Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Wine Australia Amendment (Label Directory) Bill 2019; Second Reading
This bill, the Wine Australia Amendment (Label Directory) Bill 2019, is timely, as wine producers and exporters across this country have been slapped with eye-watering antidumping duties of up to 212 per cent on their very fine exports to China. These tariffs are a result of unfair and unsubstantiated claims of the dumping of cheap Australian wine into China, a claim that has been refuted by experts around the world. As we all know, on average Australian wine is among the most expensive available in China.
Labor is deeply concerned about Australia's rapidly deteriorating trading relationship with China. We know the Australian wine industry has long benefited from a productive and respectful relationship with that country. Australian wine exports to China were worth $1.1 billion in the year to 30 June, according to Wine Australia figures.
In the midst of a crisis, the agriculture minister, sadly, has not been able to get in contact with his counterpart, in the entire time he has held that role. The same might be said for the minister who is reported to be the hopeful next trade minister, the current Minister for Education, who also has not reached out to his counterpart in China, their minister for education, which seems shocking, given the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students who are entrusted to this country for their education.
Back onto the wine. That the agriculture minister is not able to speak to his counterpart certainly doesn't bode well for our significant wine industry in this country. It is in the interests of both China and Australia to have a productive trading relationship. It is important that the government show leadership on managing this relationship at this critical time. Producers, quite frankly, feel abandoned by this government, and that is what they have told me. The message they are getting is, 'Look, it might be a bit rough right now. Pack up your wine crates and perhaps think about sending them somewhere else,' or, 'Here, look at these agreements. We've got for you about 14 ratified FTAs', as if that means a winemaker can suddenly change overnight where those creates of wine are going. This is simply not possible. To think that it is just demonstrates that the government is entirely out of touch with how a trading relationship works.
Australian producers across all industries spend years—literally years; most of them decades—building relationships with importers in those destination countries. Those are decades of on-the-ground relationships to make sure that they are trusted, that the right price is paid, that the people who want the product get the product and they get the product that they want. You cannot turn on the tap of demand for Australian goods. You have to work at it. It's not like walking up to a tap and getting a glass of water. It takes time, hard work, commitment and dedication, and it is what this government has failed to do.
Labor is concerned that the threat to wine exports follows China's technical suspension of imports and its boycotts of other Australian exports such as red meat—now lamb—coal, international education and tourism, cotton, sugar, timber, seafood and wheat as well as the imposition of 80 per cent tariffs on Australian barley exports to China, most of which ships, of course, from my electorate of Brand from the CBH silos that have been there for many years. Like with barley, the assertion that Australian wine producers are dumping their product into the Chinese market is simply ludicrous. In fact, as Jeff Wilson of the Perth USAsia Centre has rightly pointed out, data shows that Australian wine gets a much higher price in China than other top export markets.
But we really shouldn't be too surprised by this. We know that the government has been at loggerheads with China for some time, especially since the foreign minister needed an announcement and decided to make an announcement on a television program on a Sunday morning, calling for officials like weapons inspectors to go into another nation to look for the reasons for the emergence of the COVID virus. Labor does support an international inquiry into the origins of the virus. It's a very important scientific inquiry that is required for, quite frankly, the benefit of the whole world. We all want to know how this happened so we can prevent it happening again. But to turn it into an announcement for political purposes—again, on a Sunday morning program—is just inexplicable.
I return to discussion about the wine industry. It's long benefited from a productive and respectful relationship with China. Australian wine exports, as I've said, are worth $1.1 billion, and I agree that winemakers should spread their risk and diversify their export markets. Unfortunately, a lack of leadership from the government on the diversification issue has left a policy vacuum, leaving business, stressed from bushfires and drought as well as a pandemic, to pick up the pieces.
As we know, this government is ready to sit back and shift the blame rather than show leadership. We've heard the catchphrases, the get out of jail free cards: 'This is a state issue', 'I don't accept the premise of your question', 'Could someone else do that, please'—not to mention the minister for agriculture's extraordinary statement that 'the government has provided up to 14 free trade agreements around the world so you can go and spread your risk. Access one of those.' That's patently absurd. You do not access the benefit of FTAs simply by packing up your wine on a crate and sending it off to some unknown destination. You have to apply to access an FTA, and even before you would want to do that you have to have the relationships on the ground even to have buyers. It's not as if you can go to a signing ceremony for one of these FTAs and expect that, magically, there will be a market for you to sell into.
Given the current state of play with our trading relationship with China, the Prime Minister and the cabinet are now demanding export diversification. Well, it's seven years too late. I found it a bit rich when the government itself commissioned a report aimed at building our economic relationship with India and let it sit there in the PMO simply gathering dust. In fact, it has been entirely shelved. Two years ago, former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary, Peter Varghese AO, handed a landmark 500-page report to the government with 90 recommendations on how to improve our trade and investment relationship with India. Would anyone like to guess how many recommendations have been implemented?