Some readers might remember The Modest Member, the late Bert Kelly. Bert was a grazier from my home state of South Australia who held the seat of Wakefield in the Federal Parliament. He was also my political mentor. I am the Chairman of the Bert Kelly Research Centre in Adelaide, where we support those who advocate the reduction of barriers to entry and the promotion of free trade around the globe.
Australia is indebted to the tireless work of Bert Kelly in attacking the protectionist views of his opponents. It was a lonely, thankless battle for many years. Yet Bert was privately encouraged to keep going by colleagues in his Party, across politics and readers of his Modest Member columns.
Bert visited India and Nepal on a number of occasions and was moved by the Indian and Nepalese desire to buy Australian milk powder. There was only one problem – the Indians and Nepalese didn’t have any hard currency to buy the milk powder because we would not allow them to sell their T-shirts in Australia as it might affect jobs in the textile, footwear and clothing industry.
When I ran for election, I committed to tariff reduction to lower farmers’ input costs – or put another way, freer trade through agreements with China, South Korea and Japan. I am very pleased to see all three agreements have now been signed.
My party, Family First, has a strong family farming rural base. We believe in promoting global prosperity, peace and security through these economic freedom principles: free trade, open markets, deregulation, federalism, minimalist government and encouraging private innovation & entrepreneurship. In other words, getting the government ‘off your back and out of your pocket’. Family First also supports transparency so that the public can make informed decisions, for instance a register of foreign ownership of agricultural land (and, hopefully one day, water also).
The World Bank recently published data showing global poverty levels have more than halved, whilst the poor living on less than US$1.90/day fell from 44% in 1981 to 10% this year – thanks to the same economic freedom principles I have described. Famous foreign aid activist and U2 frontman Bono admitted earlier this month “I’m late to realising that it’s you guys, it’s the private sector, it’s commerce that’s going to take the majority of people out of extreme poverty. And, as an activist, I almost found that hard to say.”
The Coalition Government has now scored a major bonus, sealing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (‘TPP’) with Pacific Rim nations including more access into Japan (including, remarkably, rice exports), and better access to markets in the United States, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, Chile, Vietnam, Peru, Mexico, and Brunei. Respected business commentator Robert Gottliebsen says the TPP is an even greater achievement than the China, South Korea and Japan FTAs. There’s understandable frustration that the TPP fails to break down the U.S. tariff protection walls on sugar, and makes marginal further gains for dairy. However, if the Senate ratifies the China FTA (‘ChAFTA’), we start to catch up on the Kiwis feeding China’s insatiable appetite for the same kind of safe dairy products that Bert Kelly wanted to get to the Indians and Nepalese. Trade momentum is very positive, and whilst there might be angst about missed opportunities, the tariff walls keep falling down.
Despite undeniable progress, Australia still has protectionist and even xenophobic forces who don’t want farmers to access more markets, improve their farm gate returns and feed a growing global population.
Trouble is brewing in the Senate. The CFMEU is running a protectionist anti-ChAFTA advertising and lobbying campaign. Ground-breaking Chinese market access for our farmers is at risk as the CFMEU calls the tune for those they donate to, Labor and the Greens. With just 3 Senate sitting weeks scheduled before year’s end, delay on ChAFTA misses the chance of a tariff reduction before 31 December, postponing farm gate benefits to farmers for another year.
What hope then will there be for the legislation to give effect to the remarkable TPP deal? Senate protectionists rant on about Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses. They hypocritically overlook Labor’s devastating knee-jerk export-ban reaction to the Four Corners exposé on live exports to Indonesia. The live export ban sought by Nick Xenophon and implemented by Labor at the time jacked up Australian sovereign risk and fuelled hunger for ISDS. Pressing on without shame, protectionists ignore government assurances that anti-smoking and environmental laws are not at risk.
Senate protectionism also threatens future agreements with India, Indonesia and the Persian Gulf states.
Readers and voters need to look very carefully at the voting record and protectionist agendas of some parties and independents when it comes to tariff reduction and market access. Your farm gate returns depend on it.