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Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Page: 998


Dr McVEIGH (Groom) (13:16): This House full well knows that agriculture is a key part of the Australian economy, with around two-thirds of our agricultural produce exported each year, generating over $50 billion in revenue in 2018-19 from our trading partners. The importance of that is jobs in regional Australia and economic activity in regional Australia, including in my electorate of Groom.

Whilst the member for Hunter appeared to not really address this bill at all, he did, quite rightly, in his background note that agriculture in many parts of the country has had a significant challenge of late—drought, floods, bushfire, you name it. Discussions about climate and other sorts of issues continue, but we must remain positive about the focus and the future of agriculture. We must ensure that we remain well regarded globally for the quality and integrity of our produce, and we must ensure that we continue to grow that quality and improve our reputation for safe and high-quality food and fibre products.

The existing legislative framework for ensuring that, for inspection and certification of our export produce, was developed over 36 years ago, including 20 acts and more than 40 legislative instruments. Our government undertook a review in 2015 to ensure that farmers and exporters were supported by contemporary and efficient legislation and that our trading partners continued to have confidence in our produce, because we must be competitive. Based on broad stakeholder feedback, we decided to improve the legislative framework for better support for exporters and facilitating trade now and into the future.

No significant changes to export policy or the baseline of regulation that ensures that integrity that I referred to will be made as a result of the implementation of the new legislative framework. The bill will provide a more consistent and clear framework that is responsive to contemporary and emerging international trade issues in a very clear and modern manner, in so doing enhancing Australia's capacity to gain, maintain and grow global market access for our exports into the future.

This streamlining and consolidation will remove unfortunate duplication and inconsistency that has developed over the years, and it will make requirements for exporting easier to understand and to use for our farmers and those involved throughout the export supply chain. In doing so, the bill replaces the Export Control Act 1982 and certain parts of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997. It consolidates export related provisions from a number of acts into, as I just said, a single act. It increases the flexibility to respond to changing importing-country requirements and realise opportunities in overseas markets as they arise. That ability to respond and be flexible is so important.

It promotes exports by providing a broader definition and certification of goods and improves options for demonstrating product integrity when required by importing countries. It streamlines administration and at the same time allows the department to better target sanctions and ensure more proportionate responses to noncompliance where that might be required. It includes a provision to approve alternative regulatory arrangements and therefore supports innovation along the entire export supply chain, including in some cases automated decision-making—under very strict conditions—and improved information-sharing provisions. That sharing of information is so important for our entire export supply chain to work together: farmers, shippers, researchers, wholesalers and export companies—you name it.

It's that whole export supply chain that is so critical to regional Australia, and I'm so pleased that this bill takes that approach. The grain, beef, cotton and horticulture exporters in my own electorate of Groom stress that we must continue to strive to become more competitive in international markets, in terms of both freight and regulation. Indeed, I've been one of them myself, so I know what it's like to have to compete on the world stage. I've spent time, week after week, throughout Asia—for example in Bandung, Yogyakarta and Jakarta, in Indonesia—and elsewhere around the globe in relation to the cotton industry and horticultural exports.

At the same time, we must maintain and enhance our global reputation for safe, clean and quality product. That is, of course, supported by having the sort of streamlined and sensible regulation that is proposed in this bill, but it's equally supported by our sterling R&D efforts right across the country and right across our industries, including fisheries, forestry and all of those broadacre industries—intensive agriculture and horticulture industries—that we are recognised for around the world.

At a time when many across the country and in my own electorate explain to me that the domestic freight component can be more expensive than the international sea freight, I'm pleased to see that we have a Deputy Prime Minister delivering on Inland Rail across our eastern seaboard, for example. So too do we have the government delivering on improved regulation efficiencies and the international confidence that we want to maintain and grow through this very bill.

The member for Hunter might say that we've been taking our time. I'll explain the review process over recent years. His comments draw out the need to contrast our approach to that of those opposite. In the recent election, one would have to say that Labor made a decisive shift away from the Hawke-Keating era of pro-trade support and the longstanding bipartisanship on trade support and growth. What we saw in the Australian Labor Party's last term of government, though, was that the number of Australian exporting businesses fell. For example, crucial negotiations with the Korea, Japan and China stalled, and $100 million was cut from the Export Market Development Grants program, which is so essential to supporting many small to medium-sized enterprises and agribusinesses across the country. In fact, Labor has never started and finished the same trade agreement. Whereas, since 2014 our government has brought into force free trade agreements with Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Peru and the TPP-11, including Brunei, Dar es Salaam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. Of course, we do recognise the more recent work with Indonesia, marked in this very chamber earlier this week with the comments from the President of Indonesia and our Prime Minister.

We know Labor's record has been very poor in terms of trade facilitation and growth. The live cattle export trade debacle should never leave the memories of representatives of our country, particularly those of us in regional Australia. It's interesting to note that the then Leader of the Opposition, the member for Maribyrnong, totally did away with the concept of supporting the TPP-11 efforts of our government. He said it was 'the height of delusional absurdity', such is Labor's poor understanding of the importance of trade support going forward.

This bill will support the initiatives of government to modernise the systems underpinning our export industries in terms of agriculture and is therefore critical to the growth of agriculture in our country. It enables exports to be supported now and into the future. Because it's flexible it will remain contemporary.

It is important the parliament supports our agricultural industries so they can, in fact, get ahead, recover and rebuild if necessary, and continue to thrive. That is so important at this time when that is what our agricultural industries are doing, as I said, having dealt in recent years with a very significant drought circumstance and, in more recent months in some cases, bushfire across our nation and, perhaps, in many cases as we're starting to see, flood—but most importantly the flooding that we recognised in North West Queensland last year. So agriculture has had it served up to it. There's no doubt about that. As we often say, the challenges from mother nature are things that we can't manage. We can respond to, we can prepare for, we can try to prevent. And this bill is the government focused on things that we can manage: ensuring the integrity of our export reputation around the country through this bill and streamlining the processes that support our exporters: the certification and inspection of our export produce, whether that's in the beef industry, the grain industry, the horticulture industry, or the food and fibre industries in general. That's what regional Australia is asking for. They are asking for government to get out of the way, to support them to grow their businesses, to provide jobs throughout regional Queensland and regional Australia. And that's as important anywhere else as in my electorate of Groom, which as I humbly say from time to time is—I recognise it, but I think it is recognised by many others—the agribusiness capital of Australia. Thank you.