Wednesday, 17 June 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, Senator Ruston. How is the Liberal-National government expanding trade and gaining better access to markets—
Senator Patrick, props aren't allowed. Remove that immediately. Quite frankly, you're embarrassing yourself and you are demeaning Australian politics and the people who vote for you. Remove that or I will remove you from the chamber immediately.
Senator Patrick interjecting—
Remove yourself from the chamber, Senator Patrick.
Senator Patrick then left the chamber.
Senator McDonald, I will ask you to start your question again.
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, Senator Ruston. How is the Liberal-National government expanding trade and gaining better access to markets in our major trading partners for the agricultural sector?
I thank Senator McDonald for her question, and I also recognise her strong interest in and commitment to the regional communities of Australia and our agricultural and other primary industry sectors. Senator McDonald has a very strong understanding of the importance of overseas markets to our rural and regional communities and the businesses that exist within them. It is quite an astonishing statistic that 70 per cent of Australia's agricultural production is exported. Therefore, access to a diverse range of overseas markets is very important to Australia, and it has never been more important than it is now, with the economic challenges that Australia faces with the coronavirus pandemic.
This government has a very strong record in delivering market access and opportunities to all of our Australian industries but particularly to our farmers and fishers. Today, I'm very pleased to be in the Senate with my colleague the Minister for Trade, Minister Birmingham, on the cusp of embarking on new free trade agreement negotiations with the United Kingdom. In the UK—and in the EU, where negotiations are already underway—there is enormous opportunity to deliver ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreements, securing more favourable access for Australian products into these new markets.
The government understands that it's not just about new markets for our agricultural sector; we also need to make sure that our industries know exactly how they can best take advantage of these new markets. We don't take a 'set and forget' approach. So, through a series of 12 webinars, Austrade will ensure that exporters have all of the information that they need so that they can take the steps that they need to take to take the most advantage of the free trade agreements. Australia's free trade agreements with key trading partners continue to deliver huge benefits for Australia.
Thank you again to the senator for her question, because exports are absolutely vital to Australia's agricultural industries and our regional economies, with more than two-thirds of our production exported. So growth in Australian exports to premium markets is absolutely vital for the future of our agricultural sector, and maintaining strong relationships with our trading partners is absolutely critical to that success. Australian businesses that export, you will be interested to know, on average hire 23 per cent more staff, they pay 11 per cent higher wages and they have labour productivity 13 per cent higher than non-exporters. These are industries that are leading Australia. So trade is a very major contributor to our economy, it's a major creator of jobs and it has a positive impact on our ability to pay for the essential services that all Australians rely on. It is absolutely essential that we get these free trade agreements in place.
We have a range of programs that we've put in place to help Australian agriculture. Just last week, we implemented the new farm household allowance program to make sure that we can assist our farmers to put food on the table and help them through what has been a very a crippling drought in our agricultural areas. We've also invested in rural financial counselling services so farmers can get the advice they need when they need it to make sure that they can make the best possible decisions to ensure their longevity and that they are able to get into the export markets that Senator Birmingham is about to open up for them.
It's also very important to note that we take the mental health and wellbeing of our farmers very, very seriously, and we make sure that we have got the funds and the resources behind that. But there are myriad other things that the government's doing: concessional loans, taxation measures that are general, and water for fodder, silage and pasture. The Australian government is committed to our farmers.