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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
05/06/2014
Estimates
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO
Australian Trade Commission

Australian Trade Commission

[22:35]

CHAIR: Welcome to the Austrade officials. Do you wish to make a short opening statement?

Mr Gosper : No.

Senator CAROL BROWN: At the last estimates we had a little bit of confusion around the grant funding for Cadbury. We have sorted that out?

Mr Gosper : I cannot recall, or I not aware of, the discussion last time around. In respect of the proposal for funding for the Cadbury factory, that is something that we are still dealing with. We are waiting for a business plan from Cadbury so that we can take that forward.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What contact have you actually had with Cadbury?

Mr Gosper : We have had quite a bit of contact with Cadbury, and I will ask Ms Lewis to elaborate on that.

Ms Lewis : We have had conversations with Cadbury and we are in the process of developing guidelines and a funding agreement template. Once the details of that have been sorted a proposal will be put to Minister Robb, who is the delegate, to sign off on it.

Senator CAROL BROWN: When did you start those conversations with Cadbury?

Ms Lewis : We were asked to administer the grant at the end of March this year. I do not have an exact date of when we started consultations but my understanding was that it was very soon after that.

Senator CAROL BROWN: In terms of the information you had for Cadbury, what did they provide to you before this other work about the guidelines template and business plan started? What information about the government's commitment to Cadbury, which was back in August of last year, were you made aware of? Did you have a copy of the Cadbury submission to the government for funding?

Ms Lewis : I do not have the details that. I would have to take notice.

Senator CAROL BROWN: You are in charge of dealing with the Cadbury thing?

Ms Lewis : Not personally, no.

Senator CAROL BROWN: First of all you were not sure that you were dealing with it when I asked the question in February, and we have straightened that out.

Mr Yuile : Austrade, at the time of the last estimates, was not responsible for the grant. That is what we said at the time.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What you told me was that it was the department of infrastructure. That is fine.

Senator Brandis: If you are going to quote—

Senator CAROL BROWN: I was just going to say that is fine, but now we are settled.

Senator Brandis: I will make another point you. If you are going to quote what a witness may have said at a previous estimates committee and you have the Hansard available to you, do them the courtesy of quoting the words they used, not your paraphrase of what you think you remembered they might have said.

Senator CAROL BROWN: He just confirmed what I said.

Senator Brandis: On this occasion your paraphrase was fine, but it is not fair to a witness to give them a paraphrase of what you think you remember they might have said.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Mr Yuile confirmed what I said was correct. I am just trying to ascertain how far along we are with the Cadbury grant and how far we along in the process.

Ms Lewis : Sure.

Senator CAROL BROWN: You have taken over in March dealing with this. I just want to know what information you have received from Cadbury. Just let the committee know what you intend to do in terms of the process down the track.

Senator Brandis: What does that mean? There are about 15 different questions rolled up in that. Can you be specific, please?

Senator CAROL BROWN: Minister, this is what most people would think is a very simple proposition. First of all, we were unaware of where it stood in terms of which department. Now we are trying to find out what information Cadbury has provided and where we are in terms of the process going forward. They are not difficult questions, and if you keep interrupting—

Senator Brandis: All I am asking you to do is to ask a specific question.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I did. I asked how the process was going to proceed.

CHAIR: Let's have an answer. I am sure the witnesses have got an appreciation of what is required.

Mr Yuile : I think the short answer is that the conversation has been taking place with Cadbury. As Ms Lewis said, we are waiting for the final proposal from Cadbury which, as you know, is an integrated proposal, some $66 million of which there is a portion that the government has committed to an information centre. When we get that business proposal, as Ms Lewis said, we will be able to make an assessment and make put that to the minister for authorisation. At the moment we are waiting for Cadbury.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Do you have any time lines?

Mr Yuile : I have not seen a time line myself but we will check.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Ms Lewis?

Ms Lewis : No.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So there is no time line that you have?

Mr Yuile : We are in the company's hands.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Right, okay. Once that information is received from Cadbury, would you normally do a due diligence on that before you make the recommendation to the minister? Is that what you would do?

Mr Yuile : We would need to examine the proposal and clarify, if we needed to, with the company and then obviously develop a view and recommendations for the minister about milestones for any grants. The usual appropriate probity arrangements for the expenditure of government money.

Senator CAROL BROWN: We will have to wait until the next estimates, unless of course there is some public announcement. How much funding is allocated to Tourism Research Australia in the 2014-15 budget?

Ms Lewis : There is no line item in the budget to fund Tourism Research Australia. The funding for that comes out of the Austrade appropriation. Internally, Austrade makes decisions around how much money each part of the business will be appropriated, and we are currently working through that process at the moment.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So why isn't there a line item?

Ms Lewis : There has not been in previous budgets. It is part of departmental appropriation. Each department allocates money according to that budget. Within TRA, there is always money appropriated to the International Visitor Survey and the National Visitor Survey, which are in part funded by state and territory tourism organisations and by the federal government. That money goes into a special account.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Have there been any staff changes at Tourism Research Australia?

Ms Lewis : Yes, within the tourism division. Tourism Research Australia is a branch within the tourism division. There are three branches: a policy branch, a programs branch and a research branch called Tourism Research Australia. Over the last 12 months we have made minor changes across all branches to reduce staffing, to ensure that we fit within our budget profile.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How many staff have gone or are going from Tourism Research Australia?

Ms Lewis : I do not have that detail with me but I can certainly take that on notice.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes, provide that on notice. When will those staff reductions, the ones who are to go, take effect?

Ms Lewis : There is one person I know of who has taken voluntary redundancy in TRA, and I think, but I would have to clarify, that somebody left recently because they were leaving to move somewhere else. But I will take it on notice to get you the details, including when people left.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Will some of these vacancies be replaced? Are they positions that you will need to replace?

