House debates

Wednesday, 10 June 2020


Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020; Second Reading

11:05 am

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I am in continuation from 13 May on this bill and I did move a second reading amendment. I have some doubt in my mind whether that second reading amendment was seconded and we need to formalise that before the end of my contribution to this debate. I moved:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes the Government's failure to provide a strategic plan for the agriculture industry, including fisheries and forestry, and rural and regional communities who continue to be impacted by drought, bushfires and COVID-19".

The bill we're debating, the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020, involves an amendment to the Export Control Act which will allow a compliance certificate to be issued on goods to be exported which might fall under the category of a narcotic. In this case, the bill is being put in place in particular to facilitate the export of hemp seeds from this country to the United States, but it will have, of course, a broader application. In my contribution back on 13 May, I indicated that the opposition will be supporting the bill in both this place and the Senate, and we wish all those in the industry who will benefit from this appropriate change all the very best.

When I was interrupted by the adjournment last time, I was focusing on the triple whammy which has been experienced by rural and regional Australia in recent years: drought, bushfire and now, of course, COVID-19. I was particularly focusing on the failure of the government in its much more than six years now to implement a strategic plan for the agriculture sector. I reminded the House that we waited until 2015 for the production of the long-awaited agriculture white paper. I happen to have a copy with me now and I'll display it to members present because many will have forgotten it existed, and it's hardly surprising that they have forgotten that it existed because it hasn't been seen or heard of since. It was a failed white paper, a hotchpotch of ideas which were never implemented. Very little in this document, although it said much, has been implemented by this government. I will say that I think that the country-of-origin labelling was a feature of the report and some work has been done in that area, but other than that, just like the Productivity Commission report into red and green tape in the agriculture sector, nothing has really been acted upon. Having said that, it's pretty hard to act on this report, the ag white paper, because it didn't say very much and it certainly didn't represent a strategic plan for the agriculture sector.

I note here again that this plan—or this report, I should say, because it's not a plan, as I've pointed out—excluded the forestry and fisheries sectors. On its election in 2013, the government collapsed the title of the minister from Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to simply Minister for Agriculture. I was proud to be this country's Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, albeit for a short time. They collapsed the title; that is the government's right. I have no particular concern about that. I thought it was disappointing but I can appreciate governments will want to stamp their own mark or brand on these areas of portfolio responsibility. But I had hoped, like the fisheries and forestry sectors, that the dropping of the name wouldn't mean they'd be forgotten. They were deliberately excluded from this report. I remind members, given that we are talking about drought, bushfire and COVID, that the marine environment is impacted by drought as well. It doesn't seem to follow plainly for many people, but of course the fisheries sector is impacted by drought—in particular, the estuaries. And the forestry sector, already facing huge challenges, particularly with respect to security of supply in this country, has now been further impacted by resource lost due to the bushfires. If ever we needed a plan for the forestry sector, we need one now. We've had plenty of pamphlets and reports over the course of the last seven years, but what we haven't had is action from this government.

In the lead-up to the last election, the Labor Party committed to the so-called hubs process to ensure that we are putting the resources needed—the plantations needed—in the right places in this country. And the government, to its credit, seems to be slowly working its way through a similar process. But the one simple thing the government could do this week, without any cost to the taxpayer, is to remove the ridiculous 'water rule', as we call it, in the forestry sector, which basically prevents those who want to plant forestry plantations from accessing the carbon market in areas where there is significant and necessary rainfall. This is just silly. When I announced on behalf of the Labor Party, pre-election, that we would remove the water rule, Mr Littleproud described it as 'recklessness and false hope'. Well, we know that many opposite understand that the water rule is an unnecessary and unhelpful part of the regulatory framework and should be removed. And it should be removed quickly because, as I said, the forestry sector needs help now, more than ever before, and we will be increasingly dependent on the importation of timber, including for the construction industry. That, of course, is going to lead to the loss of many, many jobs in this country.

The list is very long in terms of the failures. This is a government that talks a lot about agriculture—not so much about fisheries and forestry—but does nothing. The government spent $2.7 million on a report from EY into the research and development system we use in the agriculture sector, only to tell us what we already knew. And what we know is that it has been a fabulous system. It was proudly the product of a Labor government, under John Kerin. We also know that it is 30 years old. It is outdated. It is not fit for purpose in the 21st century. It is in dire need of reform. (Time expired)

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Technology and the Future of Work) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

11:13 am

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is good to see that the Labor Party will be supporting the government on this bill, the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020, to facilitate this new market. It is a new market that has a future we are finding it very difficult to put a limit on. Medicinal cannabis has a short history and a very small cohort that we were targeting to help. However, it would be fair to say that, over the last half-a-dozen years, the potential for medicinal cannabis has become far greater, and there is certainly real scope that medicinal cannabis could in fact be used in mainstream pain relief going forward, in a very strong commercial manner.

This bill is trying to solve a problem we have with the legislation whereby, under the current legislative settings, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment cannot issue government certificates to support the legitimate export of narcotic goods. At the moment, medicinal cannabis and low-THC hemp products fall into the category of narcotic goods. Without the amendment in this bill to enable government certification, the department must negotiate with trading partners for their acceptance of alternative forms of assurance. This negotiation is extremely time-consuming and expensive and can lead to a loss of opportunity for our exporters.

The department can only regulate the export of products if they are 'goods' for the purposes of the Export Control Act, and the definition of goods under the Customs Act 1901 does not include narcotic goods. This bill will amend the 1982 act to provide the department with the legislative authority to issue government certificates for narcotic goods and effectively give the opportunity for companies around Australia who have invested and are still investing in medicinal cannabis the opportunity to grow their business, grow their hothouses around Australia, get into this market and create their markets around the world.

This is something that is dear to me, because there is a significant development happening in my electorate, just on the outskirts of Shepparton, with a company by the name of Cannatrek. They have got plans in place. They have been listed on the Australian government's major project site, so they have been given 'major project' status, which effectively will facilitate them when they go through the various regulatory controls that they need to go through to take their investment and their business forward.

It's great to see the support that the Australian government is giving the companies who are investing in this technology, this new drug. It's consistent with the work that we have done previously. It's consistent with the fact that we have been there to support our farmers and our regional communities in drought. You see it with the recent drought edition of the Building Better Regions Fund, regions fund 4, where again there is a complete regional fund designed to help those communities that have been through the drought. We are there to help. We have implemented a fund that's going to generate $100 million, even in good years. We are hopeful we will have a very strong year this year, because we had a fantastic start to the season, but, irrespective of whether we have a good year or a bad year, we are still going to have $100 million coming into a drought assistance package that will be there for when it is needed.

We are also there in relation to the bushfires, to support those communities that were incredibly damaged by the bushfires. Those decisions are getting made right now. We are working in conjunction with the states to make sure that that support is ongoing. We've been there for our communities through COVID-19, to make sure that our assistance and our programs that are put in place are fit and suitable for the respective communities that we understand need our assistance. And we were there during the dairy crisis, going back to 2016, when all of a sudden the major suppliers wanted to crash the prices of our dairy farmers and effectively dropped the price and then demanded a clawback of moneys that had already been paid in advance and dragged those claims for repayments of, in many cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars. We were there to support those farmers in those times, and it's good to see us supporting those farmers here.

Medicinal cannabis is something that will be a very high production crop. It's a crop that can produce many hundreds of millions of dollars of produce using very little water, so it will be highly efficient in relation to the environment in regional Victoria and elsewhere in regional Australia. We're very, very conscious of the types of investment that we encourage into our regions in relation to the demand that they will have on our water supply.

