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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9813

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (13:14): As we all know, the Export Control Amendment (Quotas) Bill 2015 is listed as uncontroversial and Labor, of course, will be supporting it. I want to complement Minister Joyce for getting his bill on the agenda this week because, as we know, it was not on the agenda on Monday, but now as it is on the agenda today it is going to be able to be passed. He obviously had the power within cabinet.

Today I wanted to have the opportunity to speak on this bill because my family is from the Darling Downs and has many long years of experience in the beef industry, and this is a really important issue for them. As people in the chamber would understand, at the moment the beef industry is going through a process where beef prices are extraordinarily high. Anyone who is looking at buying beef for their Christmas period will know that the whole area of beef has very high prices at the moment, which is great for the producers. The sad thing, of course, is that they have gone through a period of crippling drought—and I know that adjective is used a lot, but in this case it is absolutely true. It is ironic and sad, and also quite real in the agriculture industry, that you face this particular position: at the time when the prices are so high and people are able to benefit so well, many people in the beef industry and other producers have suffered greatly and are not able to benefit from this time of great wealth because they have had to destroy stock and they are still facing great drought, particularly in the far west area—the Darling Downs and into the upper area of central and western Queensland.

I wanted to talk on this bill so I could talk about how important the export control amendment is to people who are planning their agricultural futures. I am not expert in this area, but there are discussions around tables and in phone conversations about prices and about what should be done to save the country. As you would know, Mr Acting Deputy President, some of those family conversations about what we should be doing to save the country are quite extensive. In my family there is not always an absolute understanding that the Labor Party, when we are talking with the farm producers, are the key to moving forward in this particular process. But I believe we are, and I actually win some of those arguments on the phone.

In terms of today's bill—the export control amendment—I went to the explanatory memorandum because I had to check out, when I was talking about the issue of quotas and how they operated, exactly how they worked. We know that this bill is bringing four different groups into one and we know it will simplify things. I hate the term 'red tape'. We keep talking about reducing red tape, which is often an excuse for changing things that do not need to be changed and not actually looking at the importance of regulation, because regulation has its place and we need to have it. But I know the minister has said in his contribution that this is one of the bills that are cutting red tape, so in this case I am prepared to say that the removal of regulation may well be of benefit. But I then went back and checked exactly how Australia administers our quotas. The explanatory memorandum told me:

Australia administers quotas in a way that:

minimises market distortion from quota administration

minimises regulatory intervention and barriers to exporting

optimises the commercial value and use of the quota

ensures consistent, transparent and efficient administration

considers commercial arrangements, and—

I think most importantly in the case of our producers—

rewards market development.

That is how the quota system operates in Australia.

Export tariff rate quotas are established by trade agreements, and we know that there has been a lot of discussion about trade agreements recently in this place, but by no means has this discussion been limited to just the last 2½ years. There has been a long history of free trade and trade agreements put in place in this place over a series of governments. This particular legislation is not only relevant to the last couple of years and the ChAFTA and the Korean trade agreement; it goes back a long time in terms of the way the tariff rate quotas are developed. I think it is important to know that this system has been evolving over a period of time. It is not new. It has been there for a long time and it works out, as I said, those points for which it is developed. The explanatory memorandum says:

Where export tariff rate quotas are established by trade agreements Australia seeks to manage the quotas in order to offer exporters the maximum concessions possible on agricultural products.

Indeed, that is the idea: that we maximise the concession for agricultural products, get the best deal and—a very great point—reward market development so that, as people develop their industries and develop their skills, they will get the best possible return when their government negotiates the agreements that will look at the export trade.

The current bill before us consolidates the four acts that govern tariff rate quotas into one act that covers all commodities. This is important because, in our producing area, there are many more producers who now act in more than one specific area—there are a lot of mixed farms, a lot of mixed businesses. So it is important that, for simplification purposes, there is this consolidation so that the one act covers all commodities. I think that reflects the work that has been done over many years, again, to make this simpler. I know the department has been working in this area for a very long time, and the guarantee that we have been given is that the department and the minister have taken significant consultation—not just recently but over a period of time—to look at how this could best operate. The information that was provided to the opposition in the extensive discussions that Minister Joyce had with our shadow minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, talked about this as one element of the ongoing work to make sure our agricultural area is best rewarded.

We had information from the department through Minister Joyce that the stakeholders consulted included DFAT, because of its position in terms of developing trade agreements; the Australian Meat Industry Council, which, as I have said, is a particular area of interest for me, though I do put on record again that I am the vegetarian in the family; and the fruit juice council and the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, which are probably areas that I would understand better in terms of my own particular taste. In terms of the consultation process, it is most important, as I have said, that it included the Australian Meat Industry Council and also Australian Pork Limited—again, an important area in our economy at the moment and one that has had significantly tough times in the past. The pork industry have faced significantly difficult times in the recent past not just because of climate conditions but also because of imports and their ability to get reward for their product. It is important that they were involved in this consultation as well as the Chicken Meat Federation. So for all these groups with all their particular needs and particular interests, the government has absolutely committed that there has been full consultation with them and that they favour the approach put forward in the legislation before the chamber.