Ms Lewis : No.

CHAIR: Senator Fawcett.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Can I just finish?

CHAIR: We are very short of time, Senator—unless we agree to go over.

Senator Brandis: We will not agree to do that, Chair, I can assure you. The officers and I will be off at 11.

CHAIR: Senator Brown, you will have to put those questions on notice.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I am just going to ask a quick question. Are staff changes going to have an impact on the delivery of the 2014 State of the Industry report?

Ms Lewis : No.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So it will be published as per the schedule?

Ms Lewis : Yes.

Senator FAWCETT: Can I take you to a recent advertisement that Austrade has put out for senior investment specialists. Can you tell me a bit about what these people are going to do, what their role is going to be and what outcomes you hope they will achieve?

Mr Gosper : For the first time we have a Minister for Trade and Investment, so investment is a key preoccupation in the portfolio, particularly for Austrade. Mr Robb has asked us to significantly elevate the resource and attention we give to investment facilitation. We already have a very good network offshore of people we have recruited, and he has asked us to bring some additional resource into the organisation to complement what we already have and to work on five sectors in particular, which we have identified between the Commonwealth and all the state and territory governments as being major priorities for investment attraction. We are well advanced in the process of selecting and appointing these people. The idea is that they will be senior people with experience in the areas that we are concerned with, with investment banking and the like, and they will assist investors working with Commonwealth and state agencies to realise investment opportunities. They will work alongside those investors as a complement to the resourcing we already have offshore.

Senator FAWCETT: Have you had many applicants for the roles?

Mr Gosper : Yes, we had a good number of applicants. We have had the usual Public Service merit based selection process. Recommendations have been made, and now we are going through the rest of the approval process.

Senator FAWCETT: It is a Public Service appointment into Austrade, but I am assuming the outcome you are looking for is a significant increase by the private sector to grow private sector investment and jobs in the private-sector-led recovery?

Mr Gosper : Absolutely. Austrade is an organisation which recruits heavily from the private sector. At this level of our organisation about two-thirds of our people have private sector experience. In this case we are looking for people who have particular experience around the investment world—people who can talk to a board or a C-level contact about what is really important in making investment decisions and can help to realise that. It is all about getting private sector investment—of course complementing the investments that governments are already making in areas like economic infrastructure, tourism infrastructure, agribusiness, resources and advanced manufacturing and services.

Senator FAWCETT: The Australian investment forum in July this year: can you tell me what your plans are after that?

Mr Gosper : I will ask Mr Beresford, our Executive Director, who has been leading this initiative to add to my comments. This is the first time Australia has undertaken this sort of initiative. It takes advantage of the fact that we have the G20 and the B20 this time around. It really seeks to engage with global CEOs, 45 of whom have already accepted invitations around the key investment opportunities that are available in Australia and why Australia should be a particular priority for these sorts of people looking at investment across the globe.

Mr Beresford : To build on Mr Gosper's comments, in essence, the areas of focus that the Minister for Trade and Investment, Mr Andrew Robb, agreed with his state and territory colleagues back in February—which was the first trade and specifically investment meeting—were around some key sectors of the economy: agriculture, resources energy, tourism, and infrastructure. What we endeavour to do on this investment forum day on 19 July is to take the opportunity to introduce very senior C-suite investors from significant investment markets, such as the US, UK, Western Europe, Japan and China, to the attractive opportunities that exist in Australia in terms of agriculture, resources and energy, tourism and infrastructure.

The culmination of the day is the fact that Australia is genuinely open for business and that we have very senior economic ministers—including obviously our minister, Minister Andrew Robb, and also key portfolio economic ministers, Minister Macfarlane, Assistant Minister Briggs, Minister Joyce and the Treasurer—to be working with and through particular opportunities over the course of the day, and to really demonstrate that Australia is a very exciting and indeed a very open prospect for foreign direct investment to consider as they look at their portfolio investments internationally.

Senator FAWCETT: The format is just one day, is it? That is by PowerPoint show and tell or what?

Mr Beresford : We are trying to keep that to an absolute minimum. The whole idea of the day is to have an open conversation. The sessions will be relatively short. The idea is not to have death by PowerPoint, but actually to quite quickly distil and to quite quickly outline exactly the opportunities and prospects in the various sectors that I have just referred to—agriculture, resources and energy, infrastructure, and tourism—with senior ministers leading the workshops to demonstrate the commitment of the government to looking quite seriously and significantly at investment opportunities for these major players—and they are indeed major players in global foreign direct investment—and for them to consider Australia as a place to invest.

Senator FAWCETT: Can I assume that there are going to be information packs prepared ahead of time that will have both state and federal input to inform people, who can then select the range of things they are interested to get more detail on.

Mr Beresford : Sure. This is something that the minister made very clear at the trade and investment ministers meeting back in February. We are working very closely with our state and territory colleagues to ensure that we put the best foot forward for Australia, and clearly by putting the best foot forward for Australia it is actually demonstrating the capability that we have across the states in those sectors that I just referred to.

Senator FAWCETT: Is the preparatory work completely funded by Austrade or is there a joint funding by state governments?

Mr Beresford : We are certainly taking the lead but, as Mr Gosper said at the outset, we are working in conjunction and in a very collaborative spirit with our state colleagues, because—as you would know for South Australia—there is clearly the need to make sure that we are able to demonstrate the high-quality opportunities that exist in South Australia, or for that matter other states across those sectors.

Senator FAWCETT: Hear, hear! I look forward to the outcome. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: I have some questions for Austrade which I will put on notice.