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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2086


Dr STONE (Murray) (17:52): I too rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011. This is a bread-and-butter issue for the people in my electorate because, after all, we are the food bowl of Australia and we find ourselves constantly being attacked by product brought in from overseas which is offered at below the costs of production and all of the other costs involved in getting the product to Australia. This is a serious problem.

Of course, we, along with New Zealand, do not subsidise our farmers. We have product constantly knocking on our door which comes from, say, the eurozone, where they are trying to diminish their levels of subsidy but there is still a very significant level of support for their growers, whether it is for preserved and processed summer fruits or for dairy product. We find ourselves constantly having to look to government to provide some sort of protection through a good antidumping regime.

I am very pleased that the Labor Party have at last understood the difficulties of people who try and make things in this country—the manufacturers and the food growers. They have come very late to this scene, so I suppose it is not a great surprise that again they have got it pretty wrong. Of course we agree with having a robust and timely antidumping regime in Australia. The problem is that there has to be acknowledgement that that also needs resourcing.

It is all very well to invite us to get excited about the fact that trade unions are now going to be invited to take part in appeal processes. I am sorry; I do not get very excited about that, because of course trade unions are only involved in some areas of manufacturing in Australia, and almost every year we see that level of involvement going down as the workers walk away from trade union membership. But that, apparently—we are told by the previous speaker—is something to be very proud and pleased about and is, she says, a hallmark of the success of the government's changed legislation.

I say that a hallmark of good legislation and a real change for antidumping regimes in Australia would have been if they had said that there were genuinely additional resources to make an antidumping regime work. We know they are robbing Peter to pay Paul. They are going to be taking away resources currently dedicated to quarantine services, to Biosecurity Australia, and they will be putting them across to the antidumping regime. There is just one other element for my food producers which cannot possibly be any further reduced in terms of government service—that is, the biosecurity or quarantine services.

We have an extraordinary problem in Australia, being an island nation and being a nation with a climate from Mediterranean right through to a tropical type seasonal regime, so we are vulnerable to a whole range of pest species, feral animals and new insects. We need a robust and vigorously upheld quarantine system, a system that has inspections, a system that makes sure that there is more than the odd container occasionally looked at as it comes through the wharves. Unfortunately, we are now experiencing some pests and diseases like the new, terrible myrtle rusts, which are affecting our eucalypts and the Asian bee invasion. We have new species of feral animals and insects coming into Australia, where we can only imagine the damage that is going to be wreaked over time because there has been no biosecurity or adequate quarantine response.

Of course, our greatest fear is apple and pear fire blight. While we have managed through the industry to have the demand for fresh apples from New Zealand dampened by an appeal to fellow Australian consumers not to touch that product, we were also appalled to find that, after the announcement when Julia Gillard stood up in the New Zealand parliament and said, 'I'm sorry we've been keeping your apples out; we promise we won't be bad anymore, and you can come in when you like,' we saw the first flood of attempted exports of fresh apples from New Zealand to Australia and, lo and behold, there was over 30 per cent contamination of the cartons of fresh apples that they tried to land on us. They included the insect the leaf curling mite, which is a major problem. We can only imagine that some of the trash within the boxes contained the European canker we dread and, of course, the bacterial infection of apple-pear fire blight itself. It cannot be seen by the naked eye, so, if the trash was in the boxes and if there were living, breathing insects which were designated pest species, heaven help us when it comes to the bacteria itself.

This legislation, the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill, has to be given additional new resources if we are to take it seriously. But we are told no, the resources are going to be shifted across from biosecurity and quarantine services. That is just not on. I am in great fear and dread of the consequences of that for the phytosanitary condition of our products in the future and our chances to fight away disease.

I am also very concerned about the fact that the real issues for my manufacturers and for my growers have not been addressed at all with these changes. The real problem is: how does a tomato grower or, as we were told today on ABC Rural News, an Aussie citrus grower compete against a cheaper import when they have to go overseas and try and find the evidence, perhaps from a country with a central management, a country that has a very non-transparent set of costs associated with its manufacturing—in the case of China—from paddock to plate? How does that Australian grower or small manufacturer extract from that other country the cost of its labour, the cost of all its other inputs, the cost of the storage of its product and the full cost of transport to land it in Australia? Yet that is what we are still expecting an Australian manufacturer or grower to do. You need more than a couple of individuals helping out in that process. They say, 'Look, we're shortening time frames; it's going to be quicker and easier.' The point is that it takes quite a bit of resource, effort and indeed time to prove your case that the product from overseas landed in Australia is being sold at under the costs of production for that product.

Today we have the Australian citrus growers angry to find more cheap produce arriving in Australia. Egyptian oranges are reportedly selling for $10 a case at the Sydney retail fruit market, compared to $16 for an Australian case. Riverina Citrus believes the oranges have been dumped and wants the Australian government to check if the Egyptians have subsidised the exports. The group claims most local fruit this season is already being sold at below the cost of Australian production and therefore these cheap imports will further damage their industry. Australian citrus growers have had a very hard time in recent years. They just do not have the resources to head off to Egypt any time soon. So they are begging the Australian government to check out this situation for them. I say good luck, because there is no indication at all that the International Trade Remedies Forum that we are being told to celebrate is going to be able to step in and do anything fast.

We are told that there will be changes to extension of time for reviews, which will allow Customs and Border Protection more flexibility in dealing with complex matters and scope for consideration of new information. I have already mentioned we are told to celebrate the fact that additional stakeholders will be allowed to be involved in consultation going forward. In particular, we are to celebrate trade union involvement in there. Well, none of that helps the Aussie citrus growers from the Riverina who, right now, cannot survive too many weeks of not being able to sell their product because they have a new contestant in the marketplace selling oranges for $10 a case when they are taking—rock bottom, below the cost of production—$16 for an Australian product. This is our dilemma.

The only way we can actually do right by Australian manufacturers—the workforces, the owners of Australian manufacturing who still make things in this country—and the only thing that will really help them get a fair go in this country is through a properly resourced antidumping regime where the government of the day holds their hand in getting information out of other places, often information that belongs to the governments of other nations. That onus of proof of dumping, of material damage to the Australian product, is hard to do for an under-resourced, struggling Australian manufacturer.

We have to understand that a lot more resource has to be put into this. There has to be a lot more listening to the industries themselves, whether they are small manufacturers of gadgets and widgets or the last of our Australian food manufacturers, who are trying to hold up their end despite the problems that they face with the high Australian dollar and with food labelling in Australia, which allows consumers to have a guess at what 'made from imported and local ingredients' really means. These are the problems also confronting them right now.

Meanwhile, we know that if we do not get this right, if we do not get genuine antidumping improvements soon—if we lose our citrus industry or our pear industry—we are not going to be able to recover quickly or ever in the ongoing history of Australian food security. It takes more than 10 years for a pear tree to come into production; it will go on bearing for 90 years. But if you knock out the viability of that pear orchard now, you are not going to see anyone stupid enough to try again in the near future if our government policies remain as enemies of the people.

In conclusion, we, the coalition, understand the incredible importance and significance of having a robust, properly resourced antidumping regime. We want to see adequate resources put into this. We have real concerns about Labor's unwillingness to resource Customs and its decision to fund its changes through cost shifting. We want to see a much better approach. We are going to launch our new policy for the next election and we certainly are not going to sit back and say, 'There has been a bit of lip-service paid, the unions can now have a say, so the job is right.'