CANBERRA • Australia should continue to embrace free trade in the face of growing global protectionism, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a speech at the National Press Club yesterday.
Mr Turnbull, who outlined his government's plans for the new year ahead of federal Parliament's resumption next week, said recent trends towards protectionism and away from free trade were bad for businesses and the economy.
He said Australia would continue to push forward with its plans to sign free trade deals and "aggressively" export vital services and products.
"We cannot retreat into the bleak dead end of protectionism," Mr Turnbull said. "We must compete aggressively to export our services in education, health, engineering, tourism and more, and we must pursue even greater access for our agriculture sector and our manufacturers.
"We must pursue even greater global access to the global economy because it is good for jobs, good for investment and good for Australia.
SUPPORT LOCAL, GO GLOBAL
Of course, we want 24 million Australians buying Australian but we also want 7.4 billion people around the world buying Australian. Why would we want to limit opportunities at a time when demand for 'Made in Australia' has never been stronger?
PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL
"It puts our interests, our national interests, first because it creates more jobs and opportunities for Australians."
He said while it was important for Australians to support local businesses, governments, businesses and exporters must take advantage of the huge overseas market with a taste for Australian goods.
"Of course, we want 24 million Australians buying Australian but we also want 7.4 billion people around the world buying Australian.
"Why would we want to limit opportunities at a time when demand for 'Made in Australia' has never been stronger?" Mr Turnbull said.
"Beef from the Darling Downs is being served in the restaurants of Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Barossa Valley wine is being purchased in bars in Tokyo and macadamia nuts from the Northern Rivers are on supermarket shelves in Seoul.
"Australians in communities across our nation are benefiting from these opportunities."
Mr Turnbull took the opportunity to promise to cut the company tax rate from the current 30 per cent to 27.5 per cent for small and medium-sized businesses with a turnover of less than A$10 million (S$10.7 million) in order to increase their competitiveness on a global scale. "This means more Australian businesses will be able to invest more, hire more and increase wages," he said.
"Years of research have revealed a very important fact - company tax is overwhelmingly a tax on workers and their salaries.
"If we had a 25 per cent business tax rate today, full-time workers on average weekly earnings would have an extra A$750 in their pockets each and every year.
"We want to make it easier for Australian businesses to invest, to hire and to grow."
Treasurer Scott Morrison agreed, telling Sky News following Mr Turnbull's speech that it was important to cut the company tax rate to remain in line with other leading Western nations or risk "stranding" Australian businesses.
"We're at risk of being stranded. I've just come back from the UK and we're already sitting at a position where their company tax rates are lower than ours.
"The United States is planning to cut theirs even further," Mr Morrison said yesterday.
"If the company tax rate is lower somewhere else, and (prospective clients) get a bigger and better return on the same outlay, (they will) put money there."
Mr Turnbull also used his speech to press ahead with his government's proposed changes to childcare laws.
Additionally, he said keeping citizens' power bills down would be achieved by shunning renewable energies, and embracing newer and cleaner coal-fired technology.