Simon Birmingham: The West Coast region of South Australia is an export powerhouse for Australia. It’s a region that with the grains sector, seafood sector, tourism industry, is one that generates so much income for our state and our nation. In doing so, supports so many jobs and I’m thrilled to be back here today with Rowan Ramsay and Peter Treloar, and having the opportunity to hear from many important businesses. And I’m doing so at the same time as announcing a review of the operation of the Export Market Development Grants program. This is a 40-year-plus program, it has been accessed by around 50,000 small and medium businesses through its life to help them export goods and services to the world, and it’s a critical program that we spend around $160 million a year on at present. And what I want to make sure is that for businesses like this one, Western Abalone, that the Export Market Development Grants help them to be able to grow the value of their exports, expand the markets they export into, and overall create better outcomes for Australian industry.
A big part of our focus as a government has been on growing the opportunities for Australian exporters. That’s why we’ve done trade deals with Japan, Korea, China, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All of it opening up new opportunities for our exporters, reducing tariff barriers for critical goods. If we look for example at the southern Bluefin tuna, and we’ve managed to get tariffs into the Japanese market more than halved and ultimately they will be eliminated under the deals we’ve done. And with the EMDG review, what we want to make sure is that it is delivering the maximum, most effective support for Australian exporters to be able to take advantage of these trade deals, grow the value of their exports, and create more job opportunities for more Australians.
Journalist: And what is the timeframe for the review?
Simon Birmingham: This is a review that we want to have back to government by March next year. So we want to keep it short and sharp, very focused to make sure that there are none of the $160 million unnecessarily wasted on bureaucracy or administrative costs, either by business or by government. That it’s targeted to get the best possible value for taxpayers’ investments, because taxpayers want to see those dollars growing our exports, growing the value of those exports and creating more export jobs. Our ambition is- as the government is to see another 250,000 jobs created in Australia from exports. Many of those can exist in regions like the West Coast of SA, and our determination is to leverage every possible point to keep the growth in exports going. As a country we already have our exports at record levels and have recorded record trade surpluses. Many people think that Australia probably still imports more than we export, but the truth is we’re now routinely recording trade surpluses month after month, exporting more than we import and we want to make sure we keep the value of those exports growing.
Journalist: And talking about exports as well, we’ve had discussions around setting up a hydrogen facility here, Minister, and exporting to markets overseas especially the Asian market. Is that an exciting thing for the government to see?
Simon Birmingham: The potential in areas like hydrogen is amazing. That’s why we have backed states and territories to work together with the federal government in developing a national hydrogen strategy. Australia’s Chief Scientist Doctor Alan Finkel will deliver that strategy to Government in the next couple of months, and we hope from that to be able to seize every opportunity to explore how the hydrogen industry might be able to take it on. I’ve had discussions with possible international investors in Singapore, Korea, Japan about their interest in investing in hydrogen developments in a country like Australia. And they’re interested because we have of course a decades long record of being a reliable, affordable supplier of energy to global markets, particularly those in North Asia, and hydrogen is a potential clean fuel for the future that we could similarly supply in a reliable, affordable way, leveraging the huge potential of green energy in parts of the world, like the West Coast of SA.
Journalist: And where else are you visiting on your trip here today?
Simon Birmingham: So, looking forward to getting out to Coffin Bay, seeing the amazing tourism experiences available there and the oyster sector, but also the product innovation happening there, talking to tuna fishermen – as I have to the grains sector – as well as of course to state and local government representatives. There’s plenty for a Trade and Tourism Minister to hear, learn, and understand in a region like Port Lincoln and surrounds, and that’s why it’s a packed agenda that Rowan’s got me on for the day.
Journalist: Are you going to get a taste of some of our seafood?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I hope that I’ll get the chance not just to see seafood packed for export, but maybe to steal a little taste on the way through.
Journalist: So, the review – what are the first steps that you’ll be taking to do the review?
Simon Birmingham: So, we’ve appointed a review panel and the review panel- well, the review is led by a wonderful McLaren Vale based winemaker in South Australia from Zontes Footstep; she’s going to be complemented and assisted by two expert advisors who come from diverse parts of the Australian export sector and the services sector, as well as health products, recognising that we have a real diversity of businesses who have a foothold in exports and the interest in getting EMDG grants working as effectively as possible. And they will go out and undertake a period of public consultation, no doubt release certain discussion documents and invite submissions as part of that, and then ultimately will feed back into government, as I say, by March of next year. But my message to exporters and wannabe exporters is that they ought to participate in this review, take a look and think about how they have used EMDG grants previously or might have liked to use them, how they think it could be done more efficiently or effectively, and give us frank and fearless advice on that so that we can gear this scheme to get the best possible results for Australian exports.