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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8543

Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (10:41): I too rise to support the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill 2011. At the outset I would like to make a few observations to the House about concerns that are repeatedly expressed by members of the Hindmarsh community, the community in South Australia and the wider population. These concerns are genuine and stem from our rapidly changing global economy.

We have seen global capital shift from country to country and manufacturing shift from country to country and region to region. We have seen the changing profitability of domestic and local production, the questionable sustainability of old and long-held jobs in manufacturing and the divergence of what industry we have and what we consider normal and good. Ultimately, and especially in my electorate, we have seen many, many manufacturing jobs disappear. We had textile factories, other factories and manufacturing hubs that serviced the auto industry in South Australia, but I could now write a whole list of what has disappeared from my electorate over the last 20 years.

Our community has been concerned over many years, and rightly so, about what Australian industry is, what our industrial landscape should consist of and what jobs should be expected to remain open to successive generations. All of that is morphing. Whether these ideas and views are accurate or not, people often see change as a loss. Where there is a shift in the composition of a town's industry or the proportion of industry within any one sector, people too often view the shift as a net loss of opportunity for that area's population. But data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, for instance, may attest to change promoting opportunity, not enshrining its contraction. We may see the Australian industrial landscape morphing over time, with the proportions of certain industries lessening as new industries increase and grow, but generally we see the Australian population continuing in employment. We have one of the lowest unemployment figures ever, as our workforce is engaging in different sectors and doing different types of work compared with in the fifties, sixties and seventies. But these observations do not diminish the real fear of change that exists in our community or the insecurity that people may feel about our industries and our workforce. Each situation through which we travel holds some reference to our changing industrial landscape. We have all passed Coles or Woolworth and been reminded of our agricultural challenges and the ready availability of imported goods that we see on the shelves of our supermarkets. When we compare items as dissimilar as socks and solar panels, tea sets and televisions, we are reminded of just how much of what we consume is imported from overseas. Even driving along any road we are reminded of the apparent loss of the service stations that used to exist in our neighbourhoods. Small independent business people notionally have been driven to the wall by larger, better resourced corporations. So this is a debate that is taking place and a conversation that continually happens in my electorate about the old industries and the new industries. It is not about protectionism or being anti-trade; it is about having a sustainable way for these businesses to survive and grow and to give opportunities to people to start businesses.

We are engaged in trade with companies from overseas for very, very good reasons, including, principally, our own generation and maintenance of the wealth and high living standards that we have here in this country. But the penetration of so much overseas product into our daily lives—and, as I said, we see it every day on the shelves of our supermarkets—gives people cause for concern for the manufacturing sector that we still have in many parts of Australia.

The rules of international trade, always evolving, are derided by many, especially in terms of comparable tariff protection, but they continue to be observed by the Australian population. While some may say that there is no virtue in being more observant of the rules than our competitors, I would certainly welcome the ongoing application of the rules that exist, to which we as a nation subscribe in the protection of Australian jobs. The anticompetitive conduct of companies—for example, in the domestic market—of which people typically so vehemently disapprove, must also be prevented in the international trade markets. Predatory pricing, for example, the dumping of goods at below-cost prices to injure competitors, is prohibited in all its forms. Our law is meant to protect our companies from such conduct, and the maintenance of the effectiveness of our laws must remain a priority for all governments of Australia.

The bill before us has the precise purpose of maintaining the effectiveness of such a law. The bill addresses an accidental error of logic imposed by the courts in good faith. The area is as simple as it is clear, and it could be erroneously applied to many areas of government.

If we cannot prove collusion between oil companies with regard to keeping the price of petrol artificially high at any one time, should we scrap our anti-collision laws? Certainly not. If we cannot prove that predatory pricing is being perpetrated by the big supermarkets at any one time, should we scrap the laws that penalise it? If we have not imported pests or disease with foreign apples or pears for a time, should we discard our quarantine and inspection services? These are all legitimate questions. The purpose of Australian law is not only to stop a prescribed activity that has already commenced; it is also to prevent a prescribed activity, the threat of which hangs over us, waiting for an opportunity.

The law we address here today is that of the Customs Act 1901, which became the unwitting victim of our legal system. I would like to congratulate the Minister for Home Affairs. I commend him and applaud him for making these changes, because these are the first changes we have seen in this area for many, many years. Minister Brendan O'Connor explained in his second reading speech on the bill the unfortunate situation that arose from the judgment of the full Federal Court last year.

I would like to add to what the member for Wakefield said about this being highlighted on the Leon Byner show in South Australia on 5AA. I would like to congratulate Leon as well for raising this as an issue, informing people that this was a real issue and that we did need some changes made in this area. This issue became the subject of a typical conversation in South Australia, especially on his program. I congratulate Leon on bringing this to the attention of the public. In fact, he interviewed the minister on a number of occasions on this issue.

We cannot have a situation in which a law devised for the proper implementation and enforcement of trade rules is undermined and, I should say, removed from potential application simply because there has been no unlawful activity in the recent past. We have the law not only to enforce proper behaviour when a party is tempted to cross the line but also to establish acceptable behaviour and to proclaim what is right and what will not be tolerated.

I would fully expect all members and senators to get behind the government on this matter—and I believe they will—to support the community in its concern for the maintenance of fair trade and anti-dumping rules within our jurisdiction and to support this government's bill. I commend the bill to the House.