Thursday, 28 October 2010
Questions without Notice
I have a question without notice to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Is the minister aware of the study from the Australian Food and Grocery Council and KPMG which shows that Australia is a net food importer? Without the nonedibles, grain, live cattle and wine, even the government’s own ABS figures show that in five years Australia will be a net importer. In light of this, can the House be assured that senior ministers are open to considering, with government and Independent members representing food-growing areas, the rising dollar and it being a high interest rate driver, the unlevel playing field of the OECD’s 39 per cent tariff subsidy, Third World imports produced by workers paid $4 a day and, finally, the Woolworths-Coles 85 per cent problem, where, for example, banana farmers get paid $1 dollar a kilogram while Mrs Housewife pays $3 a kilogram?
I thank the member for Kennedy for the question in my role of representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in the other place. The member for Kennedy has for a long time been raising concerns about the import versus the export of food. I have a copy of the media release that he refers to from the Australian Food and Grocery Council, which came from Kate Carnell, the chief executive. I should raise, notwithstanding the genuine concerns of the member for Kennedy, some of the issues with that media release. First of all, it refers to all groceries, not just food. So it actually includes toothpaste and nappies; it includes in its figures a whole lot of other items as well as food. As the member for Kennedy acknowledged in his question, it does not include bulk exports such as wheat exports, meat exports or live exports. When you take those issues out and deal with food going in each direction, you have a $14 billion trade surplus.
We export $24 billion worth of food products; we import $10 billion dollars worth of food products. That does not change the importance of the issues raised by the member for Kennedy. That does not change the fact that there are major issues that exporters and all export dependent industries are facing right now because of the strength of the dollar and also because, where there has been for many decades in Australia a high focus on what happens inside the farm gate, there probably has not been the same level of focus on what happens in food manufacturing.
With all that in mind, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is doing work across government at the moment on the development of the food strategy that was announced during the election campaign. Similarly, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, also from the other place, is working on the research and development and industry issues in food manufacturing. As is always the case, I am sure each of those ministers is readily available to talk through those issues as requested.
I would also add that I am in very strong agreement with what the member for Kennedy said about how unfair many of the tariff barriers are when it comes to the competition that we face from other nations. The role that Australia has held for a long time, now held by the new Minister for Trade, as chair of the Cairns Group, is a very important role in taking us through the various international negotiations and making sure that our farmers are in fact on a more level playing field when it comes to trade.