Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Customs Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018, Customs Tariff Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I thank the speakers for their contribution to the Customs Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018. I note the comments that have been made by a number of people who have participated in this discussion, including the member for Blair, the member for Fremantle, the member for Corio and the member for Kingsford Smith, as well as the shadow minister. At the outset let me say that I find it interesting when I hear the Labor Party talk about reductions in Australia's foreign aid budget. I find it interesting for two reasons. The first is that one of the key initiatives of the Turnbull coalition government has been to refocus our aid assistance—or what we call ODA—towards the Pacific. So we took what was effectively a shotgun approach that previously existed in the sector and targeted it and directed it specifically to—although not exclusively to—Pacific island countries in our region. It's our neighbour and this government feels we should be doing the heaviest lifting. That's precisely what we're doing.
I also find it interesting because, of course, the Labor Party stand up and wring their hands about how there should be more foreign aid money, but they do two things. The first thing they do is never acknowledge they are not committing to replace that money. They just complain about it and make absolutely no commitment whatsoever, which makes, of course, their words exceptionally hollow. The second observation is that the very reason we've had to reduce Australia's foreign aid budget by such a significant amount is the massive structural deficit that the Australian Labor Party put in place. There's a reason why as a country now we are over half a trillion dollars in debt, and that is called the Australian Labor Party.
The structural deficit that the Australian Labor Party left includes, for example, the fact that Labor put in place an unfunded NDIS and committed to a range of spending that they did not have funding for. That is precisely the reason why this country is faced now with these very difficult challenges. But we've been making slow and steady progress. We're exceptionally close now to going back into surplus, and that's been through prudent economic management. I note, as I said, the complete hollowness of the Australian Labor Party's position when they whinge and complain about the reductions in foreign aid, even though (1) they're responsible for it, and (2) they make zero commitments about actually putting in a single extra dollar.
With respect to broader comments about the contributions that members have made in this debate, including, for example, concerns I heard that were put forward by both the member for Blair and also the shadow minister about how they would like to see, and that there should be, economic modelling on trade agreements: for starters, when Labor were in power they didn't start and conclude a single free trade agreement. But they were able to conclude a couple, and guess what—there was no economic modelling from the Australian Labor Party when they were in government. It's just another example of the Australian Labor Party coming in here and bleating on about how they want the government to act in one way when they themselves didn't do it. It just reinforces, once again, the sheer hypocrisy of the Australian Labor Party.
But let's talk specifically about this actual agreement, PACER Plus. As the person who has engaged continuously with the economies across the Pacific, both in my previous role as Minister for International Development in the Pacific and also now as Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, what I am most excited about is the numerous conversations that I've had with key government figures, the private sector and others in the Pacific who are energised and excited about the opportunities that this PACER Plus agreement will provide. It is, in many respects, in equal parts both a trade agreement and a development agreement.
This will be a game changer when it comes into force, not only for Australia's relationship with the Pacific but also in terms of the way in which we will, in a sustainable way, help to build economic resilience and long-term sustainability of Pacific island country economies. Ultimately, it is always going to be far more profitable, in a social sense, for Pacific island countries to build long-term sustainable industries across the Pacific, and we should help provide integration with the Australian economy and the New Zealand economy for those countries.
I note some comments that have come from the Labor Party as well about wanting PNG and Fiji to be part of this agreement. Well, of course we do—of course we do. We have engaged in a very constructive way with both Papua New Guinea and Fiji to try to secure that outcome. We remain very open and willing to engage in very constructive discussions with both of those countries, and we will work to deliver a whole-of-region PACER Plus that includes those two major economies as well.
As I've said on numerous occasions, this coalition government has the most ambitious trade agenda in Australia's history. PACER Plus will create closer economic integration of Australia and the Pacific island countries. It will drive economic prosperity, raise living standards in the region and complement our trade agreements that are already in force, which are delivering record growth in exports and creating more jobs here in Australia.
PACER Plus is a regional-development-centred trade agreement. To date, PACER Plus has been signed by 11 members of the Pacific Islands Forum, namely, Australia, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. PACER Plus will provide commercial opportunities for Australian exporters and investors in a range of sectors. These opportunities will increase over time as the provisions of the agreement lead to more open and transparent policies, and as wider relationships are built regionally and beyond.
The agreement reflects Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific island countries' commitment to the principles of free and open trade, and the underlying impetus for negotiating PACER Plus and its goal of regional economic integration is the formation of an interconnected Pacific market, including Australia and New Zealand, enabling the Pacific islands to access a larger market for their consumers and producers. While PACER Plus provides the framework for this integration, dedicated assistance is critical to addressing barriers in Pacific island signatories and to unlocking the benefits. PACER Plus provides this assistance.
The PACER Plus bills represent the key legislative changes required to give effect to the new rules of origin required to implement PACER Plus. The Customs Act 1901 is being amended to include new rules-of-origin requirements and, also, to enable a full set of related product-specific rules that remain in keeping with modern FTAs. The amendments contained in this bill will enable eligible goods that satisfy the PACER Plus rules of origin to be entered into Australia at preferential rates of customs duty. The Customs Tariff Act 1995 is being amended to set out the preferential rate of customs duty for goods that satisfy the new rules-of-origin requirements. These new rules are consistent with existing arrangements for duties imposed on excise-equivalent goods. Without these amendments, Australia would not be able to complete its domestic arrangements and the agreement would not be able to enter into force. This would prevent Australian businesses from receiving the various benefits that will flow from the agreement.
It's important that Australia be among the first eight countries to ratify, as early ratification would signal Australia's commitment to both PACER Plus and the rules based trade in the Indo-Pacific. PACER Plus will enter into force 60 days after the eighth signatory notifies, and I note that Tonga, as the depository, has ratified the agreement. Closer economic integration with the Pacific region and with larger economies such as Australia and New Zealand is essential for sustainable economic growth in the Pacific. In addition to implementing PACER Plus, Australia will continue to work to increase Pacific-wide trade, tourism and investment.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.