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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2531


Mr MOORE(8.00) —The Customs Tariff Bill, the Customs Tariff (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill and the Customs Tariff (Installations at Sea) Bill being debated cognately tonight give effect to a process which was commenced many years ago by the Customs department through the Customs Co-operation Council and which provided many trips to Brussels for the development of an international tariff standard, which is called the harmonised tariff system. This is set to come into effect on 1 January 1988 and gives effect to many years of work in this area. Many nations have come together to try to have one system of classification which would be enormously helpful for communication. If this is the case, and the ratification by 17 nations comes about by September 1987, Canada and America will join the system which, of course, will be extremely beneficial to us all.

The Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce recommended these procedures some time ago. I remember that the original concepts of this go back to the halcyon days when I was a Minister in this area. The consequences of those decisions are now with us tonight. Having received the recommendations through the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) the Government referred this matter to the Industries Assistance Commission to see what its assessment of the new classifications would be. Thus we have these Bills before us tonight.

The Opposition does not oppose the legislation. In fact, there are many aspects of it which are beneficial to Australian business. In particular, it will result in goods entering Australia more easily. This certainly will be a far easier system for users, under an international scheme, to be able to register their imports and to have the same classification picked up in electronic transfers through banks, insurance companies and, no doubt, customs agents. As an extension of that, statistics to be gathered by governments and presented for the record should also be considerably enhanced. The types of documents which today create problems will be eliminated. Matters will be far more speedily dealt with by the agreement on classifications that will be acceptable throughout the world, particularly to those nations party to the agreement.

The only disadvantages that I can see are in the Australian area where extra classifications have been brought in, over and above the international ones. I use, as an example, the international classification of a tyre. It is classified under a certain number. Australia will be adding to the 5,000 titles under the Customs Act a further 2,000 or more which will break down some of the entries. In other words, a tyre internationally becomes a tyre for a truck, a car, a scooter or something else. I have no doubt that this is designed to provide industry assistance, more accurately to address the matter, to help in revenue raising, or to meet certain international commitments. But in effect it will add an extra loading to the Australian Customs Service, which is not there at the moment, in determining tariffs in these areas. On top of that, it is reasonable to assume that the extra classifications that will come about will impose extra costs in the system, which will not be imposed on other nations.

The Australian tariff concept, in its move through the vast Customs Tariff Act of something like 270 pages, will bring about an increased administrative cost of approximately $1m. In the initial stages, I understand, the two systems will be running in tandem-the new scheme and the old scheme will run together. I can understand the reasons for that but certainly it will add to costs in the initial stages. In my experience, certain classifications are bound to raise inquiries from certain importers. Whenever there is a change of classification there is always an argument at the margin as to what area things should be in. I hope that those changes can be sorted out outside the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or an IAC reference. Failure to do so will add considerably to costs to importers and, therefore, to the manufacturing process of the nation.

It strikes me that the measures brought before us tonight without any doubt will be a major addition to Customs processes. In the initial stages, when I saw the attempts at world-wide classification I thought then that this was the right way to go if it could be achieved. No doubt there have been many compromises and many long nights to get to where the Government is now. As a consequence, I compliment the Government. But this has not been done wholly without some costs. I hope that the Government and the Department responsible for Customs will look at transitional costs and make sure that no additional protection or bounty payments are accorded to industries which ought not receive them but have done so because of the reclassification. The mechanics of this new legislation are bound to contain some minor technical faults as time goes by. That is inevitable. I hope that the unintended consequences-to use a well-known phrase-will be looked at as quickly and expeditiously as possible so that this does not cost Australian consumers any more than it ought. I think that the running of the two systems in tandem is inevitable but the costs associated with it could be quite high. The Opposition does not oppose the Bills.