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Monday, 6 September 1993
Page: 950

Senator LOOSLEY (6.15 p.m.) —I oppose the proposition that is before the chamber. As I have been approached by honourable senators from both sides of the chamber to see whether we can conclude this debate prior to dinner, I will confine my speech to 10 minutes.

  I think it is appropriate that today we should be debating the future of the wine industry, given that at a state reception for the President of Germany, Mr von Weizsacker, both the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson) referred to the strength of the Australian wine industry, to its capacity and its quality, and in particular took note of the enormous contribution made by the German Australian community to Australian winegrowing and winemaking. The president, in his remarks in response, took up those matters, making the point that he had sampled some Australian wine yesterday in the Barossa, South Australia. I will say a bit more about that later.

  Like all the senators who have spoken in the debate this afternoon, I place on record the tremendous pride that I feel as an Australian that Australian wines are so well valued and well priced abroad. That is wine that comes not only from South Australia or Victoria—as perhaps might have been the case some time ago—but also from a number of vineyards right around the country, including Western Australia and Tasmania.

  I am particularly proud of the wine industry that is located in my state of New South Wales, not only in the Hunter Valley and the Riverina, but also up on the mid-north coast. There are some very fine wineries, ranging from DeBortoli in the Riverina, which has won any number of outstanding prizes, to some of the great vineyards in the Hunter such as Cassegrain up on the mid-north coast. The New South Wales wine industry takes its place with the wine industry nationally.

  The strength of the wine industry in Australia is, no doubt, to be found in its international perspective, in its outlook, and in its attitude. It is an industry based on excellence and on quality. It has definitely achieved a niche market in Europe, North America and, hopefully, increasingly Asia. In that respect I make a particular reference to the Japanese wine market.

  I looked at the urgency motion—as drafted by Senator Vanstone and submitted to the chamber today—as I believe everyone should before they speak in a debate such as this. I make it a practice to try to analyse propositions that are before us. In respect of the urgency motion, the essential question to be asked is: does the motion advance the interests of the Australian wine industry one step? The answer to that has to be in the negative. But we can go beyond that. What actually would the urgency motion accomplish if carried? Does it have an impact upon policy? Does it have an objective that is either stated or implied from reading between the lines as to what the policy framework ought to be in respect of the Australian wine industry? Is there an alternative? Is there a suggestion that guarantees the Commonwealth revenue? Again, the answers to all these essential, fundamental questions have to be in the negative.

  Is the proposition based on equity? Is there an equity consideration at heart? The answer to that is clearly no. Is there an efficiency concern? Again, the answer to that is clearly no. Does it give any indication whatsoever of an alternative coalition policy? Again, the answer to that must be no. Is it based on fact? Is it based on a reality in the Australian wine industry? Is it based on perceptions of realities—well, the answer to that might be in the affirmative—or is it based on what the opposition would like to believe is the reality?

  Overwhelmingly the answers to those propositions, with the exception of the penultimate and ultimate questions, have to be in the negative. It is for that reason alone, in my view, that the Senate ought to say no to the proposition. It is not an urgency motion that ought to enjoy majority support. That is my view. I really believe that there ought be to some constructive element in a motion of this kind; there should be some purpose in the proposition.

  Part of the duty of this chamber is to show a capacity to indicate a policy framework, to indicate policy goals, to indicate policy objectives. That is nowhere present in this urgency motion, as is the case time and time again with proposals that come before the chamber. Urgency motions give us an acute insight into opposition thinking, into what is in the collective mind of the coalition. As Mr Beazley said just the other day, the opposition in the Senate is bent upon cherry picking proposals that it likes and cherry picking proposals that it does not like—for endorsement or defeat. That is worthy of the United States Senate under Presidents Reagan and Bush. They cherry picked all the time. That is why the American budget was in the dire consequence it was in when Bill Clinton was elected. Cherry picking occurred in the Senate and in the House of Representatives in Washington.

