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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26107

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (11:15 AM) —Mr Temporary Chairman, thank you for your intervention. I think all of us here, and those who might be listening to this debate, understand that what Senator Brown is talking about has nothing to do with this particular amendment—and your question was quite right, Mr Temporary Chairman. However, under the rules of the Senate we are obliged to humour Senator Brown, who is trying to filibuster on this issue, as we know he is capable of doing and which he has done on most of the important legislation that has come before this chamber. We all know this leads us to the conclusion, Senator Brown, that the issues you are talking about—as the Temporary Chairman said—quite clearly have nothing to do with this amendment. They are just part of your normal approach of trying to delay the real consideration of matters of great importance.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Senator Conroy suggests that I have been sucked in and am being provoked by Senator Brown. Senator Conroy, as you know, it will make absolutely no difference to the outcome of this debate. At some time the chamber will grow tired of Senator Brown's contributions, which are nothing more than filibustering. The Temporary Chairman has quite clearly—and correctly, in my view—pointed out that what Senator Brown is talking about has absolutely nothing to do with the amendment before the chair. But we will play the game. Senator Brown spoke about compensation for those who might find themselves without a job as a result of this. We have all heard Senator Hill explain, time after time—I do not know how many more times Senator Brown has to be told—that we have gone into this whole process because we believe it will be good for Australia, it will create jobs for Australia and it will give Australia access to the world's largest market. It is not just a question of what we think; it is a question of what the people who have carefully looked into this believe—that is, it will be good for Australia, good for our economy and good for job prospects in this nation as well. I know that the Labor Party have eventually, if somewhat belatedly, come to the same conclusion.

This is a good deal for Australia. It is tremendous for Australia's exports. It is tremendous for job creation. It will, in fact, reinforce our economy—which allows us to enjoy as a nation one of the best lifestyles in the world, one of the best health systems in the world, one of the best education systems in the world and one of the best transport systems in the world even though we are a small country with a huge transport network. Particularly in the area I am involved in—agriculture, fisheries and forestry—it will be a huge boost to our primary industries in that we will have better and more immediate access to the biggest market in the world. You do not need to take my word for that; see what the experts say—see what the National Farmers Federation are saying and see how keen they are to ensure that this free trade agreement with the United States goes ahead. Senator Brown, I suspect that you would rarely talk to any of the productive people in our society—the people who produce for our country, who actually make the wealth of this nation that others of us are able to enjoy and who allow us to be the most environmentally conscious government in the world. We are able to do that because we have a good economy.

Senator Conroy —Sit down.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Senator Conroy is again concerned that I am opening up issues for debate that will allow Senator Brown to go on talking. But Senator Brown will talk for the allocated period of time, Senator Conroy, as you well know.

Senator Conroy —Yes, but you don't have to.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Well, what is the difference? You might as well hear my dulcet tones as Senator Brown's. The points I am making are particularly relevant for those who might be listening to this debate. This free trade agreement is good for Australia and very, very good for Australia's primary producers. Those primary producers who are going to benefit are very keen to see this adopted at the earliest possible time. In fact the people involved in the canning of tuna in South Australia are looking at an immediate 35 per cent reduction in tariffs into the US. That is very significant and they are very keen to see this go ahead.

Senator Conroy —Have you got those avocados in yet?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —For avocados we increased access to 4,000 tonnes immediately, if my memory serves me correctly. We did not have that access before.

Senator Conroy —Have you solved the quarantine problem yet?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —As we have always said, our quarantine regime—the strictest quarantine regime in the world, which Australia is renowned for—will not in any way be compromised, Senator Conroy, as you well know. That is why your party is, at the death, supporting this. You understand that this is very good for Australia's primary producers, very good for workers and will contribute very significantly to jobs. Senator Brown, you asked about compensation. We think that the job prospects are better. The CIE report has said that there may be some structural adjustment required in some areas. If that occurs, this government will look at that, as we have done in structural adjustment where it has been necessary in other parts of the Australian economy. That will occur as appropriate should it turn out that it is required—whether it will be is yet to be seen.

You also asked about the automotive components industry. While Senator Hill has mentioned that, let me say that this free trade agreement does provide the key to Australia's access to the largest automotive market in the world. The US has agreed to eliminate customs duties on almost all automotive products from day one of the agreement, and that includes the 25 per cent US customs duty on utilities and pick-up trucks. The fact is that the US is the single biggest export market for Australian automotive components. It is pretty good, isn't it, Senator Brown? You know how good our automotive components industry is in Australia. It is a great industry, and it employs a lot of people. The Labor Party would be well aware of that through their connections with the unions. The automotive industry has increasing export potential for Australia. I hope that the issues in the two questions you asked have been explained, Senator Brown, and that you can understand that this is good for Australia, good for employment prospects and good for all of our industries.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Cherry)—Order! I draw the attention of all senators to the question before the chair and the standing orders on relevance.