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Monday, 9 November 2015
Page: 7922


Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales) (12:51): I rise to contribute to this debate on the legislation relating to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. And I will tell you a little story about when I was a pig farmer. I set up our piggery back in the late eighties. My brother and I did a lot of hard work. We shovelled about 120 tonnes of concrete and gravel into the cement mixer and built the large sheds and set up in the pig industry. We knew when we went into the pig industry that there would be some tough times. Pig prices go up and down, and grain prices certainly fluctuate according to the season. But we never, ever thought we would see a situation in which Australia would be importing pig meat from Canada and Denmark and places like that. The Hawke-Keating Labor government allowed the importation of pig meat, and it had a devastating effect on the pig industry in the Inverell area, where I live. There were five or six large piggeries—and when I say large I mean 100- or 200-sow piggeries. When you run 100 sows you are feeding about 1,000 pigs a day and when you run 200 sows you are feeding about 2,000 pigs a day. When the importing of these pork products from overseas was allowed, I thought, 'This is crazy.' The effect was that it shut down the piggeries.

What I am saying is that we led the world in removing tariffs, barriers, quotas et cetera, and I thought: 'Why are we doing this on our own? The rest of the world is lagging way behind.' Since then we have developed trade with Chile, America and Thailand and now South Korea, Japan and China; we are up to China now. I will say, first of all, that this is not a free trade agreement; this is a fairer trade agreement. To me, a free trade agreement is when the country you are trading with removes all barriers—all tariffs, all quotas, everything. Then you actually have free trade. So, this is what I call a fairer trade agreement that is much fairer than what we had before—the status quo.

This agreement is good for rural Australia. It is good news that Labor has decided to support the free trade deal, or the fairer trade deal, even though the unions are carrying on with their campaign of misinformation. This is probably why the Greens are opposing this. No doubt they will be getting a cheque, come election time, from the CFMEU and the other unions. They are taking the funds off the Labor Party and—

Senator Sterle: Not the TWU, they won't, mate!

Senator WILLIAMS: No, they would not get any off the TWU, Senator Sterle. I will take that interjection.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Ignore the interjections, Senator Williams, and address your comments to the chair.

Senator WILLIAMS: I thought it was a very good interjection, though, but I will disregard it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That may be the case, but you should ignore it.

Senator WILLIAMS: No doubt the Greens will be lining up a cheque from CFMEU, saying, 'Give us a cheque; it's campaign time'. Graeme Wood, with his—what was it, $1.58 million, Senator Macdonald, the biggest donation in the history of politics in this country—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Yes, the biggest ever.

Senator WILLIAMS: might have shut the cheque book up. He might have said, 'We've given them enough.' So, they will stick with the unions. I just cannot believe this. Why do the Greens hate farmers? That is the question I ask. What do they have against us exporting more of our products overseas at a better price?

Senator Waters interjecting

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator WILLIAMS: I know the Greens are very close to PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. One day this lady rang up Senator Heffernan. Her name was Claire Fryer. She said we should not run any sheep or any cattle in this country, that they should all just be exterminated. What a crazy situation. These are the friends of the Greens. This is what they do. You would think people like Senator Whish-Wilson would be keen to see exports in the wine industry. He has an interest in the wine industry himself, of course. And that is what this free trade agreement does.

Senator Whish-Wilson: I am happy to sell local.

Senator WILLIAMS: Senator Whish-Wilson is happy to sell local. Well, perhaps he does not realise that we have had a huge oversupply of grapes, for about a decade—a huge oversupply of wine. That is why in some cases you will see wine—the cleanskins—cheaper than bottles of Coca-Cola, or about the same price. So, let's not grow that! That is their attitude: let's shut it down, let's all go and live in caves again, get three sticks of wood to keep ourselves warm and cook our food for the week! So, you keep your carbon emissions down, and don't worry about the rest of the world. We produce about 1.3 per cent of the world's emissions, so we will do what the Greens say and go and live in a cave! That is about the attitude. The farming community is furious with the Greens. But they are looking for the cheque. They have the unions backing them and they are just waiting for the cheque to come to them from the CFMEU with their scare campaign.

The scheduled tariff cuts are based on the calendar year, which means that entry into force this year will deliver an immediate round of tariff cuts, followed by a second round of cuts on 1 January 2016. More than 85 per cent of Australian goods exports will be tariff-free upon the agreement's entry into force, rising to 93 per cent in four years. Some of these goods are currently subject to tariffs of up to 40 per cent. This agreement will eliminate tariffs on many key products, mostly within four to eight years, including beef, sheepmeat, hides and skins, livestock, dairy, wine—Senator Whish-Wilson, wine—seafood, sorghum and barley. Let's talk about the beef industry. Seventy per cent of the beef we produce is exported. As living standards grow in huge-population countries such as China, they can afford to buy good-quality, high-quality beef—and they want to buy it from Australia.

