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The First Question Time For 2004

Federal Parliament met today for the first time in the 2004 election year.

Nearly three months into Mark Latham’s leadership of the ALP, Question Time (2pm daily) was eagerly awaited for the clues it might provide to the course of the battle between the 8-year-old Howard government and the Federal Opposition.

  • Listen to Question Time 53m)

The following questions were asked:

  1. Mark Latham to John Howard:
    Would the government support the ALP’s recently announced literacy program and encourage parents to read aloud to their children?Howard referred to literacy and family programs introduced by his government in recent years. He reiterated his support for parents reading to their children and pointed out that one of his own son’s favourite books had been ‘Mr Flip Flop’.
  2. Paul Neville (NP, Herbert) to John Howard:
    Would the PM explain the Free Trade Agreement with the United States? Howard repeated many of his comments from yesterday, saying that the FTA would link Australia to the most powerful economy in the world. He demanded to know why the ALP was opposing it.
  3. Mark Latham to Howard:
    Does the govt support ALP’s plan to reform politicians’ superannuation? Howard turned his response around to a demand that the ALP renegotiate its Centenary House lease to the Commonwealth government, saying this was a rip-off that contributed to the ALP election coffers.
  4. David Hawker (Lib, Wannon) to Mark Vaile:
    How will the FTA create jobs? Like Howard, Vaile reiterated many of the standard arguments about long-term benefits of enhanced access to the world’s largest economy.
  5. Craig Emerson (ALP, Rankin) to John Anderson:
    Why has the National Party agreed to a FTA that disadvantages sugar farmers? Anderson said sugar farmers have lost nothing, would be supported, and that it would have been un-Australian to walk away from the sugar industry, a victim of “corrupt global trading practices”.
  6. Ian Causley (NP, Page) to John Anderson:
    How will the FTA create jobs and other advantages for the Australian economy? Anderson gave a number of examples of metals manufacturing and other “unexpected” advantages for Australian business of the FTA. He referred to a number of country towns which would benefit from opportunities presented by the FTA.
  7. Gavan O’Connor (ALP, Corio) to Warren Truss:
    Is the Minister aware of statements by the US that suggest the government has agreed to dismantling a range of single-desk arrangements. Truss said state Labor governments were dismantling single-desk arrangements.
  8. Alby Schultz (Lib, Hume) to Peter Costello:
    How will the FTA improve prosperity in Australia? Costello attacked the ALP over its attitude to liberalised trade. “You cannot walk both sides of the street”, Costello said, accusing Latham of playing the populist card. He said the agreement protected Australia from excessive investment from the US, whilst providing greater access to Australian investors in the US. He said Australia is a net capital investor into the US economy. “This is important structural reform”, Costello said.
  9. Mark Latham to John Howard:
    Now that sugar is excluded, how can it be argued credibly in multilateral trade negotiations that Australia should have more open access to agricultural markets? Howard disagreed with the central proposition of Latham’s question. He said it was possible to operate on a multilateral level as well as signing up to bilateral agreements. “You get what you can for Australia, whether it is a multilateral or bilateral agreement,” Howard said.
  10. Bronywyn Bishop (Lib, Mackellar) to Alexander Downer:
    What is happening to open up business arrangements with other countries in the light of the FTA? Downer referred to FTAs with Singapore and Thailand that have been signed in recent months. These are supported by arrangements with other Asian powerhouses, such as China. Referring to the Parliamentary Committee on Treaties, Downer said the ALP’s attitude was inconsistent. The ALP had not onjected to FTAs with China and Singapore. Why does the ALP think agreements with Asian neighbours are okay, but agreements with the US are not? Downer said this was part of a pattern of “anti-Americanism” by the ALP.
  11. Craig Emerson (ALP, Rankin) to Mark Vaile:
    Why has the government abandoned the sugar industry? Vaile denied sacrificing the sugar industry and said the ALP had no understanding of international trade negotiations. It was not unusual for particular sectors to be left out of agreements and said the FTA was based on the national interest.
  12. Kay Elson (Lib, Forde) to Warren Truss:
    What are the benefits to Australian farmers from the FTA? Truss said the benefits were enormous, some immediate, some long-term. He listed immediate tariff changes, saying about two-thirds of Australian exports would be tariff-free from day one. Certain dairy products, such as cheese, butter and ice-cream, would have access previously denied. The beef industry would have $22m worth of benefit in the first year. He called on the ALP to remember the benefits their shadow minister had conceded earlier today.
  13. Gavan O’Connor (ALP, Corio) to Warren Truss:
    Is the minister aware of concerns by various farm groups about the FTA, quoting “disappointment” and “amazement” by some groups? ALP inconsistencies amaze me, said Truss, accusing the ALP of “lousy” trade deals when it was last in office. Truss said the National Farmers Federation and other industry groups believe in free trade and could see hundreds of million dollars of advantage in the FTA. He said the beef industry rarely met its current quotas anyway, so improved access to the US market was hardly relevant.
  14. Stewart MacArthur (Lib, Corangamite) to Ian Macfarlane:
    What benefits are there for manufacturing industry in the FTA? Macfarlane said motor vehicle manufacturers would be among the first to benefit, especially in light commercial vehicles, which comprises 60% of all vehicles sold in the US. Macfarlane said various industry lobby groups were supportive of the FTA. He said Latham should get out of the back of the ute, an illegal and dangerous habit that set a bad example for children, and help the car manufacturers produce more vehicles to export to the US.

ABC television stopped telecasting Question Time at 3pm, Sky News stopped a few minutes later, and PNN was broadcasting Senate Questions, so this report concludes about two-thirds of the way through the session.

It is clear that the government’s attack is to portray the ALP as economically irresponsible and ignoring the national interest through what Downer called its “deeply ingrained” anti-Americanism.

The government has lined up a large range of industry organisations and lobby groups to support its Free Trade Agreement.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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