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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1246


Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (18:34): The Customs Amendment (Anti-Dumping Commission) Bill 2013 is what we see as the next stage of the government's revamp of customs procedures, which it claims will enhance our anti-dumping capacity. It will allow the establishment of the Anti-Dumping Commission as a part of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and establish the role of Commissioner. Dumping is defined by Australian Customs as a form of price differentiation whereby goods are exported to Australia at a price that is below their 'normal value'. It also includes the use of export subsidies paid to the benefit of a foreign exporter of goods into Australia, either directly or indirectly, which gives a price advantage to the foreign entity that causes or threatens to cause material injury to an Australian industry. Put simply, anti-dumping measures are applying a temporary import duty, called an 'interim dumping duty', on products that are sold below the cost of production and a 'countervailing duty' for subsidised products in order to eliminate the cost advantage that would give a foreign supplier an unfair advantage and damage local production.

Many countries around the world, as we know, provide advantages for their industries, such as low input and labour costs and low levels of necessary compliance with government regulations. These in turn provide cost advantages to their products in mature overseas markets, where local producers are inundated with compliance and cost issues. In this international marketplace Australia, which produces some of the best-quality and most efficiently produced food and fibre in the world as well as high-quality manufacturing goods, often we struggle to compete on price alone. Frequently in the agricultural sector a large amount of research and development funding is being required to maintain our edge The agricultural sector was growing its production at over two per cent a year in efficiency, and this was quite above the normal rate, but it has come back to around one per cent in recent times.

That is also as a result of some of the challenges facing our growers and our farmers. Of course, one of the only ways that our primary producers can manage this and manage the challenges of the international market is to manage their costs of production. There is innovation, there is cost of production, and there are efficiencies. That is what Australian growers do very well. What really concerns me is that, in our effort to compete internationally, we do not need to make compliance to the extent where we are far less competitive by adding unnecessary cost to our local growers and producers and increasing the cost of doing business in Australia compared to international competitors. That is where we are at. I would say this has been much worse because, when you look at the costs added to an Australian producer, the cost of a carbon tax is right up there.

I talk to the dairy farmers and the dairy groups and, of course, they have to compete on an international stage and they have to compete in an international market that has a number of subsidy advantages—either subsidy, or tariffs or both. They have, through their efficiency, through their innovation, through their productivity improvements, been able to compete, but the more cost you add to that here the less they can be competitive. For instance, there is an excess of nine billion litres of milk that has to be cooled on farm, and we do know that our dairy manufacturers have been affected by the carbon tax. That adds cost which does not help any of our primary producers or their ability to compete in an international market. Any business that uses power is going to feel any increase in cost imposed by this Labor government. Almost every business in Australia is less competitive in overseas markets, if they are able to export, and less competitive in their own domestic markets against foreign imports because you have increased the cost of their production systems, and that is what we have seen.

It should also be noted by the parliament that the Labor government has a really poor record of defending Australia's borders and maintaining our quarantine and biosecurity. We have an international reputation as a clean and green producer and we should be guarding this. The government clearly has no care for this issue. It does not understand how important our clean and green reputation is around the world. We can see what has happened in China. We can see some of the challenges with consumption of products. That is why maintaining our quarantine and biosecurity measures are so important, but what we have seen is that Labor has consistently stripped funding and personnel from all of the Commonwealth law and border enforcement agencies. To those of us who are in the primary production sector this is front and centre of the problems that we face. Our borders are critical, and our clean and green reputation around the world is the best-selling tool that we have got. People around the world buy Australian produce because they know it is clean and green, but it only stays clean and green if we protect the integrity of our borders and our biosecurity.

I know that the government has taken a further million dollars this year from the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and that includes 750 staff cut from Customs. So we are going to be inspecting less cargo. There is to be $64.1 million cut from Customs in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 budgets. Each one of these measures affects our capacity to manage our biosecurity. There has been $264.5 million and 97 staff cut from the Australian Federal Police, and $22.2 million and 144 staff have been cut from the Australian Crime Commission. We know that there have been $15.2 million and 35 staff cut from AUSTRAC and $8.7 million from CrimTrac and $1.2 million from the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. Last year the Community and Public Sector Union confirmed the damage that Labor's staffing cuts are doing to Australia's national security.

