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"No advice please, we're Labor"

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Wed, 4th June 2008 "NO ADVICE PLEASE, WE'RE LABOR"

The Hon Ian Macfarlane MP Shadow Minister for Trade (to 22 September 2008)

The Rudd Labor Government's lack of direction on trade policy has descended into further disarray, with admissions today that the Trade Minister's rhetoric on free trade agreements is in conflict with his own department's advice.

''Today we have seen more evidence of the arrogance of the Rudd Labor Government that has once again shown it considers itself above departmental advice,'' Shadow Minister for Trade Ian Macfarlane said.

''Despite the Trade Minister's best efforts to discredit the previous Government's pragmatic balance of bilateral and multilateral agreements, it was revealed in Senate Estimates today that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade considers bilateral agreements a key component of Australia's international trade relationships, on equal footing with multilateral arrangements,'' Shadow Minister for Trade Ian Macfarlane said.

''But just as it has done with FuelWatch, the Rudd Labor Government has claimed that it knows best, summarily dismissing departmental advice.

''Trade Minister Simon Crean has long been leading the attack against bilateral agreements, rejecting their value for Australian exporters.

''Stretching back more than a year ago Mr Crean stated: 'Bilateral trade deals are a very poor second cousin to multilateral or regional agreements. Bilateral agreements can lead to trade diversion rather than trade creation.'

(Simon Crean, Hansard, 08-02-07)

''And repeatedly this year Mr Crean has downplayed the value of bilateral agreements in favour of the Doha round of free trade talks.

''But in the last few days there's been a change of script.

''Perhaps the Trade Minister is following the lead of his colleague, the Minister for Resources and Energy, and is becoming a little uneasy with his Government's autocratic approach, engaging in some furious back-peddling last week by taking credit for the Australia-Chile Free Trade Agreement, initiated by the previous government.

''The Trade Minister must declare where he stands: either he trusts the advice of his department or he doesn't.

''Either he's prepared to embrace a comprehensive trade policy that delivers the best outcomes for Australian exporters, or he's resigned to subjecting Australian exporters to Labor's old ideological bias.

''The Trade Minister can't have it both ways.''