Thursday, 4 August 2022
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
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.
I rise in response to the contribution we've just heard from Senator Colbeck and to enhance the comments put on the record today by our fine new Minister for Trade and Tourism, Minister Farrell. Minister Farrell happens to be a good friend of mine. I felt particularly encouraged by his deep knowledge of the wine industry from his own life experience, because I'm sure he'll be out there fighting not only for the wine industry but for all elements of the agricultural industry. It's such a vital part of Australia's economic sense of engagement with the world and the sense of ourselves as a nation. We know that we are critical to the way in which the planet can eat food. Moving around to the world, we know, has been profoundly interrupted by what's going on in the Ukraine. And I know that there are calls on Australia, right now, to step up and interact, in trade, in markets that have been profoundly disrupted not only by that war but also by the supply chain problems that we see as a consequence of the COVID-19 reality.
Trade opportunities for Australians are vitally important to the Australian people, and not only will Senator Farrell be leading the charge on that but I and other members will be new members on that treaty's committee. I find it very disappointing, given how important it is to our economy, that we've had questions that seek to really create a bipartisan view of what should be happening in the area of trade.
On parliamentary delegations, I'm pleased to let people know, as we move around the world we go out as 'team Australia' to fight for our country. It should be the same case with trade negotiations and the establishment of trade deals that benefit the country. It doesn't help our cause that the previous government, now in opposition, are going to moan and bleat about what's going on, right now, when they failed, on their own evidence here before the parliament today, when the India and the UK free trade deals are just sitting there waiting to be implemented.
That's, classically, what we saw with this government—so many failures to show up and do the day job of government that's required, to get on with the hard yards of bringing those agreements to fruition, undertaking the necessary work, through treaties and through good conversation behind the scenes, to bring forward a good outcome for Australia.
As Senator Colbeck said, the India and UK trade deals are just sitting there. The former government allowed them to sit there and failed to manage the processes of the government properly to deliver an advantage to this country. Because of that—for that very common phenomenon that we saw with this previous government of sitting on their hands, waiting for things to get done that they were responsible for, that they failed to enact—we are in a situation where we could be at least six months down the track in advancing the India and UK deals.
Senator Farrell spoke also about his work this morning in meeting with the trade ministers of the delegation from the EU—a bigger market we could not hope to deliver a trade deal with. I'm very pleased that the negotiations are no longer being done by those opposite but by Minister Farrell, who will act in the national interest. I know that he'll do everything he can to diminish the partisan nature of the sort of question that we had today. Bipartisanship in these matters is absolutely critical for the success of this country.
In terms of Australia and our free trade, we do need to have a continuing growth of arrangements put into force. At the moment, we've got 16 free trade agreements in force, and I think we can do much better than that as a Labor government who's willing to talk to the key participants and who's willing to show up in this place, do the work here in the parliament and the work in the sessions in between, where we reach out and we work with business, we work with integrity with our partners across the world, to make sure that we get the very best possible outcomes—not just for agriculture but for entire sectors, right across the Australian economy.
We know that it's critical that trade deals with Asia are further enhanced. I have confidence, once again, in Senator Farrell to make sure that the necessary relationships to make those deals work, to make them stick and to enhance them to the benefit of this nation, will be undertaken—65.2 per cent of Australia's two-way trade is with Asian countries. The fact that China was a major partner of trade worth $251.1 billion—
I would like to support the contribution and the motion moved by my friend Senator Colbeck. There is a fascinating fact that I want people to know about. It's a fun fact for kids up there in the gallery to take home and tell mum and dad and ask, 'Did you know this?' When it comes to free trade, how many free trade agreements were signed by the Labor Party when they were last in government? How many were signed? Show us your fingers. How many do you think were signed, school students? I'll tell you how many were signed. It wasn't five, it wasn't four, it wasn't seven, it was zero—a big, fat zero. It was a big, fat, ugly zero. That's how many free trade agreements were signed by the Labor Party when they were last in power. That's just a terrible record when it comes to free trade.
The issue with the Labor Party is that there's a word in free trade that they don't like, and that is 'free'. The Labor Party don't like freedom. They don't like the fact that businesses can get out there and make a buck. They don't like the fact that businesses can get out there, make some money, employ some people and grow the economy. We all like Senator Farrell, but, when he was talking about free trade agreements, he made a Freudian slip. It was a classic Freudian slip because he wasn't talking about negotiating a free trade agreement: it was about negotiating an enterprise agreement.
