THE Gillard plan to boost exports is a double-edged sword, writes DAN TEHAN
Last year Prime Minister Julia Gillard set out a typical grand Canberra plan showing how she would set Australia up to expand trade into the Asian century.
Last month I attended a meeting with 600 concerned dairy farmers in western Victoria.
They argued the cost of doing business was pricing them out of Asia.
It is a common refrain.
There is a basic point here.
What concrete action is the Gillard Government taking to help Australian exporters and farm producers to build markets in the Asian century?
Take Victoria's dairy industry.
It is one of the most competitive in the world and continues to look for innovative ways to improve its productivity.
However, the competition is still tough.
European and US producers are supported by huge subsidies.
Whereas Australian dairy farmers, due to award restrictions, now have to employ someone for a minimum of three hours to help with a morning milking that may only take 1 1/2 hours.
They are also facing escalating electricity costs thanks to the carbon tax and have to deal with never-ending reams of green and red tape.
We can still compete, but only if we ensure our industry is competitive.
So how effective is the backup in Canberra for fostering this competitiveness in the Asian Century? In the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the Prime Minister gave Craig Emerson, Minister for Trade and Competitiveness and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Asian Century Policy, a political assistant MP Kelvin Thomson.
In recent years Mr Thomson has actively supported a number of measures that reduce trade and harm exports.
He was among the first to call for a ban on live cattle exports after the Four Corners expose and even after the untold damage that was done to our northern cattle producers he continues to advocate for a ban.
He strongly supported the bogus Bill to ban imports of illegal timber - bogus because there are few such imports.
All MPs understand the need to represent their local constituents.
Mr Thomson clearly knows what voters in his Green-inclined inner city electorate want but he shows little understanding of what Australian farmers and export businesses need.
Given Dr Emerson is struggling to build Australia's trading interest in the Asia-Pacific region, why then did the Prime Minister select an MP who supports action to limit exports?
Either the Prime Minister's judgment has badly let her down, again, or she wants to draw as many voters away from the Greens in an election year.
Put simply, Mr Thomson is either another bad mistake or a dangerous political decoy.
We do not have to default to the anti-trade attitudes of the Greens.
There is a better way to address problems in other countries with animal welfare and illegal logging issues.
The answer is to offer to work with them to solve the domestic issues that foster these problems, not engage in heavy handed, self-destructive strategies to ban their trade and foster ill-will.
Already Indonesian senior government figures are muttering about retaliatory restrictions on Australian exports from our recent actions.
They have reportedly slashed the quota for Australian beef imports.
Is Ms Gillard seriously going to send Mr Thomson to fix this mess?
It's high time Ms Gillard realised out-bidding the Greens by backing anti-growth policies is crippling Australia's ability to benefit from the Asian century.
- Dan Tehan is the Liberal MP for Wannon