Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister advise the House about the export performance of the wool industry? Is the minister aware of any threats to Australia’s export of agricultural products?
I thank the honourable member for Barker for the question. Representing one of Australia’s major wool-growing areas, as he does, he would be interested to know that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the export of the first bale of Australian wool—essentially Australia’s first export. There is a function in London tomorrow night to commemorate the arrival of John Macarthur’s first bale 200 years ago. Wool has played a very important role in Australia’s exporting history over the years. In the 1950s it was said that Australia rode on the sheep’s back and, in reality, wool was a very important part of our exporting. It is still one of our major export commodities, particularly amongst our primary sector, and it is making a very substantial contribution to our nation’s export effort.
In commemorating 200 years of Australian exporting, it is interesting to observe that it took 190 years for Australia’s exports to reach $100 billion in a year. It has only taken the 11 years of this coalition government for us to double that number to $210 billion. So this has been a government that has been good for exporters. We have provided enormous opportunities to open up new markets and to ensure the prosperity of the Australian economy through our export sector. This government has particularly supported the farm sector in trying to open up new markets and to find new opportunities for Australian products.
Unfortunately, it seems that not all members of the House share the view that it is important to open up new markets for our export sector. The opposition spokesman on trade put out a press release in the last 24 hours or so in which he made the observation that if negotiations are stalled because of issues in one particular sector, such as agriculture, then the government should go on with negotiations with other sectors. He said that this is Labor’s policy. So it is Labor’s policy that if there are any problems in agricultural negotiations—as there almost always are—then we should forget about agriculture and go on and do other things. That is the kind of mentality that Labor came away from the Uruguay Round with. They dudded farmers in the Uruguay Round. But they did make a promise, along with other countries, that these issues would be resolved in the Doha Round.
Now Labor are telling us that, if things get tough in the Doha Round on Agriculture, they will walk away from the farmers, do nothing for farmers, and go on to negotiate with other sectors. That is not our approach to trade. We want comprehensive agreements that deliver benefits for all sectors, including farmers and including wool growers, and that is the approach we will be taking to trade discussions. This is an important approach. It differentiates us from those opposite and helps look to deliver export opportunities for all Australians who have interests in exporting around the world.