It's interesting that the shadow minister for agriculture in his contribution, which he has just finished, spoke in not so glowing terms about the work that we are doing to support our farmers. But the Labor Party still believes in buybacks, which is the most destructive water policy that has ever been introduced into any parliament. Buybacks are effectively damaging, they are destructive and they are lazy. They fracture entire communities. Yet they are still at the forefront of the Labor Party's water policy. It's beyond me how those opposite can stand in this House and be negative and be critical of a government that is trying to find a way through to a water policy that is both suitable for our irrigators and understands that our environment has claims on water that they have and are not likely to give up. But to try and make things worse by effectively saying, as they did 12 or 13 months ago, that if they were going to come into government they would come into this place and reintroduce buybacks is the most destructive policy that any government could ever possibly have. They still have that policy right now, to take more water out of agriculture and return it to the environment than what has already been taken.

So with all of the destruction, with all of the damage and the cost and the hurt and the pain that exist with water policy at the moment and that have been heaped upon our farmers by state governments and from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, here is the Labor Party, which wants to put more pain, more destruction and more damage on what is likely to take place right up and down the Murray-Darling Basin and right throughout our communities. We just need to understand the pain and detriment that has taken place with water leaving agriculture for the environment before we can be too critical and introduce policies that will make even that pain worse.

Medicinal cannabis is an industry that is right at its start. We're not quite sure how far this is going to go, because we are yet to see medicinal cannabis be fully introduced into the various drugs that it may end up being used in, but the upside of this industry is incredibly strong, with the plan being to employ hundreds of people just in the Shepparton location, with hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in the region, many hundreds of millions of dollars being produced annually and markets all around the world. The upside of this industry is much greater now than it was when we started talking about medicinal cannabis, five or six years ago.

It's good that we have been able to find a way to alter the legislation to enable this industry to move forward. I hope that this bill goes through seamlessly. It will enable this industry to gain further confidence so that many of the companies that are out there in this sector will be able to secure overseas markets and their supply out and make sure that, into the future, there will be more and more investment in medicinal cannabis, with all the safeguards and restrictions, obviously, in place to ensure that this is well controlled and restricted. However, with the money that we are looking at and the investment in our regions this is a very, very positive story. We hope that this legislation passes the House sooner rather than later.

11:24 am

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to the member for Hunter for moving this amendment. I've now been the member for Gilmore for one year. I have been exceedingly proud to represent my community in this place for that year. I again thank my community for giving me the honour of being their member for Gilmore, but what a year we have had. My community on the New South Wales South Coast has had nothing short of a harrowing time. We had been suffering through a drought for years only to be hit with the most devastating bushfires we have ever seen, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Any one of these crises would have had devastating consequences, but I can tell you the triple threat has been indescribable. What we have needed is strong leadership and strong action from the top that is fast, effective and appropriate for local conditions. But what we have seen is failure after failure from this government to provide the help we so desperately need from one crisis to another.

The truth is I feel like I am in a time warp in this place, because here I am again going on about drought and bushfires and funding not going to where it is needed. My community is still dealing with the drought and trying to recover from the fires and the floods, except now we can throw coronavirus on top of that. But after all this time, the money is still not getting through. People are still struggling to get by and the government is still ignoring us.

We are proud of our agriculture industry. I come from a local dairy farming family and so it is no surprise that agriculture is close to my heart, so it has been difficult for me to watch the government fail to act. For years they have failed to act on the drought. In my short year as the member for Gilmore, I have risen to talk about the impact of the drought on our farmers many times. I have told the stories of local farmers like Rob, Daniel, Tim, Vince and more on many occasions, hoping that something would move the government into action.

You see, while our farmers have been suffering, the government has continued to deny we were even in a drought. Local farmers were unable to access drought loans, our council areas were excluded from the Drought Communities Program extension and the government kept insisting that farmers didn't need this support. This is evidenced perhaps by the so-called special drought round of the Building Better Regions Fund where, announced last week, only one project in my electorate received funding. It is no doubt a great project for Eurobodalla Shire Council to develop a green infrastructure and biodiversity strategy, but only $30,000 was given to the Gilmore electorate in a program targeted towards drought areas. It is absolutely appalling. Apparently the statistics told them we were not in drought—drought maps that were 18 months old; definitions that didn't consider local conditions; percentages, numbers and excuses, not people.

I have always been there for people in my electorate, like farmer Daniel, who earlier this year tried to access a drought loan through the Regional Investment Corporation. He was rejected because his property was only partially listed on the desertification maps. How one farm can partially be in drought and partially not is a mystery to me, but he was rejected. Farmers are a proud lot, and it is hard for them to reach out for help. It is even harder when they are told that they don't deserve it, but this is what the government put people through—sifting through website after website, program after program, promise after promise with no real help.

After months and months of me raising this issue with the government—speaking in parliament, writing letters and even meeting with the minister to raise these issues in person—and after years of farmers suffering in the drought and getting no help, the government finally stood up and said, 'We were wrong.' It took until March this year before that happened, but they conceded one small step. They removed the desertification ruling on the drought loans so that all local farmers could access the drought loans—a relief for many, but too little, too late. We are going to need more than words to recover from the drought, fires and COVID-19. We need the government to show us the money, but still, every day, local people tell me they aren't seeing it. They aren't getting help.

When I met farmer Gerry from Conjola in the weeks following the New Year's Eve fire that destroyed his wildflower farm, his words were powerful. I have told Gerry's story in this place before, but his words are as relevant now as they were then. Gerry said he felt he was being retraumatised by his government. Volunteers and the community had stepped in where the government should be. These were Gerry's words months ago, and that is still the case today.

Every day I have local people telling me that they have been abandoned—people like Katrina, who lost her home in Conjola. This was devastating for the family, who were underinsured and are not sure how they will rebuild. And then came COVID-19. Like many local people, Katrina worked locally, reliant on the tourism industry. So much of the South Coast economy relies on this industry. So you can imagine how devastating it was for our community when, after first telling the tourists to leave due to the fires, we were again forced to turn them away due to coronavirus. The impact of this double hit was too much for many, and Katrina was let go. The business could not afford to keep her on, and, with the time lag until the JobKeeper payment would start, Katrina was left with no income and no help from the government.

Katrina has teenage children. Before the fires, two of her daughters were due to be fitted with braces. With their thoughts and finances consumed with rebuilding, sadly, this had to be put off. An amount of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child is hardly enough when you have lost everything. Instead, what does this government do? They give $25,000 to their city friends to help them renovate their houses. How out of touch can a government be? We have people still living in caravans who couldn't even imagine having a lazy $150,000 to renovate, but there is nothing specifically targeted to them and nothing to help people impacted by the fires to get back on their feet.

This is not to mention the impact on our businesses. In the immediate wake of the fires, I spent every day out in my community talking with people about the impact of the bushfires. So many people shared their heartbreaking stories with me: their struggles to stay afloat and come to terms with what had happened. In January, I was the first to sound the alarm about the unfolding economic crisis on the New South Wales South Coast. I spoke with businesses from Kangaroo Valley to Burrill Lake, Malua Bay and beyond. I heard the same story: without a direct cash injection, they would fold, thousands of jobs would be lost and our economy would falter. This was in January—well before coronavirus and well before the government was paying attention.

So I came to this place and I told the story of people like Rob from Burrill Lake, Katrina from Kangaroo Valley, Simon from Ulladulla and Joe from Batehaven. I called for a direct cash injection to businesses suffering from the economic impact of the lost tourism season, but the government kept ignoring the problem, just as they always do when it comes to the plight of country areas. They don't understand us, and so they won't help. But I refuse to give up.

Finally, just as with the drought loans, the government eventually decided that it had better sit up and take notice. Thanks to our community and their bravery and strength in telling their stories, we pressured the government to provide that cash injection that businesses so desperately needed. It took until March. It took businesses closing and even more that struggled and felt absolute desperation and hopelessness. Even now, I still have businesses contacting me who didn't know there was help available. They have been struggling in silence, trying to get by on their own. These are just small tokens: signs that the government knows it must do more. But they are not willing to really stump up the cash. Instead, they have left businesses struggling to cope in the aftermath of what happened, including businesses like Burdett Real Estate in Batehaven who have been struggling with unreliable NBN since the fires, as well as dropouts, signal failures and slow speeds. Joe told me how, each month, he doesn't know which landlords will receive their statements, because the internet drops out halfway through processing the letters. Months after the fire, this is what they are still dealing with.

