Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Wine Australia Amendment (Trade with United Kingdom) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I'm pleased to follow the member for Bendigo in speaking on the Wine Australia Amendment (Trade with United Kingdom) Bill 2019. As the member for Bendigo quite rightly pointed out a moment ago, the wine industry is very important to the Australian economy. I will quote some of the statistics that the member for Bendigo also quoted in her address to the House. Australia is among the top 10 wine-growing countries in the world. We have some 3,230 farms across Australia, with some 6,250 actual grape growers involved through the ownership and management of those farms. There are 2,468 wineries in this country. That, in itself, speaks volumes for the importance of the wine industry, because each one of those wineries not only employs people directly in the winery and buys grapes from the wine growers but is involved in its own research and development of new and better wines. The industry contributes over $40 billion to the Australian economy and employs 172,000 people across the country, with exports worth $2.4 billion each year.
The importance of this legislation is that the UK, which is at the heart of what this amendment is all about, is Australia's third-largest wine importer, with wine imports of about $371 million each year. So, given that the UK, because of its exit from the European Union in just over a month's time, will be in a difficult situation with respect to the agreements that we have with both Europe and the United Kingdom, it's important that the market in the UK remain open and that we are able to continue to trade unencumbered with the UK. It's important for the UK, for their consumers, obviously, who clearly like Australian wine, but it is also very important for the Australian producers who export to the UK.
As the member for Bendigo quite rightly pointed out, Australia produces some of the best wines in the world. Indeed, so much so that the Europeans feel threatened by the quality of Australian wines. Again, as the member for Bendigo alluded to in her remarks, many of the European countries are now trying to prevent Australian winemakers from using names for wines that have been traditionally used for decades and decades—all because they know that it will impact on the European sales, and that buyers may be looking to buy from Australia rather than Europe. My view is that that might work in the short-term, but, ultimately, wine consumers know a good wine when they drink it, and they will inevitably go back to the better product, if it's made.
This particular legislation is critical to South Australia. It's critical to South Australia, the state I represent, because South Australia produces some 51 per cent of the total wine production of this country. Across the state we have regions such as the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Hills, the south-east and Limestone Coast, Kangaroo Island, the Fleurieu Peninsula and the Riverland region, which are all famous for their wine producing and winemaking.
All of those regions are affected, like every region across Australia, by many, many risks. Whether it is weather, climate change or change in rainfall patterns and the like, the fact is, if you're a farmer in this country, there are indeed risks. This legislation clearly seeks to avoid one risk, and that is the risk of having the doorway to the United Kingdom market closed on us. It's an attempt to ensure that it remains open.
Of course, if we are dealing with risks, then for South Australia and, indeed, for all winemakers in this country, the biggest risk is climate change and weather pattern changes, and, particularly for South Australia, the management of the Murray-Darling Basin. In fact, what's loosely referred to as the Riverland region accounts for most of the wine production in Australia. So, indeed, the whole Murray-Darling Basin is important with respect to the wine industry of this country. But it is particularly important for South Australia, because the Riverland region of South Australia is one of the largest winegrowing regions we have in the state. For the Riverland region, its dependency on the Murray River and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is absolutely critical.
We know, as a result of what we have seen in the Darling River in recent weeks, that the Murray-Darling Basin is in crisis. We saw tens of thousands—perhaps millions—of fish dying in that system. We've also had independent reports from a number of different bodies that have highlighted, once again, that the basin is getting to a crisis point, in the same way that it was at the end of the drought period between 1998 and 2007.
But one of the reasons why the basin is in crisis is that following the basin agreement of 2012, which Labor brought together at the time under the leadership of Minister Burke, it seems that this government has abandoned that Murray-Darling Basin Plan and that through negligence, mismanagement, incompetence or simple bungling by coalition ministers since 2013 we now have a Murray-Darling Basin Plan that needs serious and urgent attention. This is so much so that the South Australian government, under the previous Labor administration, led by Jay Weatherill, ordered a royal commission into the basin.
The causes of what we're dealing with right now with respect to the Basin Plan are many, and I accept that, whether it's climate change, overallocation of water, water theft, the damming up of water before it gets into the river system itself, therefore limiting inflows, or simply general mismanagement, all contribute to the crisis that we're now facing. Climate change, of course, is one of the issues that coalition members seem to want to ignore. As far as the coalition members go, climate change has had no effect on the basin inflow at all. The truth is that it has had a serious effect. And we've also seen the issues with respect to the theft of water conveniently pushed to one side by this coalition government.
The royal commission that was ordered by the South Australian government handed down its report only last month. It's a report, from memory, of about 780 pages. I might advise the House that I've pretty much read every page of it. Having done that, I have to say that Bret Walker, who was the commissioner who headed the commission itself, has done an outstanding job in identifying the causes of the current malaise within the Murray-Darling Basin. What's even more concerning, with respect to that malaise, is that the incoming South Australian Marshall government has chosen—