MP’s free trip overshadows trade deal
QUEENSLAND'S disaster-struck cattle farmers are set to be the big winners out of a trade deal to be signed with Indonesia today, but the Federal Government has come under fire for sending retiring Gold Coast MP Steve Ciobo along at taxpayer expense.
Tariffs will be immediately halved - and wiped out within five years - for frozen beef and sheep meat, while cattle farmers get a duty-free import of up to 700,000 head, putting money back in farmers' pockets.
But it has been partially overshadowed by an unusual move - the late inclusion of Member for Moncrieff Steve Ciobo being sent on the mission with the Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.
It follows talk in government ranks he was not happy to stand down as Defence Industries Minister after he announced on Saturday he would not contest the next election.
Mr Ciobo was the trade minister who secured the vast bulk of the Indonesia free-trade agreement and was specifically invited by the Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita, but has not held that position for six months.
Mr Birmingham said the free-trade agreement, to be signed today, was a big win for Queensland farmers who would get better access to the huge Indonesian market.
"Whether it's the beef producers in Burdekin River catchment or the grain growers of southern and central Queensland, under this new deal there will be more opportunities for our farmers to sell their produce and be more competitive overseas," he said.
Queensland's trade with Indonesia is worth $2.48 billion annually, while the state's live cattle trade with the Pacific neighbour is worth $152 million and frozen meat worth $132 million a year.
But Labor's expenses spokesman Senator Don Farrell said the Prime Minister needed to explain why a backbencher needed to go on a taxpayer-funded trip to sign an FTA.
"Is there a valid reason that Steven Ciobo needs to go, or is it just a taxpayer-funded farewell tour for the latest Liberal to give up," he said.
Mr Ciobo said he worked hard for two and a half years before finally concluding it in August last year.
"Minister Lukita wrote personally insisting I attend and reflecting on our countries strong relationship," he said.
National Farmers Federal general manager Pru Gordon said even though many cattle farmers in Queensland lost huge quantities of stock in the floods, and others were struggling with drought, the deal would still benefit them in the medium to long term.
"While they may not be able to service it immediately or in the short term, that access to the market will remain," she said.
Former Trade Minister Andrew Robb similarly attended the signing of a trade deal with Singapore just over two months after stepping down as trade minister.
Mr Ciobo stepped down as a Cabinet minister just one day before jetting off.