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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8533


Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (10:03): I am pleased to rise to lend my support to Labor's latest demonstration of its commitment to regional employment and to a competitive manufacturing industry, via the Customs Amendment (Anti-Dumping Improvements) Bill. This bill draws and builds upon two of the finest elements of the Labor tradition: our commitment to an open, prosperous and competitive economy and our equally strong commitment to preserving jobs and supporting manufacturing industries, especially in regional Australia.

The bill forms part of the first tranche of improvements to Australia's anti-dumping regime announced by Minister for Home Affairs O'Connor and Minister for Trade Emerson on 22 June. It represents the most important overhaul of anti-dumping measures in a decade. It will provide greater safeguards for Australian manufacturers against deliberately underpriced foreign goods. The dumping of unfairly priced foreign goods has long been a major concern to industry and workers in regional electorates like mine in Newcastle.

Upon our election in 2007, the federal Labor government became acutely aware of the weakness in the previous anti-dumping arrangements. Industry, unions and the communities sustained by manufacturing made very clear their concern that Australia's safeguards against dumping were not up to the task. Even a cursory examination of the evidence available demonstrated that these complaints had some merit. In particular, it was clear that comparable nations, including Canada and the United States, had much more robust safeguards against the types of dumping activity that were affecting Australia.

As a first step to reform, on 3 July 2008 the Council of Australian Governments affirmed their support for a strengthening of anti-dumping arrangements. Accordingly, in March 2009, then Assistant Treasurer Bowen directed the Productivity Commission to review the adequacy and rationale of our anti-dumping arrangements. The Productivity Commission publicly released its report in early 2010 and its recommendations form the basis of the bill we are considering today. Most importantly, the commission concluded there were strong grounds for a robust and effective anti-dumping system. But, echoing concerns from a range of community, business and employee groups, the commission concluded there were a number of serious deficiencies in the anti-dumping safeguards. The government has accepted, either in full or in part, 15 of the commission's 20 recommendations.

The package of 29 new measures announced by Minister O'Connor and Minister Emerson on 22 June represents the most far-reaching overhaul of our anti-dumping arrangements in over a decade, giving greater security to Australian manufacturers from deliberately underpriced foreign imports. The bill amends division 5 of Part XVB of the Customs Act 1901, giving effect to a number of those 29 new measures. It reflects four key principles of the government's package. Firstly, a new time limit on ministerial decisions will give greater certainty to all parties involved in dumping cases. It will require the responsible minister to reach a decision within 30 days of receiving a report or a recommendation on which to make a determination. This will give all parties involved—whether the foreign importer accused of dumping or the business or worker whose prosperity is being undercut by unfair practices—greater certainty about when their case will be resolved. Although it has long been the practice of the federal Labor government to reach a decision within 30 days, this will bind this government and future governments to that time line and provide greater certainty to all parties involved.

Secondly, the government will boost confidence in the integrity of our arrangements by widening the definition of 'anti-dumping' to better reflect its adverse impact on jobs, industry and communities. So, when determining whether material injury has occurred—the key test of imposing anti-dumping duties—the responsible minister may now consider the impact on jobs and investment in industry. This is a commonsense decision that I warmly endorse. We cannot expect workers or businesses to have any confidence in an open and liberal trading system if we cannot protect their job security or investment in their industry from unfair and predatory competition. hirdly, these measures will mean that the set of policy levers in place to respond to dumping are comparable to other nations'. Again this represents another common sense decision. For too long, comparable nations, including the US and Canada, have been able to impose higher duties than Australia on the same goods dumped in the same circumstances. By removing these anomalies and ensuring better consistency with comparable nations we will ensure that Australian industries are competing on a more level playing field with our trading partners.

Finally, we will significantly improve transparency by widening the number of parties that can participate in antidumping investigations. This bill will clarify that industry associations, trade unions and downstream industries who have a direct interest can now be treated as an interested party and participate in investigations. Ensuring that decision makers have access to as much relevant information as possible and making decision-making processes as transparent as possible are fundamental principles of good governance. Widening the range of bodies that can contribute to an investigation will provide all parties greater confidence that the most informed and transparent decision will be made on dumping cases. These amendments will make substantive and commonsense changes to our antidumping arrangements. They are fully compliant with our World Trade Organisation and other international obligations.