Then there's the government's much-hyped Bushfire Recovery Fund. In January, $2 billion in funding was announced to help respond to the bushfire crisis. Since then, I have been asking: where is the money? Our tourism operators haven't seen it. Our environmental organisations haven't seen it. Our local businesses haven't seen it. Only this weekend, I was in Huskisson and Bendalong talking with fire impacted businesses. They told me how, even now, nearly six months after the bushfires, they are still waiting for their disaster recovery loans. They told me about the hoops they have jumped through and the anguish and struggle they have felt. This government has left them begging for help for six months and told them money is coming, but where is it? Families who have lost everything and are living in temporary accommodation haven't seen it either. Instead, they are forced to watch the government prioritise other people's homes before theirs.

I wrote to the minister asking for additional funding for local events like the South Coast Food and Wine Festival and our local agricultural shows. I pleaded with the minister to continue funding vital mental health services in Ulladulla and Nowra through the Shoalhaven Women's Health Centre. With hundreds of burnt timber bridges, damaged local roads and other local infrastructure to rebuild, I asked the government to help our local councils with this mammoth task. Each time the answer was the same: 'No. We have provided $2 billion, and there is no more.' So why haven't we seen it? Perhaps it is like the AgShows fund, which provided $70,000 to my electorate of Gilmore—where show societies felt the full brunt of the bushfires, not to mention the drought—and $3.4 million to the minister's electorate of Maranoa—shocking.

The Bushfire Recovery Fund is nothing more than a phantom fund, a mirage that serves to make the government look like they care and are working to help our community, when the reality is that they have already forgotten us. The New South Wales South coast does not need flashy announcements. We don't need big dollar signs and endless promises. We need boots on the ground. We need a government that will truly listen to us, instead of one more focused on election funds and flashy announcements.

Our community had already experienced some of the worst this year. It brought out the best in us. That is absolutely clear. Our true community spirit was on display time and time again, but more blows were still to come. COVID-19 has impacted the whole country. I congratulate the government for taking up Labor's idea of a wage subsidy, another essential program that the government fought against until—as with the drought loans and the cash injection for businesses—they decided that perhaps we were right.

The wage subsidy has helped thousands of Australians. There is no doubt about that. But, in an economy reliant on tourism, casuals and short-term work, it is not enough. Before the impact of the bushfires and COVID-19, Nowra, Ulladulla and Batemans Bay unemployment rates were 17.5 per cent, 9.3 per cent and 9.9 per cent respectively. That was before the bushfires.

Country areas like ours are getting a raw deal. The Treasurer has the power to change that. At any moment, he could decide to help casuals who move between seasonal employment. He could decide to help businesses who have been losing income from the triple threat of drought, bushfires and COVID-19 and are falling through the cracks of the government's economic rescue package. But he chooses not to. People and businesses in bushfire impacted areas will suffer from the impacts of coronavirus more than those across the rest of the country. There is no doubt about that.

There is one common thread here: the Liberals and the Nationals don't care about country areas. We should be the economic powerhouse of the country, but our government is letting us down. We have the best businesses and workers, people with hearts of gold who would do anything to help their community. But what does this government do time and time again? It ignores country areas.

We've lost over half a billion dollars from the South Coast economy during the bushfires. We need specialised, targeted assistance that recognises the ongoing economic challenges. We need more mental health and financial counselling assistance for local people and businesses. We need focused economic stimulus that will create jobs—road projects like the Currarong Road and the Princes Highway; local infrastructure projects like the Mogo Adventure Trail Hub and the Kiama Arts Precinct; affordable housing projects like those in Bomaderry and East Nowra; and support for our councils to retain their employees and rebuild lost infrastructure. Kiama council alone estimates a $6.8 million loss in revenue. This is monumental for a small council, and, without urgent and targeted assistance, our community will be left behind. We don't want more promises, phantom funds and flashy announcements. We shouldn't have to come begging for help. The government needs to step up and take country areas like the New South Wales South Coast seriously. The government must take action, and they must take action now.

11:40 am

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to talk about the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020. This is a very important bill because it is going to enhance our agricultural export facility and get rid of a lot of the current regulatory obstacles to facilitating the export of medicinal cannabis and also nutritional cannabis—non-hallucinogenic-variety seeds, which are a very nutritious product. Over the past 15 years we've seen significant global innovation and a lot of research into some of the therapeutic benefits of high-CBD and low-THC cannabis. These high-performance cannabis products aren't the hallucinogenic variety. It's really important to know that they are healthy and nutritious and are now included in a lot of foodstuffs. As with other beneficial oils, the seed of CBD-containing marijuana, or hemp, is actually a nutritious product. There is a huge opportunity for Australia to capture this emerging market and export overseas to areas in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Canada has stolen a march on us, and America has stolen a march on us. We need to facilitate changes to the legislation to make it a lot easier and quicker for us to export into the North American and European markets. AgriFutures have noted that the potential future growth of the hemp market worldwide is absolutely massive. They think that by 2025 the whole market could be worth $270 million.

In the beautiful Lyne electorate, we have had industrial hemp growing for some time. When I was working in the health ministry, through the meeting of all the food ministers we facilitated change in the regulations to include industrial hempseeds—the non-hallucinogenic variety—as a safe foodstuff, and you now see it on the shelves in Australia. But to get this wonderful product overseas requires considerable changes to the legislation. There are many levels of legislation that will have to be adjusted to facilitate that. Under the current legislation, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment can't issue government certificates to support the export legitimacy, so they have to do quite complex workarounds to get the approvals to export the product into other countries. The department can only regulate products for export if they are goods for the purposes of the Export Control Act 1982, and the definition of 'goods' in that act doesn't include narcotic goods under the Customs Act. This bill will amend the act in order to provide the department with the legislative authority to issue government certificates for narcotic goods.

The bill will also amend the Export Control Act 2020, which will replace the 1982 act, once it commences in March 2021, so that the legislative authority changeover will be quite smooth. The bill doesn't entirely deregulate the export of narcotic goods from Australia. It does provide for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to support and regulate this emerging market. It won't change regulatory controls in other legislation in relation to narcotic goods, including the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulation 1958 and the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967. So the good people of Australia should be reassured that we are controlling these goods; it's not willy-nilly free export of illicit narcotic goods. It's just that that's where industrial hemp fits in the lexicon of definitions of products. We do want to grow our agricultural production from the current $60 billion up to $100 billion. This is one of the suite of issues on which we need to clear the decks to make it easy for us to export our fine-quality goods overseas.

It's interesting how industrial hemp has come full circle. There was concern amongst many regulators, police departments and the justice system that freeing up the definition of industrial hemp for seeds for nutrition would be a surrogate for widespread deregulation and legalisation of marijuana with high THC, the hallucinogenic portion of the drug. That has not been the case, because of good regulation.

That aside, a lot of people are keen on the medicinal variety, with the CBD oils, which are great for epilepsy, refractory epilepsy and other conditions; they bring a lot of solace to people suffering a lot of conditions. But we have seen in other countries that the so-called medicinal use of cannabis, or hemp or marijuana, has been a free ticket to widespread abuse of marijuana, through smoking and consumption. I might add, as a medical practitioner who practised for 33 years: people have got to understand that THC and smoking marijuana is just as bad, in terms of your lungs and the risk of cancer, asthma and emphysema, as smoking nicotine cigarettes. This idea that it is a safe drug is absolutely bonkers, with due respect. All the things that we've done over the last 45 years to cut the smoking of nicotine, to improve the health of the nation, will literally go up in smoke if everyone thinks that smoking dope or marijuana is safe. We all know about the risk of initiating depressive and schizophrenia-like illnesses if you're consuming a lot of marijuana. That is an understated risk. But the general community is starting to become aware of the downsides of marijuana.

