Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Trade with Indonesia, Minister for the Environment
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance and the Public Service (Senator Cormann) and the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia (Senator Canavan) to questions without notice asked by Senators Wong and Kitching today relating to the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and to the Minister for the Environment (Ms Price).
On the Indonesian free-trade agreement, can I say that the Prime Minister's visit to Singapore has now exposed in full the utter debacle created by Mr Morrison's desperate decision to trash decades of considered, bipartisan foreign policy to try to win a few votes in Wentworth—and didn't that go well! We learnt in Senate estimates that the decision to consider moving the Australian embassy in Israel wasn't taken to cabinet; that it wasn't based on any proposal from DFAT; that the foreign minister, Senator Payne, was given less than 48 hours notice; and that the media was briefed before the Australian Defence Force. Mr Turnbull warned that it would prompt a very negative reaction from Indonesia and he was right. This decision from Mr Morrison is harming our economy, costing jobs and damaging one of Australia's most important relationships. Mr Morrison himself in Jakarta in September said that the agreement:
… will open the door to a new era of opportunities for Australian and Indonesian business. Whether in agriculture and manufacturing, services or investment, this new agreement lays a foundation to realise the economic potential of our partnership.
It will create jobs and it will create wealth for both countries.
He said that the agreement would be signed within months, and media were briefed that it would be signed this week on the sidelines of the EAS in Singapore. Now it is sidelined. Why? To quote the Indonesian trade minister, the delay is 'because of Palestine', and he has made it clear that the agreement will be delayed until this is fixed.
Under this trade deal, 99 per cent of Australian exports to Indonesia will be tariff free—exports like frozen beef, sheep meat, feed grains, steel coil, citrus products, carrots and potatoes. But now, because of Mr Morrison's short-sighted, ill-considered decision, Australian farmers, Australian manufacturers and Australian workers will suffer. But this isn't just about trade. Indonesia is a critical relationship to Australia, but it is fair to say that our bilateral ties struggle to reach their full potential.
You may not be interested, Senator, but we actually care about this relationship. Indonesia is the world's fourth-largest country by population and is projected to be the fourth-largest economy by 2050. The largest economy in South-East Asia, Indonesia is critical to Australia's security and stability—something Labor has always understood, from Curtin and Chifley through Keating and Hawke and the Rudd and Gillard governments. Yet, under this government, our trade with Indonesia has actually decreased. As Mr Morrison said in Singapore, just moments ago after meeting with Indonesia's President:
Indonesia doing well economically, Indonesia doing well strategically, is good for Australia, and that's why we do it. We do it because it's good for our national interests to support Indonesia's advancement.
He said that 'it's good for our national interests'. Well, Prime Minister, perhaps you should have put that on your lapel badge: 'Do what's good for Australia's national interests'. Instead, you trashed the national interests to try to get votes in Wentworth.
But, even worse, now we are seeing this terrible decision dragged through the prism of the Liberal Party's bitter internal divisions. The same people who tore down Malcolm Turnbull and elevated Mr Morrison are now weaponising the embassy decision to continue their hard right, divisive agenda to undermine another Liberal Prime Minister. We've already seen Senator Abetz gleefully leaping onto Sky News to undermine our relationship with Indonesia. 'Brilliant Mr Morrison', who is supposed to be such a strategic genius, has now, after losing votes on this issue in Wentworth, firmly wedged himself, between the national interest and the interests of the people who made him Prime Minister. He is trapped between doing the right thing by the nation and returning to sensible bipartisan policy. But, if he does, he will face the political consequences from the hard right.
