TRANSCRIPT OF SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK
SPEECH TO SEAFOOD TRADE ADVISORY GROUP, CANBERRA
26 NOVEMBER, 2014
Thank you very much for the invitation to be here. I have to say it is an absolute delight to be here having just finalised the China free trade agreement on the back of the South Korean free trade agreement and the Japanese free trade agreement. It's been a pretty significant year for us with the work that we've been doing in trying to open up markets for industry and provide new opportunities for export.
We now have the prospect of an additional free trade agreement with India, which was part of the conversation the Prime Minister had with Prime Minister Modi when he was here last week. It really does put us in a situation where there is significant opportunity for Australian industries across the board, but particularly for the seafood industry into some key markets.
I have to say I was absolutely delighted with the result we were able to get in the China free trade agreement and it really helped that you as an industry had a well organised and structured case to present to Minister Robb and he was fantastic in actually seeing that through. There was a never a time where I went down to see him or his staff where he wasn't prepared to have a conversation and I remember asking him at a meeting earlier before the final announcement was made, I asked him 'how is seafood going?'. He just looked at me and smiled and said 'pretty good'. So to see the result that we got at the end of the day is really good.
For an industry that's built off the back of strong fisheries management and a sustainable fisheries system, it's really important that we get the best value out of our markets. So the conversations that we've been having with industry over a long period of time, particularly around access to the Chinese market are very important.
I need to acknowledge the work that was done by the former Trade Minister Craig Emerson, who did everything that he could to assist with access into the market in China prior to the signing of the free trade agreement. He did do some good work and he did acknowledge that there were some issues that needed to be managed around the supply chain and supply chain management. Hopefully now that we've got a situation that within four years the seafood industry will be tariff free into that market, it can actually take some of the anomalies out of the trade going into China and we can start to reap the benefits.
The really pleasing thing for me was that on the signing of the South Korea free trade agreement the increased interest of the South Koreans in our product, and them starting to come and have a look at what we had to offer and the impact that it started to have on prices. Because we have a high quality product, because we have good fisheries management that can ensure a sustainable supply high quality product. We just heard the discussion about ensuring food safety and particularly in China that is the front of mind issue in that market; safer food products in China is very much a key focus. So we're in a situation now where we can start to look towards normalising that market and I think that's great news for everybody, because we don't want to have to deal with some of the things we've had to deal with over recent years.
Of course the work that we're doing in opening up trade is part of the broader work that we're doing in managing the economy more generally. We're working very hard to try and take out cost and that's across the economy. That was a key reason that we wanted to remove the carbon tax, to take that cost off the Australian economy that wasn't being imposed on other economies around the world and put disadvantage on our industry in Australia. It wasn't just a simple philosophical argument, because we still are committed to doing what we need to do around climate change, but it was about the cost that was imposed on the economy. I know the fishing sector felt that as much as anybody else.
There are a number of other things we're looking to do as well. We've got a significant deregulatory regime and I have to say I'm just delighted with the work that AFMA is doing in looking to find ways where it's easier to conduct business and wherever it is possible to remove costs. It's very important that we take the cost of government to business to its lowest possible level. That's a key element and a key theme that runs through the government.
Josh Frydenberg as the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary has responsibility for that work and I can tell you he's pretty fierce in his chasing down any opportunity that he can find to reduce cost to all industry. So, the department of agriculture has a very ambitious budget for red tape cost reduction, it's going to be very difficult to meet but there is a lot of work going to actually achieve that.
I've talked a couple of times about the sustainability of our fisheries and I think one of our big achievements as industry and as regulators through government is the status of our fisheries at the moment, where we have no solely Commonwealth managed fishery subject to overfishing. We all know we've had to make some hard decisions around a lot of those things and at times that has tested the relationship, but I think it's a testament to our fisheries management and industry that we've found ourselves in that situation. It's something that we should be proud of. We continuously hear from those who want to have a crack at our industry, about the disaster stories that come from around the globe, but we've got a fantastic story to tell from Australia. We ought to be proud of that story and we shouldn't be backwards in coming forwards and talking about it, we really should be out there telling the story of how well managed our fisheries are in the country.
To try and work more closely with the state governments, I'm meeting with as many state ministers as I can get around the table next month to start talking about issues that overlap between state and commonwealth and starting to try and take out some of the regulatory burden there where possible. We've got a very full agenda and there is very strong buy-in particularly at this stage through our officials between the state and the commonwealth fisheries, there's been a lot work happening in preparation of that meeting next month. So we continue to work hard to try and take cost out of the system to deal with some of the state and commonwealth jurisdiction matters that overlap and impact on the way that you access the fisheries. I'm genuinely confident of good results. The officials are telling me there are some good opportunities.
One of the things I think we really do need to consider is global consumption of seafood. You see particularly in our key markets how that is continuing to grow, and how we actually meet that task I think is going to be a challenge for us as a country. Obviously we've got well managed wild catch fisheries but they do have their natural limits and we have to manage around that.
I think there's also enormous opportunity for us to develop in the aquaculture space and one of the things we've been working on is to develop, in conjunction with the states, a national aquaculture strategy. We've got a statement out there already that was launched earlier in the year and we'd like to be able to work on that because when you consider the pool of the globe's protein that comes from seafood, to replace that with terrestrially grown protein or grass fed protein would require clearing the world's rainforests 22 times over. It's not possible to replace that resource, so we need to continue to manage it well but the growth in demand for seafood is something that's going to be in front of us for a considerable period of time.
So the development of aquaculture in this country is something that I think is going to be very important for us all. We've got a couple of states in particular that are doing exceptionally well, but the growth and the demand I think will mean that we all have to lift our game significantly in respect of that part of the development of the industry.
The other thing that's coming up on the back of the other free trade agreements is the Trans Pacific Partnership and that brings in a whole range of South East Asian nations and I think opens up further opportunity for us as well. There is obviously a lot work to do there and I think the relationship between the United States and Japan is going to be pivotal in getting a result for a free trade agreement. We're hopeful that the work that's being done there, probably off the back of the success that we've had in our free trade agreements over recent times. I was talking with the agriculture councillor from the United States last night and I can tell you that they're not overly happy. Tony Abbott came away from Japan with a free trade agreement and Barack Obama arrived there a couple of days later and came away empty handed. So Andrew Robb's achievement in getting that free trade agreement with Japan is something that is absolutely significant.
I'm happy to take some questions, so rather than me talking about what I want to tell you, you might prefer the opportunity to ask me some questions and hear what you really want to hear.
Can I thank you for the invitation, it's a pleasure to be here to open the conference and I'm happy to hand the floor over to you guys. Thank you.