It all goes back to a very famous court case in the seventies where a judge in America said: 'Why are we banning this drug when it's a safe thing?' Well, I hate to disappoint the judge, but it's not safe. Sure, it's not as sinister as something like ice or heroine or cocaine abuse, but certainly all the illnesses from smoking and inhaling stuff into your lungs are just the same. In fact, smoking one self-made joint is the equivalent of putting four tailor-made filtered cigarettes in your mouth and breathing the smoke from them all at once. So go figure that. It's not safe. Trust me.

That aside, this bill is a really good bill because it will help the export of goods from Australia, grow the agricultural output of the nation and provide nutrition to many people here and overseas. The other thing that's interesting about this is that one of the reasons our nation was formed, and one of the earliest products of this nation in agriculture, was industrial hemp for the British Navy. All the ropes and sails were made out of hemp. Industrial hemp that has low hallucinogenic properties is used for clothing, as a replacement for cotton. It can be grown widely throughout Australia. So it has huge untapped potential, both for clothing and for this other end of the spectrum where it is classed as a narcotic, but it needs to be exported to be used in food and for medicinal purposes. So I commend this bill and all the amendments to the House and look forward to people in the Lyne electorate having a much bigger market to sell their products overseas.

11:49 am

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Lyne for that educational experience we've all shared on the very true and real dangers of illicit substances, and the little history lesson on the importance of industrial hemp to the world and this nation.

I am speaking today on the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020, and, while Labor will work constructively to ensure the passage of the bill, it's disappointing that it's had to be fast-tracked. There was legislation through the parliament earlier this year that dealt with export legislation to modernise and harmonise Australia's current export laws. There's been ample time to address this issue, yet it comes before this parliament in a somewhat inexplicable rush. Nonetheless, it's a good thing to support legislation that will permit the export of Australian medicinal cannabis, particularly to the United States.

I want to acknowledge and support the second reading amendment moved by the member for Hunter, which notes the government's failure to provide a strategic plan for Australia's trade exposed industries, such as agriculture, and the failure of this government to develop any kind of plan to help rural and regional communities hit hard by drought, bushfires and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, as you know and as everyone in this place knows, Australia is an exporting nation, with approximately one in five jobs in this country dependent on international trade. The summer bushfires and now the restrictions because of COVID-19 have put immense pressure on Australia's trade exposed industries, with few unaffected. In particular, agricultural exports have been hit in some respects by the restraint on trade because of the pandemic. All export industries dependent on travel, such as international education and tourism, have, as everybody knows, been devastated by this crisis. The resources and energy sector, comprising over 50 per cent of Australia's exports and worth $220 billion in 2018, has had to scale back some of its operations. However, the strength and resilience of Australia's resources industry, and, in particular, our iron ore exports, have been the saving grace for our economy during these very uncertain times.

Australia's resource and energy export earnings are forecast to hit a record, nearly $300 billion in 2019-20, despite the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, indicating an increase of $18 billion on 2018-19 in the commodity export value. However, the outlook for 2020-21 is more uncertain, as $8 billion worth of future investment has been taken off the table by Australia's resources sector. Companies such as BHP, Santos, Woodside, South32 and OZ Minerals have all announced spending cuts for 2021 because of effects of the coronavirus on their operations.

It is important to recognise that, between 2009 and 2015, Australia's oil and gas industry spent $273 billion on development projects, alongside the stimulus package introduced by the Labor government to help with the GFC recovery. This was instrumental in Australia avoiding the worst of that financial crisis. Sadly, in the current economic crisis brought on by the pandemic, there will be no surge in investment to assist with Australia's recovery and there will not be any further job-creating projects such as we saw with the GFC recovery. That's not going to happen until oil prices recover, and it's uncertain when that will be.

While there has been a record higher trade surplus, and that's something Australia can be very pleased about—and it is on the back of iron ore exports—there's been a $10 billion trade surplus in March. That is still progressing, and we are lucky to see trade surpluses in this nation. However, the WTO does expect global merchandise trade to fall between 13 and 32 per cent throughout the rest of 2020. The COVID-19 crisis is ongoing. It's going to have a catastrophic impact on some of Australia's most trade exposed industries and the economy more broadly, but no more so than on tourism and higher education.

As we have seen around the world during this pandemic, COVID-19 has emboldened anti-globalism and protectionist movements, with at least 70 countries restricting exports of protective equipment, medical devices and, indeed, medicines in recent months. Of course, these restrictions serve only to harm the poorest communities in the world, who can't be part of that fight for supply.

In relation to agriculture and food security, it is imperative that global supply chains remain open. In April the World Bank called for collective action to ensure the continuation of the global food trade. At a virtual meeting, G20 agriculture ministers committed to keeping food trade flowing between countries, joined by representatives of the African Union, ASEAN countries, Latin America and the Caribbean, who all agreed on the imperative to refrain from imposing trade barriers in response to COVID-19. Now is not the time to restrain trade in food. To do so will only cause suffering to the poorest people in the world, as they cannot get the food and nutrition that they need to survive.

While we're talking about the movement of food, and food security, and the work of agriculturalists around the nation and around the world, I would like to acknowledge the really incredible and steadfast transport industry in this country, particularly our truckies, who have made sure Australians enjoy all the supplies they need—whether it be food or other supermarket supplies that get transported across the nation. They are able to get across the borders, and rightly so, with the particular and necessary permits to do so. These truckies made sure that we had food on our table and the supplies of groceries that we needed in our houses. I want to thank the Transport Workers Union for its great work in advocating for the essential workers who do this great thing ensuring supplies continue to flow across the country.

Today we see the TWU, sadly, having to advocate for the workers of dnata—a group of Australian workers that have been left behind by this government's COVID response. A catering company, dnata was owned by Qantas but is now not owned by Qantas. As it's now in foreign hands, these workers do not qualify for payments and help during the COVID crisis. It's a crying shame that these Australian workers have been left behind by this government. I wish them my very best—I know they're in the parliament today—and I also wish the TWU my very best for the work that they are doing representing these dnata workers.

There has been a lot of talk during the COVID crisis about the need for Australia to rethink its manufacturing profile. I agree that Australia should continue to advocate for increased local manufacturing capacity that builds on our comparative advantages. In particular, high-end manufacturing, through investment in research, will lead to a better future of work for Australians in all sorts of advanced manufacturing processes. However, I do know for certain that the research and development that we need to have for an advanced manufacturing sector, for new products, will hinge on a strong higher-education sector. University research is heavily subsidised by international student revenue and is likely to face significant cuts without further government intervention in the sector. Agriculturalists, farmers around this nation, know full well the critical importance of science, research and development to their business and their sustainability. Resilient crops and healthy stock, as well as modern farming techniques, are the result of decades of productive collaboration between farmers and the research community of this country. Farmers get it; they get the critical importance of science done at universities in this country. Yet the Nationals and the Liberals in this place barely lift a finger to help higher education institutions at this grievous time.

The government did establish a global reputation task force in January to respond to the impacts of the bushfire crisis and COVID-19. However, we're yet to hear anything from this process. As people here know—or should know—international education, including unis and VET and English language schools, is Australia's largest services export and our third-largest export sector. Exports from education were worth over $37 billion to the Australian economy in 2018-19. The university sector alone is anticipating revenue losses of between $10 billion and $19 billion from 2020 to 2023. ABS figures show that for every $1 universities collect in tuition fees there is another $2 of activity associated with international students, cafes, restaurants and housing rentals. This means that the economy faces wider losses of between $30 billion and $60 billion between 2020 and 2023 because of the impact of the coronavirus on international student enrolments. The scale of the losses will, of course, depend on when borders are reopened to international students. However, the sector is anticipating that reputational damage will have a lasting impact resulting from statements from the Prime Minister that international students should simply go home combined with a lack of support offered to international students compared to key competitors, including Canada and the UK.