What we see here is the mindset of the modern Labor Party, which is driven by the union movement. The union movement was the biggest handbrake on the development, signing and ratification of any of the free trade agreements that the previous coalition government signed. We signed free trade agreements with countries all over the world because—guess what?—Australia is an island. We're a trading nation. In Australia we make, produce and manufacture enough food to feed our population plus another 50 million people. We grow enough food in this country for 75 million people, so we need to make sure that food, for those 50 million people, doesn't sit in the warehouses and the paddocks but gets off this country—whether it's via plane, boat or slingshot; I don't care how it gets out of Australia—gets overseas and feeds people overseas.
I don't want to raise it, but we should also remember that the Labor Party is the party who, when last in power, not only did not sign a single free trade agreement but also cut off a country's main supply of protein. A previous senator in this place—the agriculture minister Joe Ludwig—watched a program, and something happened upstairs in his brain, and he cut off the protein supply to Indonesia, one of our most important neighbours for trading and for geopolitical reasons. Because of a TV program, the Labor Party cut off the protein supply to that country. They not only did that but also devastated the cattle industry in Queensland and the Northern Territory. We won't take lessons from the Labor Party and their allies there in the Greens Party, who think food comes from the fridge and it's made by a magical mystery machine—
What is interesting is that a member of the Labor Party has come to the defence of the Greens. We've got the coalition here—this excess of economic dunces. We've got the Greens, who think the money that runs this economy comes from a magical mystery money tree at the bottom of the garden, and then we've got the Labor Party, who thinks money just comes from, I don't know—brown paper bags, if you listen to the New South Wales Labor Party. And that's how you govern the country! Welcome to the new paradigm that is Australia. It is the Labor Party running a protection racket for this mob.
This mob over there don't know where food comes from. They think it comes from the fridge. Guess what? It comes from the farmers and graziers of Australia. What we saw in question time today was a failure of this government to stand up for the farmers and graziers of Australia—those who feed us, who will feed the Asia-Pacific and who will feed the world. What we've got to do, as Australia, is stand up for those who look after us, because without farmers, graziers and all those people in the towns and villages—people from places like where I come from on the Darling Downs—Australia starves. We need a government that stands up for them instead of a government who just—
Yes, 'rant'—thank you—that rant from the other side based on some ideological view that they know everything and we know nothing. So much rubbish I just heard, a complete waste of five minutes of my life—and let me tell you that every minute of my life is very important to me. It was a complete waste of five minutes of my life. As my colleague Senator O'Neill was saying, we have a brilliant new minister in Senator Farrell, and—
Well, I am talking him up because I know that Senator Farrell understands agriculture. I know that he understands agriculture, I know that he knows what we're doing and I know that he knows his portfolio area. So I'm happy to build you up as much as I can, Senator Farrell!
But the point is, as Senator Farrell said earlier, that we will continue to do exactly what we said we would do in opposition: we will look after everybody in that supply chain of agriculture. We will do that. There are 16 free trade agreements in force and the Australian government—that's us, you guys; it's us now, not you!—recognises the importance of opening new trade opportunities for our agricultural industries, and we're working really hard with trading partners to do this. Senator Farrell said in his answer that he had met with the European ambassadors today. Great! That's so good. It's amazing that after two months we're off and running, whereas in the nine years—nearly 10 years—when you guys were in government you did bugger all! Bugger all! You did nothing!
He had a meeting: it's called 'consultation'; it's called 'negotiation'. It's not just a meeting, Senator Scarr. It's what leaders of countries and ministers of countries do to come to agreement. You might not understand that; we know your government had a different way of working. Your government was all about the photo-ops and not about the delivery. It was all about announcements and not about any delivery. Your government—
To hear Senator McGrath carry on about something that happened when we were previously in government, 10 years ago—and to hear you guys jump up every question time and take points of order on the fact that we haven't done something in two months, when you had that nine years, is just laughable—the people out there listening will be just falling off their chairs listening to Senator McGrath's rant, knowing how ideological it was and understanding that we on this side are working for the betterment of all Australia. Some of the accusations that Senator McGrath made, quite frankly, I think were disorderly. I understand that the Deputy President did think he was, 'vaguely relevant', and I'll take that point—
Yes, Deputy President, in terms of personal reflections. I'm concerned that Senator Bilyk is going close to the line of reflecting on our Deputy President. She was casting aspersions with respect to whether or not things were disorderly—
Okay, let me lift you up! I'll lift you up. We know how to do the job. We will continue to do the job; Senator Farrell will represent us fantastically, doing the job. I hope you're all feeling a bit more uplifted.
