Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2010
Debate resumed from 26 May, on motion by Mr Stephen Smith:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This is my third attempt to complete this speech in response to the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2010, which makes some significant changes to the eligibility for receiving export market development grants. In my previous comments on this matter, I made reference to the fact that these changes reverse most of the decisions and promises that the government made at the last election—promises which were not funded and therefore have led to a significant blow-out in the cost of the EMDG Scheme. The government said at the time these changes were made that they were sensible changes and would revitalise and update the EMDG Scheme. Subsequently there was a review by Mr David Mortimer, who recommended that these changes should be reversed. In fact, that is what this legislation proposes. It is an example of government policy in disarray. The bill breaks four of the election commitments that the government made in relation to the EMDG Scheme, and one commitment, in relation to a negative list for eligible claims, was never even implemented. So this is another example of trashed government election promises.
This bill will reduce the maximum grant available under the scheme from $200,000 to $150,000, reduce the maximum number of grants available for an individual recipient from eight to seven, cap the intellectual property registration expenses at $50,000 per application, increase the minimum expenses threshold from $10,000 to $20,000 and increase the eligibility income limit for members of approved joint venture consortia from $30 million to $50 million.
The EMDG Scheme reimburses eligible enterprises for 50 per cent of costs spent on specific export promotion activities above a threshold. The scheme has been capped at $150 million per annum since 1997 and through the forward estimates, except in 2009-10, when a $200 million cap was applied. Labor knew that its changes to the EMDG Scheme would cost more, but it only funded the increase in the cost for one year. It did provide a top-up in 2008-09, but that was to allow for better refunds for claims in the 2007-08 year under the previous government’s scheme. The ALP made the criteria for the scheme more generous even though there was insufficient money to pay for the old scheme. In reality, industry had been used to getting a full reimbursement—they had relied upon this because it had happened consistently under the previous government and then also under this government—but now there is simply insufficient money to meet the obligations under the scheme. So the government is choosing to wind back the eligibility rather than provide additional funds.
Claims are reimbursed retrospectively for expenditure incurred in the previous financial year, pro rata, up to a cap. Around 5,100 enterprises per year apply for grants, of which 80 per cent are SMEs. The government has made a complete mess of the EMDG Scheme. To repeat: soon after taking office the government expanded the scheme by lowering the eligibility expenditure threshold from $15,000 to $10,000, increasing the number of grants from seven to eight and increasing the maximum grant from $150,000 to $200,000. The cost of these changes was estimated at $50 million per year, but increased funding was only provided in 2009-10. The government commissioned Mr Mortimer to carry out a review of the EMDG Scheme. Mr Mortimer reported in September 2008 and Minister Crean promised a government response by the end of that calendar year. Then a response was promised in the 2009-10 budget and then in the 2010-11 budget. In reality, while there has been no specific response to the Mortimer review, the review recommended that most of Minister Crean’s earlier changes be reversed and so this bill is a partial response to the Mortimer report.
There is now a shortfall of about $30 million for grants payable in 2009-10 and there will be a shortfall of $80 million in 2010-11. This means that exporters who have invested in good faith in developing markets will have their reimbursements drastically reduced. The bill continues the government’s record of broken election commitments and administrative incompetence and is a major embarrassment to the minister. I suspect that he would have asked for the extra money that he needed to fund the scheme but was knocked back in the government’s expenditure review process, no doubt because the government needed to find $1 billion to fix the pink batts insulation mess, $1 billion to deal with asylum seeker issues and $1 billion or more to cover up for the extra costs of the school halls initiative.
These changes that the government made, which were underfunded, are now being reversed because the government could not find the extra $50 million or thereabouts to make this grant scheme work as was originally intended. The changes proposed by the government will reduce the total value of grants claimed to about $200 million per annum. This means there will still be a shortfall of $50 million per year in 2011-12 and subsequent years and payments of grants will be reduced accordingly. The shortfalls of $30 million in 2009-10 and $80 million in 2010-11 will remain. In other words, the changes made by this bill do not solve the problem. Every year from now on applicants will receive a small initial reimbursement and every dollar claimed over this amount will be reduced by up to 80c. The impact on small exporting businesses and on the credibility of the EMDG Scheme will be devastating.
I have received a letter from one small business owner who lodged a claim this year for just under $200,000, which had been approved. He stands to lose about $70,000 and now will be unable to expand the export arm of his business, including plans for further employment. He says that during the global financial crisis:
I kept my nerve and did my best to retain my team and keep driving our position overseas. I did this believing I had the backing of my federal government to do so. Now they are reneging on a substantial sum of money, yet in all of their hollow rhetoric they claim to be the champions of the economy and small business.
Remember that this small business owner spent the money in 2008-09 and he had no reason to expect that his claim would not be paid in full, particularly as the previous government paid 100 per cent of claims and Labor topped up the 2008-09 shortfall in the 2009-10 budget. The Mortimer review had something to say on the need for business certainty. Mr Mortimer said:
The Review considers, however, that a priority is to give applicants certainty about the level of funding they will receive. The current uncertainty, created by demand for funding under the scheme greatly exceeding the available funding levels, substantially negates the objective of encouraging exporters to commit additional resources to export promotion.
These comments were backed up by a representative of Chocolate Graphics International, an SME located on the Gold Coast, who was quoted in the Mortimer report as saying:
Can I emphasise that it is very important that the applicant knows how much they will receive back, as the uncertainty as it appears will happen in 2008 is absolutely a disaster for our cash flow for a small company like CGI. We had planned to participate in export shows in communication with Austrade in Italy and China. But considering we will not receive our entire claim, plus the future is uncertain, we will have to cancel these planned export events.
The only certainty that this bill provides is that the level of reimbursement will remain uncertain. In spite of the cutbacks in this bill, the EMDG Scheme is still underfunded. The government is anxious to have this bill dealt with before the end of the 2010 year. It is clearly not an uncontroversial bill. There is quite a lot of dispute and concern about it, but the opposition will cooperate with the passage of the bill. Businesses do not like the changes—they have been let down yet again by the Rudd government; more promises have been trashed—but they will know the rules. There will be some degree of certainty if we allow this legislation to be passed. It is a sad thing that many will now decide not to export, not to try. There will be lost opportunities for our businesses, but at least with the passage of this bill there will be some certainty as to what level of government support is likely to be available. That will be much less than business has been used to and there will be more uncertainty than has been the case in the past but at least they will be certain that it will be uncertain and can make their decisions on that basis.
Australia has recently been questioned about its sovereign risk. This is yet another kick for business. No-one can ever be sure when next the government will break the next of their election commitments. The opposition will not oppose the bill. We recognise that it is important that there be certainty for industry, but we are disappointed that the EMDG Scheme will not be properly funded and therefore those who tackle the difficult task of seeking to export from our country will not get the financial support they have expected and received in the past.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I came to the Old Parliament House in the depths of winter 23 years ago, the first Tasmanian to win a seat for the Australian Labor Party for more than a decade. Only four of our side of the House remain of the small band that can now remember how ministers and members from government and opposition alike had to rub along side by side in small rooms along common corridors and shared public lavatories. Something has been lost in the passing of that enforced intimacy.
