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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 13550

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice) (10:33): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011, representing the second tranche of legislation implementing the government's reforms to Australia's anti-dumping system.

The package of reforms announced by the government in June are designed to provide better access to remedies for Australian industry, and to ensure those remedies are available as quickly as possible. They aim to improve the robustness and transparency of anti-dumping decisions and introduce stronger compliance mechanisms.

The elements of the reforms that I am introducing into the House today are focused on improving the robustness and transparency of anti-dumping decisions.

In particular, I am proposing a new appeals process to replace the existing mechanism, and provide more flexibility in seeking extensions of time during the course of investigations.

This bill also provides a legislative basis for the International Trade Remedies Forum, which met for the first time in August this year.

These amendments were drafted in close consultation with the Office of International Law within the Attorney-General's Department, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to make sure that they are consistent with Australia's international law obligations. (Quorum formed)

New a ppeals p rocess

The bill implements a number of changes to the process for appealing decisions of the minister or the Chief Executive Officer of Customs and Border Protection.

Presently decisions may be appealed to the trade measures review officer, who was an employee of the Attorney-General's Department. The review officer will be replaced by a three-member review panel able to take on a greater case workload. Members of the panel will be appointed by the minister based on their relevant expertise. Panel members will no longer be employees of the Attorney-General's Department, so will be independent of government.

The government will make available resources in the form of administrative and research assistance, to support the effective functioning of the panel.

Presently the review officer must accept an application for review unless the applicant has failed to provide sufficient particulars of the findings to which the review application relates. This has resulted in approximately 80 per cent of ministerial decisions being appealed to the trade measures review officer by one of the parties to the proceeding. The government is proposing a higher threshold for appeal. Now, in order to initiate an appeal, the panel will need to be satisfied that the applicant has established that the minister did not make the correct and preferable decision.

Presently there is a perception that the International Trade Remedies Branch is conflicted in reinvestigating its own decisions. When the review officer reviewed a decision, the officer would recommend a reinvestigation to the minister who referred it back to the branch which reinvestigated and made recommendations to the minister as to whether to overturn or amend the original decision.

To address this, the panel will now make recommendations directly to the minister as to whether the original decisions should be affirmed, revoked or substituted. Where reinvestigation of a particular finding is required, the panel will direct the branch to reinvestigate that finding and to report back to the panel to inform their recommendation to the minister.

Parties will now be able to appeal the minister's decision to continue or not continue measures, and also the minister's decisions to vary or revoke measures (or not) on review.

As part of the appeals process reforms, the Customs Act will be amended to allow for important stakeholder groups, such as downstream industry and trade unions, to participate in administrative reviews.

The changes to the appeals system allow for a more robust system which is better able to identify and process meritorious applications for review.

Extension of time—i nvestigations

Second, these reforms will allow for more flexible extensions to the time frames of an investigation, review of measures, continuation inquiry or duty assessment.

Australia's antidumping system contains one of the shortest investigation time frames in the world, at 155 days. At present only one extension to that time frame can be sought, and it must be prior to the publication of the Statement of Essential Facts at day 110. This can mean that extensions, where required, tend to be for significant periods, to anticipate any possible further need for an extension.

Consistent with a recommendation of the Productivity Commission, the bill will allow for more flexible extensions of investigation time frames.

The minister will still have to approve all extensions of time. Implementation of this proposal will be carefully monitored to ensure it does not result in a blow-out of investigation periods, and that extensions are only sought in complex cases, not routinely.

The International Trade Remedies Branch will continue to provide in its annual report a consolidated summary of the timeliness of its investigations in the preceding 12 months.

This proposed change will improve decision making by allowing extensions to accommodate complex cases and to allow for the consideration of critical new information that could not reasonably have been provided earlier.

International Trade Remedies Forum

There is currently no stakeholder body to provide feedback to government on the operation of the antidumping system.

The government has established the International Trade Remedies Forum to provide strategic advice and feedback on the implementation of the reforms, the ongoing operations of the antidumping system as well as reporting to government on opportunities for further improvements.

The forum, which met for the first time in August, comprises representatives of manufacturers, producers and importers, as well as industry associations, trade unions and relevant government agencies.

The government is establishing the forum in legislation to ensure that this valuable dialogue with industry continues into the future.

The forum will meet a minimum of two times a year.

Concluding remarks

This second tranche of reforms directly responds to stakeholder concerns about enhancing the appeals process, providing adequate time for investigations and ensuring stakeholder consultation in the future.

These amendments will further strengthen the antidumping system by enhancing the appeals process to allow for a more streamlined process better able to process meritorious applications, provide greater independence and afford new opportunities for parties to seek review for decisions they disagree with.

The International Trade Remedies Forum will provide a greater opportunity for Australian industries and other stakeholders to play a role in the development and operation of Australia's antidumping system.

The changes to extension of time for reviews will allow Customs and Border Protection more flexibility in dealing with complex matters and scope for consideration of new information.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.