Senate debates

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:08 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

As much as it pains me, because the minister has been so kind today, I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Trade and Tourism (Senator Farrell) to a question without notice asked by Senator Brockman today relating to international trade agreements.

The current negotiations in relation to the EU free trade agreement are extremely important, and the questions raised by Senator Brockman, likewise, are extremely important. Australian farmers are some of the least subsidised in the world, unlike a lot of their counterparts in other jurisdictions. Consequently, they are the most innovative and some of the most competitive in the world. They need to retain access to all the innovations they have developed and built over time through significant investment by themselves and by the Australian government, through the Australian government's research and development corporations.

It's important to note that, over the last nine years, the previous government was the most successful in history in relation to the negotiation of free trade agreements. It commenced very early in government with the Korean free trade agreement, which increased the share of trade covered by free trade agreements from 27 per cent to over 70 per cent. If the government were to ratify the free trade agreements that sit with India and the UK, that number would go to over 80 per cent of Australia's trade. They are very important figures. So I would urge the government to ensure that the work of the committee considering the free trade agreements is progressed but to ensure that, in the negotiations, as Senator Farrell said in his answer, our farmers are protected in respect of the use of those critical farming methods and tools that go to our capacity to maintain our land quality, which is extremely important—Australian farmers have done a brilliant job in developing those technologies and those systems all over Australia—and those critical chemicals and supports that allow them to do that. As we indicated in the previous question, not only does it prevent erosion and help support soil quality, but it also helps them to sequester carbon. So those important elements—and maintaining access to those things and not disadvantaging Australian farmers in trade—are going to be extremely important.

The record of the previous government in respect of free trade agreements signed with Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Peru, Indonesia and, of course, across the Indo-Pacific have opened up enormous opportunities for farmers in this country. We need to maintain those opportunities. We need to continue to grow them. That's why we commenced and completed the negotiations with the UK. It's disappointing that in the previous parliament, the proceedings inside the treaties committee were delayed by seeking additional hearings. I certainly hope that that can be progressed quickly now that we're into this new parliament so that the farmers get those opportunities that come from the UK Free Trade Agreement and the Indian free trade agreement. Through the disruption over the last couple of years, we've seen that those opportunities, the expansion of markets, are extremely important to Australian agriculture.

The option to look at different markets when a disruption occurs in one significant market is now very well understood by us all. But let's not forget that the previous government, through all of its work, opened up so many opportunities, more than any other government in history, bearing in mind that the government before us did not complete a single free trade agreement. The challenge sits there right now for this government to ratify the two free trade agreements that were completed just before the election, particularly the free trade agreement negotiations with Europe. I know that Minister Farrell understands only too well from his involvement in the wine industry that there are some particular protections that are very, very sensitive to Australian agriculture, and he needs to protect them.


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