In 1988 parliament moved up the hill to this most extraordinary building, where the executive is isolated in a separate wing. We all have offices larger than ministerial suites in the old House and you can fire a cannon down corridors without risk to life. This is majestic public architecture yet an isolating work environment. We cannot change those design elements, but those who remember another way regret its passing.
Times like this throw up odd memories. One that came back to me was of Kim Beazley describing the members of the caucus who survived the 1996 defeat of the Keating government as the political equivalent of cockroaches—nothing could kill us. Yet, sadly, to stick with the Beazley etymological metaphor, most who cross this threshold more resemble the mayfly or the moth: a brief life in the light before oblivion. A member of this House serves an average of less than six years. Every one of us who gets the chance to make a valedictory speech reflecting on one or two decades of service is outnumbered by those who win only one or two terms. I thought it was likely that I would be one of those.
It has become orthodox to describe Denison as safe for Labor, but that was not how anyone, me included, saw it in 1987. Denison was then a litmus seat. Since Federation it changed hands with every change of government until Michael Hodgman QC finally broke the mould. It was him I had to defeat.
But when I stood I had some weights on me, perhaps even the smell of political failure. I had first contested a federal seat in 1977. This was when Gough took Labor to his final election. I was 26. I campaigned using my double-barrelled name. In Braddon my roots in the south of Tasmania and my reputation as a member of the Left were, politely, not an advantage. Gough went backwards nationally and, bluntly, I was soundly beaten by Ray Groom, who later became a Tasmanian Premier.
When Bill Hayden took over as the Labor leader, the national executive repeatedly intervened in Tasmania to break the hold of the Left and, more personally, to scotch my chances of Senate preselection. I took the hint and abandoned thoughts of political office. My future was to be in the law. In turn I became a Tasmanian Crown Counsel, then Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Papua New Guinea and, finally, principal solicitor for the Aboriginal Legal Service in New South Wales. I made plans to go to the bar in Sydney. But fate takes odd twists.
But for coming home for a holiday I would never have heard that Labor had opened preselections for Denison. It seems madness now, but crazy brave prevailed. Although living in Sydney, I won preselection in a tough contest against a strong candidate backed by the Right. Motions were moved at the national executive to dump me and fellow Left candidate Warren Snowdon. We were both said to be unelectable. One might have been picked off, but two is a bridge too far and the Left threatened war. We survived, just.
This and other events made it clear that I was on my own. I left my job and punted everything on a campaign like none before or since. We ignored cautious national office campaign advice, knowing that if we lost there would be no second chances. I bought the rights to Slim Dusty’s Duncan and turned its verses into radio spots with the soundtrack ‘I’d like to give my vote to Duncan ‘cause Duncan’s me mate.’
My friend and advertising guru Iain Chalmers produced TV ads for me which turned Michael Hodgman’s strengths, as the mouth from the south, into weaknesses. In return, a lot of dirt was thrown at me. The Truth newspaper ran a front-page story: ‘ALP candidate in AIDS scare’. But we hung tough.
Finally, the polls showed I was in with a chance and the party got behind me and funded the last weeks of the advertising campaign that it had previously opposed. Helped by the Wilderness Society’s campaign backing Prime Minister Hawke’s pledge to protect the south-west wilderness of Tasmania, we won the seat with the slimmest of margins.
I became and would remain the only Tasmanian ALP member of the House for two more terms. But was it an aberration? Michael Hodgman thought so and dubbed me the ‘temporary member for Denison’. He dogged my heels. Whenever I travelled to Canberra I knew Michael would still be at every RSL, every flower show and every graduation. I never had the luxury of thinking I could take it easy for a year or so and then put in a burst at the end. I owe Michael for teaching me how never to take my seat for granted.
I won a second tight election against him and the third, when Bob Brown of the Greens was my main opponent, I won with an absolute majority. For the first time the seat of Denison began to be spoken of as safe. I had begun the metamorphosis from moth to cockroach. I also evolved from backbencher to minister—Attorney-General, pending the rerun of the election in Dickson, and Minister for Justice in the Keating government. I served on the cabinet committee that dealt with the Mabo and Wik decisions. We braved the opposition and the mining industry’s scare campaign to confirm the existence of native title. Robert Tickner stands out as a man of courage in a story too long to tell and Paul Keating’s Redfern speech will outlive us all.
I fear that talking about the things I would like to be remembered for in that government may sound like Rumpole ruminating on the Penge Bungalow murders—triumphs of a time long ago. Legislation intended to become model codes applying throughout Australia in criminal law and the law of evidence, although now deeply entrenched in Commonwealth law and in many state jurisdictions, still has not been adopted universally, so the task of ensuring that our legal system is less complex and fragmented in even this basic area remains unfinished.
Where I had responsibility we have reformed legal aid, expanded the network of community legal services to include environmental defenders offices and women’s legal services, brought in new copyright laws to fit the digital revolution, made substantial changes to law enforcement arrangements and passed legislation to criminalise overseas child sex tourism. We ended the shame of criminal prosecutions of homosexual men by national legislation, overturning my own state’s antisodomy laws.
There was something very special about that time and for me something very special about the personal and professional trust I enjoyed with Attorney-General Michael Lavarch. True friendship is a rare thing in parliament. We enter here past the age when friendship comes easily and the engine of politics is competitive and sometimes destructive of trust. Only in retrospect do I realise how extraordinary was the way that Michael and I worked together, bringing our offices together and sharing the administration of the department. It was a tragedy for our movement when Michael lost his seat in 1996 with the defeat of the Keating government. However, his example in the years that followed shows there is much to look forward to after politics and his defeat spared him the frustrations of 11 years in opposition.
I have 20 minutes to encompass 23 years—less than a minute a year—so I will pass over that decade save but to mention two things. First is my admiration for those who worked in this parliament and outside to keep alive notions of Indigenous rights, the dignity of refugees and the civil rights of minorities during a time dominated by the politics of fear. I pause to mention former senator Barney Cooney, who showed me that achieving ministerial office is never the measure of a man. Second is my work as an advocate in the High Court case of plaintiff S157 of 2002 v the Commonwealth. I took on that case because I was convinced that the Howard government’s legislation that removed all rights of judicial review in refugee cases was not merely cruel and wrong but also an affront to the rule of law.
From the first I had resolved always to keep my practising certificate as a barrister. Those on the other side often speak of their right, albeit rarely exercised, and often punished, to cross the floor. Our side has a more collectivist tradition. But we are equally men and women of conscience, and I knew when I joined the Labor Party that there might be some rare issues, like the death penalty, where my conscience would not let me follow even if my colleagues felt differently. I wanted never to be in the position where my economic future was hostage to political fortune. Remaining a barrister allowed me to take that case. Writing in the Australian Institute of Administrative Law Forum, Robert Lindsay has argued that Plaintiff S157:
… will rank with cases such as the Boilermakers’ case, the Engineers’ case and the Australian Communist Party case as a significant development in the constitutional jurisprudence of Australia.
In the long run, its vindication of the rule of law and the cases that have built on its foundations may stand as my greatest legacy of 23 years as a parliamentarian.
