11 November 2020

My question on this appropriation expenditure is for the Minister Representing the Minister for Trade. I will start, however, with some irrefutable facts. We all know that Australia is a trading nation. One in five jobs in this country depends on our international trade. It is the Australian government's job to encourage businesses to export their goods and services to the world and to support these businesses in doing so.

It is also the government's role to ensure diversification in trade and to go beyond the mere inking of free trade agreements in this effort. I note the minister's earlier comment of 'collections of FTAs'. It's like they get an FTA done and they then put their feet up and say, 'Job done; no more to do.' But the truth is that, to achieve genuine trade diversification, it takes years of work, decades, often requiring skilled diplomacy and even personal intervention by senior ministers and a prime minister. Previous governments, Labor and Liberal, have managed to achieve all of the above. But we stand here today where it is painfully clear that the Morrison government is failing to do the same. Minister, why does this government have no plan to address the serious concerns being raised by Australian businesses, big and small, about our trading relationship with China? Minister, why have you abandoned our exporters?

Australia has long enjoyed a mutually beneficial trading relationship with China, a relationship that has boosted our national income by hundreds of billions of dollars and created countless thousands of jobs. But much of that is now at risk, and this government has no idea what to do next. It is frozen into inaction. In recent months our grain growers, winemakers, meat processors, coal companies, cotton growers and lobster fishers have all experienced problems getting their goods into China. We have seen media reports in recent days that Chinese authorities are planning to halt imports of even more Australian products. Minister, why is the government ignoring exporters' appeals for leadership?

Many of these exporters have contacted my office and many are now starting to speak out about their concerns in the media. John Orr, director of Premium Grain, in Fremantle told the Sydney Morning Herald last week that he was 'appalled' and really quite angry at the government for its handling of this crisis—he didn't use the word 'quite'. The article went on to say:

''The impact of that is going to destroy thousands of livelihoods and push our economy further into recession,'' Mr Orr said. ''The whole economy will suffer from their incompetence.''

In The Financial Review, it was reported that the Seafood Trade Advisory Group urged the government to restore meaningful dialogue and communication with China in order to resolve the disruption to trade. Wines of WA Chief Executive Larry Jorgensen told The West Australian that he believed nothing more could be done at an industry or agency level. Rather, he said:

It has to be sorted out at the higher ranks of government, which is where the problem originated and where it should be addressed.

David Olsen, the chairman of the Australia China Business Council told The Australian that he believed the government should use the business community to help find a circuit breaker. What an excellent idea.

A lobster fisher from my electorate of Brand emailed the other day to say that he's lost his entire market in China and, in his words, 'The future looks bleak.' Meanwhile Guardian Australia reported that, after Austrade officials held a phone hook-up with agricultural industry reps last Thursday, one of the attendees said:

Quite frankly they didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know. They basically said the relationship with China is poor and it doesn’t look like any chance of that improving in the foreseeable future. The main thing was you need to look to diversify your markets.

Minister, why on earth is the government abandoning Australian exporters and Australian jobs at this time of crisis? Minister, is this really the best the Morrison government can do to help Australian exporters? Minister, why is the government doing absolutely nothing to help exporters to achieve true and genuine diversification in this time of crisis?

The government has completely failed to uphold its bargain in this area. They talk a big game in diversification, yet do nothing. For example, as we have discovered in recent weeks at Senate estimates, the government has implemented just one of the 20 priority recommendations contained in its 500-page India Economic Strategy, released more than two years ago. Minister, why has the government abandoned the Varghese India Economic Strategy? Why has the government not even bothered to appoint a dedicated trade minister to work on resolving this crisis? Right now we know that the 'minister for everything', the honourable Simon Birmingham, is entrusted with doing just about everything for the government. I think it's time that we had a really good look at that and perhaps appointed a minister for trade that could deal with this crisis. Minister, when will your government ever come up with a plan to support our exporters in this crisis? Do you think the best way to address this crisis is to put your head in the sand, pretend that nothing is really happening and just keep repeating the same old line, 'We're really concerned'? It's not helping. Minister, will this government do its job?