has been mentioned by both of the coalition speakers, is a good example of a primary industry that set its targets with some confidence that the markets will be opened up to it. It is fast approaching a $2 billion industry making an important contribution to this nation's economy. (Time expired)