International education, for those who aren't aware, serves a dual purpose. Clearly it educates the person paying the fees and undertaking the study, but it also has an important role of creating a cultural understanding for those students coming to Australia to learn more about us, our system of government, how things work in this country and what an open and free society is. Equally, it's for domestic students to learn from international students about their countries. This is why we had the Colombo Plan many years ago and why we have the New Colombo Plan—to start and keep that exchange going. But what we've really done here in Australia is miss a trick in this crisis. We had this opportunity to help people who were stranded here and to continue to help students who made it here—because they really wanted to study here and their parents wanted them to study here—but instead we had messages like that from the Prime Minister: 'Simply go home.' Even this morning, the finance minister told international students to rack off and go home—as if they could! There aren't many planes actually flying anywhere.

As we know, today's students are tomorrow's leaders. But what this government has overseen is the development of a cohort of international students who are hungry, alone and homeless. There are international students in this country today who do not have a roof over their heads. What a legacy this is for this government in its international standing! These students won't thank this Australian government when they go home. They won't remember this country fondly when they are in positions of influence later in their lives. They'll just remember that, although the weather wasn't too bad and they didn't get sick from COVID—which is a very good thing—they, nonetheless, were hungry, alone and, for the most part, homeless—well, not for the most part, but a lot of young students are without adequate housing at this time, and this government has done nothing to help them. State governments are doing their best, but we really dropped the ball here when this country and this government failed to help these students, who we rely on to help build other relationships.

For instance, recently we had the Prime Minister talk again about our relationship with India whilst, of course, the Varghese report—now two years old—is gathering dust on a shelf. While there's been this emphasis on trying to build better trade links with India, we know that the main plank of that relationship will be international education. Instead, all we got was the Prime Minister rustling up a few 'ScoMosas' in a patronising attempt—I don't know what that was—to somehow inveigle something with India. The truth is that there was a really full report done by Peter Varghese that lays out a blueprint for our relationship with India that goes beyond the common thoughts of cricket, curry and Commonwealth. But, again, all we got here from this Prime Minister was samosas. I think he really does the Indian diaspora a disservice by being so flippant about their contribution to this country—and to the world for that matter—and the future contribution of India to the world and its importance to Australia as a solid trading partner. That relationship will take many, many years to develop, and we really need to get serious about it immediately.

12:04 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Hunter and the member for Brand for their thoughtful contributions. Seventy per cent of our agriculture is exported. It's an incredibly important industry in our nation, and it's obviously one where we can do better if we have the political will to follow the advice and make the resources available. We can have a bright future in this nation with ag if we're serious about it.

Hemp is an environmentally sustainable and versatile crop. It uses relatively low levels of water, which is incredibly important in this day and age—and, for that reason, it will be increasingly important into the future. The uses for industrial hemp range all the way from textiles to building materials and cosmetics, to name just a few. The hemp industry has great potential in regional areas, including in the north of Australia, where I'm from—the Northern Territory. This bill, the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020, will amend the definition of 'goods' by the Export Control Act to include narcotic goods, supporting legitimate exports of narcotic goods such as medicinal cannabis and low-THC hemp products, which require government certification for the import requirements of some overseas countries. The amendments will remove unintended regulatory barriers imposed on Australia's exports, supporting trade and growth of our nation's export markets for those low-THC hemp and medicinal cannabis industries.

Hemp is an excellent crop, as I said, for northern Australia. The Northern Territory Labor government continues to open up new opportunities for our ag sector in the north with the commencement of the Hemp Industry Act (NT) last month. The Northern Territory now has the legislative framework for the regulation of low-THC cannabis species, enabling a fibre and grain industry and a viable seed industry. Establishing a hemp sector in the Territory will facilitate investment and long-term local jobs in the north and will allow us to capitalise on the emerging domestic and international market opportunities that we all know are there.

It's very exciting news, and the Territory has a competitive advantage in this industrial hemp market in Australia. In the NT, we have the potential to produce viable seed via a dry-season crop and then supply it to the rest of Australia for summer planting. The NT Farmers association, under the leadership of CEO Paul Burke, is currently working to build a consortium to trial broadacre hemp production—testing hemp varieties on different soils, the water-use element and also looking at those potential markets.

I must say the Northern Territory government is doing a fantastic job supporting NT farmers and the agriculture sector in general, which is a significant employer in the Northern Territory. What we now need is for the federal government to start investing in the Northern Territory. Now, more than ever, developing a resilient, diverse and strong northern Australian economy is critical to Australia's future security and prosperity. The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government have had seven years but, disappointingly, are more consumed with infighting then prioritising assistance to regional and rural Australians.

Rural and regional Australia is absolutely critical to the wellbeing and economic prosperity of our nation. Federal Labor has supported the government's northern Australia agenda, and it is important that work continues to implement it. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, or the NAIF, held great potential to play a key role in unlocking large-scale growth in agricultural activity. We were all excited five or so years ago to hear about the $5 billion fund that was going to boost the north. It was going to inject investment dollars into projects throughout the north, but it's fair to say that it has been quite constipated and slow in delivery since its inception.

An honourable member: It has delivered nothing.

Well, that's something that I hope changes with the new minister. We've seen a very small element of that NAIF investment in Humpty Doo Barramundi, for example. That did assist the farm to expand, and it is going from strength to strength. It's one very small example. There are still billions of dollars left, and we really hope that everything possible can be done for the NAIF to be deployed to support industries, particularly during and after the COVID crisis. Untold damage has been done to our economy. There are billions of dollars there in the NAIF, so let's get it cracking.

There have been some positive conversations with the new minister for northern Australia in terms of fuel security and fuel storage for the north, which is in the national interest. I won't go into that in detail now. It will suffice to say that the federal government should consider things like deferrals of interest on existing NAIF projects. It should consider an interest holiday, as some call it, for any project approved in the next 12 months. It should invest in the proponents out there that are taking a risk, that are really trying to grow the north, because our nation needs it.

The degree to which northern Australia's full economic potential is realised is primarily dependent on its ability to secure investment to construct that enabling economic and social infrastructure, and the federal government's role in this is absolutely crucial. I'm a member of this House's Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources. I had the pleasure of hosting the committee in Darwin earlier this year as part of the committee's inquiry into growing Australian agriculture to $100 billion by 2030. I'm grateful that the committee made the trip up to Darwin, particularly as a lot of people were getting very nervous about COVID. I think we were perhaps the last delegation or the last visit to be out there in the regions of Australia before it all closed down. It was a good visit.

It was great to hear from Paul Burke and others about the enormous potential of northern Australian agriculture and aquaculture. Of course, potential is one thing; putting real political capital and dollars behind those people in northern Australia who are trying to develop the north for the good of our nation is another thing, and we hope to more see more of it. It was great to take the committee members to the cattle yards at Berrimah. We were going to make it down to a cattle station, but, because of COVID, it was cut short. But we did visit the cattle yards at Berrimah, where the cattle are trucked in to and kept, prior to sailing to ports in Indonesia and elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific.

It is important that members of this House can see this industry at work. There is no doubt that, in terms of animal welfare, the live cattle industry has improved by miles in recent years. But what I would like to know is: why oh why would the federal government be now appealing the High Court's decision that said that those families and those companies out on the land were so badly affected by the snap ban? What do you not get?

This matter is still subject to legal proceedings, and of course the government should always pursue what's in the national interest. It is clear that at that time some form of action was necessary, but the way that it happened, the snap ban, had a massively detrimental effect on pastoral companies and families, and they deserve to be compensated.

