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Wednesday, 10 March 2004
Page: 26523

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (9:58 AM) —I began my remarks on the Customs Legislation Amendment (Application of International Trade Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2003 and the cognate bill at an earlier sitting, and it is very good that I am able to continue now, because I want to move on to some of the other elements of this legislation. Anyone following this debate will recall that I spoke last time at some length about the impact of the various steps in firearms legislation that the Commonwealth government has undertaken and the impact of that in the wider community. This legislation does have some ramifications in relation to the importation of firearms. That is quite significant and I covered it at some depth in the earlier discussion.

However, there are other elements to this bill, and I think one of the major things we must look at is the improvement that it provides to the handling and processing of cargo, particularly through our wharves, modernising the processes so that we gain some advantages from it. Once again, this is in line with a series of initiatives that the Commonwealth has undertaken to improve the flow of cargo through our wharves.

I would like to draw members' attention—I know it has been done before but I want to do it again here—to the improvement under this coalition government in the crane rates for the various ports. I sought from the office of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations information on the improvement in crane rates following the earlier reforms of the waterfront made by the government. In 1998 in the March quarter, crane rates for the port of Brisbane, which is the one that is closest to my home town of Ipswich, were 21.6 lifts per hour—the crane lifting 21.6 times in an hour. In 2003 in the June quarter, crane rates for Brisbane were 26.7 lifts per hour. That is a significant improvement, in the region of a 25 per cent increase. In Sydney over the same period, crane rates have gone from 22.5 to 27.2 lifts per hour—once again, an increase of about 25 per cent. And in Melbourne crane rates have gone from 24.3 to 27.8 lifts per hour—once again, a significant improvement in the number of crane lifts per hour.

I looked also at total container movements in those ports for the June quarter 2003 compared to June 2001. I am not picking one or the other here; the reason I am saying June 2001 is that prior to 2001 there was no measurement that counted containers. It was purely a measurement of tonnage. Over the shorter period, between June 2001 and June 2003—two years—total container movements in Brisbane improved from 84,854 to 92,872; in Sydney, from 152,650 to 194,177; and in Melbourne, from 174,149 to 240,028. I think that is case closed as far as the contribution that this government has made to improve those movements.

Mr Danby —Mr Deputy Speaker, I have a question for the member for Blair.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Will the member for Blair accept the question?


Mr Danby —Have the productivity improvements described by the member for Blair led to any reduction in container costs for importers and exporters; and—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The question is to be brief.

Mr Danby —is that the purpose of microeconomic reform and all these productivity increases: a reduction in costs for importers and exporters?

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —I appreciate the question from the member for Melbourne Ports. I think it is not only about improvements to be gained in the cost per container but also about businesses not having their product delayed on the wharves. This is something that has always dogged trade through those ports, and being able to improve that is also significant. I am sorry I cannot answer the member's question specifically, but I think on the face of it those increases that I have noted do show that there is a solid improvement to businesses' ability to progress their cargo through those ports without delay.

I was about to discuss the fact that we will have continued improvements under this legislation that is being put forward. We have seen increased burdens placed on Customs processes because of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. The world over we are seeing the need for stronger and stronger border controls to be implemented. Part of the absolute requirements is that Customs' scrutiny of cargo be done in the most efficient manner possible.

What is happening at the moment is that we are transiting from an existing system to a much more improved system. This legislation puts in place transitional arrangements that enable Customs and the importers and traders in cargo to finalise arrangements under the old system and that provide methods with which to transit to the other system. This will mean that there will be no uncertainty there. It is important when it comes to supporting trade that we do not leave areas of uncertainty and that we continue to progress and to move towards a more robust customs process while we endeavour also to make it more accessible for business in Australia.

This is an omnibus bill. It affects a range of different legislation: the Customs Act 1901, the Customs Legislation Amendment and Repeal (International Trade Modernisation) Act 2001, the Customs Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 2002, the Import Processing Charges Amendment and Repeal Act 2002 and the Migration Act 1958.

I am pleased to note that we will continue to progress towards this more effective system of customs monitoring. I would like to highlight that improvements in this regard will continue to provide benefits to the Australian economy over the forthcoming period. I hope that this government is able to continue to provide advances of the nature that I outlined earlier. The improvement in the crane rates has been significant, but if we can support business by making our customs system work more effectively then that also will provide a benefit all around. Once again, I would like to commend the legislation and urge members to support it.