Senator Penny Wong – interjecting on the topic of trade with Israel

photo of Senator Penny Wong
November 25, 2015

Full question

Senator DAY (South Australia) (14:38): My question is also to the Cabinet Secretary, representing the Minister for Trade and Investment. The government is on a roll with its tariff-slashing trade accords with Japan and South Korea, the top two in the Bloomberg Global Innovation Index, plus ChAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Hopefully, we will see a deal with India before too long. I acknowledge that none of this momentum would be possible today were it not for the tireless work of former South Australian MP, the late Bert Kelly. Minister, Israel ranks fifth, ahead of the USA even, on the Bloomberg Global Innovation Index. Israel has free trade deals with the USA, Canada, the EU, Mexico, Colombia and Turkey. What progress is being made on a free trade agreement with the great innovating nation of Israel?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesCabinet Secretary) (14:39): I thank Senator Day for his question. He gave me some notice of this question. I recognise his efforts to promote a more enterprising and a more market driven Australian economy. He mentioned the great Bert Kelly, who was the author—the thought leader—when it came to slashing tariffs and encouraging a less protected Australian economy.

While an FTA with Israel is not currently part of our work program, I think Senator Day raises an interesting point which I will follow up. We have already been pursuing an ambitious trade agenda. I have already mentioned the trade agreements in East Asia. We are also working on a regional comprehensive economic partnership and bilateral free trade agreements with India and are resuming talks with India. But you raise a very good proposal. We look a range of factors, Senator Day, in considering whether to pursue a bilateral free trade agreement. We seek to conclude them with partners who have shared interests in FTAs that are high quality and comprehensive, are generally trade liberalising and which advance our broader objectives, including at the multilateral level through the World Trade Organisation.

It is true that Israel maintains significant tariffs on a range of agricultural and food products. These tariffs on agricultural products were found to be 24.5 per cent compared to 4.2 per cent for non-agricultural products. We are supportive of Israel’s efforts in the WTO and bilaterally to address barriers in agriculture, manufacturing and services. We welcomed the unilateral liberalisation of trade by Israel in areas such as dairy products in 2012. Israel was our 43rd ranked bilateral trading partner in 2014. This suggests that there is a lot of scope to grow that relationship both in terms of trade and investment. Two-way investment stands at $1.4 billion. We can do better than that.

Senator DAY (South Australia) (14:41): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Israel is a world leader in water recycling and desalination and can produce desalinated drinking water at $830 a megalitre—comparable with Murray-Darling water prices in the drought and a third of the $2,400 a megalitre desalination costs in Adelaide. Israel is also a world leader in drip irrigation, which my home state has adopted to improve food production levels and Murray river health. What role will water technology trade play in future negotiations?

Senator Wong: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I read your note to senators, Mr President, which actually addressed the issue of supplementary questions and made the very salient point that the fact that you mention some aspect of subject matter which is the same does not make it a proper supplementary. I would suggest to you that it is not a supplementary question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Wong. I will give the senator an opportunity to rephrase that question, but that question was not a supplementary question to the primary question.

Senator DAY: The final point was: what role will water technology trade play in future negotiations? We are talking about a free trade agreement. What role will water play in free trade?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Day, I will allow that question to stand, as I have in the past. It is borderline supplementary to the primary question. The primary question went into other matters in relation to other countries, not just the water in relation to Israel. But I will allow that to stand on this occasion. I urge all senators to be cautious in the framing of their supplementary questions.

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesCabinet Secretary) (14:43): Water technology could potentially be a strong focus of interest, and I am, of course, someone who is very interested in recycling. Of course, much can be achieved outside of the FTA process. Drip irrigation technology originating in Israel has indeed—

Senator Wong: Tell us about water holdings.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Let’s come to order.

Senator Cameron: Why didn’t you tell him that you couldn’t answer the question?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron!

Senator Lines interjecting

The PRESIDENT: And Senator Lines. Cabinet Secretary.

Senator SINODINOS: Thank you, Mr President. Such technology is a fine example of the benefits of innovation and invention. Israel is to be commended for the energy and effectiveness of its innovation and technology sector. Israel spends an OECD high of 4.2 per cent of GDP on R&D, has the third largest number of NASDAQ listings after the US and China—a remarkable feat for an economy of its size—and has one of the highest start-up densities in the world. In recent weeks, the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, has stated that innovation will, and must be, at the heart of public and private sector activity to drive future growth and prosperity. We have much to learn and share from Israel. That is why, as I mentioned earlier, Israel’s chief scientist, Avi Hasson, is in Australia this week exchanging views and insights with Australian innovators— (Time expired)

Senator DAY (South Australia) (14:45): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. My primary question was: can we have a free trade agreement with Israel? My supplementary was: will water technology play a part of those negotiations? And my further supplementary question is: in what other areas or fields can we collaborate with this great nation of Israel?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesCabinet Secretary) (14:45): Again, I thank the senator for his question. In fact, I remind the senator that for many years the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce has been a highly engaged facilitator of business links between Australia and Israel. I commend them for their many successful delegations and the forging of business links between our two countries. We are always looking for new areas of promise in Israel and elsewhere, as I know the business community is. One of the frustrations has been that we have not always followed up appropriately on those delegations and identified the opportunities and then acted on them. I think the framework you are setting up, Senator Day—through you, Mr President—would be one that would provide an opportunity for us to recognise areas where we could, through other agreements that we could make, collaborate not only on trade and investment but also on the exchange of technology. If it is not already known, I remind the Senate that the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, and, indeed, the Attorney-General, will be travelling to Israel next month— (Time expired)

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