It should be noted there was one important recommendation from the Productivity Commission's report that the government does not accept and that is its proposal for a bounded public interest test. We understand the Productivity Commission's interest in ensuring that broader public interest, especially that of consumers, is taken into account on antidumping decisions, but under present arrangements the responsible minister already has more than adequate scope to take account of the public interest implications of any decision to impose antidumping duties—and I think that at this stage that is working in a satisfactory way—nor is there a compelling case, at least as far as I am aware it, that our present antidumping safeguards have in any way impinged substantially on consumer or other unrelated public interests. The Productivity Commission's proposal, although very well intentioned, would simply have placed an unnecessary brake on the government's ability to apply remedies to proven dumping activities.

It is no surprise that these changes have been widely applauded by unions, businesses and communities. Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Heather Ridout stated:

These improvements will help create a stronger, more credible and transparent anti-dumping regime for Australia. They are critical for Australian business to effectively combat the predatory sale of under-priced product on the local market and to support the ongoing health of domestic industries.

The 45 per cent increase in Customs staff under this new system working on antidumping issues over the next 12 months is an important part of that improvement.

Of course there have been some armchair commentators who continue to regard antidumping measures as an offence to the supposed purity of true free trade. For example, I note that just last week Chris Berg from the Institute of Public Affairs described antidumping laws as nonsense and pure protectionism. The federal Labor government and I reject that view entirely. Rather than detract from liberal trading systems, a robust and effective antidumping system actually reinforces community confidence in free trade and puts more rigour into competitive trade internationally. One of the fundamental principles of any free trade system is that it be based on a level playing field. Measures against dumping ensure that such a level playing field is maintained.

The simple reality is that no government, no business, no community and no union anywhere in the world can or should tolerate domestic industry being undercut by unfair trading practices. If such predatory undercutting was allowed to run rampant, it would serve only to strengthen support for protectionism and undermine the very system of open and competitive trade upon which our prosperity depends. Under the government's package a new support officer will support small and medium businesses and domestic manufacturers and producers to actively participate in investigations around dumping.

Dumping also has particular significance for regional areas like Newcastle and the Hunter. Although the incidence of dumping has decreased in recent years, the sectors where it still occurs—paper production, aluminium and other related industries—are overwhelmingly concentrated in regional areas. By implementing these measures, the government is recognising the increased pressure faced by many of Australia's manufacturing industries. Although, sadly, the federal government cannot influence many of the factors putting pressure on manufacturing, such as higher commodity prices and the value of the Australian dollar, we can do something about policing unfair foreign competition.

I note that many members of the opposition have, for I suppose all sorts reasons, recently discovered a belated interest in the manufacturing sector. Unfortunately, despite all of that, the opposition are yet to put forward a single positive policy to provide support to Australian manufacturing. Yes, I am pleased that the coalition will be lending their support to this vital bill, but this will not be the last test of their resolve to support manufacturing jobs. In the coming months, federal Labor will present bills to effect our industry assistance programs under the Clean Energy Future plan. This will provide members on the opposite side of the chamber with a very clear and very unambiguous opportunity to demonstrate whether they genuinely support assistance for jobs in manufacturing and in regional Australia. I wonder whether the member for Warringah, with his oft-stated concern for the steel industry, will vote for or against support for steelworker jobs in Whyalla, the Illawarra or Newcastle under the $300 million Steel Transformation Plan. On 11 August, Senator Joyce waxed lyrical in a press release about the continued threat of unemployment in his home state of Queensland. So the question for Senator Joyce is will he vote for or against the $9.2 billion Jobs and Competitiveness Program, which will provide direct support to industries in Queensland? The member for Paterson, Mr Baldwin, will have a clear choice to support or oppose assistance to mines and mineworkers in his own electorate under the $1.3 billion Coal Sector Jobs Package.

This bill demonstrates very clearly Labor's ongoing support for manufacturing jobs in Australia. It is not about spin and it is not about getting a good visual of a leader on the evening news wearing a hard hat and feigning interest in regional jobs, which is the Leader of the Opposition's wont these days; it is about enacting real-world measures that will make a tangible difference to the pressures currently faced by our manufacturing industries. I commend this bill to the House.