Consideration in Detail - China Trade

By Matt Keogh MP

09 November 2020

I join with the minister for resources and northern Australia in thanking our resources workers for the great work they have done in very trying and difficult conditions to provide the economic engine room to support our nation to ensure that it is not in an even worse economic position than it currently finds itself in.

On behalf of those workers, there are some issues I need to raise in respect of the resources industry because Labor has said for a long time now that the Morrison government has lacked a cohesive overall policy position on Australia's relationship with China, instead outsourcing its commentary effectively to its backbench. This approach is now leaving Australia vulnerable.

In recent weeks we've been hearing increasing and concerning reports about our trade relationship with China. Our relationship with China is increasingly complex and must be managed in the national interest. Australia must stand up for itself and our national integrity. The economic security of our nation is fundamental to the security of our nation as well. So, it is of great disappointment to me that the minister for resources has indeed now left the chamber while I'm raising this very important issue.

It is clear that the Morrison government has no plan to address the escalating concerns of Australian exporters which are leaving Australia, and especially Western Australia, economically vulnerable. This is a $149 billion trade relationship that is now at risk. While much of that trade is in agricultural produce, resources such as coal have been affected and there are persistent rumours of impacts on iron ore out of Western Australia. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of Western Australian jobs that are at risk and even more across the country.

China is Western Australia's largest merchandise export market. Western Australia exported some $96.1 billion worth of goods to China last year with the top exports being iron ore, petroleum products and gold—all resources. I ask the minister—or I would if he'd stayed in the chamber: what is it that he and this Morrison government are doing to support our resources industry and its trade and the businesses that rely on it and the employees that rely on them?

We don't want diplomacy via press conferences or backbench outbursts. What we want to know is: are there measured, diplomatic and productive conversations being held with Chinese counterparts to solidify our vital trade relationship?

In today's Australian we read that businesses involved in this $149 billion export trade to China are urging the government to find a circuit-breaker to mend this relationship. Can the minister guarantee Australian traders and exporters to China—and promise all Australians whose jobs rely on these exports—that these goods won't be blocked on arrival? Given the ongoing tensions with our largest trading partner, why has the government only just realised that diversification is important? Why has the government failed to support Australian exporters to diversify their markets? Why has the government walked away from its commitment to boost market access across India? What we as a nation want to know is: how is this unrest affecting the budget bottom line? Is the government having diplomatic, adult conversations with its Chinese counterparts, and what is this government doing to support industry, our economy, our economic security and our national interest?