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Monday, 30 November 2015
Page: 14083


Mr McCORMACK (RiverinaAssistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) (15:53): We see on the front page of the current issue of The Land, dated 26 November, 'Rain revs up restockers—cattle prices back to record levels.' The article, on page 5, talks about sky-high cattle prices possibly being here to say. That is of course good news for Riverina producers and good news for cattle farmers right across Australia. The article says that the supply of both prime and store cattle has failed to keep pace with demand from lot feeders, restockers and processors, and that will enable prices to remain steady and to remain high. It says that New South Wales stock agents have suggested that if all the ducks line up, such as northern monsoons, a steady dollar at about US70c and low interest rates, by next year cattle prices could be as dear if not dearer than now. As I say, that is tremendous news that will be welcomed by cattle producers right across this wide brown land.

The Export Control Amendment (Quotas) Bill 2015 is good for agriculture and good for cattle producers. I am very pleased that this legislation has bipartisan support. I will come back to that bipartisan support in my later remarks, but initially I want to talk about Wagga Wagga and its role in agriculture and more specifically in stock. The Wagga Wagga Livestock Marketing Centre, established in 1979, is the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere—4,000 cattle per week and, on average, 200,000 a year go through the facility, as well as 1.8 million sheep. Peter Adams, who has an economic development role with Wagga Wagga City Council, refers often to the $380 million worth of stock that are put through the Wagga Livestock Marketing Centre each and every year. They are impressive numbers, and they are numbers that will only go up as the years go on and the trade agreements that trade minister Andrew Robb has been able to successfully broker help our export markets. They are the sorts of numbers that farmers around the Riverina and even wider afield need to hear, because 35 to 40 per cent of those stock numbers come from outside the Riverina—stock are being brought into the Riverina to be bought and sold through the livestock marketing centre there, and many of those stock end up in neighbouring abattoirs. Certainly Teys plays a vital role in Wagga Wagga employment, and I know just how many refugees who come to Wagga Wagga to seek a better life in a better land work out there. They are willing to work, they are very hard workers, and certainly the 457 visa arrangement is made use of by Teys because unfortunately they cannot always fill the numbers that they need out at the abattoir. They have a very strict drug and alcohol policy, because it is difficult work and dangerous work if it is not done properly. Certainly they are one of the most impressive abattoirs—along with JBS at Yanco—in the Riverina, I am proud to say in my electorate.

It is important to get these logistics right, it is important to get the processing right. We know that the trade arrangements that have been brokered and bartered by the trade minister with Japan, with South Korea, with China and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that has been successfully negotiated, and indeed the talks currently progressing with India, are going to mean that we are going to have to produce even more—certainly more cattle and sheep out of the Riverina. It is important to note that this bill, as I say, has bipartisan support. That is why I was so interested to listen to the contribution of the member for Bendigo in this debate. On 26 November she said for her electorate it is important that the live cattle trade continue because Bendigo is receiving an upsurge of hay demand. The member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters, said:

Hay, believe it or not, is a new crop that more and more of the farmers in our part of the world are transitioning to, because, as the live cattle export trade grows, they need to take with them Australian hay for the Australian cattle to eat whilst they are in transit.

I say 'Hear, hear!' She goes on:

In the north of the Bendigo region, around Goornong, more and more of our farmers are switching to hay so that can be transported and exported with our live cattle trade. Ensuring that we have a robust and rigid export system is critical.

I am glad that the member for Bendigo is on board with this and I am glad that she is in agreement with the live cattle trade, because, unfortunately, in the last parliament, the government of the day, the Labor Party, were not on board with live cattle export. They closed the trade down, quite disgracefully, in June 2011 in a knee-jerk reaction to a television program and many, many people right throughout the Riverina were left out of pocket. That is not to mention the thousands of other people who were affected by this knee-jerk reaction by Labor back in the previous parliament.

This bill consolidates four acts that govern tariff rate export quotas into one act that covers all commodities. It has bipartisan support. Technically speaking, it is to help with the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, the preferential trade agreement that we have negotiated with that vital export market. Well done to the Minister for Trade for successfully completing those talks. An all-encompassing general quota legislative regime will enable a more secure and flexible legal framework for the implementation of current and any future quotas negotiated as we pursue more export opportunities under the agricultural competitiveness white paper and free trade agreement negotiations. I have to say, when you look at the ag competitiveness white paper—as I am joined in the chamber by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the member for New England; well done to Barnaby Joyce—the very first item in that wonderful document is entitled 'Stronger farmers, stronger economy'. It says:

Agriculture has always played an important role in the success of our nation—it touches all Australians.