It also caused a massively detrimental effect to our relationship with Indonesia, so I would say to the government, as a Northern Territory representative, that enough damage has been done. It does not give us in the Northern Territory, and in northern Australia in general, much assurance that the federal government really understands not only the effect that that snap ban had on the live cattle industry, for example, but also the detrimental effect that unfulfilled promises of investment have on the livelihoods of Northern Territorians and other northern Australians.

We have rocks, crops and volts: rocks, the mining industry; crops, like the hemp industry that we're talking about today; and volts of energy that are going to be taken from the sun and converted into dispatchable electrical power. The biggest solar farm in the world will be built in the Northern Territory and will provide power to the Darwin grid. We'll grow manufacturing industry out of that. We'll also help our neighbours by providing large-scale renewable energy via undersea cable to places like Indonesia and Singapore. We've got heaps of land, and apparently we've got heaps of sun. So put those things together and it's not rocket science—rocks, crops and volts. We in the Territory know that so much more is possible in agriculture, in mining and in energy, and we will develop these industries with Aboriginal Territorians, who make up 30 per cent of the population in the Northern Territory.

We will see soon in this House, when a private member's bill enters the Senate tomorrow, whether the Prime Minister shares a vision of northern Australia, and the Northern Territory in particular, being important in our country and of Territorians and their rights to representation being important. That private member's bill in the Senate simply calls for the guaranteeing of two House of Reps seats for the Northern Territory. I'm encouraged that members of the Nationals political party are supportive of us not having half of our representation taken away, because, regardless of who holds those two House of Reps seats, we in the Northern Territory shouldn't be having our representation in this place halved. So we will see if the Prime Minister and the Nationals members of this place share that belief in the Northern Territory and in the north.

This legislation is a step forward. The NT government's hemp legislation is a step forward. So I encourage us all to keep stepping forward together. Let's walk forward together. With a bit of investment, the north will continue to provide an awesome return on investment for our nation, not only for the security of our nation but for the prosperity of our nation.

12:19 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020 and I support the amendment moved by the member for Hunter. I join with my colleagues on this side of the House in condemning the government's unseemly haste in trying to push this bill through the House in May. Labor members have been consistent in agreeing to deal with urgent and necessary legislation in a timely manner, especially during this pandemic. But the way the legislation was imposed on the House without proper justification for that urgency was outrageous. It isn't in the tradition of this House, nor should it be.

Having said that, Labor supports the bill. It will ensure that Australia can continue to export narcotic defined goods such as medicinal cannabis and low-THC hemp products. The minister's office has advised that exported narcotic goods are currently being held up at the American border because the current export legislation does not have a provision defining narcotic goods, as required by the USA and other importing countries. But it is disappointing that this matter needed to be fast-tracked considering that, only in May, parliament considered export legislation to modernise and harmonise Australia's current export laws.

The bill will make amendments for the Export Control Act 1982 and its successor, the Export Control Act 2020, which provide for controls on the export of goods. This amendment will include narcotic goods in the definition of goods that can be exported. The amendments are reasonable and necessary, and will remove unnecessary and unintended regulatory barriers imposed on Australia's exports of cannabis seed and cannabis flower. Importantly, the amendments ensure Australia can meet its obligations under international agreements.

But why this bill couldn't have complied with the usual protocols for the introduction of bills is still a mystery. The minister came into the House on 13 May and said that the urgency was to send a signal to farmers and regional communities that they were a priority in difficult times. If the government cares so much about the rural and regional sector, why, after seven years of coalition government, are we still waiting for a strategic plan for the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector? Sadly, this government is occupied by the infighting of the minor coalition partners, the Nationals. The move against the Deputy Prime Minister in the midst of the bushfires was one example. The preselection process in the Eden-Monaro by-election is another case in point—once again, we saw the Nationals infighting. Bushfire affected communities deserve better.

Again in the sitting week in May we saw the government announce another funding package. But it shouldn't take a by-election to get the Prime Minister interested in the bushfire affected communities. They needed an answer on additional aerial firefighting support from the Commonwealth in August last year, not May this year. The Morrison government has failed to ensure that assistance to rural and regional communities has been delivered in a timely manner—whether it is for drought or for bushfires.

Rural and regional Australia is critical to the wellbeing and economic prosperity of this country. It is where our food and fibre comes from. But it is much more than that. It is where one-quarter of our population lives, it is where a majority of our resources come from and it is where a majority of our tourists visit. But where is the care and support from the government? There isn't a plan to grow the agricultural sector or regional economies. I am constantly amazed that we have complacency about the agricultural sector, as if having lots of land and sunshine is enough. We should be exporting twice the value added produce that we currently are.

Australia, for all its size, exports just under $50 billion worth of agricultural exports. Compare that with the tiny Netherlands, which exports almost $160 billion of produce. Across every state, every capital and every regional city, we should be harnessing recycled water to support intensive agriculture and value-adding to that export. We should be stopping the wasteful clearing of vegetation, and reducing crops that are marginal at best and an inefficient use of scarce resources at worst. This government has no plan for the agricultural and fishing sectors. And in dairy the only plan seems to be to drive struggling dairy farmers out of business. The government refuses to provide a floor price for milk and deal with the imbalance of power in the industry.

Regional Australia has waited patiently for a comprehensive plan—particularly after the failed Agricultural competitiveness white paper, developed by the former Deputy Prime Minister, the member for New England—and they're still waiting. The Morrison government talk big on drought support and continue to spruik their $8 billion headline figure on that support, but the Future Drought Fund has not spent one cent and it is not a $5 billion fund. This is all spin from the Prime Minister. We have seen through the recent droughts that many regional and rural communities are losing their future, their young people, as they migrate to bigger towns and state capitals. This government doesn't care enough to do anything about jobs for these people. I'll give you three examples of what they could do.

Professor Ross Garnaut has predicted that the transformation of the Australian economy over the next 50 years will occur on the back of transforming our economy from carbon to renewables. He said it is an opportunity, not a cost. In mid-May, the Grattan Institute released a report, Start with steel, which said that the development of a green hydrogen industry could make Australia a world leader in green steel production. Grabbing just a seven per cent stake in the world steel market could mean $65 billion in export revenue and up to 25,000 jobs. As with wind and solar, where are these new industries going to be? In regional Australia, of course. These are massive opportunities, but under the coalition government we've seen investment in large-scale wind and solar drop off the cliff—by 60 per cent in 2019. This is despite new-build energy and wind being much cheaper to build than coal. Yet, unbelievably, some on the other side are still pushing to build new coal-fired power stations.

Both Japan and Korea have put green hydrogen at the centre of their strategic energy plans for the next 20 years. As our Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, said to the Press Club last year about witnessing the launch of the first Japanese bulk liquid hydrogen carrier:

We truly are at the dawn of a new, thriving industry.

…   …   …

In Australia, we've got the available land, the natural resources, the technology smarts, the global networks, and the industry expertise.

All of this can happen in rural and regional Australia, but the government needs to do more than say it cares. It has to have a plan and it has to invest in that plan. Massive investment also leads to new manufacturing opportunities, and many of these can be in regional Australia, especially around the gateway cities like Geelong, Wollongong, Newcastle and Maryborough. If this government cared about rural and regional families and jobs, it would invest in regional manufacturing hubs. What we've all seen from this government during the last seven years is laughter in place of supporting our car industry. We've said goodbye to thousands of jobs offshore. Regional manufacturing, especially value-adding in agricultural products, is why exports from the tiny Netherlands are more than double ours.

Regional economies aren't just about agriculture and fishing. In many regional centres, the university is a key contributor to the local economy and provides the research and development needed for rural and regional industries to thrive. Universities employ 250,000 Australians, and education is one of our biggest industries. Yet, during the COVID-19 crisis, the Morrison government have basically thrown the higher education sector to the wolves. They have abandoned international students, leaving it to individual universities, states and charities to pick up the pieces. They have denied university staff access to JobKeeper subsidies. Their lack of a plan means that the National Tertiary Education Union has been forced, quite courageously, to negotiate wage freezes and cuts in exchange for a retention of jobs. It is an amazing effort by the unions. Unfortunately, not many universities have taken up this offer. This shouldn't have happened—as if higher education, especially in regional areas, is some add-on, some luxury that can simply be abandoned.

