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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- The procedure we have gone through to-night is an essential procedure when dealing with a measure which imposes customs duties. The Opposition agreed to the proposals which preceded the introduction of this bill. It did so to shorten the debate and to show that on the general principle of the protection of Australian industry, the Opposition traditionally stands firm and fast as always, whether the protection is afforded through customs tariffs, dumping duties or any other method devised by the Parliament to achieve this objective.

The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Osborne) in introducing the original resolution explained the reason prompting the

Government to introduce this bill, which repeals the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act 1921-1957. In essence, it means that over the long period from 1921 to 1957 the present act has been proved to be inefficient in carrying out the intentions of this Parliament to protect the industries of this country against the dumping practices of other countries which seek to compete unfairly with the products of Australian industries. The original act was amended in 1921, 1922, 1933, 1936, 1956 and 1957 and, despite all those amendments, we have now reached the stage at which - all too late - because of the adverse balance of payments position and because of the outcry from Australian manufacturers for something to be done to protect Australian industries, the Government has determined that the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act shall be brought up to date to meet the present difficult economic situation. What the Government is doing is at least two years too late and may well be too little.

As far back as August, 1959, the Tariff Board, which is generally accepted by all parties in this Parliament as being a fairly accurate and responsible guide to the need for the protection of Australian industries, warned us in its annual report of the need to amend the law relating to the protection of Australian industries against dumping. Twenty precious months went by after that and this Government made no move. Now, in an era that knows the credit squeeze and in which many of Australia's industries have suffered the results of the removal of import controls, in an era in which we have not even selective control of imports, in an era in which both the Australian worker and the manufacturer who employs him have suffered agonies the Government belatedly, and without giving the Opposition sufficient time to study the measure, introduces an amendment to the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act and asks Parliament to agree to it.

Why did not the Government do this twenty months ago? Why did it not act promptly? No government in the history of federation has convened the Parliament so infrequently and achieved so little for Australian industries as this Government has. It has been content to trust to luck, to hope for the best, to continue with a policy of laisser-faire until at last we have reached the crucial stage at which the promptings, appeals and urgings of Australian industries have moved the Government to take action which, after twenty months, is probably too late.

What does this amending bill do? First it completely obliterates the original act. Secondly, it revises those sections of the original act which, with the passage of the years, have been proved to be inadequate in some respects to meet the needs of the times and the developments that have taken place not only since the legislation was introduced but also since the many amendments were made to it. For instance, the bill contains a more explicit definition of those particular activities which can be detrimental to Australian trade. In the original act, and in the earlier amendments, there was no provision designed to protect an Australian industry which is only visualized, which may not yet actually exist. This bill provides that action may be taken in certain circumstances to protect an Australian industry, or a visualized Australian industry, against dumping by other countries, lt enables the protection of industries by the imposition of a dumping duty. That alone modernizes the law, and that is desirable. The bill provides that if an industry that is contemplating establishing itself in Australia might be hindered by the dumping of goods from overseas - perhaps by a country that has a low wage standard or which has an embarrassing surplus of goods and finds it profitable or expedient to dump them in Australia at below cost, or below their normal market value - a dumping duty may be imposed for the protection of the contemplated industry. To that extent, this measure is an improvement on the existing law. As always, the Opposition supports an amendment which seeks to protect Australian industries.

The opportunity is also taken to protect Australian industries against a wide range of other circumstances that might obtain. In effect, the measure modernizes the verbiage used in the original act and, although the actual phraseology of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is not adopted word for word, the end result is the same. We are told that the reason why the exact verbiage of a certain article of the General Agreement on Tariffs and

Trade is not adopted is because of some possible legal difficulties connected with interpretation. But the wording is as near as can possibly be to that used in, I think, article VI. of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. We do not object to that. We applaud it, but I emphasize that we feel that it is too little too late. I appreciate that the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman), who is interjecting, does not like the criticism I have offered during this debate. Apparently it hurts him a little because the industries in Corio have been under some stress and strain at a time when I believe, if the Government was really in earnest, it could have done all the things that are desirable and necessary, under the existing law. But no! That would more obviously lay the Government open to criticism for not using the existing act, and so it produces an amendment which seeks to insert this and delete that. The impression is created, with some element of truth, that this measure will provide more effective machinery for the purpose of preventing dumping and injury to Australian manufacturing industry than was the old Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act. I think that belief which is held by the Government is largely fallacious. I do not know of any really serious attempt by the Government in the last ten or twelve years to utilize the provisions of the existing act.

Mr Osborne - They were used two months ago.

Mr POLLARD - Was the usage successful?

Mr Osborne - I have no reason to think it was not.

Mr POLLARD - The Minister has no reason to think it was not, so therefore the old act was effective. Is that right, or wrong?

Mr Osborne - This measure is an improvement.

Mr POLLARD - The Minister says this measure is an improvement, but he found the old act effective. The Government, now finding itself in difficulties with the Australian manufacturer, comes along and says, " Boys, we were in difficulties because of the inadequacy of the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act. So we bring to this Parliament an amending measure, notwithstanding the fact that we used the old act with great success." What do members make of that one? The only argument that the Minister can put up in extenuation of the wastage of the time of this Parliament and in extenuation of the situation in which the Government finds itself, is that in future we may strike a snag and so it is wise to take any and every precaution possible to ensure that in that event we will have available the armament to deal with it. That is all he can say.

The Opposition stands 100 per cent., as ever and always, in favour of any and all measures of an effective character which will not only assist and encourage existing Australian industries, but also encourage the establishment in this country of industries from overseas countries. That is our objective, provided there is reasonable facility for the investment of Australian capital in those industries and some measure of Australian control of them. We stand for that and will assist the Government in that regard.

In due course, when we become the Government, we will give effect to more effective legislation and administration to that particular and desirable end. By its very nature this measure is one which, during the second-reading debate, does not require any further remarks from me. I know that other members of the Opposition, and in particular the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) wish to make some remarks on it. I will reserve any further comment for the committee stage, when I may be able to indicate to the Government some improvements to the legislation and some of its weaknesses, and offer some criticism. I leave it at that, except to remark that I hope the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), although he represents an exceedingly conservative rump in this Parliament, will be such a big Australian as to allow his free trade attitude to be completely eliminated, and give forthright support to the bill.

Mr Turnbull - What about the primary producers?

Mr POLLARD - The home market is their best market. Without the establish ment of further Australian industries, where does the primary producer ultimately go? I leave it at that and pledge the Opposition's support of the measure.

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