The election of the Rudd government gave me a second chance to serve as a member of the executive, as Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. I hope my years in that role have helped restore personal contact with and respect for the people and nations that are our nearest and in many ways our most important neighbours.
And so to thanks—first, and most importantly, to the electors of Denison. For a Claremont boy, representing the people of Denison and the Australian Labor Party in the federal parliament for 23 years has been the privilege of a lifetime. Hobart and Glenorchy have made great strides over the past 20 years. We live in a culturally and economically confident progressive city, and I am very proud of my part in that.
Next, to my family. Moments like this bring back things to the surface; as memories are swirled around, nothing stands out more clearly than the things that have most motivated and shaped me, and my and my brother’s core values flow from what we absorbed from our mother, father and grandfather—the belief that human reason is capable of resisting primitive fears and transcending racism; their example that decency is not weakness; their insistence that the catastrophes of the Depression and totalitarianism that saw millions dead or brutalised and impoverished should never again be allowed to be our future. They taught us that everybody has the choice, to take or to ignore, by acts great or small, to leave the world a little better.
I married young to Penny Goldin. It was she who was with me in my first election campaign in Braddon. We parted, but our friendship remains. Celia Taylor and I wed shortly after I entered parliament, and the great love of our lives, our son, Hamish, grew into adulthood often with an absent father. Our marriage broke up when Hamish was a young boy, due perhaps to absences and my single-mindedness on other things. Politics is tough on families, and it is ironic that achieving ministerial office coincided with the wrenching apart of my personal life. But, again, I was lucky. Celia remains a wonderful friend and loving mother, committed always to making sure that our separation never cost our son his family.
Others who took me in when broken know how much they still matter to me. However, my greatest good fortune, beyond all deserving, was to meet Anna Pafitis and for her to look past my flaws. For the past decade Anna has been my partner in life. She treats my occasional pretensions with contempt, my hurts with compassion, my absentmindedness usually with amused tolerance, and she returns my love with love. My son, Hamish, and Anna’s daughter, Sophia, and son, Alex, have become a blended family, with Butch the chihuahua and Wishbone, an ageing pound puppy, not far behind in Anna’s affections. I have never risked the ultimatum: ‘It’s the dogs or me!’
I turn to those who have travelled this road with me. Foremost must be Mayda Flanagan. Mayda has been with me for 22 years. She has managed my electorate office and three of my campaigns. There is nothing that Mayda does not know about me—with matching discretion. No-one could ever have had a more fiercely loyal member of their team. It is impossible to honour all those deserving recognition for their years of service in my electorate and ministerial offices: George, Peter, Bill, Simon, Cora, Cassy, Peta, Ben, Ella, Bec, Daryl, Reg, Brian and so many, many others. I owe you far beyond what I can say here.
Some final reflections. In 1974 Bob Pease and I worked together to establish the Tenants Union of Tasmania. Our first act was to make a submission to the then Tasmanian government to establish a rental bond board to overcome the problems of landlords improperly withholding security deposits. Last year, 35 years later, the Tasmanian government finally implemented that proposal. It is a reminder that the work of social change is not always capped with success but, also, that that which looks to be failure is not always as it seems. Seed sown can flourish later.
I hope the views of the cross-party Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform, which I used to co-convene with Dr Mal Washer MP, eventually become part of our mainstream debate. A majority of parliamentarians, lawyers and judges privately recognise the damage being caused by existing policies but few speak out. Much of Europe and South America has already taken steps towards reform and away from policies that create economic incentives for organised crime and stand in the way of health focused programs. I wish the group well with its work and I welcome the awards in the Order of Australia to Drs Alex Wodak and Ingrid van Beek, recognising their efforts in the cause of evidence based drug law policies.
And so on to the present. Soon I will be returning to legal practice. I have always shared a love of the law with my passion for politics. I look forward to a third career at the bar—but as you would expect I am sure there will be moments of sadness and even regrets. If I were Lot’s wife I suspect my next life would not be in the law but as pillar of salt. So I will not be here to walk the corridors when the parliament returns after the next election but until then I remain fully committed to serving my electorate and doing all I can to ensure that Labor returns to this side of the chamber.
Those with longer memories than a week know that the true mark of a leader is not how they are seen, or what they achieve in the easy times, but in the character they demonstrate in the fight they take on for the betterment of their community—whatever the seeming odds. The fundamentals remain strong. The Rudd government’s economic management has kept Australia the strongest OECD economy in the teeth of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Some things change and some things remain the same. The mining tax again pits the labour movement against a mining lobby that ran similar scare campaigns against native title and for Work Choices. But like Bob Hawke, who still carries the flame, I remain convinced of the fundamental good sense of the Australian people. Fooling them will not be an easy task.
So it ends. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the then Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, both said kind things in this chamber on my standing down as parliamentary secretary. This may be a tough place where true friendship is rare, but it is also a place where respect for colleagues can cross party lines. We come with different philosophies but shared hopes for the future. Some will return and others fall—but even the shortest service in this House puts a member amongst the very few of their community to have shared the highest possible responsibility a democracy can offer.
Much has been said to me in these last weeks to suggest I will leave here with fewer enemies and more goodwill than the sandpaper of 23 years justifies. I look forward to the future and I thank the House, its members all and staff, for sharing such extraordinary life experiences with me over those years. ‘Twas brillig.
It is a great pleasure for me to follow the member for Denison. I congratulate him on a wonderful and outstanding parliamentary career.
I rise today to give this, my valedictory speech. I have been in this place for nine years. Some might call it a short period of time; others may consider it long. Nevertheless, for me, regardless of the political cycle, where I might sit in this House or what may or may not be the outcome of any election, I have come to the conclusion that it is the right time for me to move on and that a new chapter in my life is begging.
As all members would appreciate, it is my fervent hope that during my time here I have left the occasional footprint in the sand. Before my chapter in this place is closed, I would like to take this opportunity to place on record a few thoughts that might be of interest to those who come afterwards.
I am a committed Liberal and a strong believer in democratic principles. Although most Australians are more prosperous now than we have ever been, we live in an age when people read and talk of politics with an air of disillusionment and corrosive cynicism. A large minority in our community think it is fashionable to believe that politicians are useless, that the system does not work, that everything a politician touches is bad or getting worse and that all political activity is pointless. I for one do not accept this proposition.
I do not apologise for joining a political party, nor should we all here act contrite in coming together to form opposing sides of the political divide. I believe it is what the public would want us to do. They want us to forge alliances based on common ideals and experiences. To me, the notion of a House of Representatives filled with 150 disparate Independents, unable to agree on any issue, has never appealed to the electorate, although we should never forget, of course, it is in their gift to deliver it.
At its best this place is the helm of our democracy. This House is where the battle of ideas should be fought out and where the hopes and aspirations of the people who send us here receive expression and are, where appropriate, realised. At its worst this House can be a craven institution, either in thrall to the executive arm of government or played for a fool through party advantage, while also pandering to the baser parts of our national media. On days that this is allowed to happen, I believe a tiny bit of our system of representative democracy dies. If we allow this practice to happen, collectively we in this House, I believe, will have lost the moral authority to remain in this place.