I also note the recent spate of apparently unremarkable and unrelated actions by the Chinese government to increase tariffs on our agricultural products or suspend support for our beef industry. I can only assume there is more to come, and we saw that this week with the warnings to Chinese tourists and students. International students are our biggest earner, by the way, just behind iron ore, coal and natural gas. Why has this happened? Because of the government's inept handling of the China relationship, that's why. If the Prime Minister cared about regional Australia, why would he not have been more careful in distancing Australia from the awful rhetoric of the US administration around COVID-19 and China? Their rhetoric is clearly aimed at US domestic politics, and particularly the upcoming November presidential election.

I agree with the member for Hunter, who said in May that the Prime Minister risked causing enormous damage to our relationship with China as well as potential damage to thousands of rural producers, workers and families by not proceeding quietly and methodically to garner support from other countries for an international COVID inquiry. Instead, we blazed away, naively eager to be first with the call for an inquiry. On top of that, we have government backbenchers throwing hand grenades, making baseless allegations about the collaboration between the CSIRO and the Centre for Disease Preparedness and Chinese scientists. The CSIRO has collaborated with Chinese scientists since 1975 on numerous scientific endeavours from crops to viruses, as it should. The CSIRO is bound by multiple acts covering biosecurity and national security. The unwarranted attack on normal scientific practices certainly doesn't help regional Australia.

To say that we have an obligation to speak out on all manner of issues and not fear retribution is to say the obvious, but we need to do this consistently, calmly and without discrimination, not focus simply on one country. The reality is that 33 per cent of export dollars are now generated by trade with China. That is more than the next six biggest countries combined, including the US, which is at around seven per cent. So when and how you say these things actually does matter. With the loss of almost 10 per cent of all jobs in my electorate of Corangamite due to COVID-19 and unemployment of 15 per cent and higher in most rural and regional communities, a crude approach to our relations with China is the last thing we need. It could mean the difference between economic survival and a very bleak future, especially if bans on beef and barley turn to restrictions on international students and tourists.

On the topic of tourists, my seat of Corangamite relies heavily on tourism for jobs and revenue. In some areas, like Apollo Bay and the Otways, up to 70 per cent of tourists are international. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect, with almost 10 per cent of all jobs disappearing, ranging from 8.4 per cent in Torquay to 13.3 per cent in the Otways. Many business operators are partnerships and can't get the JobKeeper subsidy for both parents in the business. I had an email from Andrew Devlin, who runs Southern Anchorage Retreat on the Great Ocean Road. He said: 'Now, governments were quick to act on tourism with benefits that would occur for most of its COVID incentives as it would from the cost. We're also trying to find money to pay our lease. Our cost is not unique. Our next-door neighbour has a family, runs a partnership and also only qualifies for one JobKeeper. Many accommodation places along the way are in similar circumstances. There is little incentive to reopen quickly, and my wife and I are considering leaving the industry, even though we can run a very successful accommodation business. But with 70 per cent of our guests from overseas we realise there is very little chance that many accommodation and tourism businesses will remain open and survive this crisis along the Great Ocean Road.' Andrew is already receiving cancellations from international tourists for next January and February. Easing the restrictions won't help these rural businesses in the near future, as increased domestic tourism simply won't replace the lost international business. They need the current support to be improved and an assurance that a support package for hard-hit areas and industries will continue after this September. The minister for agriculture can talk long and hard about caring for regional Australia, but that is all it is: talk, without matching it with action. Labor supports this bill, but regional Australians want to see real action—action to diversify and build their agricultural sector. (Time expired)

12:35 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was interesting to hear the previous speaker. These people are new to politics and government, and they can be excused on that basis. I thought it was a very, very good point that she made, that the tiny Netherlands has $160,000 million in agricultural production and Australia has $56,000 million in agricultural production. But I need to tell her the reasons why.

Wool was the biggest export commodity we had—it was bigger than coal—when Mr Keating decided to deregulate it and completely destroy it. Our wool production is down 72 per cent. So what should have been an industry pulling in about $50,000 million a year has vanished without trace. Let's be conservative and say $40,000 million a year. That is what its value was then, and that would have been its value today. That was wool, your greatest export commodity.

I was heavily involved with the establishment of the prawn- and fish-farming aquaculture industry of Australia. We started the first commercial farm in Australia, in North Queensland, when I was minister, and it was earning $750 million a year. The greenies in the federal Liberal-National and Labor governments cut it from $750 million a year down to about $50 million a year. So if you're saying that we don't have much agricultural production relative to other countries—California is a state maybe a twentieth of the size of Australia in area, and two-thirds of it is among the most barren and hot areas on earth. In Southern California, the average rainfall is under 7½ inches, yet California is the biggest food-producing state on earth. We have infinitely more water in north-eastern Australia than California has, and our agricultural production is negligible. In fact, if you take out the little tiny strip along the east coast, all you've got left is a fifth of the Australian cattle industry, which is pretty small beer in the bigger scheme of things.

The member for Corangamite did not mention ethanol—in fact, just the opposite. She was talking about electric cars, hydrogen cars and everything else. The member for Corangamite should do just a tiny bit of research, because she represents one of the biggest wheat-growing areas in Australia, and, of course, we're the only country on earth that has no national laws on ethanol content, so a thousand people die each year in Sydney from motor vehicle emissions. Those are not my figures. They come from Professor Ray Kearney, the deputy dean of the faculty of medical science at Sydney university, the oldest and most distinguished sandstone university in Australia. They're not my words; they're the words of the officer in charge of air quality control in Australia, and they're the words of Dr Streeton, who was the leading giver of evidence in the tobacco smoking case in Australia. He's the leading thoracic surgeon and expert in that field in the country. Those are people who say there are health reasons. Every country has done it, not because they love their farmers but for health reasons. But in Australia we don't worry how many of my blackfella cousins are dying of malnutrition. Don't worry about it! The Labor Party has closed down all of the market gardens, so we get hundreds and maybe thousands of deaths each year as a result of that decision. They don't care. I mean, we have people dying of motor vehicle emissions, but the government doesn't care.

I must find great humour in this: I didn't know that marijuana was legal in Canberra, and I can now understand why the country has gone to pot. Clearly we know what's going on now. We know why the wool industry is destroyed, why the motor vehicle industry is destroyed, why we haven't gone to ethanol and why our cattle numbers are down 25 per cent, our wool is down 72 per cent, our milk is down 20 per cent, our prawn and fish farming is down 70 per cent, our sugar is down 15 per cent. But, at long last, we've found out why. I must thank the minister, because I have many good friends in North Queensland that are experts in the field of marijuana farming. Their criminal records attest to that! I'll just say that we're not growing it because of police harassment. They're harassing my friends, because in Queensland it's illegal. We've got to stop this harassment, and you've given us a way out here, so we thank you for that.

I have to say that Minister Fitzgibbon has aspirations of higher office, and I wish him well. We like ambitious people. But if you spend too much time down here, you're going to be high all right—you'll be a lot higher than you are now, I can assure you! We have a little town in North Queensland where you don't have to buy the marijuana there; you just walk down the street and take a deep breath and you're high as a kite. Minister Fitzgibbon can rise without even having to worry too much about it.

On a more serious note, we are sending this stuff up to the northern regions. Maybe they will imbibe when we export it to them and maybe they'll be as stupid as we are and close down all their industries and export the industries overseas, like we've exported the petrol industry overseas, exported the motor vehicle industry overseas, exported a massive amount of our agricultural production overseas. We've even figured out a way—and the last speaker, Ms Coker, made mention of it—to export our electricity industry. That's a pretty good achievement!