Of course, Australia should consider foreign policy decisions based on our national interests. But that means that you have to be responsible enough to act consistently for the national interest. The overturning of the bipartisan position on the location of the embassy in Israel for short-term political gain was not in our national interests. Well, Labor says 'enough'. Under pressure from journalists in Singapore, Mr Morrison has just committed to making a decision on the embassy by Christmas. Why Christmas, Prime Minister? Why not now? It took you one day to wreck this trade deal; why do you have to wait another month to fix it? (Time expired)
I'm absolutely gobsmacked at the extraordinary hypocrisy of the Labor Party, weeping hot tears of grief on a free trade agreement after five free trade agreements have already been negotiated by the coalition; two of which I vaguely remember the Labor Party actually tried to scuttle—the China free trade agreement and the TPP. Yet now they come in here bleating about an Indonesia free trade agreement.
I agree with Senator Wong on one thing: she is absolutely right when she says that the partnership between Australia and Indonesia is one of our nation's most significant. She is right, because Indonesia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and it presents significant and profound opportunities for Australia as the demand grows for our goods and our services and particularly our produce. It has a rapidly growing consumer base and it is projected to be the world's fourth-largest economy in the world by 2050. By bolstering the economic ties between our nations it will lead to even greater opportunities for Australian businesses, for Australian manufacturers and for Australian farmers.
Our extensive relationship with Indonesia is both mature and strong. It sustains constructive dialogue on all issues of common interest and it is steeped in the history of both our nations. Do you know what, Madam Deputy President? Prime Minister Morrison, who is talking about an Indonesian free trade agreement as we sit here today, is just the right man to do it. We can rely on Prime Minister Morrison to make the right deals. When we are dotting the i's and crossing the t's, as Senator Cormann mentioned, on this free trade agreement he is the right man to be doing it.
He's a man that we've trusted with the most important decisions of this government for the last five years. If we think about it, at the stage when the coalition came to office it was Mr Morrison who was the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. He was the man who stopped the boats. He was the man who turned them around and sent them back. He was the man who shut down 18 detention centres in the last five years. He was the man who did that.
When he was the Minister for Social Services, he was the one who reduced our welfare dependency to its lowest rate in 25 years. And, of course, as Treasurer his track record speaks for itself. We now have economic growth of 3.4 per cent. That is at the top of the OECD league ladder and it is the envy of the developed world. We have created more than 1.2 million jobs in the last five years alone; 89,000 were what the Labor Party created in their last year of government. That's 89,000 compared to 1.2 million new jobs, with around 400,000 in the last 12 months. The vast majority of those were full-time, and the vast majority went to women. In fact, the female participation rate is at higher levels than it has ever been at before. Youth unemployment is down to low levels—the lowest levels in 25 years. We've maintained our AAA credit rating from not one, not two, but three credit-rating agencies. And, of course, the budget is on its way back to balance one year earlier than anticipated. That's what good fiscal management will deliver.
And good fiscal management pays political dividends, because people want an economy that's creating jobs and they want an economy that's growing, and they trust Prime Minister Morrison to deliver it in the same way that they have trusted Prime Minister Morrison to negotiate the finer points of an Indonesian free trade agreement—an Indonesian free trade agreement which is part of our growth strategy for the Australian economy.
As I said, this is the sixth free trade agreement that we've negotiated in just five years. Think about it: the China free trade agreement was a game-changing and transformative agreement for the Australian economy. There was China, Japan, South Korea and the TPP—of course, we could hardly forget the TPP. We nearly didn't get that through; that was only in the last couple of weeks. Now there is Peru and, finally, Indonesia in just five years. That's how we create the opportunities for Australian businesses and that's how we ensure our economy stays strong. That's how we can ensure that there are jobs and growth for future generations of Australians. (Time expired)
Today's question time reinforced, just as yesterday's did, that we have a reckless, big-talking Prime Minister who is full of big promises and short on attention to detail, delivery and any sense of the national interest. His desperate decision to try to win votes in Wentworth is costing us jobs and is at great expense to our relationships not only with Indonesia but with many other parts of the world.