I did note that you were all very quiet in question time until it came to that question, actually. I wondered if you were a bit fatigued—
I'm not surprised you were mesmerised! What a great job Senator Farrell did today, stepping into the breach. It just shows you how good he is, and will continue to be, as the minister!
In 2021, 65.2 per cent of Australia's two-way trade was with Asian countries. In 2021, Australia's top three agricultural exports were wheat, beef and veal, and sheep meat. Senator Farrell is quite competent—more than competent—at being able to understand how free-trade agreements work. He's able to negotiate them and able to come to agreements with other countries—not to stop other countries wanting to deal with us in whatever way, shape or form that we were dealing with them, and not to have us embarrassed on the international stage. I don't think Senator Farrell will do any of that. But let me say that your government certainly didn't mind doing that. Your government was happy to embarrass Australia on the international stage—
The coalition has an excellent track record on developing trade relationships and promoting Australia's interests. One in five Australian jobs is trade related, which is why getting our trading relationships right is so important for the Australian economy—an economy, mind you, which is hurting now more than ever, and the Labor Party do not seem to have the slightest idea what to do about it. However, let's get back to trade, as that's what this motion to take note of answers is about.
When the coalition was in government we implemented nine free trade agreements, from 2013—
I can list them for you, like Senator Birmingham can, if I have time at the end—lifting the share of trade covered by FTAs from 27 per cent under the previous Labor government to over 70 per cent now. That is what you call a commitment to promoting Australia's interests and supporting Australian jobs. What I question is Labor's commitment and ability to protect and promote our interests overseas. Let's look at that.
Prime Minister Albanese recently visited Indonesia and said he wanted to strengthen ties between our two nations. I don't know what he said in those meetings, but it was only a couple of weeks later that President Widodo flew to China to meet with President Xi in Beijing. Clearly, what the Prime Minister was offering was not good enough. Compare that to when the coalition was in government. In February 2020, the same President of Indonesia visited Australia and addressed a joint sitting of parliament where he described Australia as 'Indonesia's closest friend'. We are simply not seeing that sort of commitment or effective engagement—despite Senator Farrell's little powwow this morning—by the Labor Party to support and develop our international trade.
Now, we know Labor like to criticise the coalition government over our handling of the French submarine contract as a rebuttal to that point about how we handle international relations. However, let's not forget that Labor are on the record, in the Hansard, stating that the French program was not keeping Australians safe. In Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade estimates, we heard Labor senators criticise that program over and over again. It was incessant. I won't name all the senators from that side who were doing it, but it was incessant. And, when we did do something about it which acted in the national interest, they criticised us for that. Unfortunately for you lot over there, you can't have it each way. In Senate estimates, Senator Wong—it's a shame she's not here—criticised the French submarine deal quite heavily herself. She said:
That's not keeping Australians safe.
So we see that Labor's criticism of the submarine deal was just a form of cheap political pointscoring, which truly came at a cost to our national interest. And that's what has impacted the EU free trade agreement—nothing that we did when we were in government. The coalition government acted and took the necessary steps to keep Australia safe, and, out of that, the AUKUS agreement was born. Those in government now like to pretend that they would have handled it better; however, there is no truth to that, and it's on the record from Senate estimates.
The reality of the situation was that we recognised that the French were not delivering on the submarines, and, when Senator Reynolds was Minister for Defence, she initiated monthly phone calls to try and get the program back on track. When the French could still not deliver, we did what was best for Australia and our national security and made arrangements to acquire capability that would protect Australians. Those opposite would not have been able to accomplish such a feat. And we still worry that they're going to screw up the AUKUS agreement. They're making horrible noises about defence and how they're going to change it. A review from a previous defence minister has all the hallmarks of just shifting a few things around on the noticeboard. Let's see what they can actually do. So far it's clear to everyone that their record is far from stellar.
Question agreed to.