Everyone who makes it here, however blusterous or engaging they may be, has something special about them. Thousands of people try at every election to get into parliament and very few succeed. To come through that process they have to have some attributes, which from time to time this place can both strengthen and uplift and sadly, in the alternative, overwhelm.
Day after day members of parliament are on their feet, pressing issues and concerns close to the hearts of their constituents. As the member for Aston I have never forgotten that, in taking opportunities to speak in this House, I am in effect using a powerful megaphone, a megaphone that I must use wisely and for the issues that matter to my constituents and to me. Serving in this place has been both a privilege and a responsibility, especially for us, whose commitment is to bettering the lives of those in our constituencies. This is the goal that made me stand for election in the first place. It is a privilege to be able to give voice on the national stage to the issues that arise in our electorates and the issues that our constituents bring to us, whether that be in Aston, in Victoria or across Australia. For me, it has been a privilege to be able to use my vote in this place to bring about some of the improvements in the lives of Australians over the past nine years.
Being in this place is also, as I mentioned, a responsibility. This sometimes means even speaking the truth to power, speaking up against injustice and opposing a viewpoint when we think there is a better way forward. Yet we also have a duty to support decisions when they help improve the lives of our citizens. For those of us who are coming to the end of our practical vocation in this place, I believe we should, regardless of our individual experiences here, at least say that we have not lost our faith in the cause. I believe public life in politics remains a most important and noble vocation for anyone to follow.
We conservatives believe that an important thing to do in politics is to draw a dividing line between what politics should be active in and what it should not be active in. In other words, understanding that which belongs to the public sphere and that which belongs to the private, which are views that should always be defended in this place. Politics, of course, is literally about defending political views. Despite this, the common view is that politics, or if you will public affairs, is something that we should do less of. However, I would argue that we should all end by saying that politics is something that a lot more people should do a lot more of. I am of the opinion that politics in Australia is only safe when it is practised by more people and when more people participate and have the experience of responsibility. I think we need to come up with ways of encouraging more people to take more responsibility. Only in that way can we truly maintain and strengthen our democracy.
There is no doubt that, as a result of what we do here in this House, my constituency of Aston and Australia in general benefit when we get it right and suffer when we get it wrong. I remain sceptical of people who argue that parliamentary reform and making the House of Representatives more effective can be achieved by some kind of silver bullet. The fact is that there is no one silver bullet. However, that does not mean that improvements cannot be made. I would respectfully stress that, in my view, there is an essential need to reform various elements of the system; elements that can only improve our democracy. I do not want to be as presumptuous as to outline particular issues or to portray that I have all the answers. Rather, I would strongly urge the need for all sides of politics to finally and openly acknowledge what I believe we all know to be true, that is, the need for reform. If our collective acknowledgement could be achieved then I believe the parliament could actually embrace a unified approach to make this happen so that the system can be improved for the good of all.
In parliament we are presented with numerous opportunities to make a difference during our time. For me, membership of parliamentary committees has been one avenue to effect change. I believe that it is through committee work that as parliamentarians we can really get in touch with the needs and wants of many Australians. Committees are not about paper shuffling but are about standing witness to the evidence presented before them, evidence that is so often linked to life experiences and to personal histories. Deep down committee work is about the people we meet and how we can have a positive effect on their lives. It is also about the effect their experiences have on our lives.
My time as a member of the Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs and the subsequent publication of the committee’s report Every picture tells a story is one such instant that I will always remember as a watershed moment for me in this House. It brought home to me how much of an impact we really can have. In working towards the finalisation of Every picture tells a story it had been the committee’s task to find a way to make the family law system better—better for those children who find themselves, through no choice of their own, in a situation where their parents cannot live together anymore and need to separate. It was my desire and that of my colleagues that the report grapple with the need communicated to the committee by respondents from all walks of life. Despite the recognition in law of a breakdown in a relationship, the parents of children are still just that, their parents, and should continue, where appropriate, to share responsibility for them and remain substantial figures in their life.
I, like my colleagues, was convinced that sharing responsibility is the best way to ensure as many children as possible grow up in a caring environment. To share all the important events in a child’s life with both mum and dad even when families are separated, in my view, remains the ideal outcome. I am proud of that standing committee’s report and I encourage all members of this place to further support and strengthen provisions within our family law to provide for the best interests of children and for that to be the most important consideration when faced with parenting issues.
Of course committees are assisted greatly by the fine work of many parliamentary staff members. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who support the parliament, whether it is in committees or in other areas of the parliament’s work. Each person plays an important and essential role in ensuring this place functions and keeps moving forward.
Another area of public policy and of deep personal interest to me that I worked to promote during my time here is the importance of music and music education in the life of young Australians. I touched on this in my very first speech in this House and continue to believe passionately in the link between the learning of music and the development of our humanity. In February 2003, I moved a private member’s motion in this House when I said that I believed every child in Australia should have a comprehensive education in music. I went on to say that, if this can be achieved, I believe those young people will have a better life and that Australia and for that matter the world will be a better place. I am proud to say that my motion was one contributing factor that helped lead to the establishment of the National Review of School Music Education, a review that has gone some way to elevating music education in the life of our children. Although it may sound very simple to say, I want to encourage all members to always remember what a difference music makes in our lives and what a difference it can make to our society. Put simply, more children learning and playing music in the community promotes more happiness and contentment in the community.
It was an honour, firstly, to have been elected to represent the people of Aston and, secondly, it was an honour for me to have serviced in government and more particularly in the ministry working as parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer alongside Peter Costello, Australia’s longest-serving Treasurer. In this role I had the opportunity to directly shape and influence policy outcomes within this portfolio for our nation.
During my time in government, we made significant reforms and important progress in the key areas of financial services, corporate law, consumer affairs and regulation. Combined with the much more substantial initiatives of the coalition government throughout its entire term, the reforms I worked on contributed in a very small way to insulating Australia against some of the harsher elements of the global financial crisis.
My deepest appreciation goes to the people of Aston, who have been most kind and generous in their support. I leave having obtained their support in four elections and I have been constantly touched by their belief in me as their representative. As I look back, I still feel very fortunate in successfully holding such a marvellous and great electorate—first, in a politically testing by-election in 2001 and, later, in successive general elections. I just hope that in some small way I have been able to represent them well and assist in making our local community a better place.
The Aston by-election was, as members might remember, a very testing time. I well recall Prime Minister Howard saying on record that it was the Aston by-election win that was the turning point in the fortunes of the coalition government. Throughout my time here, I have always found it interesting how we are constantly told and constantly reminded by the commentariat that the coalition’s win in 2001 was only as a result of Tampa. Maybe it is just an inconvenient truth that, heavily against all the odds, we won the marginal seat of Aston in a by-election several weeks before Tampa sailed into view. The trends had actually started to change well before Tampa even came on the scene. I think this is a perfect example of how, in public affairs, certain vested interests can attempt to rewrite history.
