Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Measures No. 4) Bill 2017

I am very pleased to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Measures No. 4) Bill today because some of the measures in this bill are very significant to my electorate in the South West of Western Australia given the number of small and family businesses that have invested year upon year—small businesses that are in rural and regional wine production, in crafted wine production, and of course in the wine-food tourism space. Members in this House would probably know about Margaret River. Margaret River is in my electorate and I’m very proud of that. I’m proud of what they do in Margaret River, one of the premier winegrowing regions of this nation. It is undoubtedly an actual international brand, and it is about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of commercial fine wine making in the modern era.

Margaret River winemaking was started by Dr Tom Cullity. He began his plantings for Vasse Felix winery in Cowaramup in 1967. He was a pioneer in the industry. He based that investment and that confidence on groundbreaking research that had been done by University of Western Australia agronomist Dr John Gladstone. Vasse Felix was followed in the Margaret River region by Moss Wood, Cape Mentelle, Cullen, Sandalford, Leeuwin Estate, Woodlands and Wrights. Of course Vanya Cullen was one of those who did outstanding work in raising Margaret River as a premium brand around the world, and I acknowledge her efforts.

There are over 150 wineries producing outstanding wines, including top-quality chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Margaret River’s wine exports were valued at $27.8 million in 2016—an increase of 18 per cent. And it’s being exported to countries such as China, the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore and Canada. I can see, after being at a Dunsborough Chamber of Commerce event last Friday in Busselton, that more of those wine producers in the region are looking directly at how to take advantage of the free trade agreements and the practical steps they have to take to be able to get the benefits of the reduction in tariffs—those, of course, with Japan, South Korea and China that this government has signed. Importantly, given the measures in this WET rebate bill, there are over 100 actual cellar doors in the Margaret River region that will benefit as a result of the decisions made in this bill.

We also, though, in my South West region, have the Geographe wine region, encompassing areas of Ferguson Valley, Donnybrook, Capel, Harvey and Busselton. We have even more of these wonderful small-to-medium, often family, businesses—the ones that have invested, and they’ve invested in producing a variety of wines and greatly add to the tourism, the wining and dining experiences in the South West. They are wineries such as St Aidan’s, Barrecas, Harvey River Estate and Capel Vale, just to name a few. I know that the Geographe wine region is celebrating 15 years of its very popular wine shows.

The wine equalisation tax rebate enables these types of wineries that I have mentioned—eligible producers like my small-to-medium family independent enterprises—to offset their wine equalisation tax liability. It is so important in my electorate. The rebate was designed specifically to provide assistance to small and medium-sized winemakers as well as to promote tourism in rural and regional areas. It has done exactly that, through increased incentives to open cellar doors and to provide the experience that not only attracts our tourists but retains them in the region. Originally, at the time, the government said that the policy objective was to assist winemakers who make retail sales directly to unlicensed people from the cellar door or via mail order and who use their product in application to own use. It was stated at the time that wine producers form an important part of regional Australia and provide significant employment and tourism benefits. Well, none of that has changed. In fact, they’ve done a great job at it. I know that even Australia’s South West, the regional tourism group, always uses the wining and dining experience in my part of the world as one of the premier regional attractions.

The industry itself, though, along with government, acknowledged that there needed to be tightening of the eligibility rules to prevent the rebate being claimed multiple times on the same wine and to stop double-dipping and overproduction just for that purpose. Of course, this bill introduces changes to address those industry integrity concerns about the WET rebate and to better target—again, bring it back to what it was originally intended to do, which is to support those small-to-medium Australian craft wine producers as originally intended, not the bulk and unbranded.

These changes have been very soundly negotiated with wine growers across the nation. I particularly wish to thank Assistant Minister Senator Anne Ruston, who led the discussions for the government on this matter. The discussions were very extensive, and I commend her for her work. Of course, Senator Ruston came to the Margaret River region in the South West and met a diversity of growers with a range of issues, and she listened to all of those. Much of what we see here is as a result of those consultations and genuinely understanding the positions of those small-to-medium producers.

