Export Control LegislationSpeech
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.Share Tweet