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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2097


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (18:32): Australia is a country that enjoys the benefits of trade with the world—we always have, at least since European settlement. Our country has been a better place because we have traded with our neighbours and partners. In 2012 it is the source of our prosperity. It is the reason we have low unemployment. Indeed, our unemployment is half that of most of our trading partners. I am thinking of the United States in particular. It is the reason we have jobs growth in this country, while other countries, and particularly Europe, are adding daily to the queues of the unemployed. It is the reason we have GDP growth in this country while in Europe and other places their economies are stagnating, if not in recession. It is one of the reasons Australia continues to call itself a lucky country. Anybody who has travelled overseas in the last 12 months and come back to Australia will look through the shrill calls from those opposite about how bad things are here, because they will know that the reality is that Australia has come through the global financial crisis in remarkably good shape and we are well set up to prosper over the decades ahead.

In simple terms, trade means that we can produce and sell more than we consume domestically and earn income. It also means that we can buy and consume many goods domestically that we could not produce here or could not produce at a price that would be affordable to people who come from backgrounds like my own. It produces income, wealth and prosperity.

But you cannot have an open trading system without rules. Trade is distorted if countries manipulate their currency. A number of people who have contributed to this debate have observed the fact that there are countries with which we trade that manipulate their currencies or appear at least on the face of it to have a currency that is significantly depressed, which means that our exporters are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to competing with them on global markets. Our domestic producers are significantly disadvantaged when they are competing with goods coming from their shores.

We also have a breach of the system when a business dumps goods in Australia at a lower price than it costs to manufacture them. When a business or a business with the support of a country dumps goods on our markets at an abnormal price, that is not fair trade nor is it free trade. That is simply rorting the rules to the great detriment of this country. It wipes out jobs and it wipes out businesses—good decent businesses that are struggling to compete in a highly competitive international market, and workers who have dedicated their lives to honing their skills working day in and day out producing goods in the workplaces they are dedicating themselves to. They simply cannot compete against somebody who is cheating or rorting the rules. That is why we on this side of the House in our role as advocates for a fair and open trading system need to ensure that our industries have the tools to deal with alleged dumping and ensure that Australian goods are not facing unfair competition.

The Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011 represents the second tranche of legislation brought forward by this government to implement important reforms to Australia's antidumping system. It follows on from the package of reforms announced by the government in June last year. These reforms are designed to provide better access to remedies for Australian industry and to ensure those remedies are available as quickly as possible. I note that in your contribution to this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker Thomson, you referred to the antidumping campaign that is being waged by the three main unions in the sector: the Australian Workers Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. The government's response, with these two tranches of legislation, is in part a recognition of the validity of the campaign being run by that coalition of unions. I might also say—and I know this from my personal dealings with the union representatives as well as the businesses and the business organisations—that the claims being put by these unions have the full and wholehearted support of the business community and the union movement, as does the legislation we are putting in place.

We are aiming to improve the robustness and transparency of antidumping and to introduce stronger compliance mechanisms. In short, we are trying to make the system more responsive, easier to use and easier to navigate to get an outcome—because that is what it is all about. The bill before the House will provide improvements in the robustness and transparency of antidumping decisions made by the minister or the CEO of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. The bill will implement a new appeals process to replace the existing mechanism and will provide more flexibility in seeking extensions of time during the course of investigations.

The bill also provides a legislative basis for the International Trade Remedies Forum, which met for the first time in August last year. This second tranche of reforms directly responds to the community concerns about the appeals process. I have had a number of businesses in my electorate raise these concerns with me—as I am sure you have, Mr Deputy Speaker, in your electorate, because I know you have a strong manufacturing base in the electorate of Wills, as I do in the electorate of Throsby. They have concerns about the appeals process and the provision of adequate time for investigations and for ensuring stakeholder consultation in the future. I know you would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker—and I know that the minister, who is also in the chamber at the moment, would also be aware—that businesses do not lightly enter into antidumping actions. They do not lightly enter into these actions, because they are costly, because they are complicated, because they divert resources away from the main game of the business—which is to produce and manufacture goods—and because they come with the very real prospect of damaging relationships with suppliers and clients. So when an allegation is made by a business you can bet your bottom dollar—and in some instances it is the business's bottom dollar!—that they are alleging a serious case. We as a government, as well as the agencies of government, should be responsive to these allegations.