Twenty per cent of our electricity now comes from solar panels, and they're produced in China. So we closed down the coal fired power stations in Australia producing at $28 a megawatt-hour—and I know, because I was the minister in the negotiations with Comalco over the sale of then one of the 10 biggest power stations in the world, Gladstone. I know what we were producing, which was $28 a megawatt-hour. Quite frankly, since the power station has been paid off and because the price of coal, relatively speaking, hasn't risen a great deal and since there are virtually no labour costs—they're all automated, these power stations—we can still sell at $28 a megawatt-hour. There's no doubt about that.

Finkel, in his report—which I don't agree with and I don't think is correct, but I'll take his figures—said that you could sell the power for $84 a megawatt-hour. Big deal! We could've got $84 a megawatt-hour when we're producing it for $28 a megawatt-hour. If you have expensive electricity, you close down the aluminium industry, which is the fourth-biggest export item that this country has. You're not content with wrecking the milk industry. You're not content with closing down the petrol industry. You're not content with completely closing down the motor vehicle industry and all the whitegoods industries, but now you want to start up on the aluminium industry—and the steel industry also. Although it's not 'congealed electricity', like aluminium, it is still a very big user.

Don't say that our country is a mining country, because it's not a mining country. Mining is when you take ore out of the ground and you sell a metal. I know—I've been a mining man all of my life, and I still am; I'm not a cattle producer as everyone seems to think. I've had cattle all my life, but I'm a mining man. And I can tell you: we're not a mining country. Mining is when you dig ore out of the ground and you sell a metal. When you dig it out of the ground and sell the ground, that is quarrying—a very primitive, simplistic production. We have been reduced to that because we can't afford anymore to process, and one of the major problems is the cost of electricity.

So we've got everything closing down. All mineral processing in this country has closed down or is closing down. This hits home in North Queensland. They're the biggest mining province in the world. Mount Isa, that little town, produces $4½ thousand million a year of export earnings for this country. But how much longer it can do that I don't know.

Let me turn to the live cattle. Ministers in the government—and one of them, as everyone knows, is a relative of mine—have said that this will unnecessarily restrain government power. That is exactly what it is supposed to do. I don't know what's happened to our education system, but God bless the Christian Brothers—the much maligned Christian Brothers. One of the greatest advantages I had in life was an education by the Christian Brothers. They taught me about Magna Carta. I don't want to skite but I did get an A—the highest mark you can get—for history. Magna Carta said: 'Mr King, you no longer can do what you like. You do not have unlimited discretionary powers. There's none of this absolute monarchy anymore.' Two of the greatest men in history drew up that document and forced John to sign it. One of them was Archbishop Langton, who was going to send John to hell—though he was going to go there anyway, so I don't think he should have worried too much about that! The other one was William Marshal, the greatest soldier, jouster and sword-fighter of the Middle Ages—sort of like Wally Lewis or Benny Elias! There was no way the king was going to win against William Marshal. He was ordered to sign the document. From then on, the king was subject to the law, the same as any other person.

We have completely overridden that, and it is to the shame of this government, and to friends and relatives of mine, who've been publicly saying, 'This will restrain our ability to do things.' That is exactly what Magna Carta was about. You can't just go in there and destroy the licence value of every taxi owner in Australia. You can't do that. You can't destroy the livelihood of every cattleman in Australia anymore. You can't just decide, on a whim, to destroy the income of every dairy farmer in Australia anymore. No. You are subject to the law. Well, Australia has moved so far away from that concept that we have leaders in the government—very good people; I know them and I like and respect them—saying something that is against the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson. It is against the Magna Carta, written by Archbishop Langton and William Marshal. It is against every concept of British justice. The government, the cabinet, the executive—whatever word you want to use, it is the Crown. That is the word we use as the generic term to refer to the people who have the executive power. Once upon a time it was a bloke called a king. We English-speaking people—many of my forebears amongst them—died, but we cut the heads off monarch after monarch after monarch that defied that principle. I hope the Australian people cut your head off, Mr Government, if you do not accept, as to your irresponsible behaviour, that you had no power or right to act. You are subject to the law, the same as anyone else. You are not going to use the power of government to bash and smash the cattlemen of Australia till they have no money left to fight you so you can approve a principle which overrides Magna Carta: 'I can do anything I like, because I am the government.'

In Queensland, we have easily the worst government in the state's history—maybe with one exception. That government doesn't remotely understand that you denied power. Every state did a deal with the taxi owners except Queensland, and Queensland spat on them, thinking they were above the law. Well, in the state courts that's probably true. In the federal courts you will find out it's not. (Time expired)

12:50 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge the passionate contribution from the member for Kennedy. We all enjoyed it. But, again, today this is a very important step in agricultural production and an emerging export market that will continue to allow our primary producers to be able to diversify.

The Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020 is required to amend parts of the export control legislation. The bill will amend the definition of 'goods' contained within the Export Control Act 1982 and the Export Control Act 2020. The amendments will remove discrepancies between the treatment of narcotic goods and the treatment of other goods that pose a similar risk to Australia's trade reputation and market access. This bill addresses an issue that was originally identified in 2018. In March 2019, more than 12 months ago, we requested that the department investigate solutions to address the gap in official certification. This bill is the culmination of that work.

Markets for industrial hemp in Australia are underdeveloped by comparison to other OECD countries, especially Europe, the UK and Canada. The past 15 years have seen significant global innovation, significant levels of research in agronomy and the development of high-performance hemp products. For example, Canada's export of hemp products grew from Can$10.4 million in 2010 to over Can$90 million in the 10 months to October 2015. AgriFutures has noted the potential for further growth of the industrial hemp market worldwide, stating:

There is a great opportunity for Australian growers to capitalise on growth of current and future products derived from industrial hemp with Global Market Insights predicting the market to surpass US$270 million in size globally, by 2025.

The global medicinal cannabis market size was estimated to be more than US$11 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach an estimated US$44 billion by 2024.

Most countries currently regulate unprocessed and semiprocessed plant products against the introduction of injurious plant pests and diseases. Under the International Plant Protection Convention, exporting countries can issue phytosanitary certificates attesting to the absence of such pests and diseases on exported plant products, which is what this bill seeks to facilitate. Since 2015, in place of the phytosanitary certificates, alternative assurances have been provided for cannabis products exported to markets in Korea, the United States, Uruguay and New Zealand. Earlier this year, an exporter from Queensland sought to export a commercial quantity of seed to the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture, the USDA, indicated they would require formal phytosanitary certification from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment for exports to be accepted. Since late 2019, exporters have expressed interest in exporting to other markets, including Thailand, Vietnam and Canada. These are all markets that require official phytosanitary certification—certification that the passage of this bill will finally allow Australian authorities to issue.

As this industry gains scale, markets will require export certification from the Australian government. The proposed amendments will allow Australian exports to meet the biosecurity import requirements for any market that requires a phytosanitary certificate. Countries that currently have strict import requirements, including phytosanitary certificates for unprocessed plant products, include China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Canada and the US. In fact, the only major markets that don't have such requirements are Hong Kong and Singapore.

The bill will address the government's current inability to issue phytosanitary certificates and enable certification of a broader range of agricultural commodities, including narcotic goods within the meaning of the Customs Act 1901. The bill will ensure Australia meets its obligations under international agreements and provide assurances to trading partners that our exported agricultural goods meet their requirements. The bill provides the confidence for existing and future exporters to pursue lucrative export opportunities, particularly for those involved with new and emerging industries. Being able to access a broad range of markets creates more export opportunities and higher profits for Australian farmers, producers and export businesses.

The bill will support the initiatives of the government to bust congestion in regulation and ensure that agricultural industries come out firing after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. Without the ability for the government to provide this certification, Australian exporters are at a disadvantage when compared to global competitors. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Hunter has moved, as an amendment, that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.