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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2112


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (19:38): I know that the ministers at the table, the honourable member for Blaxland and the honourable member for Jagajaga, will be delighted to know that I am now going to speak on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011. I know they understand that Australia—regional Australia—needs to be able to produce fresh food for the Australian domestic market into the future. I realise that antidumping issues cover far more than just fresh food, including vegetables, but certainly where I come from, in the electorate of Riverina, the people want to see this place pass regulations and laws so that they can continue long into the future to do the job they do so very well—produce fresh food for the Australian domestic market.

Anything that can improve antidumping laws must be pursued and pursued vigorously. This is the Australian Year of the Farmer, and in a year when we are recognising farmers and their worth to the national economy we should be doing everything we can to help and promote them. Putting in place antidumping laws which help and promote Australian farmers has to be seen as a tremendous thing. Protecting farmers against dumping is a good way of showing the value we as a nation and we as a parliament place on what they do and the products they make.

Riverina Citrus in my electorate has only today written to Australian authorities requesting that an immediate investigation be launched into possible below-cost dumping of Egyptian oranges. Currently at a Sydney retail food market a case of Egyptian oranges is selling for $10. Riverina citrus growers cannot see how such a price is possible unless the fruit is being dumped in Australia at below cost. If so, it is shameful. If you take off the $10 retail price the 30 per cent the shop makes, the percentage the agent makes and then the percentage the importer makes, and you add shipping freight and other import costs, it is hard to see how you do not have a product which is being dumped into Australia. Australian growers across all commodities are already struggling with the high Australian dollar. As Riverina Citrus Chairman Frank Battistel said this afternoon, the last thing we need is other countries dumping their produce here. He emailed me:

If trade in and out of Australia is to be free, it also must be fair.

If the Australian Dollar continues at its high level and we continue with this flawed free trade concept without a level playing field there will be no growers left in a few years.

They are the wise words of Riverina Citrus Chairman Frank Battistel just this afternoon. I wholeheartedly agree with him. He is rightly worried about the future for Australian farmers. Mr Battistel is concerned that growers, pressured by banks, pressured by falling margins, pressured by the vagaries of weather and pressured by the uncertainty of future water availability—and in my view pressured by a carbon tax that we neither need nor can afford—will have no choice but to, as he says, 'sell up to foreign ownership or sell their water to government and get out of farming and Australia can rely on imports for all our food'.

At present the ratio of food imports against locally grown food is too high. The Australian Made labelling regulations have too many loopholes, but that is another matter. Dumping means Australian businesses face unfair competition from overseas goods and food items. While it may provide a short-term boon for Australian consumers, in the long term it leads to Australian companies and farmers going out of business. This point was lucidly made by the shadow agriculture minister and shadow minister for food security, the member for Calare in regional New South Wales, in his speech tonight. On this side of the parliament we realise that food security is extremely important. It is a shame that on the other side of the House we do not have a minister for food security, because food security is going to be one of the great moral challenges and dilemmas we face. It will be an important factor into the future.

As the member for Calare pointed out, dumping is the enemy of free trade. It certainly is the nemesis of fair trade. Australian industries and businesses do not want handouts—they just want a fair go and a level playing field with our overseas competitors. We in this place should be ensuring a level playing field for Australian industry by repealing job-destroying taxes, providing competent government and giving policy certainty to industry. The first order of business in that respect is to rescind Labor's carbon tax. This will ensure that Australian industries will not pay an additional cost which no other country imposes on all of its own industries. The coalition, in government, would reform Australia's antidumping regime to ensure that our industries are not unfairly disadvantaged by foreign competitors either dumping imports at below production cost or unlawfully subsidising goods.

The current antidumping regime is flawed and disadvantages Australian industries and businesses. Some of the things in this bill are good and they need to be pursued vigorously so that we do not have the spectre of foreign companies dumping food and unwanted items on Australian shores. As I say, sometimes that provides a cost reduction for consumers, but in the long run it destroys Australian business. Currently the antidumping laws are too cumbersome, slow and prohibitively expensive for many of our businesses to utilise and to understand. When rulings are made they are often too late and do nothing to address damage to a business or industry—that is, when an investigation into a dumping accusation is actually undertaken.

What we need is a more effective antidumping regime, a regime that ensures good Australian businesses get a fair go. As the Leader of the Opposition said just yesterday, we do have a great country and we do have great Australian businesses, but they do need a fairer go. The coalition's plan to strengthen Australia's antidumping regime involves a number of things. It involves providing an additional $2½ million per year to the relevant departments so that more resources are available to improve the number, quality and speed of dumping investigations. When I came back into Australia from New Zealand on 21 October last year, after looking into the situation where apples are being imported into Australia for the first time for 90-plus years, I spoke to a Customs official at the airport who pleaded with me, when he found out that I was a member of the federal parliament, to do something about strengthening Customs laws and strengthening staffing levels so that they could do their job more robustly and more effectively. I sympathise with his views, which is one of the reasons I have come in here to speak on this very important bill tonight.

We also should provide more specialist personnel within the relevant department over and above the number of personnel currently working in Customs so that more dumping investigations are pursued. Investigations need to be faster and more effective by mandating a 40-day time limit, for instance, for parties to lodge submissions with the relevant department. Stricter sanctions against producers who fail to adequately cooperate with requests to provide information about their export of goods under antidumping investigation laws also need to be put into place. And the enforcement of provisions of the World Trade Organisation on subsidies and countervailing measures needs to be strengthened. That needs to be strengthened because, as I say, we need fair trade rather than just open free trade.

The Labor-Greens government wants to make our industries less competitive by imposing an economy-wide carbon tax that no other country has introduced. It is a job-destroying tax which will hurt regional Australia severely and put many hardworking Australian businesses way behind the eight ball. It is not needed and it will not do anything for the environment. On top of its carbon tax hit, the Labor-Greens alliance has failed to ensure that an effective antidumping regime gives Australian industries and businesses a level playing field. Labor indicated back in 2008 that it wanted revisions to the antidumping system but it then embarked on a long period of inaction. That was unfortunate. First it commissioned a Productivity Commission review of Australia's antidumping laws, in 2009, but then took 18 months to respond. When it finally made some changes in June last year, it again failed to show the political will necessary to deliver more worthwhile reforms. Hopefully, this bill goes some of the way towards doing that, but more is needed—we must protect Australian farmers and we must protect Australian businesses more and more.

Every year it has been in office, Labor has not only cut funding to Customs, the agency that administers Australia's antidumping system, but has done so at a time when the organisation has been under ever-increasing stress and pressure in the area of border protection. The impact on manufacturing has been devastating. We have heard so many times in this place in recent weeks how 136,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost during the past 3½ years—an astonishing rate of nearly 750 jobs per week. When asked about that the Prime Minister put it down to 'growing pains'. It is more than just growing pains. That remark was most offensive. It is about Australian workers, Australian families, having the right to earn an income which can put their children through school, which can give their kids a decent holiday, which can pay off their mortgage—and, at the moment, Australian families are doing it tough enough with cost-of-living pressures.

Manufacturing activity has contracted in recent years and we need to do everything we can to ensure that antidumping measures are put in place which effectively protect Australian farmers and Australian businesses, who do so much for not only our domestic market but also for our national economy and for the confidence and certainty that Australia is desperately seeking into the future.