Export Control Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020

Mr BRIAN Mitchell: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Zimmerman. The Export Control Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020 is a pretty technical bill. Members can read the details at their leisure, and I point to the shadow minister, who gave a very good precis of it. In a nutshell, it's intended to ensure that Australia has the regulatory settings needed to grow exports and drive higher productivity, something that we'd all like to see. This bill will give some certainty to our farmers and the wider agricultural export industry, which have suffered some pretty big whacks under the incompetent management of this government.

Labor does understand the value of our regions and our farmers. That's why we support the National Farmers Federation's goal to grow the value of agricultural products to $100 billion by 2030. It's a goal the government shares, but which, frankly, it is not doing enough to advance. Members can learn more about that tomorrow afternoon when I deliver the dissenting report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources inquiry.

An honourable member: I'll be here for that.

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL:  Thank you. In my home state of Tasmania, agricultural production is worth $1.6 billion annually. It's a sector that directly employs about five per cent of my state's workforce. Farmers are used to dealing with uncertainty all the time in all manner of ways, but they should be able to rely on stable export governance. As the shadow minister quite rightly pointed out, we're just months down the track from this legislation having been passed in the House, and they're already amending it. This is a government that simply can't get the details right the first time. Whether it's the NBN—it doesn't matter what it is, they stuff it up and they have to come back and fix it up. How about, for a change, doing it right the first time?

Farmers have been doing it tough in recent times, thanks to the deteriorating relationship with China, which has resulted in bans and delays, and, of course, the impacts of COVID on global supply chains. There's no doubt that Australia's exports need to get back on track. Labor understands that increasing the value of our agricultural exports is not only a matter of quantity but also a matter of quality. This is especially important in Tasmania. We have built a strong reputation tied to our pristine environment and the excellent products that come from it. Whether it's fruit, vegetables, nuts, seafood, beef, lamb, cheese, beer or spirits, Tasmanian produce sits at the top of the wish list for many buyers around the world. It's vital that our export rules do not get in the way of Tasmania maximising its potential global reach. I know that many Tasmanian producers are trading in bespoke goods in niche industries or are more than holding their own on the world stage in massive sectors such as whiskey and wool. Tasmanian producers are constantly making a clean sweep of national and international awards for excellence. It is the protection of quality that the bill does seek to address. It's vital that we ensure that our agricultural exports maintain the pedigree that is associated with the Australian brand.

A well-regulated export market is the backbone of Australian agricultural production and trade. This bill should ensure that export regulation can adapt to the increased agricultural production we seek while also ensuring quality controls remain in place. By giving more flexibility and clarity to the new regulatory framework the bill will allow our agricultural export industry to be administered with a renewed and modern policy that seeks to boost exports in line with our goals. It's important that our exporters are assessed as fit and proper persons so we know they can best represent Australia through global trade. These amendments seek to clarify this.

Regional communities have faced extreme challenges over the past 12 months. From fire and floods we dived straight into the economic maelstrom of the pandemic. All of it came at the same time as relations with our biggest export partner hit historic new lows. This legislation is a step in the right direction, but there is so much more work that needs to be done to make the most of Australian agriculture.

For this government RMs, moleskins and akubras are part of the uniform, but it is a skin-deep commitment to the country. There's a pinstriped suit under every checked shirt. Those on that side of the parliament are on the side of the banks, not the bush. Farmers don't need talking points from the minister; they need action. Real legislation on agriculture has been sitting on a shelf for more than a year. In October the minister said, 'The government will need to be clear eyed about the task ahead of us.' That was four months ago. What has happened since? What was he even talking about? It was just a meaningless word salad from the government.

Farmers and regional communities are paying the price of the government's failure to show leadership and manage difficult relationships. This bill is at least a start, but in the scheme of things it's a minor set of changes. There is a backlog of agricultural legislation that needs to be brought on and debated and there are ongoing issues in the agricultural industry that need to be addressed. My Labor Party colleagues and I are looking forward to helping our farmers grow agriculture to $100 billion. This bill is a small step in the right direction, but there is not much to show for seven years on the government leather.

Farmers and regional communities deserve better. That brings us to the shadow minister's second reading amendment. You would have to be living under a rock to not notice the crisis facing many of our farmers in their battle to get fruit off the vines and vegetables out of the ground this year. This was an entirely foreseeable problem. Labor and farmers were warning the government in March last year. It was foreseeable that we would need workers on site. As the quarantining measures started to come in and the lockdowns started around the world we could see in March last year that we would need measures in place to ensure that there would be workers to pick the fruit and get the vegetables out.

We on this side make no bones of it. We would much prefer to see Australian workers doing this work—absolutely—but we know the reality is that to date most of the work is done by overseas workers, whether they are backpackers on visas or seasonal workers from the Pacific. The holiday-maker visas have pretty much dried up, for obvious reasons we don't need to go into here, but there was scope for the government to get its act together over the year to make sure that the seasonal program could run. All it had to do was talk to its state ministers, talk to the Pacific nations, make sure there were flights ready, make sure there were quarantine facilities ready and make sure that the workers could get here and be appropriately quarantined so that they could get out onto the farms. It was a pretty simple process for a national government to manage, and they absolutely stuffed it up every step of the way. They left it far too late, despite warning after warning about the need to get workers on the ground. They absolutely messed it up.

Now, as the shadow minister said, there is $43 million of food rotting in the ground as a result. We hear reports of farmers unable to get the labour they need and just turning it back over. It's the most expensive green manure you will ever see. It was entirely foreseeable, and they could have fixed it, but they absolutely stuffed it up. And, of course, what we've seen from the member for Nicholls today and the minister and the government more generally is they're just trying to duckshove this onto the states, onto the premiers. They're blaming the premiers and the national cabinet, never taking any responsibility themselves, for the fact that, under the Constitution, this government is responsible for quarantine. There should be a national scheme, and there should be national quarantine. The Prime Minister should be taking the lead. Instead he sits back and takes all the credit when things go right but none of the responsibility. It's an absolute disgrace.

I fully support the shadow minister's second reading amendment. I think, frankly, if the National Party in this place have any guts, they will support the second reading amendment too. They are supposed to be the party for farmers and regional communities, and the shadow minister's second reading amendment goes straight to the heart of the issues they are meant to be representing in this parliament. The fact is that this government has utterly failed the farmers of this nation by not managing to ensure that we have enough seasonal workers to do the work.