Reply to the the Trade Estimates Committee 2020
You can find the transcript below:
I would like to turn now to Estimates Committee B, trade and investment. This is the first time the Minister for Trade and Investment, a new minister, has participated in estimates. I once was a new minister, so I know the preparation that goes in so that you are ready to go. But I have to say, given that our state faces one of the biggest trade shocks in recent history, I was incredibly disappointed by the response from the minister. By all accounts, he is a lovely person and he is a dedicated person. What I did not see was urgency, what I did not see was attention and I did not see a minister who sees that we have a trade sanction before us and that we need to respond. It just was not there.
I am very concerned about that because, when I said to him, 'How many jobs are supported by exports in South Australia?' he did not know. I said, 'How many direct clients does this department support?' and he did not know. What is our plan to deal with this pending crisis? We do not have one. We heard over the weekend that things got far worse than we ever imagined for our wine sector because of an up to 212 per cent tariff. Our premium wines that we export from South Australia and that are much loved in China have been punished. My concern about this is that we had already seen activity against beef, barley, timber and lobster. We knew that this was pending when they were looking at the fact that China believed we were dumping. This was pending, but there is no action and no activity.
When this news came out on Friday, the Labor leader and I called for an urgent task force for those people in wine exports, but we have seen no announcement here. I am really not surprised, given the types of answers and commentary we heard during estimates. Two former ministers were sitting in that estimates committee: the member for Chaffey and the member for Schubert. Frankly, I think they were surprised. While there was information about programs and things they had done, there was no detail about the brief and the pending issues that face us in trade. I think they were surprised at the lack of detail.
The minister said he has had some conversations with the consul and he has written a letter. What we need is urgency, being proactive. What is it that our wine exporters need from us? Do we need to make sure that every South Australian family has a bottle of South Australian wine on the table at Christmas? Do we need to make sure that the storage challenges for these exporters are supported? Do you even know what their needs are right now? I got none of that clarity, none of that information, from estimates.
We talked about the International Freight Assistance Mechanism. We did some good work here—it was started when our rock lobster industry was impacted back in January—and we welcome that assistance to get the airfreight moving, but we have questions. Will this continue? Has the federal government committed to continuing that mechanism or are they going to ask us, as a state, to step up and contribute?
The other area I asked questions about was trade offices. This was a very fundamental, core policy of the Marshall Liberal government when they came to government in 2018. These trade offices, a little smaller than intended, have rolled out: we have five more this year. However, what is the point of a trade office if we do not actually have a plan, a strategy, for engagement in that country? The minister was asked, in estimates, what trade strategy documents we had.
Previously we had a very, very thorough China strategy and an India strategy, to name just two. They were formed with the involvement of many people in South Australia who were interested in these areas. I would almost go as far as to say they were bipartisan documents, those trade strategies; however, because of the vendetta they were ripped up. Now it seems that our only trade strategy is the opening of a trade office. I say to members that the opening of a trade office is not a strategy: it is an office, mostly with Austrade. More work needs to be done to make sure we are truly engaging in those regions.
This was the first time the minister was here. I have to say, I somewhat missed the former minister from the other place, the Hon. Mr Ridgway, because if there is one thing I know about him it is that he is a straight shooter. It was actually his data earlier this year in July that told us that 79,000 South Australians were employed in export. That is about 11 per cent of the state's workforce, which means that 11 per cent of the state's workforce is at risk because we do not have a plan about how we are going to deal with these trade sanctions going forward.
It is a huge part of our economy. Just the other week the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership was signed. This is a fundamental time in Australia's history, to sign this agreement with 15 different nations. We signed this agreement, yet here in South Australia we do not have a plan to deal with that new economic partnership. You have to do the work, and you have to be clear about how we are going to benefit from that new opportunity.
What I took from both Estimates Committee A with the Premier, focusing on tourism, and Estimates Committee B with the Minister for Trade and Investment, is that it seems this government, the Marshall Liberal government, has run out of steam. I know it is a tough time and there is a global pandemic, but there is a lack of urgency and a lack of attention and decisions are being made without a plan. It is simply not good enough. Let's remind ourselves that the tourism industry employs more than 40,000 South Australians and that the trade industry employs more than 79,000 South Australians. We need urgent action to make sure we save these jobs.