Regional Australia, especially our agricultural sector, is extremely concerned. The Beale quarantine and biosecurity review was commissioned by Labor and it called for hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on AQIS and quarantine annually to provide proper, real protection to our nation's borders so that we can compete internationally and maintain our clean and green reputation and our capacity to produce some of the best quality food and fibre in the world. Instead of heeding the Beale report, the government failed to act, except to spend 2½ years since its release running it down and stripping out its assets. This is particularly important in this debate because, without any price advantage and with additional cost applied by this government, Australian producers and manufacturers have to rely wholly and solely on their capacity to improve their productivity, on quality and on safety to compete effectively in the marketplace, be that domestic or international. We do know that the products that are being imported into this country do not have a carbon tax or certainly not one at the price that Australia has. Australian agricultural and food producers can only rely on that clean image of high quality to find markets. We need to retain that.

If you look around the world, in the future there is a premium on being able to produce some of the best quality food and fibre in the world. Agricultural production in this country drives $155 billion a year in economic production—over 12 per cent of GDP—and yet I do not see the Labor government placing a value on this and being prepared to protect that opportunity and the capacity to produce food. Australians have never gone hungry. Our food and fibre producers in this country produce some of the best quality food in the world, and Australians have never been hungry as a result. Agricultural production in this country supports around 1.6 million Australian jobs and $32 billion a year in farm exports. We do know, because I have said it frequently, that during the global financial crisis it was not acknowledged in this place, particularly by the other side of politics, that it was agricultural exports that kept Australia out of technical recession.

But how often was that recognised here. And how often since that time has more and more been removed out of the agricultural and biosecurity budgets. It has been a constant cash cow for this government. As for producing in this environment, productivity, innovation, research and development and protection of our borders are all key issues affecting growers in this country.

If we are competing with foreign food products that are cheaper and are underwritten by cheap labour or low-quality controls, our producers have to rely on their capacity to innovate, and they are innovative. I have great confidence in our farmers. We also rely on the perception in the international markets that we have a higher quality, safer and more ethical reputation. That is what we sell. We do not just sell a product. But it has to be maintained. Our border and biosecurity protection, our AQIS and quarantine are critical in this. Around the world I do know that Australian produced food is regarded as safe, clean and green. But the government is taking it for granted. It is essential that we maintain this reputation, but it is being put at risk by the incompetence over biosecurity. Our worst fears look increasingly likely as the government continues to ignore glaring failures in proactively protecting Australian shores from pests and diseases.

Australian farmers and food manufacturers know that their greatest selling asset, Australia's virtually disease free status, is at risk. We in rural and regional areas, we who are producers, understand this very well. But we cannot get that message through to the government. We see cut after cut. I despair to think what is going to be in this next budget. What is the next hit that agriculture, research and development, biosecurity or border protection are going to have to wear because of this government's addiction to wasteful spending. For example, Labor's 2009 federal budget slashed $58.1 million from the quarantine and biosecurity budgets and reduced inspections of arriving passengers and cargo, leading to the loss of 125 jobs. We know that the cuts to screening by the Rudd-Gillard government reduced the number of potential sea cargo inspections by 25 per cent, and 2,150 fewer vessels are being boarded on arrival. Labor has cut aerial surveillance by $20.8 million and 2,215 aerial surveillance hours, or more than 90 days. Labor cut boat interception funding by $48.1 million over the forward estimates. In 2012-13 budget, Customs was forced to cut 1 in 5 senior executive service officers. Labor has cut $9.3 million in 2014-15 to Customs in a plan to reduce capital spending and other 'low-risk' organisational activities.

These are critical matters for all of those who are producing food and fibre in this nation. What we have seen consistently from this Labor government is the failure to acknowledge the fact that they are critical. We have seen attacks on those budgets. What bothers me and others on our side of politics is what the next round of cuts are and how this government is going to continue to add costs. The diesel fuel rebate is coming back—another six-odd cents a litre. Every single thing we use, build with and use in our businesses is delivered on the back of a truck and everybody in regional Australia is actually going to have to pay more, and our capacity to produce and compete in international markets is going to be further compromised. Just consider how many kilometres the vehicles and prime movers do to deliver to us on a daily basis. Every single thing I use in our business on the farm and in our regional community arrives on the back of a truck. We will see that come into being in 2014 if this Labor government stays in office. We need to make a change.