  Essentially, it is a negative approach to politics; it is a negative approach to legislation; and it is a negative approach to urgency motions. It lacks a purpose and it is defeatist in the sense that what the urgency motions say is that all change happens to be wrong, no matter what it seeks to do, no matter in what context it is operating, and no matter what the perspective of the government is. We have seen that for several weeks, Mr Acting Deputy President, as you are aware, as everyone on this side of the chamber is aware, and as the Democrats—Senator Kernot made this clear at question time—are aware. All we have seen from the opposition is delay, frustration and obstruction. Those opposite have become the guardians of gridlock in the Australian political system. That is how they are increasingly going to be seen by the Australian community. We have seen virtually no legislation being dealt with by the chamber. Senator Sherry might correct me, but I think we have spent less than 70 minutes in total, day after day, on legislation.

Senator Sherry —That is right.

Senator LOOSLEY —The opposition proposal is fatally flawed for those reasons. The guardians of gridlock become the defenders of delay, day in and day out.

  Let us be candid about the approach that the coalition takes. It is saying that considerations of the Commonwealth revenue count for nothing, that budget strategy counts for nothing, that deficit reduction strategy over the ensuing four or five years counts for nothing. Day in and day out we have seen the impact of opposition thinking on the money markets. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, let us pin the villainy where it lies. It lies with Dr Hewson and the coalition. It is effective political vandalism.

  The kind of political approach that we are seeing all too frequently from the coalition is ultimately devastating in terms of economic management, in terms of the approach that has been taken to the budget strategy, and in terms of the economic framework in which we operate. Continually we see simple acts of political bastardry. As I have said before, this chamber is now a mix of billiards and bastardry. We have loose balls ricocheting every time there is an intervention and we have deliberate malice from those opposite towards the government's program.

  There is no doubt that the opposition's approach is flawed. The propositions before the country in terms of the government's legislative measures are simply based on equity. There is no doubt about that. Prior to 1984, there is no question that Australian wine drinkers enjoyed a privileged position. There is no question that the tax changes in 1984, in 1986 and, indeed, in 1993 still mean that, overwhelmingly, wine drinkers enjoy a privileged position. In seven years of Fraser government we saw no action based on equity in terms of the wine industry. The government's proposition is an equity proposition.

  We have heard all these dire predictions of terrible consequences if the government's measure is embraced by the parliament. Look at the record. Exports of Australian wine between the years 1985-86 and 1992-93 grew from a mere $21 million—a base figure of only $21 million—to $289 million. That is an enormous increase and that is a matter of fact. The dire predictions of those opposite were made in 1984 and 1986. They simply did not materialise and they will not materialise.

  I have no doubt that the $1 billion figure the industry has struck for itself in terms of exports by the turn of the century will be realised. This is an industry that markets itself on the basis of diversification, quality, sensible marketing strategies abroad, endeavour and innovation. There is no question about that. That has been the hallmark of the Australian wine industry. No doubt, we will see growth of similar dimensions in the years leading up to the turn of the century. As people have made clear earlier, the McKinsey report, the drop in the corporate tax rate, and a whole range of measures will assist the industry in its period of adjustment. The $1 billion is a reasonable figure that has been struck for export markets by the year 2,000 or so. I think it is achievable.

  The opposition has no evident policy framework at all. Senator Tierney quoted Mr Cleeland. I respect Mr Cleeland for his views and, from time to time, he is absolutely right—we have to take issue with Treasury prognostications. I do not believe he is right on this occasion, but full marks to him for speaking up for what he sees as his constituency. In this respect though, I think he is wrong.

  The government has been prepared to be fair and reasonable in dealings with the industry. In 1984 the wholesale sales tax rate was struck at 10 per cent; in 1986 it became 20 per cent. We are now seeing another increase that is based on equity, looking towards the whole range of beverages that are available to the Australian community. Despite the propaganda that has issued from some Liberal and National Party senators and some people in the other place, this tax does not apply to exports at all. The urgency motion is fatally flawed in terms of its logic. It has no impact whatsoever on exports of Australian wine.

  The Australian wine industry flourished and grew, as I made clear earlier when reading the figures to the chamber, between 1985-86 and the current year. It continues to flourish and grow. We have seen evidence of investor confidence in the industry with the amalgamations that have been taking place and with the float of Hardys and the like. A number of small winemakers have also been successful in attracting investor confidence. The capital investment is there for the industry to grow. I believe the doomsayers will be proved wrong yet again. The urgency motion deserves to be defeated.