More is the pity that more Australians, and particularly more Australians who occupy the benches opposite, do not always appreciate that. They do not always understand that and they do not always get it.

I recently quoted in this place an Aboriginal elder, Gail Clark, from my electorate. As she pointed out, you will need a politician now and again; you will need a lawyer now and again; you will a priest, a teacher and a policeman every so often in your life; but you need a farmer three times every day—in the morning, in the middle of the day and at night—to feed you. You need a farmer to clothe you. The food and fibre that is grown in our regional electorates clothes and feeds not just our nation but also many other nations besides. To quote again from the agricultural competitiveness white paper:

The opportunities for the sector are enormous.

I quoted from The Land earlier about record cattle prices. It is no coincidence that record cattle prices and prices for wheat, barley, oats, grapes and everything else are at an increased level because we have had good seasons—I admit that—but they are also at a premium, at a peak, because of good government policies which go to the nexus of understanding what farmers need. We need to put those policy parameters in place, get out of the way and let farmers do what they have been doing for generations—producing the very finest food and the very finest fibre—and make sure that those opportunities for the sector continue to grow.

We sit on the edge of the strongest growing region in the world, we have a developed agriculture sector … we have food safety and environmental credentials that are world-class, we develop and have access to up-to-date technology, we have a strong economy … and we have a well-educated and skilled workforce.

I ask the minister: did you write that? You must have. I could not have written it any better myself. The minister is not taking credit; he is a very humble man. It is in the agricultural competitiveness white paper and I urge anybody listening to this debate, and certainly those opposite, to get a copy of it, read it and get on board—because there are some tremendous things in that document.

There are also some very good things in this bill. Exporters will gain access to quota tariff rate concessions provided under the free trade agreements through contemporary, flexible and efficient regulation. That is what we need in this country at the moment. We are eliminating red tape. It was started by the member for Kooyong, was continued under the member for Pearce and is now continuing under the member for Eden-Monaro in their various roles of cutting through legislation which is archaic, which is over burdensome and which we do not need. This bill will lower costs for small business, for farmers and for those people who we need to increase food and fibre production and get things done. As the Mayor of Tumbarumba, Councillor Ian Chaffey, often says, we need a 'ministry for getting things done' in this place—I could not agree more.

Where export tariff rate quotas are established by trade agreements, Australia seeks to manage quotas in order to offer exporters the maximum concessions possible on the products our farmers produce—agricultural products which, as I say, are the finest in the world. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources presently administers 33 quotas, which save exporters millions of dollars in tariffs each year. That is a good thing. For example, eight new quotas have been introduced under the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement. It is predicted that these would have saved exporters about $3 million in tariffs between January and May 2015. Quotas to the European Union and the United States of America save Australian exporters between 20 and 100 per cent in applicable tariffs. You can see that is going to help exporters, help Australia and, moreover, help our balance of payments figures, because we need to get those balance of payments figures right so that we can get our budget right. Goodness knows, after six years of budget mess we need to be in the job of budget repair. This bill has bipartisan support, and that is a good thing—it needs it.

Consultation with industry to date has confirmed that a comprehensive legislative quota scheme is preferred to the existing commodity specific regimes. Consultation is important in this context, because we as a government understand that we have to get those industry stakeholders, those agriculture sectors, on board. They were not listened to, they were not even asked, by the last government or the one before it—and by that I mean the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. They were just steamrolled. Legislation went through this place, and live animal exports were stopped; there was no clear direction on water, save to take it all off our irrigation farmers; and there was never a clear understanding of the great role that our farmers played, are playing now and will continue to play into the future.

Stakeholder workshops were conducted on 16 April, 2 September and 26 October this year to develop the proposals contained in this particular bill, and information about the proposed changes were provided to all quota holders, which is what a good government should do. We went out and sought feedback, we listened to what was said, we acted and then we went back to them and said, 'This is what we are going to do,' and that was very much appreciated. That is not the sort of thing that went on under Labor. It is the sort of thing going on under the coalition because we understand the importance of getting people on board and taking them with us. We understand the importance of this legislation, and that is why I commend it to the House.