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Monday, 24 November 1997
Page: 11048

Mr CREAN(1.16 p.m.) —The Customs Legislation (Economies in Transition) Amendment Bill seeks to unravel the mess caused when the government agreed to treat some market goods from China as being sourced from a free market. It seeks to force the government to act on this vital issue to safeguard Australian manufacturers from unfair export pricing practices. Without this legislation, all goods allegedly dumped from China will be priced as if they come from a free market economy, no matter how much the production and sale is government controlled.

Anti-dumping measures are fundamentally designed to ensure fairness in international trade. They should not be used as a protective trade barrier. Clearly, legislative changes are necessary to preserve the integrity of Australia's anti-dumping system. However, we believe that the primary focus of such legislation should be to create Australian jobs and build national wealth within our international trading obligations.

The government created the problem that this bill seeks to address more than a year ago when it decided to treat goods from China on a case by basis, apparently as a trade-off for the botch-up over the DIFF scheme. It mishandled this matter in a way that has resulted in all goods from China being considered as sourced from a free market. In the case of glyphosate, in the face of overwhelming evidence that export and domestic pricing of glyphosate from China was government controlled, the government allowed it in. No other OECD country treats product from China in this way.

In February 1997, the government announced it would legislate to fix this problem, yet the legislation was not introduced into the parliament until June. Even then it was woefully inadequate. Since then—that is, five months ago—nothing has happened. That bill has languished on the Notice Paper. The government has refused to bring it on for debate in the House of Representatives even though it has a clear majority here to deal with it and even though hundreds of jobs have been lost and at least one major investment worth $80 million has been lost offshore—the Monsanto investment, which has now gone to Argentina.

The government's bill is now listed for Thursday of this week with no priority given to it in the Senate's list of priority matters for the end of the year. This makes it virtually impossible to get it through the parliament this year. The effect of that is that nothing can be dealt with until at least March next year and, in the meantime, all products coming from China will be treated as if they come from a free market.

Labor has therefore decided to introduce its own bill to force the government to act. Australian industry cannot put up with continued dithering from this government. Under Labor, when goods sourced from China were subject to anti-dumping complaints the domestic price was determined by reference to a surrogate country. China has been considered a command economy with the consequent ability to artificially suppress domestic prices. Our bill seeks to restore that arrangement, whilst allowing individual goods to be treated as coming from a free market on a case by case basis. Unlike the government's legislation, our bill takes account of circumstances where input prices are government controlled or where there is substantial government control within the industry sector.

The government's mishandling of this matter reflects its mishandling of the broader anti-dumping issue which I will deal with in the second bill: its failure to fulfil its election promise to reduce the maximum time for a dumping case and its failure to keep its promise not to water down existing safeguards.

The issue has had three ministers—four if you count the now Minister for Industry, Science and Tourism (Mr Moore), who claimed in correspondence when the government was in opposition that he had responsibility for anti-dumping. But when he got into parliament he said it was not his responsibility. In 1992, the current Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs (Mr Truss) said:

Australia has become a dumper's paradise. Products that no other country will take have been welcomed into our land.

He was particularly critical of China. The member for Wide Bay now has his chance to make a difference. We will want to see how he votes on this particular piece of legislation.

I urge consideration of this legislation before the House. It is an issue that needs to be addressed. It needs to be addressed in completeness and our amendments do that. (Time expired)

Mr CREAN —I ask leave of the House to present the explanatory memorandum to this bill.

Leave granted.

Bill read a first time.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.