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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (ISAACS, VICTORIA) - The honorable member ought to address the Chair.

Mr CREAN - I do not like these inane interjections, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Tha honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) is light-headed and he should go out of the chamber.

In August, 1959, as appears at page 12 of the Tariff Board's annual report for the year 1958-59, the board stated with respect to printed piecegoods -

It is very difficult for the affected Australian industry and the Board to obtain details of the cost of production of goods in a state-controlled economy for the purpose of computing a " reasonable price". . . .

The Minister has indicated by interjection that that is one of the deficiencies which this bill will remedy. I am glad that that deficiency is being remedied, although section 5 of the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act was supposed to meet the situation, The board goes on to state - lt is true that, under section 5 (5) of the Act, provision is made whereby if there is no satisfactory evidence as to the cost of production, the Minister may fix such amount as he thinks fit to be the cost of production for the purpose of computing the anti-dumping duty.

It seems that a similar sort of provision is contained in this bill and that the Government has attempted to clear up the difficulties over the legal interpretation of words and thereby to remedy the deficiencies concerning the determination of what is reasonable cost and what is normal cost.

Anybody who knows much about accounting knows that the determination of the cost of an article made in this country is sometimes difficult enough if the article is produced in considerable numbers, and that there are all sorts of questions about how overhead expense is to be allocated as between several items of production. How much more difficult it is to obtain that sort of information about goods produced in a foreign country! Here at least there will be machinery by which the information can be obtained from some other country where comparable goods are produced if it cannot be obtained from the country of production, which may have a state-controlled economy or some other sort of economy. However, as I said earlier, the difficulty is that most of the goods that we import are not altogether comparable with goods produced in Australia. If they were, we would not import them. One of the weaknesses inherent in the re laxing of import controls, of course, is that there has been a flood into this country of goods that could satisfactorily be produced here.

By and large, in a rational system, the purpose of international trade is to raise the standard of living to the highest possible level by transferring goods between countries. The surplus of our own production that we do not want is exchanged for the surplus production of other countries that they do not want. In a very theoretical sense, there is no basis for a comparison of costs in respect of an article that is not produced at home, if you do not manufacture motor cars, how can you determine whether or not the price of vehicles coming in from another country is fair? That is where a lot of this theorizing falls down in the final analysis.

We on this side of the House take the view, broadly, that what a country can import is determined in the first place by what it exports. If a country's exports are limited, as ours are, its imports will be limited. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) no doubt will agree that primary products are at least the backbone of our export trade. I do not think that one can make a complete distinction between the various components of our export trade, but primary products are at least its backbone. I do not argue about that. The difficulty is that the prices of our primary products are not quite as firm as they ought to be. In other words, the vertebrae are not as rigid as we would like them to be. The prices received for our primary products fluctuate pretty violently, and this limits the volume of our imports. Therefore, we should rationalize our imports. In our view, import licensing was a sensible way of doing this. We at least use the tariff system to buttress or implement such a method, or, in this instance, to take its place, since import controls have been thrown overboard. Therefore, it is right for the Government to strengthen the provisions of the law to guard against dumping. The honorable member for Scullin gave his definition of the term " dumping ".

Mr Osborne - That was a definition of his own. Nobody else uses it.

Mr CREAN - lt may be a definition of his own, but I think that he was only doing as most of us sometimes do in debate. He was perhaps overstating rather dramatically what dumping is. By and large, dumping is understood to be the bringing of a commodity into a country at an unfair low price, that being a commodity the import of which interferes detrimentally, to use the word adopted by the honorable member for Scullin, with local production. But the stating of a definition of dumping is not so easy as may be suggested. The Minister may not like the definition enunciated by the honorable member for Scullin, but any definition that the Minister cares to produce would probably be just as arguable.

As I have said, we on this side of the House think that this measure is an improvement on the existing law, because it will strengthen some of the legal defences available under the existing legislation. However, whether those who will have the job of making this measure work can in fact make it work remains to be seen. We welcome this measure, as I have said, but I repeat that we regret that the real importance of the issue before us is being lost in the rush of business at the end of the sessional period. We have not sufficient time to debate it as fully as we would wish. At this time of night, the tempers of honorable members occasionally become a little frayed, and the spoken word does not sound so interesting as it would have done at an earlier hour. Nevertheless, if the Government chooses to bring in legislation at 10 p.m. or after, we are entitled to take as much time to debate it at that late hour as we would take if the legislation had been brought in at 10 a.m. That is our democratic right and we intend to exercise it.

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