Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Shadow Minister for Social Services
Shadow Minister for the NDIS
Shadow Minister for Housing
Shadow Minister for Homelessness
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Second Reading: Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015, Customs Tariff Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015

Today is an absolute marquee day for this country, and it is therefore a great pleasure for me to speak on the Customs Amendment (China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2015. Economic development and wealth creation in the 20th and 21st centuries have been reliant on two main things. The first is free and freer trade, a development we saw from the mid-20th century and continuing, obviously, to today. The other is, of course, technological improvements. We should never forget that the wealth that Australians enjoy today is because of the hard work of previous generations in breaking down trade barriers and ensuring freer trade. We have been one of the greatest beneficiaries of that of any nation in the world.

Today is an extraordinary day for Australia, and I suspect there are lots of Australians out there—indeed, there might even be members in this House today, most notably some on the other side of the House—who do not appreciate how important this will be for our country for decades to come.

I want to pay tribute first and foremost to Andrew Robb. He has done an extraordinary job in so quickly bringing these agreements to what has been, quite frankly, a very surprising conclusion. Free trade agreements by their very definition are negotiations. In some respects I was not expecting that we would get such a good deal out of China. The fact is that the Minister for Trade has been able to extract an extraordinary deal for this country. Eighty-six per cent of Australian goods will enter China duty-free, for example. That is extraordinary.

I also want to pay tribute to the leadership of our party and to every single backbencher and member on this side of the House, because we have stared down a disgraceful campaign from the union movement with the Labor Party following. Let’s get it on the record that we would not be passing this legislation today had we not stared down that disgraceful campaign from the union movement and those opposite. For the hundreds of thousands of Australians who will get jobs and improved opportunities and for the small business men and women out there who will have a huge market increasingly to work with, I think thanks needs to go to each of the people on this side of the House, who in quite difficult circumstances stared down what we knew was a disgraceful campaign from those opposite. It is great that they are with us. We have brought them along. We dragged them kicking and screaming. So credit where it is due, of course.

My home state of Victoria will be as big a beneficiary as any other state in this country. Victoria exports more than $4 billion worth of goods to China, including around $3 billion worth of goods in agriculture. There will be great gains for Victoria’s farmers and agribusinesses, including those in the dairy industry, beef, sheep, horticulture, seafood, wine and wool. For my electorate of Deakin there will be great opportunities for advanced manufacturers. One business in my electorate—Timbermate, which manufactures putties and fillers—has a great domestic business here in Australia. They do great work with exports to the United States.

Now they will have all tariffs on their goods into China removed. They have already indicated to me that they have now signed agreements with distributors in China in preparation for this agreement coming into force. The minute those trade barriers are removed their market will exponentially grow, because they are at the high end of their market. I have a number of advanced manufacturers in the Deakin electorate who will be exporting premium product to China. They therefore will be expecting a premium price. Trade barriers have made that difficult in the past.

What does this mean? It means more jobs and more opportunities. For young people who have left school and are looking to get a job, this is great for them. For small business people who are looking for emerging markets and are now grasping the opportunities that the digital economy offers, this opens up such a huge market it is quite unfathomable. It is very difficult to quantify. The things we suspect today will be the great aspects of this agreement I suspect will be superseded by aspects that we cannot even envisage. If nothing else, this is going to be an outstanding legacy for our trade minister, Andrew Robb, and for every member on this side of the House.

I will end on a point I have made previously. This agreement would not be in place and would not be coming into force were it not for the fortitude and spine of those on this side of the House who stared down a disgraceful campaign from the union movement. I want every single Australian to understand that. I commend this bill to the House. This is a wonderful day for Australia.

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