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Monday, 5 February 2018
Page: 156


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (21:17): The purpose of the Export Control Bill 2017 is to streamline and consolidate existing legislation to create a new framework for regulating the export of agricultural commodities. Labor will be supporting the bill and is pleased to finally see the Turnbull government focus on policies that will benefit the agricultural sector as a whole. I also mention at this point that I will be moving a second reading amendment on behalf of the opposition.

The existing agricultural export legislative framework covers primary production and export certification, consists of 17 acts and more than 40 legislative instruments, and is quite complex, duplicative and in some areas inconsistent. Further, many of the legislative instruments in the current framework are due to sunset on 1 April 2020. This new legislative framework will replace the Export Control Act 1982 and the legislative instruments such as orders and regulations.

The explanatory memorandum states that the new framework will maintain the existing regulatory oversight and current regulatory outcomes while removing duplication and making export provisions consistent across commodities where possible. Further, the EM states that the new framework will be more flexible than the existing framework, enabling the Australian government to be more responsive and better able to manage changes and issues as they arise.

The bill is also designed to draw upon, support and give effect to Australia's rights and obligations under relevant international agreements, including trade-related agreements. There will be no change to Australia's commitment to meet the importing country's requirements of our trading partners. The bill will consolidate existing monitoring and investigation powers into a set of provisions and adopt the monitoring investigation and enforcement powers prescribed by the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014.

The development of the bill was undertaken through a consultation process, and stakeholders were able to make comment on the draft exposure of the bill. Whereas most submitters are happy with the substantive substance of the bill, many stressed the importance of ongoing consultation during the development of the rules which give effect to the operational aspect of the bill. The development of the rules will be a time-consuming exercise and will require a focused and engaging process with affected industries.

The regulation impact statement highlighted implementation challenges, particularly those associated with the development of the rules. The RIS states that the rules will be developed during 2018 and 2019. Preparation of the rules will require further consultation with stakeholders in affected sectors to ensure the operational details of the legislative framework can be practically applied and that there are no unintended consequences. Drafting and consulting on the rules will require a significant time and resource commitment for the department. If resources cannot be committed or if time frames are let slip, there is a risk that the legislative framework will not be fit for purpose when the legislation commences.

The key risk to implementation, the most significant risk from poor implementation of the improved legislative framework, is disruption to Australia's trade. Trade disruptions can result in immediate revenue loss, short-term loss and longer term loss of market access for Australian exports, and damage to Australia's reputation. The risks associated with the new framework are of great concern, and the new Minister for Agriculture must make this new export legislative framework a priority to ensure that Australia is not disadvantaged due to the implementation process. Further, due to the tight time lines, it is a shame that the previous agriculture minister did not focus his attention on this issue but rather forced his department to focus on his ill-thought-out pork barrel, wasting millions along the way.

Grain Trade Australia noted in their submission that as part of the draft bill a significant part of the elements and issues in relation to the operational aspects of the legislation will be defined and included in the rules, which are still to be developed as part of the consultation in the implementation process. GTA has noted a number of issues that would fall into the rules and 'would urge the government to ensure that there is close consultation with industry around the rules'.

Further, Grain Trade Australia stated:

Thus, development of the Rules will be a critically important component of the final Legislative framework, its approval through the Parliament and its implementation. As such, we would seek to be closely involved in the Industry Consultation and development of the Rules by the DAWR and implementation of the new proposed Legislation. Further, we would seek to engage with DAWR in the development of the Rules to address industry specific issues and to identify opportunities for improved and/or enhanced processes within the Act to improve productivity and efficiency for both Industry and Government.

The Red Meat Advisory Council has also raised a number of issues which they are seeking reassurance on, particularly on the development of the rules, and stated in their submission:

RMAC understands that the cost of transition can be quite high. Whilst RMAC acknowledges that this will be financed not by industry cost recovery arrangements but rather via ordinary appropriations channels, there must be a clear economic benefit to making this investment given the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) financial resourcing.

They also go on to talk about the consultation:

The bill is an extremely comprehensive one and every effort on behalf of industry has been made throughout to highlight any areas of risk or opportunity to the industry to DAWR.

However, given the wide-ranging nature of the proposed nature of this legislative reform RMAC recommends that industry be afforded an opportunity to comment on any modified or additional measures before finalisation of this, especially the formation of any new Export Rules.

… The Bill proposes giving the Minister the power to temporarily prohibit the export of goods in emergency situations; as well as modifying the roles and responsibilities of the Secretary.

As an industry that witnesses immediate and economic impact from interruptions to trade any changes to legislative power of either the Minister or Secretary should have a clear system of checks and balances and no discretionary scope. This requires further consultation and clarification in order to have a system in place that works responsibly for both industry and government.

As this is a critical piece of legislation, it is important that all aspects of the bill are properly assessed and stakeholders' concerns addressed. It is also important for the Senate to note that our exporters and agricultural industries are also facing challenges which lie outside the scope of this legislation. These challenges include non-trade barriers, missed opportunities, biosecurity threats, community concerns about free trade deals and labour shortages. Labor announced a number of policies last year, including to establish a joint team made up of officers from DFAT, Austrade, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Industry, to better coordinate the work the Australian government does in helping Australian businesses tackle non-tariff barriers in potential export markets.

A lot of Australian businesses tell us the biggest challenge they currently face are non-tariff barriers. At the moment, responsibility for this work is broken up into a number of different government agencies. This will provide a single point of accountability. The team will work with Australian businesses on plans to address non-tariff barrier issues they face and will report to a committee of cabinet.

Australia Week in China is currently held every two years. China is our biggest trading partner. Its GDP is expected to triple from $15 trillion to $45 trillion by the middle of this century. According to the government, this event generates $1 billion in export sales and $3 billion in investment. If only a fraction of this is true, it makes sense to make Australia Week in China an annual event.

According to ABARES, Australia's agriculture, fisheries and forestry exports are valued at over $53 billion in 2016-17, and our products are sought after for their clean, green and safe reputation. However, without a strong biosecurity framework, this reputation will be put at risk. We see this situation currently playing out in my own state of Tasmania. The export ban to Taiwan is not good for our growers. Sadly, the state Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Mr Jeremy Rockliff, said the closure of the Taiwanese market would have little impact for our growers, claiming that 'only around six per cent of fruit remains on trees and only a small amount of fruit goes to Taiwan'. This lacklustre response does nothing to reassure me that the government is in control of the fruit-fly risk for Tasmania. Further, the reputational damage which Minister Rockliff seems to be ignoring is shocking and could have devastating long-term effects on Tasmanian growers. Finally, recent reports that growers are struggling to find seasonal workers to pick the fruit is also restricting the full potential of the agricultural sector. The ABC reported:

In Tasmania, one berry farm has contacted Fruit Growers Tasmania looking for more labour after they had to leave hundreds of tonnes of fruit to rot on the ground because there was not enough pickers available. Phil Pike, business development manager for Fruit Growers Tasmania said the farmer was not alone. 'That's a challenge we're hearing from across the state' Mr Pyke said.

In conclusion: Labor will support this legislation, but it is only one piece of a bigger puzzle for agriculture, fisheries and forestry to meet its full potential. The Turnbull government must lift its game and focus on real and tangible policies which will benefit the entire sector rather than wasting money on pork barrelling.

I move:

At the end of the motion, add "but the Senate notes that Australian exporters and agriculture industries are facing a number of challenges relating to trade".