I put on record my thanks to the Liberal Party as a whole and in particular to the members of the Aston Federal Electorate Council, especially the electorate council chairman, Mr Graeme McEwin. Graeme’s support for me, both professionally and personally, has been unwavering and for that I thank him deeply. I sincerely thank all the hardworking Liberals in Aston for supporting me throughout the years. I remain deeply grateful for their commitment and their dedication to the cause. In truth, the Liberal Party has been more than just a political party for me and my family. In my case, when we arrived in Melbourne many years ago, we had no family members and few personal friends in Victoria. It has been the Liberal Party that has in fact brought us our dearest and closest friends, something that I will never forget.
I particularly thank my loyal staff, who have played their part in helping me throughout my time here. I thank those who currently work with me—Sandra, Glynis, Roz and Scott—as well as all of those who have been part of my parliamentary life and have moved on. To all of you, I thank you. I could not have represented a better constituency or worked with a more dedicated group of people. I also take this opportunity to place on record my sincere thanks to my friends Barbara and Roger, who are here in the chamber today and who have opened their home to me in Canberra for most of my time here. Both Barbara and Roger have been most kind and have made the lonely nights in Canberra go much more quickly and enjoyably.
To all my parliamentary colleagues, regardless of political persuasion, I wish you good health and happiness in the years ahead. To my coalition colleagues in particular, I thank you for your support and I wish you all the very best in the election ahead. There is no person in Australia who would like to see a Liberal-National coalition government in office more than I and I wish you all the best in the months ahead.
It has been said in this place before, and I am sure that it will be said by those to follow, that the time spent travelling, on the phone, at meetings, in conferences, at functions and here in parliament has taken away valuable time that could easily have been spent with the family. The fact that I have had the opportunity to serve in parliament is only due to the personal support and understanding of my family. In my own life, my son Daniel, who is here in the chamber today, was one year old when I entered this House and I leave as he now enters his second decade of life. For me, in regard to Daniel, I hope for two things. Firstly, I hope that my time here during his early life will have, in some small way, improved his future and likewise the future of all young Australians. Secondly, it is my hope that, in his second decade, I will be there for him much more than I have been in his first. For me, Daniel simply lights up my life.
My extended family has also played an incredibly supportive role in my career and I thank my very-much-loved stepchildren, Melinda and Brian, for their understanding and support throughout the years. I have had the great fortune to have had the most supportive, understanding and caring partner that any person could ever wish for, my darling wife Andrea. She is here today in the chamber and it is very difficult to fully express the depth of my gratitude to her, so I simply say, ‘Thank you’ and I say without hesitation that you are my everything.
For those who know me well, they will know that the person I most admire in political history is Sir Winston Churchill. When I was first elected to this place, Andrea presented me with a special gift. The gift was a framed Sir Winston Churchill commemorative crown coin, which was given to Andrea as a child by her late English grandmother. Under the crown, Andrea had a specially made plaque inscribed with the words: ‘A Certain Splendid Memory’. A Certain Splendid Memory is the known title of Sir Winston’s maiden speech, delivered in the House of Commons in February 1901.
This gift has taken pride of place in my electorate office every day of my life in parliament and now will hang in my study at home. As I look back and as I contemplate my time here in the House of Representatives, in this great Parliament of Australia, my recollections, my reflections and my thoughts will be nothing other than, indeed, a certain splendid memory. Thank you.
Mr Speaker, on indulgence: I rise tonight to give my valedictory speech as the member for Wannon. In doing so, I would like to emphasise how fortunate I have been to be elected to represent the people of Wannon for 27 years and to have had such wonderful support in that role and also how privileged I have been to have played a number of roles in public life, including that of Speaker of the Parliament, and to reflect on the many changes that have occurred and the changes that still need to occur.
Twenty-seven years ago Australia was coming out of the grip of another shocking drought. We had just seen the horrendous Ash Wednesday fires, with more than 50 lives lost but, on a more positive note, Australia II had won the America’s Cup. Little did I know when I entered parliament that the next 13 years would be spent in opposition. While the Hawke-Keating governments followed the usual Labor pattern of running up massive public debt, their overspending pales into insignificance when compared to less than three years of the current Rudd government. But, having said that, the Hawke government did implement the banking reforms proposed by the Campbell committee. It also reduced tariffs and forced industries to become internationally competitive. While the Hawke government made many changes to the tax system, this was only after considerable consultation, and the government was notably supported by the opposition in most of these changes. What a contrast that is to Labor’s blatant opposition to the GST reforms introduced by the Howard government. Compare that with the approach taken by the current government in attempting to ram down the throat of the mining industry a massive new tax—a tax that will do serious damage not only to future investment in mining but to many other sectors across Australia. No wonder the miners are in open revolt.
In 1983, I was sworn in by the then speaker, Dr Harry Jenkins—your father, Mr Speaker—a man for whom I had great respect. Looking at the chair now I am reminded of the old French saying: plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. For the benefit of my colleagues, it means: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in those days, backbenchers shared offices in the Old Parliament House. There were no faxes, no emails, no internet and no mobile phones. Not only were the offices of members tiny, basic and without facilities, ministers were located amongst the backbenchers. This did have one advantage: as a backbencher, you would sometimes find yourself at the urinal at the same time as a minister. Being unable to escape, he had to listen to your plea for support for some constituent problem. While his eyes might glaze over, usually a call came shortly after that from his secretary, arranging an appointment for the next morning.
In 1988, parliament moved to occupy this wonderful building. While it has certainly removed the overcrowding, it has taken away much of the personal touch. Ministers can now hide behind a wall of minders in the ministerial wing. Sadly, security has also placed many barriers between members and the public. Kings Hall in the old parliament often saw ministers, as they hurried from one side of the parliament to the other, prepared to chat to visitors. The non-members bar, once a favourite haunt in the evenings and a source of much information, has been long closed in this new building.
With 27 years in parliament, I am able to lay claim to quite a few achievements but, while I can do that, it is for others to judge their worth. I mentioned the privilege of being elected as Speaker in 2004, but I will in passing indulge in a few other highlights from my time in parliament. Nowadays, the twice-yearly hearings between the House Economics Committee and the Reserve Bank of Australia Governor are eagerly awaited by markets, analysts and the wider community. As the committee chairman who developed this process, to see the hearings continue is a satisfying testimony. However serious the public hearings may be, sometimes there was a lighter side to them, like the time the hearing went to Warrnambool—in which electorate? Wannon—and the governor with his suitably serious banker’s voice remarked to me that we continually reminded him of drought but, on driving into Warrnambool, the grass was so high that he could not see any sheep.
The economics committee continued its tradition of undertaking valuable work during my time as chairman. Two reports that I particularly wish to mention are those on regional banking and on local government funding. Both inquiries had a significant impact on public policy, and from the former the regions have seen a major reversal for the better in banking services for country people. Competition policy, tax office administration and financial regulation are a few of the other areas that we studied and reported on to parliament. My initiative that led to the introduction of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program has proved its value with the ongoing support of both the MPs and the chiefs of the defence forces. Members, senators and the chiefs have repeatedly spoken of the benefits of the program. Given defence is such a major issue for the nation, I think having a better understanding of it within the parliament must lead to better decisions.