Senator Ruston herself represents a large wine-growing region as well. I also want to thank, particularly, the members of the industry who made their time available to meet with Senator Ruston and myself for their frankness at the table. It is very important. I acknowledge Wines of WA for their engagement—particularly the Margaret River Wine Association—and the work of Redmond Sweeny, who has been part of this process on an ongoing basis, to make sure the issues that affect the small-to-medium enterprises in my part of the world are represented all the way through the progress of this. The changes in this bill are part of the continuing efforts of the government to strengthen the integrity of Australia’s tax system. We know there are over 2,500 wine producers in Australia, and this will better target the rebate to genuine wine producers who invest themselves in building their brand. They invest in our regional communities. I see them every day. They invest in local jobs. There couldn’t be anything better than that. The measures will stop traders and major retailers from making multiple rebate claims over the winemaking process, which is to the detriment of the Australian wine industry, the work, the effort, the private investment and the passion of our producers.

From 2018-19 the Wine Tourism and Cellar Door Grant program will exist. That’s another measure in this bill. It will allow producers who exceed their cap to access a grant of $100,000 for their cellar door sales. This, again, provides certainty for the wine sold directly to consumers through the cellar door or mail order, which was exactly the original intent of this, particularly once the producers reach the WET rebate cap of $350,000. That allows and will encourage even more investment. A lot of investment is happening on the ground in the cellar doors, because tourists are expecting far more of their experience. Often it involves—sometime sophisticated, sometimes very rural—experiences about the food they consume at the same venue. It’s about the whole experience. That is now what our small-to-medium cellar door wineries need to offer to attract and retain the tourists in this area. We have so many additional experiences for people in our region as well. I’m very pleased about the $50 million the government is providing for wine tourism and export promotion activities. I’m looking forward to what comes out of that, particularly given the free trade agreements signed by this government.

This needs to be used in a way that promotes the fine quality wines that are produced around Australia. As members would understand, I’m very parochial about the product produced in my area. I would think that some of the members in this room have sampled some of that wonderful produce and probably have a great affection and connection not only to the wine but also to the region. That’s what we want. That’s partly what this measure does: it helps to attract and retain tourists in our region. We sell a dream of a fabulous experience. Part of that experience is not just the scenery, a visit to a winery and sampling some of the best quality products in the world; it’s about the different experiences they can enjoy and what they can see and do. This part of the South West is known as the events capital outside of Perth. Barely a weekend goes by without a major event in my region—a range of amazing events, whether it’s the Margaret River Pro surf, the Busselton Jetty Swim or the Margaret River Gourmet Escape.

I thank the minister at the table, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and the government for the $9.78 million invested in the Busselton Margaret River Regional Airport. As you know directly, Minister, this is going to facilitate not only regional tourism but also the freight component for international flights, with people coming in on the top and our wonderful products going out underneath in freight. That is going to be transformative. I have said it repeatedly, and you understand it better than most and have supported that very strongly.

You are coming to my electorate very soon, Minister, and I’m also looking forward to you being directly in touch with some of those wine producers who were at that chamber of commerce event and who see great opportunities in exports and also in dealing with the practicalities of how to engage. I encourage them in that.

I say to members on any side of this chamber: if you haven’t been to the Margaret River and Geographe wine regions then you’ve missed out on a fabulous experience in life. Every member of this House, and every member of the Australian public, needs to fly into the Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport, once it is up and running, and take advantage of the amazing experiences. I would encourage people to do so.

I am very pleased that the measures in this bill actually support, encourage and enhance the investment opportunities for those small, local and often family cellar door businesses that not just have invested a lot of their time, passion and money but, as I said, are providing an incredible and unique experience for people. I would also say that something people sometimes overlook is that they provide venues for an extraordinary number of weddings that happen in the Margaret River-Busselton region every weekend. That is a massive economic multiplier for the businesses there. It is interesting that some small businesses have developed around the things that people forget when they come to attend a wedding. That is very innovative, very smart and very switched on to what their market is and how to service it.

There is that whole region of Margaret River, the South West and the Geographe region. If you also haven’t been to Ferguson Valley, it is a beautiful little part of the world that has developed on the back of these small individual wineries. There is so much more to come for this region, and it’s almost an untapped space. If you want a specific, great rural experience, the Ferguson Valley is for you as well.
So I am unashamedly, in supporting this bill, also very proud to promote and support the investment, passion and commitment that my small rural and regional wine producers have offered and will continue to offer through the measures that the government is promoting through this bill.