Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (15:20): I rise with the pending state budget coming up tomorrow. I hope my fears will be alleviated when the budget is handed down because my fear is that the Minister for Trade and Investment may be Champion by name but he is no champion for trade and investment here in South Australia and neither is his government.
If being proactive and on the front foot in fighting for trade and investment opportunities in South Australia and having vision, foresight and a plan were a race, the minister would barely qualify for the participation award and his government are the equivalent of a hurdle.
On trade and investment, the contrast between the former government's vision and plan and theirs is clear. We went to the last election with a tested and clear plan. We successfully opened trade offices that put South Australia in good stead, and we would have opened more trade offices to drive trade and investment growth in our economy.
We were in the throes of opening a Paris trade office for the European Union export market and had further committed to opening offices in Germany, India and South-East Asia. In their first 100 days of this government, the minister and the government cancelled a critical trade office, taking an unnecessary back step on trade and investment for South Australia and returning us to the former years of the Labor government with investment and trade—returning us to the former years of Labor government ministers travelling on junket trips and defunding trade offices.
Which trade office did they cancel? Of course, it was Paris, of all places. At a time when the Australian-European Union Free Trade Agreement is being negotiated, South Australia is walking away from an absolute golden opportunity. The decision to cancel the Paris office and retreat from the European Union entirely was economically reckless and seriously short-sighted and shows the risk this minister and his government pose to South Australia's economy.
But allow me to remind this house of what the minister said in recent estimates about opening trade offices. When asked about the decision to cancel the Paris-based EU trade office, the minister said, 'We are confident we can service that market from London.' This is a country that has just left the European Union after a rather tumultuous breakup, so where is the vision?
This was not just a once-off; rather, it was reiterated several times, with the minister saying, 'We believe that all of Europe can be serviced and dealt with through our substantial office in London.' We have an agent-general in London who is on three days a week; if we are serious about gaining traction on free trade agreements with the United Kingdom, give him a full-time job and allow him to do his work as it should be. Again, we listened to the minister's rhetoric: 'That has not been entertained by the government.' Again, where is his plan?
While it is extraordinary to learn that the minister and the government never entertained the idea of new trade offices, it is frightening to come to the realisation that they never had any foresight or vision or even a plan. Considering they knew at the time that Australia was pursuing a European Union free trade agreement, yet deliberately took the opening of new trade offices out of the budget, this is nothing more than an economic policy brain fart.
Shockingly, the minister twice characterised this decision to cancel the trade offices as a 'savings measure'. Cancelling trade offices, and intentionally not entertaining the idea of any new offices, was to this minister and this government a cost-saving measure to their budget.
So what does this tell you about their last budget? It tells you that it was a budget of missed opportunity. It tells us that it was a budget where the needs of South Australian exporters were not duly considered. Given their apparent backflip on trade offices—I should say concessions that the Liberal Party policy was the right one to begin with—it leaves a big question mark over their upcoming budget. What else are they not entertaining?
My fear for the upcoming budget is that the trade and investment portfolio is a lead economy driver. It is a lead agency that will grow our economy. It gives our small businesses the opportunity to become large businesses. It gives business the opportunity to have that connection into our trading destinations, our trading countries.
I must say that a quick search of the department's website shows very little in the way of announcements. Why? There is no vision. There is no vision in the trade and investment minister's thinking. I am very concerned, as this is a very important economic portfolio, and this minister is hellbent on sticking with his planning reform and has no interest in the economic reform that South Australia so desperately needs.