There are a number of committees I have been privileged to chair, but one I want to mention especially is the government’s Firearms Consultative Committee. Following the dreadful shooting tragedy in Port Arthur in 1996, Prime Minister John Howard asked me to chair this committee at a particularly difficult time for the hundreds of thousands of responsible shooters in our community. Laws were tightened and since then the shooting associations have greatly strengthened their memberships and have played a very responsible role in teaching and promoting safe, responsible use of firearms. I was honoured to be made a patron of Field and Game Australia and a life member of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, the two biggest national associations. I note that shooting in Australia continues to have strong support and considerable effort is made by many to promote the safe and responsible use of firearms, particularly among juniors.
Locally in Wannon since 1983 we have seen improvements in many ways and in many parts of the electorate. To detail them would take far too long but a few of particular significance were the new Australian Technical College in Hamilton, a marvellous innovation to give secondary students the start to a full trades career, but regrettably the college has now been downgraded by the Labor governments; another was the all-weather athletics track at Brauer College in Warrnambool, giving young athletes in the region the chance to run on an Olympic-standard track; there is the new medical school at Deakin University, which includes Warrnambool campus, thereby training future doctors to go on to practise in the country; and, funds for any number of road projects to help improve transport links, such as the multimillion-dollar upgrade of the Eurambeen to Streatham road commenced three years ago to handle transporting of the rapidly increasing local grain harvest. I was delighted to facilitate federal funding for Gum San Museum in Ararat. Ararat’s unique heritage as Australia’s only city founded by Chinese migrants is properly recorded in Gum San.
Equally important, the future of our region looks particularly bright with over $8 billion of new investment expected in the next five years. Having said that, Wannon is proud of its great agricultural industries, which generate billions of dollars for the region. However, with global hunger for the first time leading to more than one billion people being classed as undernourished, increasing food production should be a far higher priority in Australia. Yet astonishingly the federal government continues to reduce spending in agricultural research and development under the guise of drought-induced lower production. If this short-sighted policy is allowed to continue, any pretence of wanting to meet the millennium goals will be seen as very hollow.
While I am indeed fortunate to be one of only 1,064 Australians to have been elected to the House of Representatives since Federation, to be chosen as the 25th Speaker of the House of Representatives was an absolute privilege. Through this, I came to see firsthand the extraordinary professionalism of so many people who work tirelessly here in Parliament House. Led by the clerks and the Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services, nearly 1,000 people keep this building operating with hardly a complaint. I cannot speak highly enough of their dedication. In particular, may I single out two clerks I worked with. Like their predecessors, Ian Harris and now Bernie Wright, both of whom are present tonight, continue a tradition which has served our parliament remarkably well. This brings me to a matter I feel very strongly about—the funding of the parliament.
To provide an effective balance between the executive, dominated of course by the cabinet, and the parliament, the parliament must be properly funded. To give just one comparison to show what I mean, since 2001 the budget for Treasury has been increased by over 100 per cent to $146 million, while the House of Representatives budget increased by just 11 per cent over that period to $22 million—which, I note, is little more than half the cost of the government’s advertising proposed for the new mining tax. Similar figures are there for the rest of the parliament. In other words, in real terms the budget to run parliament has been cut while ministerial staff numbers have grown, departmental budgets have blossomed and the number and complexity of bills which parliament has to debate each year continues to rise. By any measure, this balance between parliament and the cabinet, as shown by the resourcing, is tilting unhealthily towards the cabinet of the day.
Proper accountability and scrutiny of government by parliament is a fundamental strength of parliamentary democracy. It is my considered view, after having worked closely with the officers of the parliament, that the method of funding needs a major revamp. While the officers work tirelessly to minimise the impact of continuing budget cuts, the fact is that it is inevitable that the support for parliament to function fully is now threatened. As I am not seeking re-election, my views, I trust, can be seen as objective and free of any vested interest. Fortunately, there are some excellent examples among other Commonwealth parliaments where the funding is determined independently from cabinet. Canada and New Zealand spring to mind. With proper checks and balances, accountability and transparency, such models ensure not only the financial independence of the parliament but also maintain a healthy balance between parliament and the cabinet. Earlier this year, I moved a private member’s motion, seconded by the Deputy Speaker, the member for Chisholm, proposing just such a model for the House of Representatives. The challenge now is for both sides of the House to agree to this long-overdue reform.
I turn now to another challenge facing members and the community. It is always hard for members of parliament to hold the respect of the community. Some may say it is harder today than in the past but the future of our whole democracy depends on public confidence in our system of government. After all, it was less than 70 years ago, at a time of dire peril for much of the world, that there were only 12 countries with democratically elected governments. Today, more than 140 countries can claim some form of elections to their parliaments. Since the Second World War, democracy has underpinned the remarkable progress made in so many ways in so much of the world. But the advent of 24-hour news services, internet blogs, Twitter and text have multiplied the demand for and sources of political comment. There is a danger that with the proliferation of views and news the public will lose interest or become sidetracked from the importance of parliament and its role in the nation’s future.
Australia can boast the fourth longest continuing democracy in the world. The challenge today is to encourage healthy scepticism rather than corrosive cynicism towards our elected representatives. Sometimes this can be a very big challenge, such as during the recent vehement debate between the government and the mining industry. While it may not be all-out war, I am reminded of the old adage: the first casualty when war comes is truth. When hearing the Prime Minister and the Treasurer it is hard not to believe the first casualty may indeed have fallen. Such a public brawl is hardly helping the local standing of our elected members of parliament but, unfortunately, in this case it can even go international.
In a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal there was a scathing assessment of the new mining tax, saying:
… the larger issue at stake: Does Australia, a developed nation that has embraced liberal economic policies for three decades, want to philosophically go the way of free-market Hong Kong or socialist France?
Notwithstanding this particular issue, the value of public service remains as important as ever and listening to the two previous speeches I think that point was very strongly reinforced by the member for Denison and the member for Aston. To quote Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, on this issue:
To discourage ambition, to envy success, to have achieved superiority, to distrust independent thought, to sneer at and impute false motives to public service-these are the maladies of modern democracy, and of Australian democracy in particular. Yet ambition, effort, thinking and readiness to serve are not only the design and objectives of self-government but are the essential conditions of its success.
All members of parliament rely on loyal support from many hardworking party members, friends and family. I have indeed been fortunate. My wife Penny and our four children—Peter, Melissa, Richard and James—have been absolutely fantastic in their support right throughout this time I have been elected. They have always been there to make a very welcome home, something that I have always greatly appreciated.
My office staff from the time I was first elected have done an outstanding job and have rightly earned an enviable reputation within the electorate for providing great service. I must single out one for special mention—Megan Campbell, who has been with me for more than 20 years. There is no other way to put it but to say that she does a truly outstanding job. Without the ongoing support of so many in the Liberal Party, I could not have got here. Marilyn Lyons, who has either been the electorate chairman or the electorate secretary for almost 27 years, was an incredible support. Teamed with Bayse Thomas who ran my campaigns in recent years they made a formidable team. Jim Dwyer, who was also electorate chairman for nine years, is another absolute stalwart. But of course there are hundreds of others and I say to all of them my heartfelt thanks.
