Constituency Statement – Importance of Free Trade Agreements
Mr PITT (10:35): As everyone in this room knows, Australia is a trading nation. We sell what we grow, make and produce to the world. Last year Australian exports grew by 7.9 per cent, three times faster than the remainder of the Australian economy. Our success is underpinned by competitive export industries tapping into huge export markets, particularly across the Asia-Pacific region.
Queensland, my home state and yours, Mr Deputy Speaker Buchholtz, is a trading state. Exports were worth some $70 billion to the Queensland economy in 2016, and trade supports nearly 500,000 jobs in the sunshine state. More than 70 per cent of Queensland exports in 2016 were to countries with which Australia holds a free trade agreement. The macadamia industry, for example, at Bundaberg, in my electorate of Hinkler, is the largest macadamia growing region in Australia now—it has just taken over from northern New South Wales. The Australian macadamia industry is worth more than $200 million annually, and 70 per cent of macadamias are exported to more than 40 countries. On 1 January this year the tariff for shelled macadamias was cut to six per cent under the KAFTA—the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement—and almost $10 million worth of macs were exported to Korea between January and September 2016. This is just one example of the benefits of trade, yet this industry and many others are at risk because the Queensland Premier and her Minister for Housing and Public Works are saying that the free trade agreements that Australia worked hard to secure are not worth the paper they are written on. The Premier said:
In an Australian first, cabinet has agreed the state government will no longer be constrained or bound by free trade agreements.
That is an outrageous statement. Another minister said:
We’re breaking the government’s trade agreements—and they aren’t happy. But I couldn’t give a toss.
I’d like to see him say that to the hardworking exporters throughout Queensland, particularly in regional Queensland. I don’t think that’s an appropriate opinion for a government minister to hold at all.
Every commitment on government procurement Australia has ever made in free trade agreements involving Queensland has been made with the written support of the Queensland government, but it does seem there are some differing views within the Queensland Labor government, with the Treasurer stating just the other week:
There’s a suggestion that we are breaching our free trade agreements and that’s not the case.
Which one do we believe? Do we believe the Premier or the Queensland Treasurer? If we renege our on our side of these deals, why should others not renege on theirs? Some $70 billion worth of exports out of Queensland are at risk. That is jobs in regional Australia and jobs in my electorate, particularly in Hinkler. What do we say to those nations? Is Queensland going to hold their end up or not? We need to ensure that we meet the agreements we have signed. What happens to the agricultural worker, the locomotive driver, the person who works at BP, who is on the road where the drive in/drive out operators continue to go, who feeds many shifts of workers, whether they’re in mining, resources or air-conditioning? Their jobs rely on trade. The Queensland Premier should absolutely make her position better known. We need to support the agreements we’ve signed.