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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8763

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (17:23): I note that the Customs Tariff Amendment (2012 Measures No. 1) Bill 2012 is not controversial and enjoys the support of both sides of this chamber. As well making a few minor technical amendments to our customs act, the main part of this bill lists Serbia as a developing country for the purposes of the Australian system of tariff preferences.

Australia has had a system of preferential tariff arrangements for specific countries dating back to the Menzies government. It was introduced to benefit developing countries as they grew, so their citizens could enjoy an increase in their standard of living and raise their prosperity. The system of preferential tariffs also benefits our bilateral relationships and our standing as a global citizen.

The listing of Serbia as a developing country will accord it a reduction in customs tariff duty on a defined range of goods imported into Australia. This is consistent with Australia's approach to other states which were formerly part of Yugoslavia and are listed as developing countries. This is a small but important recognition of the difficult times the Serbian nation has been through and of the economic and political advances which have occurred in Serbia over recent years.

With the reclassification of Serbia as a developing nation, many goods from Serbia will become cheaper to Australian consumers. The reclassification will also increase the availability of these goods in the Australian market. As discussed by the member for Stirling, it is interesting to see what upside there is in our trade with Serbia. In 2011, the two-way trade between Australia and Serbia was a little over $14 million, ranking Serbia as our 134th largest trading partner. However, that figure did represent 23 per cent growth on previous years. Within that $14 million in bilateral trade, we imported just over $11 million worth of goods and services from Serbia. That was made up of just over $1 million in vegetables, prepared or preserved; just over $1 million in electrical distribution equipment; close to $1 million in fruit, prepared or preserved; and $810,000 worth of arms and ammunition.

I am fortunate to have the town of Liverpool in my electorate. There are many shops there which stock very fine produce from Serbia. If you have an opportunity to try it, I can truly recommend Serbian blackberry jam, as well as some of the Serbian beers. The reduction in import duties will also serve to create stronger ties with Serbia. It will give Serbian exporters who do not currently export to Australia greater opportunity to start selling their products here and that is something we should all be looking forward to.

There are very strong community links between Australian and the Republic of Serbia. In the 2006 census, 95,000 Australians identified themselves as having Serbian heritage. Australia has maintained an embassy in Belgrade since 1967. I am proud that the electorate of Hughes has many Serbians living in it who have made a very valuable contribution to the Australian economy.

While I am speaking on the Customs Tariff Amendment (2012 Measures No. 1) Bill 2012, it is worth noting, as did the member for Stirling, some of the cutbacks which have been made to our customs service over recent years. Certainly of great concern to many constituents in my electorate is the 75 per cent reduction in the level of air cargo screening. This is a major concern. This simply opens the door and gives those importing illegal goods—including drugs and counterfeit items—greater opportunity to get those goods through our customs searches.

For most Australians, however, the main concern is the cutback of 750 Customs staff over the period Labor has been in office and how this will affect the long queues at our airport. Our tourism sector is struggling enough as it is. We always have the great disadvantage of the tyranny of distance. When tourists come off a long flight of 12 hours or more, the last thing they need is a long queue at the airport and these cutbacks will just make those queues longer—and we all know how important first impressions are. If someone is forced, after stepping off a 12-hour flight, to wait an hour or more, that gives them a very negative image of our country. As I said, this legislation is uncontroversial and I commend the bill to the House.