The seat of Wannon has the remarkable record of having had just two members, both from the Liberal party, since 1955. With a federal election only a few months away it is my fervent hope that the outstanding candidate we have in Dan Tehan will continue to prove that the Liberal party can best serve Wannon. In my maiden speech in 1983 I concluded by saying:
The long-term goals, the goals that the people of Wannon and the people of Australia should expect of governments are to have the opportunities and the freedom of choice to better their own future. It is the role of government to provide the sound basis on which to build the most important ingredient of which is a sound financial base.
Sadly it seems the current government is doing its best to undermine that base, so much so that Australians are rapidly concluding it is only by returning a Liberal-National coalition government that we can regain our confidence to truly better our own future. May I conclude by saying again it is an absolute privilege to be elected to serve one’s community. To have been elected 10 times is indeed a rare privilege. I leave this place with many fond memories, a few scars and many good friends but confident our parliament will continue to play a central role in the future of our great nation.
Honourable members—Hear, hear!
Mr Speaker, I would like to join with you in congratulating the members for Aston, Denison and Wannon on their contribution to the betterment of our country and I too wish them well for a happy, healthy and long retirement. Tonight I rise to speak about the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2010
The importance of trade cannot be overstated. Trade makes an invaluable, indeed a vital, contribution to Australia’s prosperity and is a great stimulus for economic growth. Trade creates jobs, improves incomes and encourages innovation within businesses. Further, we enjoy a very diverse export base including food education resources and fuel. Unfortunately, despite this, the Rudd government inherited an economy in 2007 that had suffered 72 consecutive trade deficits under the appalling management of the Howard government. I am pleased to note that the Minister for Trade, the honourable Simon Crean, has presided over eight trade surpluses in 2½ years. His efforts should be acknowledged and commended.
The importance of trade can be seen in its contribution to the workforce in Australia. Figures provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in June 2009 contained in the Centre for International Economics report noted that the latest research showed that one in five Australians are employed because of exports and imports and that one in seven Australians were in jobs that were export related. That equates to 1.4 million jobs. This is a significant component of our workforce. Further, in 2008, the export of goods and services contributed 23.5 per cent to gross domestic product. There can be no denying the significant contribution trade makes to our economy and society.
It was a Labor government that seized the opportunity to provide government assistance to encourage exporters to promote their services and products overseas. Since its inception under a Labor government, the EMDG scheme has been a very important part of assisting businesses to become export ready and to help them access new markets. When I was Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, I travelled around Australia and indeed overseas to represent the government. I know how much the EMDG scheme was appreciated by those small exporters who had built up their businesses with the assistance of the Australian taxpayer.
Eligible exporters receive financial assistance in the form of an audited partial reimbursement based on an exporter’s marketing expenditure in the previous financial year. As mentioned earlier, the scheme assists many small- and medium-sized enterprises. In the last grant year, it provided financial assistance to more than 4,500 eligible businesses. That is quite an achievement. In my local area alone, more than 60 exporting businesses received financial assistance through the EMDG scheme. The assistance aims to help aspiring exporters to develop a business that will be self-sustaining after the assistance from the scheme ceases. An observation from David Mortimer’s review, released in 2008, noted that that the incidence of firms developing into new exporters is higher for EMDG recipients than for comparable non-recipients.
In 2008, our government moved to expand the scheme and provided an additional $50 million, in line with our pre-election commitment of a $200 million EMDG budget. The pre-election commitments for the EMDG scheme have been honoured by our government and the additional $100 million provided under the scheme in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 financial years have played an important role in helping Australian exporters deal with the very difficult global economic conditions.
However, the very substantial growth in grant demand in recent years has created a growing disparity between the provisions of the scheme and the funding provided under the scheme. In addition, the current economic climate calls for responsible fiscal decisions. As we all know, Australia has been one of the best-performing OECD nations during the worst global recession since World War II. We are number one. This was made possible in part by the strong economic fundamentals of a government committed to responsible economic management. That is a fact.
In the face of the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, our government has made some tough decisions that aim to provide business certainty and secure our economy. The amendments proposed in this bill will increase the minimum required level of export promotional expenditure from $10,000 to $20,000. Further, the amendments will reduce the maximum number of grants an applicant can receive from eight to seven as well as reduce the maximum grant amount from $200,000 to $150,000. The maximum amount that can be claimed for intellectual property expenses will also be capped at $50,000.
These measures will change the eligibility criteria under the EMDG scheme and are likely to affect the demand on the scheme. However, the government has committed to extend the scheme for another five years, ensuring its continuity until the 2015-16 grant year. The scheme was due to close to new applicants next year. However, our government recognises the importance of the support provided to exporters under the EMDG scheme, particularly small exporters. As I have said earlier, the government has confirmed that it will extend the scheme for another five years. The extension of the scheme despite the difficult global financial circumstances is yet another example of our government supporting Australian businesses and jobs today while maximising the opportunities for our future.
The proposed changes were developed with stakeholder consultation and are made with the intention of providing more certainty for industry, extending the program for the next five years as well as providing enhanced eligibility criteria that will reduce the demand on the scheme. The reduced demand on the scheme should provide reimbursement payments that are reliably and predictably paid, offering the confidence to exporters to invest in export marketing.
I am particularly pleased that Australia is also encouraging export and investment in clean energy. I am an advocate for clean and renewable energy. I note that in the May 2009 budget our government allocated $14.9 million to develop a strategy to help clean energy exporters and investors get better access to global markets. The green initiatives include solar and wind power, carbon capture and storage, renewable water technologies, green buildings and urban design. That is another example of the Rudd government’s commitment to tackling the challenge of climate change and become a world leader in mitigating its effects.
Austrade, otherwise known as the Australian Trade Commission, hosted a very successful clean technology roadshow last year following that funding announcement. The national seminar series aimed to link Australian clean technology companies to growing international clean energy opportunities. In a media release of 2009, Austrade’s national industry manager for clean technology, Kerry Rooney, said:
As nations implement policies to address the challenges of climate change and energy security, trade and investment in clean technologies will play an increasingly important role in building Australia’s future prosperity.
Austrade’s chief economist, Dr Tim Harcourt, concurred that ‘clean technology industries would play a significant part in Australia’s economic recovery’:
“In the post-GFC world industries will be restructured along sustainable lines and clean energy will be a key part of Australia’s competitive advantage,” Mr Harcourt said.
The overwhelming interest in the roadshow around Australia also highlights a strong desire from industry to engage in the green sector. This interest is understandable, given global investment in clean energy reached $155 billion in 2008.
Despite the claim from the Leader of the Opposition that climate change is ‘absolute crap’, our government continues to provide a whole-of-government approach to the very serious issue of climate change. This is evident again in the complementary investment to establish the Renewable Energy Future Fund, the REFF. The significant investment in the REFF in the May budget of this year of more than $650 million over four years is part of the government’s expanded $5.1 billion Clean Energy Initiative. The Clean Energy Initiative includes $2 billion for the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships program and $1.5 million for the Solar Flagships program, also announced in the 2009 budget. The funding brings total investments in renewable and clean energy and energy efficiency measures to over $10 billion.