The bill implements a number of changes to the process for appealing decisions of the minister or of the chief executive officer of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. A review of decisions made by the minister will be made by a new three-member panel, appointed by the minister on the basis of relevant expertise. Under the new appeals framework in this bill, 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. This higher threshold for appeal will help deal with the current situation whereby around 80 per cent of ministerial decisions are appealed to the Trade Measures Review Officer by one of the parties to the proceeding.

The bill will also ensure that the panel will 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 its recommendation to the minister. This measure will deal with the perception that the International Trade Remedies Branch is conflicted in reinvestigating its own decisions.

The second group of reforms in the bill will allow 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 anywhere 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. So what we are proposing in this bill implements the recommendation of the Productivity Commission to allow for more flexible extension of investigation time frames.

I have mentioned that a part of the bill is aimed at introducing and providing statutory recognition for the International Trade Remedies Forum. There is currently no stakeholder body to provide feedback to the government on the operation of the antidumping system. The government, in its earlier policy announcement, announced that it intends to remedy that absence. The government has established an International Trade Remedies Forum to provide strategic advice and feedback on the implementation of the reforms. This is important because it provides an ongoing dialogue between the industry and the government about how we continue to refine and improve the system. It will also provide some important feedback that might be dealt with through other means if there are serious and systemic breaches that may not need to be dealt with through the antidumping legislation but through other means available to government.

We have heard a lot over the last six months about the government's commitment and the opposition's alleged commitment to manufacturing, but there are some stark differences. We have a package of reforms and policies that are aimed at addressing the challenges that are being confronted by manufacturing. I—and I know you too, Mr Deputy Speaker—say that more needs to be done. But let us not overlook some of the excellent work that is being done. Let us look at the antidumping legislation—the second tranche of bills that is now before the House. This is a significant reform that deserves, and should enjoy, the support of the entire House. Late last year the Prime Minister convened a manufacturing jobs forum here in Parliament House, inviting stakeholders, particularly stakeholders from the manufacturing sector, to focus on what practical steps can be taken by government to assist the manufacturing sector, which is going through one of the most difficult trading environments and structural adjustments at any time in its history. I am very pleased to see that a renewed focus on Australian industry participation plans is also going to be looked at to ensure that that massive pipeline of investment in the resource sector and the jobs and prosperity that are being generated by that also flow back to the manufacturing sector so that people who work in fabrication shops and in steel mills in electorates like my own will gain some of the benefits of that massive pipeline of investment. Quite simply, we want a chop of some of the contracts that are being let in the north-west and in Queensland at the moment as a result of the resources boom.

We can pause and look at the fact that we have finetuned and improved the research and development tax incentives, making it more attractive for existing firms and new firms to invest in the stuff that is going to make a difference—in research and development, and new processes and new technologies which will enhance productivity and enhance their competitiveness in domestic and international markets.

As for my own electorate, I am delighted to have been a part of the parliament which put in place the Steel Industry Transformation Plan. I would have preferred that we never had to. I regret that we had to, but we had to put in place the Steel Industry Transformation Plan, voted for by all of those on this side of the House and voted against by those on that other side of the House. It is a plan with $300 million worth of assistance for our two primary steel producers, BlueScope and OneSteel, to restructure their businesses to ensure that we continue to have a steelmaking capacity in Australia, particularly in my electorate. The BlueScope steelworks at Port Kembla continue to produce high-quality steel at a competitive rate for the domestic market.

There are the Clean Energy Future funds, with over $10 billion to be made available over the out years to ensure that our domestic manufacturing industry has the funds available to assist in innovation, to ensure that we are lowering energy use and using clean energy as part of our manufacturing future. Again, I am very pleased to say that, as a part of this government's response to the announcements by BlueScope that they would be exiting the export steel market and focusing on the domestic market and making redundant close to 800 workers, the government put in place an important regional investment fund to provide over $30 million in assistance and an initial $10 million for the workforce to assist it in these very difficult times. So this is a part of our overall program for manufacturing, and I commend the bill to the House.