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Thursday, 10 October 1985
Page: 1030

Senator COOK(8.21) —We are debating the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 1985. Given the list of Opposition speakers on this piece of legislation, I thought it would be appropriate for a speaker from the back bench on the Government side to restate a few of the objectives of the legislation. It seems that we have had an exercise in special pleading on behalf of some industries. I think the comprehensive nature of this legislation and the way in which it has been designed should be restated so that it can be appreciated that the Government is responding to an inquiry into the effectiveness of this scheme and of our export performance. The legislation can then be seen in that proper context. Of course, I should also say that with respect to the tourist industry special measures are being considered or applied and a new scheme is in the offing.

This legislation comes forward because the original scheme, the one it seeks to amend, is badly designed. That is a matter I do not think there is any contention about in substance. It proposes that we overcome, by virtue of these measures, the abuse and manipulation that have gone on under the old scheme and provide positive inducements for genuine exporters to export in a cost effective way. The aim of this legislation is to direct the scheme to committed smaller and medium exporters and we have excluded, by virtue of these measures, claimants with export earnings in excess of $20m and the tourist industry. It is proposed that the maximum grant be $200,000 for the first year of a two-year grant situation. The scheme started on 20 May 1985. It is envisaged that it will go to 30 June 1990. It is proposed that in the first year of its operation there will be significant cost savings.

As I have said, the Government is concerned to see that the bad design of the original scheme is improved and that abuse and manipulation are overcome. Indeed, anyone who has read the report of the Ferris National Export Marketing Strategy Panel, by virtue of that very fine document will be convinced that there has been an extensive examination of the export market development grants scheme by a committee which included active exporters and which concluded that the design of the scheme was bad and that, because the Department of Trade showed that there were major deficiencies, the scheme required significant reform. So the Government is basing its approach in respect of this legislation on the findings of a report which has, I think, been hailed across the breadth of industry as a significant report in improving our export performance.

Over the last 10 years some $1,500m has been paid out in taxable export incentive grants by successive Australian governments to claimants. Despite that, it is true to say that Australia's export performance remains less than satisfactory from a government or community point of view. During that time our share of world export markets has been declining and it is certainly true that we need to improve our export performance, particularly in the field of manufactured goods. This is one of the reasons why the Government is concerned to introduce amendments to this scheme in order to better target those entrepreneurs who could advantage themselves by a more efficient scheme. It is our concern not to attract people who would simply spend the money, but to attract people who can show, by the receipt of the grant, that their export performance has in fact improved in such a way that the grant has been well made.

It is also not true to assert that the Government tightening up on the export marketing development scheme signifies in some way or other a lack of interest by the Government in exports. Anyone who has followed the course of the trade debate in this Parliament, particularly over the last three years, will have noticed many of the initiatives taken, firstly, by the current Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen), when he was Minister for Trade, and now by Mr Dawkins in his capacity as Minister for Trade. Earlier this year Mr Dawkins put down a significant paper setting out the Government's objectives in the trade area. However, it is a time for the Government to exercise some budgetary restraint. In doing that, the inspired restraint that this scheme typifies shows that moneys in the public purse are spent in such a manner that they will advantage Australia's overall export performance.

It is perhaps worth while going to some examples of why we believe the current scheme is not effectively targeted to the markets that we would hope to aim for. In the 1982-83 grant year, we received 6,535 claims for goods and services to receive an export development grant. But only 3,325 of them, that is just over 50 per cent, were processed by the end of 1983-84 and delays in payment of 18 months to two years after the expenditure had been incurred were not infrequent. I think just that statistic shows that much needed to be done to improve the efficiency of the operation. I am confident that this legislation will do that.