We have seen Mr Morrison, our Prime Minister, junk a longstanding bipartisan foreign policy, and it is a key foreign policy that is important to the success of the Australia-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. We saw Senator Cormann arguing that the i's and the t's are just being dotted and crossed, and that's the reason for the delay. But Indonesia's own trade minister says the delay in signing the agreement is because of Palestine. You may say that it's about dotting the i's and crossing the t's, but the simple fact is that it is delayed because the question of moving the embassy to Jerusalem has not been resolved and ruled out.
Senator Hume says that this is in fact about Mr Morrison debating and refining the finer points of the agreement. Frankly, I think that is bollocks. We know that the delay is about getting this issue of this nonsense idea of moving Australia's embassy to Jerusalem off the table. We've seen this entrench further division and chaos in the coalition. We saw Senator Abetz, who is in fact the government's chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, suggesting that Australia rethink the $360 million we give them in aid each year. I'm assuming Senator Abetz is a great fan of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. The idea that a view like that could be reflected in the media or in this place shows the disregard with which members of this place are prepared to treat the important views of Indonesia.
Mr Morrison said last September that the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement would be signed within months. The media had been briefed that it would be signed this week on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Singapore. Again Senator Cormann and Senator Hume might say, 'No, this is actually all about Prime Minister Morrison getting the job done, making sure we get all the finer details of it correct.' Well, it certainly sounds to me like it was all ready to be done, all ready to be signed, but for this absolute catastrophe of international policy, this brain fart of an idea that we think it would be a good idea to move Australia's embassy to Jerusalem.
The Australian people are right to be concerned about this and to demand that Mr Morrison gets this done and signs the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement before he comes back to Australia. How could he facilitate that? Perhaps by making a quick decision to say, 'Yes, we'll take our bollocks idea about moving Australia's embassy to Jerusalem off the table', and to do so immediately.
I always enjoy making a contribution in these matters when Labor's hypocrisy sits writ large, front and centre. Let's refresh their memory. The last time they even said the word 'Indonesia' from a trade perspective was when they ceased the trade of live cattle into Indonesia, bringing tens of thousands of Australian families to their knees. Many of them have never recovered. Many have been bankrupted. Even more importantly, there was a significant social impact in Indonesia with the loss of such an important source of protein at that time. They didn't really care. They don't care. In fact, I've been here five years and I think that's the first time I've heard Senator Wong even talk about agriculture or trade agreements—never before. There was .no interest yesterday, the day before, last week, last month or last year. They're embarrassed, because we all know what happened under Labor with their attempts to bring to a close—over six or seven years, I think it was—negotiations for a free trade agreement with China. Of course, it wasn't until we had an excellent minister in place that we closed that out in less than two years.
So this is just complete hypocrisy. The government is well and truly on the record that this agreement is progressing. We're at a point where there's the scrubbing of legal terms. The TPA agreement has to be done in a number of languages. We're checking it. We're going very steadily with that job, as you would expect. Here you are: you'd have us go ahead and sign the document on behalf of this nation without having any regard to the national interests and the responsibilities that come with FTAs. So we just need to remind anybody listening of the hypocrisy of the Australian Labor Party.
It's not to do with a delay in a free trade agreement. It has nothing to do with that. It's not to do with the consideration of the location of the embassy in Israel, which is under due consideration. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that a decision will be taken before Christmas. I can almost hear the bells of Santa Claus. It's not as if it's been delayed for 12 months, two years or three years. This is simply about one thing: Prime Minister Morrison is obviously biting significantly into your polling around Mr Shorten. That's what this is all about. You have to concentrate. You don't stand up in this place during question time or any other time wanting to have a serious conversation about serious matters. You don't want to talk about the economy, because you can't, of course. Australians break out in a giggle when you start to talk about the economy. You don't want to talk about employment, because of the sterling figures that have been produced by this coalition, a major contribution made by Mr Morrison.