I took Chinese buyers to the Bindaree Beef abattoir only a couple of months ago. They were keen to buy beef here because of our reputation: clean, green, top-quality, safe to eat. That is the reputation we have overseas. It was amazing: Mr John McDonald, the founder of Bindaree Beef, told me some time ago now that in December 2012 Bindaree Beef sent six containers of beef to China and in December 2013 they sent 60 containers of beef to China. That is the growth. That is what is happening. And at last we have decent money at the farm gate for the beef producers, which is good for our rural communities, good for our regional towns, good for our environment. If you want to look after the environment, how can the farmers be green when so many—

Senator Waters interjecting

Senator WILLIAMS: You ought to listen to this, Senator Waters; you might learn something.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Address your comments to the chair, Senator Williams.

Senator WILLIAMS: And I will ignore the interjections.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes, please ignore the interjections.

Senator Waters interjecting

Senator WILLIAMS: It is very hard to ignore them. I will do my best. It is very hard for the farmers to be green when so many are so far in the red. It is as simple as that. Look at a map of Australia: about 60 per cent of this whole island continent is in the hands of farmers and graziers. We expect them to look after the land, to farm the land and care for it—not mine the land, and they were forced to mine the land in a situation where commodity prices have been so low for so long. Now we have an opportunity to raise those prices, to bring money back to the farm gate, to look after the farms better, for young ones to say: 'Hell, life on the land's looking pretty good now. I always had the attitude that I'm not going onto the land. I've seen my father and my mother work pork and beef for decades and go nowhere.' That is probably why the average age of farmers is around 56 or 57 years.

Senator Cameron: They should have joined their union!

Senator WILLIAMS: Now we are getting back to getting decent prices at the farm gate—something Senator Cameron would have no idea about, absolutely no idea. He will just be here like most of them on that side, doing what the unions tell them to do. That is who pays their way. That is where they all come from—the union movement.

Senator Cameron interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! It has been very quiet.

Senator WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. That makes it a lot better now. I know Senator Cameron really wants to listen to what I have to say. Let's look at those tariff reductions. Dairy: tariffs of up to 20 per cent eliminated within four to 11 years. Let's look at the dairy industry. We produce around nine billion litres of milk a year. We only consume about 4½ billion litres here in Australia, so half our milk production relies on exports. Here is a huge market. Already now, Norco in northern New South Wales are flying fresh milk into China, retailing for around $8 a litre. They are prepared to pay it because they know it is good—the quality is perfect and it is safe. That is to start with, the dairy industry. The beef industry: tariffs of 12 to 25 per cent eliminated over nine years. This will make us even more competitive. As Senator Heffernan said, perhaps, hopefully, China will float their exchange rate one day and make us even more competitive.

Removing the barriers, and the lower Australian dollar, is good for exporters. Wine tariffs of 14 to 20 per cent will be eliminated over four years, giving us that edge over other countries. I notice that China was not part of the recent agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so when it comes to exporting we have an edge into China that that those other countries do not have. It gives us a price edge, a quality edge and a marketing edge. That is why the demand is so good and prices are heading in the right direction.

Wool will have a new Australia-only duty-free quota in addition to continued access to China's WTO quota. The wool industry has been terrible since the early 1990s. I know it pretty well and I have not forgotten about it. At last we have seen an indicator of over 1,200 cents. The price is getting up there. The volume of wool has decreased enormously. We used to run 180 million sheep in Australia, in the late 1980s, during the wool boom. We are down to around 70 million now. Of course, a lot of those are meat sheep with poor quality wool—cross-bred sheep, first-cross ewes et cetera. The wool industry is looking much better as a result of this agreement.

ChAFTA will not allow unrestricted access to the Australian labour market by Chinese workers. I want to make that point very clear. It will not allow Australian employment laws or conditions to be undermined, nor will it allow companies to avoid paying Australian wages by using foreign workers. That is very clear. We have seen the wrongdoings in the Four Corners story by my good friend Adele Ferguson about the disgraceful treatment of workers by 7-Eleven. The situation is that those on 457 or 417 visas come here to Australia and, under the visa, the students are not allowed to work more than 20 hours a week. What did 7-Eleven do? They said, 'You will work 40 hours week, we will pay $8 or $10 an hour, and if you dob us in we will dob you in to the immigration department for breaching your visa and you will get kicked out of the country.' What a terrible blackmailing situation that is. I am glad that we are catching up with those who are not treating our workers properly. A fair day's work for a fair day's pay is something that I have always believed in.

As a result of this agreement we will see more demand, especially for our rural products. We will see more jobs in those industries and more processing. The growth in exports will see more money coming back into our regional communities. I have seen too many towns now that have not grown, with too many empty shops in the main street and high unemployment levels. Bringing wealth into rural Australia is a good thing for our nation, and it is an especially good thing for people who live in those regions. That is what this agreement does.

Without speaking for my full 20 minutes, I want to say that I support this agreement. I congratulate Minister Andrew Robb. I think he has done an excellent job in his portfolio with South Korea, Japan, China and now with the 12 countries involved in the TPP, which no doubt has to be finetuned or finalised.

I am simply amazed that the Greens would oppose this agreement, which brings more wealth into our nation, creates more jobs, brings certainty and brings more money back to the farm gate in rural Australia. Yet the Greens oppose it. There are some crazy things going on around here and I think that is one of the craziest. I suppose we will hear why in the near future.