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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2084

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (17:39): It was interesting to hear the last speaker. Early in his speech I was not sure if he was calling for the nationalisation of the supermarkets and outlawing discounts altogether. But I want it to be clear to the House that he made an incorrect statement. He said that this government has not increased the resources going to Customs. He should have read the last bill, which we introduced in March 2011. It increased staff working on the antidumping regime; in fact, there was a 45 per cent increase in staff working in this area. I wanted to clarify that point and put it on the record because we have been working very hard at increasing the resources to actually deal with this problem—something the Howard government ignored for their whole 11 years in office.

I am very pleased to support the Customs Amendment (Anti-Dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011, which builds on the legislation already introduced by this Labor government to improve Australia's antidumping system. Dumping has a negative impact on local Australian businesses, especially small businesses, in the areas of manufacturing and primary production. I think it is important to make a distinction between the concepts of dumping and promoting free trade, because they are two entirely different things.

Australia is an exporting nation and, as a result, it has been in our interest for many years to gain access to more markets around the world to export our goods and services. Trading with other nations has increased our national prosperity and has insulated us, especially during the global financial crisis. As a result, there has been a longstanding bipartisan commitment over many decades to reduce trade barriers through agreements and cooperation. Since Paul Keating, in 1994, did the trade negotiations through APEC, we have seen the reduction of trade barriers in our region and a huge opportunity for Australian companies, with around 18,500 doing business in ASEAN countries.

However, the practice of dumping is not trade liberalisation; it is the manipulation of markets. Dumping is a practice whereby overseas companies deliberately and maliciously sell products in foreign markets at grossly below their normal value and in an overabundance which is deemed predatory to normal competition. Injurious dumping is a problem; in short, it leads to the manipulation of markets through predatory pricing.

I believe this is something that we need to tackle. What we have seen as result of dumping is that damage is done to domestic producers, weaker competitors are driven out of the market and the surviving business, usually the business doing the dumping, looks to recoup its costs by raising prices well above competitive levels, leading to a big monopoly in the market. We have seen that this is a problem here in Australia. Australian Customs dumping notices in Australia last year showed that manufacturers of paper, glass, food and steel were hurt, with most of the dumping being done by companies from Russia, China, the US, Indonesia and Thailand.

These unfair practices have been and continue to be a great threat to our national economy and to Australian jobs. That is why this government has acted to strengthen our antidumping regime to prevent this anticompetitive behaviour. As I said, this is after years and years of inaction by the Howard government. We have seen the coalition in recent days cry some crocodile tears in this area. But during their whole time in office they were not interested. It took the election of a Labor government for something to be done in this area.

The World Trade Organisation recognises that dumping can cause material injury to domestic markets; indeed, the WTO allows countries to take action against dumping that causes material injury. Here in Australia, any industry that believes dumping is occurring and is threatening, or could threaten, material injury can apply to the Customs department to investigate and impose measures to redress the situation. The measures are designed to offset the effect of injury in the form of a duty or the importer accepting an undertaking that future trade will be done at or above the minimum export price. It is of critical importance that our antidumping system is working efficiently and effectively to ensure that our domestic markets are not adversely affected by this predatory behaviour. This is of particular importance in the current economic climate, where, as a result of the strong Australian dollar, sections of our economy are under pressure. One of those sections is manufacturing.

As I said, it took this Labor government to focus on what we need to do. We asked the Productivity Commission to look into our antidumping system. After very extensive consultation with all the stakeholders, this Labor government acted to improve our antidumping system with our first tranche of reforms, introduced in March 2011.

There were five key areas of these reforms. The first was to improve timeliness, through, as I mentioned before, a significant increase in the numbers of Customs staff able to work on antidumping issues; the introduction of provisional measures at the earliest opportunity, to remedy the negative effect on dumping sooner; and the introduction of a 30-day time limit for ministerial decisions on antidumping cases.

The second area was stronger compliance, through a dedicated resource within Customs to boost monitoring of measures to ensure compliance and combat attempts to circumvent any antidumping duties.

The third area was to improve decision making, through the greater use of trade and industry experts in investigating complaints; the introduction of a more rigorous appeals process supported by more resources—once again something that the previous speaker failed to recognise; clarifying the list of injury factors that can be claimed by domestic industries; clarifying Customs' approach to injury determinations; and providing flexibility in allowing extensions of time to complete complex cases.

The fourth area was better access to the antidumping system, through a new support officer to support small and medium business and downstream manufacturers and producers to actively participate in antidumping investigations; improving access to imports and subsidies data; clarifying the data requirements for making an application; clarifying the parties who can participate in investigations, to include relevant industry associations, unions and downstream industries; and providing a more flexible basis for parties wishing to seek a review of existing measures.

The fifth area that we focused on was providing greater consistency with other countries, through regular consideration of the practices and decisions of other countries and allowing Australian companies to combat a wider range of subsidies.

These were the amendments that were focused on in our first tranche of reforms, and the bill before the House today adds amendments that build on the excellent work already done. There are a number of new areas that this bill looks at. The first is a new appeals process. The second is an International Trade Remedies Forum. The third is more flexibility in seeking an extension of time to investigate dumping claims.

I will briefly go through each of those. The first involves the implementation of a review panel that will have at least three people to replace what is now just one officer carrying out investigations. This amendment will provide a further tier to the review process and allow trade unions and downstream industries to participate in the administrative reviews. I think this is a very important addition and will allow for claims of dumping to be properly investigated.

The second is the establishment of an International Trade Remedies Forum. This is an important aspect of the improvements. The International Trade Remedies Forum will constantly monitor the system's effectiveness and provide advice and feedback to the government. It will oversee the implementation of our reforms into legislation and ensure that we continually consult with business, industry, employee associations and trade unions.

The third involves time extensions. We have seen some very complex cases in the area of dumping. This amendment allows the CEO of Customs to ask for an extension, or more than one extension, with the approval of the minister, so that they can investigate very complex cases.

All in all, these amendments build on the government's great work already in this area. I certainly support them. After years of the coalition's inaction and ignoring of this area, I was quite surprised that the Liberal Party, when the government announced its reforms, quickly came out and decided to have a policy. Unfortunately it was a hollow policy which seemed to renege on their many years of bipartisan commitment to free trade. In fact, the coalition's policy was not only ill thought through but, if it were ever implemented, could make Australia violate its international trade obligations and risk retaliation against Australian exporters, which would inevitably result in trading partners taking Australia to the World Trade Organisation. This would put at risk millions and millions of dollars worth of exports—for example, $110 million worth of sugar, $39 million worth of Tasmanian chocolate and $52 million worth of automotive exports. That is what the coalition's policy is going to put at risk. It will not benefit consumers. It will not improve the system. It would be a responsible action of the opposition to leave their policy behind, to support and get behind these amendments and to stand up for our manufacturers, whether they be domestic producers or exporters, and work properly on this issue, not just try to get a headline for the day.

I am pleased that this government has looked at this, to improve the system so that many people—including industry bodies and downstream manufacturers—have better access to our antidumping system and so that we get fast outcomes from this. I commend the bill to the House. I hope that the opposition supports these changes.