You are frightened of Mr Morrison. It is as clear as the nose on your face. Every time you're in here talking about it, you're trying to peg back some country you've lost. Well, I'll tell you this: I agree you ought to be frightened, because as I move around my electorate of Queensland I'm starting to get very strong reports. They say: 'I like this bloke. I trust this bloke.' They've said it hasn't been since John Howard that we've been able to sense what a person is and what they're going to deliver. So I know your polling is showing that. I know Bill is over there—Mr Shorten, I should say—shaking in his boots at the moment. That's why it's reflected in your strategies in the Senate this week. That's all you've wanted to talked about. You don't want to talk about the important issues of domestic violence. You don't want to talk about other economic initiatives that are being pursued by the government and frustrated by you. You just want to talk about Mr Morrison. You want to dip the paintbrush into a bit of old paint of 15 years ago. You want to talk about a free trade agreement that's progressing very well and will be significant for this country—probably one of the most important. You want to talk about a decision that's under review, as it appropriately should be, in relation to the location of our embassy in Israel. You are frightened. It is clear. You would do better to try and make a positive alternative policy narrative than to continue this attack, which is failing you dismally.
It's another moment, another week and another month when we, as Australians, feel embarrassment under the leadership of Prime Minister Morrison or, indeed, whoever is in the role of leadership in this country under this coalition government. It is another moment, thanks to this government, when we all feel the cringe and the embarrassment, as Australians, of knowing about the mutterings in the Pacific, in the region, of our nearest neighbours, that will filter throughout the diplomatic channels and elsewhere—mutterings about how arrogant we are as a nation when we hear of the thought bubbles that come out of this government and out of this Prime Minister's mouth. Whether it's junking longstanding bipartisan foreign policy, such as the thought-bubble decision of moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem, or whether it's the rude words of the now environment minister, who has been termed the L-plated environment minister, it leaves Australians in a diplomatic mess. It does not serve Australia's national interests in any way whatsoever.
It's very rare that I agree with Senator Fierravanti-Wells, the former Minister for International Development and the Pacific. But, having read her opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Heraldtoday, at least there is one senator on that side that does recognise the effects of climate change on the Pacific. She raises that in her opinion piece in some detail, but then she gets to the important point that it is 'regrettable' that the good work that has been done by this government in the Pacific has been damaged by this new, L-plates environment minister in, as we know, that very unfortunate incident with former President of Kiribati Anote Tong. In answers to questions asked by Senator Kitching on this very matter, we did not receive from Senator Cormann anything detailed in relation to that—or, indeed, how it has damaged our relationship with the Pacific. That has not been the only thing, of course, that has damaged our relationship with the Pacific. The decision by the government to not even have the Prime Minister attend the Pacific Islands Forum meeting on Nauru was another embarrassing and short-sighted decision. Former President Tong said in a recent interview, about Minister Price:
Obviously she needs to learn a great deal more about the world around her … If she came to Kiribati, I would be happy to show her what we do. Maybe she could begin to understand … and be less arrogant about it.
I think it shows very clearly how arrogant we are perceived to be by the region, and rightly so, after that minister's comments on the night in question.
Now, it doesn't just stop there, but it needs to stop. Whether it's in relation to the Pacific or whether it's in relation to Indonesia, it needs to stop. We need to stop, straightaway, this undiplomatic language and these stupid decisions—these thought-bubble decisions—that have damaged our relationship with our nearest neighbours. But, instead, what do we have? We have Senator Abetz going on Sky News today and undermining even further our relationship with Indonesia. Well, we have all had enough. We have all had enough of the embarrassment and the cringing we feel when we hear these former ministers, current ministers, ministers on L-plates, new prime ministers, former prime ministers or whatever revolving-door positions those on the other side are in today—
Whatever muppet is popping up now—thanks, Senator Cameron. We've had enough of it. We've certainly had enough of it. We want to ensure that our relationships with our nearest neighbours are solid, concrete partnerships. That is why our leader, Bill Shorten, made that pledge at a recent speech outlining what Labor would do in government with our relationships in the Pacific—how it would be a partnership and not paternalism, and that we know, with the rising sea levels, we need to take action to support our neighbours now.
Question agreed to.