The bill also enables the secretary of the department to make orders in relation to the establishment and administration of a system or systems of tariff rate quotas for the export of goods. Orders may be made to cover goods currently subject to quota regulation but could cover any other goods that quotas may apply to in the future. These quotas come as trade agreements are developed and agreed through this place. More quotas could come as we have more trade agreements. The recent Japanese free trade agreement resulted in 33 new quotas. I think that is what I heard. I am looking desperately across the chamber at the officer in advisers box. Eight new quotas—okay. That is a great difference—33 to eight. Maybe we will get more in the future. Eight, thank you. As we get the new trade agreements, more quotas will be introduced. These orders can be made to take into account any new quotas that come in the future.

Importantly, the bill provides the ability for the secretary to make directions in relation to matters covered by an order—orders that I have previously spoken about. The real importance are the directions, which provide flexibility to deal with complex situations relating to an individual exporter in a fair and transparent manner. The amendments enable the directions to override an order, and that is consistent with subsection 17(4) of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997, which provides that if a direction given by the secretary is inconsistent with an order the direction prevails. The important element here is the fact that they are transparent and fair and also flexible.

We talk a lot in this place about the importance of transparency. We know the area of concern from, in this case, producers is if they do not really understand the basis of a decision—if they do not understand why something is happening. I value the fact that the department has prioritised the process under this legislation to be done in a fair and transparent manner. That means people will have a better understanding and that automatically means there will be less confusion. When decisions are being made about what will impact on their production, what will impact on the industry, what will impact on their livelihood, it is absolutely essential that there is a clear and transparent understanding. That is one of the real strengths of this legislation.

Also, there is clear priority on flexibility in the explanation as to how the bill will operate and in the contribution made by the minister in the other place, as well as by many of the other speakers. They talked about the need for flexibility, because they understand that our agricultural market is becoming more complex. The days of people concentrating exclusively in one area are changing. Whilst, of course, we will have specialists; we will also have many more people where their industries and commercial interests cross over, and it is important to have the flexibility to ensure that these orders and directions apply consistently, and that there is transparency.

Also in the explanatory memorandum is that exporter participation in a scheme of tariff rate quotas is voluntary. That is something about which I was unaware before I looked into this bill. Whilst it is voluntary, an exporter's failure to comply with an order or a direction would be a relevant factor in the use of the secretary's discretion under an order in respect of quota entitlements, certificates, conditions, audit and reporting requirements. It is not compulsory for exporter participation in the scheme of tariff rate quotas. But if the exporters do not choose to be involved in this scheme of tariff rate quotas, it could be taken into account when the secretary is making a decision. The secretary has discretion to make decisions about quota entitlements and the other things that go with that—the certificates, conditions, audit and reporting requirements. It is important that the scheme is transparent. It is important that people understand this process and understand the impact of a decision they make on any decision by the secretary. That element is clarified and transparent and it can move forward.

The bill also introduces new powers consistent with contemporary, flexible and efficient legislation. These are adjectives with which we all agree—contemporary, flexible and efficient. The proponents of this legislation state that this bill will work to introduce powers which will make all these things contemporary, flexible and efficient. They are bringing in the use of registers and computer systems to make decisions under a system of tariff rate quotas.

I note with some caution the introduction of the computer system. I would hope that the minister will be able to guarantee that the computer systems will be up to date and that we can have confidence that the introduction of this new system with the new computer system will be safe and on ,time and that the necessary resources to ensure the computer systems work are dedicated to this purpose.

Whilst we aim to have a consistent, contemporary, flexible and efficient system, we also need to have a transparent and fair system. I am all too aware of the resultant aggravation and concern, if computer systems, which are there to ensure that the system will work, are not working, and this can be quite significant. There could well be some problems, if we are relying on this system being contemporary, flexible and efficient, relying on the registers and the computer systems, and the development process is not in place to meet the requirements of bringing this legislation in on a particular date.

The bill has been designed to facilitate reduction in red tape, as I have said before. In this particular case, I will applaud the reduction in red tape, because we have been assured that this is going to happen. It is most important. I know that, when talking with my family members, the amount of paperwork and discussion they have often raises their concerns and their blood pressure to the extent to which it becomes a health issue. If this bill can guarantee that there will be fewer complications and people can get on with the business that they want to be in, that is a really great result for the legislation and one of the reasons that Labor is supporting this bill without any conditions.

We know that bringing regulation of quotas under the same legislation as other export controls for the same commodities will offer opportunities for synergies in the deployment of staff. It is always a good thing to have synergies, and this legislation will make more efficient use of resources in our departments not only for the departments working with this system but for the producers and the people in the export markets who are trying to use the systems. It will enable a consistent approach to the appointment of third parties as authorised officers, where permitted, by importing countries.

Again, we welcome the fact that the consistency of approach will ensure less confusion and more confidence in the people who we are trying to help through those items, as I said earlier. It minimises those interventions that made it more difficult for producers to ensure that they get the best possible result for the work that they do and it gives an incentive to look at market developments and bring forward best practice in their own industries.

Therefore it is important that we cooperate in this process to ensure that the bill is passed today. It appears to be a bill that we can all agree on and that this is one more step in the ongoing work within the Department of Agriculture, with the producers and everybody in this parliament, to ensure that the regulation is appropriate and the approach is consistent in making sure that we meet our requirements internally in development and maximise our effect in the export market.