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Monday, 7 September 2015
Page: 6077

Trade with China

Senator CANAVAN (Queensland) (14:46): My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, who is representing the Minister for Agriculture. Will the minister update the Senate on the benefits of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement for Australian farmers, especially beef exporters?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:47): I thank the honourable senator for his question. The last time I was asked a question on this matter I was able to report to the Senate that the Chinese economy imported some $115 billion worth of agricultural and fisheries products from around the world. They reported in 2014 an additional $3 billion, which makes a total of almost $119 billion. What an opportunity for Australian farmers and fisheries! What an incredible opportunity!

One of the most important things is that it is a particularly important area for beef production right around Australia. Whether you are in Central Queensland, the Northern Territory, the Kimberley or anywhere in Australia, this is such an important matter. For Australia to have negotiated in the China free trade agreement a reduction in tariff of between 12 and 25 per cent on beef products over nine years means $270 million worth of benefit to Australia producers that can be invested into infrastructure and, most importantly, invested into jobs. We also had the recent ratification of the health protocol on live feeder and slaughter cattle into China—another 10 per cent reduction in tariffs over four years. The agreement provides significant advantage over our competitors, which is what this is all about. China does not only have Australia to deal with. There are so many people who want to compete with us, whether it is on fibre, fisheries or food production. Of course, this does not happen by accident. We are deliberately going about consistently removing the blockages at the end of our supply chain, because we know that that is in our nation's interest.

Senator CANAVAN (Queensland) (14:49): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the minister further outline how the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement builds on the government's plan for rural and regional Australia, especially on the government's white papers on Northern Australia and agricultural competitiveness?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:49): I can indeed. We told the Australian people prior to the last election that we would ensure that we built on the fifth pillar of our economy, agriculture, and that is exactly what we are doing. We have delivered the agricultural competitiveness and the Northern Australia white papers, and we are ensuring that we are going to capture the opportunities presented by a world that is hungry for our top-quality soft commodities.

We are investing in our transport infrastructure, our water infrastructure and our capacity in research and development because we know that being in front of the game in all of these areas is going to make us significantly more competitive. We have delivered on the trifecta of three new free trade agreements on top of 42 key market access gains. We have restored all our suspended markets and made 14 key market access improvements and actions to maintain market access right across our portfolio. (Time expired)

Senator CANAVAN (Queensland) (14:50): Mr President, I have a final supplementary. Can the minister inform the Senate of the implications for primary producers of the threats to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement being ratified?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:50): As it happens, right now we can see that those opposite, in their kowtowing to their union masters, are putting the interests of their own political party in front of the interests of Australian primary producers. It is not the first time that we have seen this happen. I have been here long enough to observe the many occasions under which they put their own political interest ahead of the interest of this nation. This is against the advice of every single commodity and farming representative in this country. It is also against the advice of those luminaries in the Labor Party who did not put the interests of their party above the interests of the nation. People like Bob Hawke and Simon Crean say you have it wrong—and of course they do have it wrong. What is in the national interest is to get out of the way of a prosperous future for this nation. (Time expired)