I have met with scientists and exporters who have so much to offer Australia in clean and renewable energy, and I know that, with the historic funding commitments our government has made in this sector, we are offering immense support and confidence to stakeholders. I personally know of one scientist who, frustrated with the Howard government’s indifference to his groundbreaking solar technology, was forced to look to overseas markets for assistance to develop and sell his product. Today he is working in California, manufacturing and exporting his product around the world. It is a sad loss for us that he could not get the support he needed and had to go to America for it. The loss of such intellectual property and export revenue as well as job opportunities must not be repeated. I am extremely pleased that our government, in stark contrast to the Howard government, is making a historic investment in this field.
Despite the appalling trade deficit record that I referred to earlier in my speech, which we inherited from the Howard government, and the very difficult global economic circumstances over the past two years, the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, has worked relentlessly and tirelessly to improve our trade deficit; has engaged in meaningful negotiations to ensure Australia commits to beneficial bilateral and multilateral trade agreements; and, among many other achievements, has shown his ongoing support for our exporters by committing to extend the EMDG Scheme until the 2016-17 financial year.
You might recall, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, that at a meeting of the Trade Subcommittee under the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade I mentioned the fact that, when the head of the WTO, Mr Pascal Lamy, was in Australia—although I am not sure that you were at that luncheon here in February—he gave great credit to Simon Crean, our trade minister, for the work that he had done. It is a matter of public record that he said at that luncheon that, if we had had 150 Simon Creans, we would have resolved Doha within 18 months. Now, there are 153 members of the WTO, and it is not easy, of course, to get every country to agree; but I am sure that some our more difficult neighbours in the negotiations would do well to talk to Minister Crean and his staff because clearly he has a vision for a resolution to the Doha Round. I do not think we have ever had a harder working and more effective trade minister. So full marks to Simon Crean and also David Garner, his chief of staff, and all the other staff in his office and his department, because they all do a great job in the interest of our great country.
They can be no doubt that Australia has fared well in the face of the global financial crisis, compared to every other major advanced economy. However, our government is looking to strengthen our economy and provide more opportunities for future growth. We must not rest on our laurels. We must continue to support jobs and help Australian businesses, and we must continue the recovery of our economy and maximise future opportunities. Our government has delivered a very fiscally responsible budget that, coupled with monetary policy, seeks to return our budget to surplus three years earlier than expected, before any other major advanced economy. I believe industry is mindful of the economic context in which we have emerged and the need for certainty as we move towards the future.
There is a lot of rhetoric going across this chamber and across the media, from the east coast to the west coast of Australia, about the government’s economic performance. I note that the previous speaker, the member for Wannon, in his valedictory speech talked about truth being a casualty of war. Well, I come to the defence of the government in relation to some of the claims that have been made by the opposition about our economic management. The opposition have campaigned long and hard in years gone by on the premise that the Labor Party and a Labor government cannot manage the economy; well, that myth should be dispelled once and for all.
We are the No. 1 economy of all the developed economies in the world. I am very proud to be a member of a government that can say to the people in the forthcoming election that we have been very fiscally responsible in managing the economy. When people come to make a judgment in a few months time and adjudicate on the performance of the Rudd Labor government and the management of the economy, the job that Wayne Swan, our Treasurer, has done and the minister at the table, Dr Emerson—one of the most economically literate people in this place—I think people will judge us in the coolness of election day and give us support for the job that the government have done.
The EMDG Scheme is but one part of it. We have been very responsible in managing the economy. When the truth gets out, the mining industry will start talking about the benefits to all businesses of the reduction in company tax from 30 per cent to 28 per cent. The opposition will impose a 3.7 per cent higher tax on a whole range of businesses. There is no strategy coming from the opposition in relation to how they will fund any of these infrastructure projects which are so important to contribute to our trade and economic performance. I think people will see through that. It is very easy in opposition to bag the government and to say that we have put them into debt. It is very easy to talk about this so-called ‘great big new tax’ without telling the full story of the rich benefits that will flow with that tax and will secure the future of the economy for Australia for many years to come.
In concluding, I have no doubt that the measures proposed in this bill will deliver certainty and support for export businesses as we look forward to our future. I again congratulate Mr Crean for a job well done, and the staff in his office and all those officers working throughout Australia and around the world—some of whom I have met in Austrade—for doing an excellent job. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2010. Clearly, the points raised in this bill have a number of positive factors, including the fact that all grants will be extended from 2011-12 to 2015-16. But I also note that the budget has been reduced from $200 million to $150 million over that period of time. In the second reading speech given at the introduction of this bill, Minister Smith, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, said:
The modernisation of the scheme and increased funding has received a very positive response from business; over the last two years the number of applications has increased 21 per cent.
I would put forward the proposition that, given this country’s financial status and the debt that is being incurred by this government, one would be pushing for increased export opportunities. Those export opportunities come from companies, in particular small- to medium-sized businesses and new enterprises, having the financial support and backing of a government to be able to pursue those overseas markets. I look at some of those markets that particularly affect businesses in my area, including small to medium manufacturers. There is the wine industry, which is in long pursuit of opportunities overseas. Tourism is another one. One of the issues is that people keep thinking about large companies as taking the way and the lead forward. While that is true in the sheer volume of dollars, the diversity of the markets means that we need to provide the support to the smaller operators.
The budget has been reduced by $50 million per annum. Given that this government has had the ability over the past couple of years to just hand out cash without any detailed return back to the government, I would have thought that the cutting of $50 million per year was relatively small change for the benefit that would be achieved. Other points in this bill include reducing the number of grants available for an individual recipient, other than an approved body or an approved joint venture, from eight to seven. It is amazing that that was actually put in 2003. As I read through the Export Market Development Grants Bill 2003 I saw that this is exactly the same measure. Other measures include: reducing the maximum grant from $200,000 to $150,000—again, that was in the 2003 bill; capping intellectual property registration expenses at $50,000 per application; increasing the minimum expenses threshold from $10,000 to $20,000; increasing the income limit for members of approved joint ventures/consortia from $30 million to $50 million; removing approved trading houses as an eligible special approval applicant category; reinstating disqualifying conviction provisions in the act that were unintentionally removed when the Criminal Code Amendment (Theft, Fraud, Bribery and Related Offences) Act 2000 rules replaced an earlier act disqualifying conviction provisions; enabling Austrade to impose conditions on the accreditation of EMDG consultants; and amending the ‘form and manner’ requirements and claim lodgement deadlines for applications submitted by accredited EMDG consultants.
This year we are seeing the World Trade Fair being held in Shanghai. There will be a number of new businesses that will seek this as a forum to go forward and promote and push in that emerging and growing market in China, and they need the support of a government. I say to the government as it goes through this bill to look at what it can do to go back to the funding that has been in place for the last two years, that is, the $200 million per annum, because of the direct benefits—as shown and as quoted by the minister in his speech—that have increased the number of applications by 21 per cent.
The debate on this bill will continue tomorrow. I will not be able to continue my comments tomorrow as I will be attending the funeral of Sapper Jacob Moerland. With that I will close my statements and maybe at some time in the future I will have time to add to these comments.