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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1249

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (18:49): It is a pleasure to follow the member for Forrest, who is always passionate about these particular agricultural and rural issues. She is a strident advocate for all things regional for her electorate and I commend her for it. I just received an email from Barney Hyams from Batlow in my electorate. He wrote that, in relation to this anti-dumping bill, I should highlight the effect that Chinese apple juice concentrate is having on Australian apple producers, with local growers now struggling to find a market for their processing apples due to manufacturers importing cheap Chinese apple juice concentrate. In fact, he said the amount of Chinese juice concentrate imported into Australia is the equivalent to the whole Australian apple crop being turned into juice. And, of course, China does not have the same high food safety production systems adopted by Australian producers. He further notes—and he is a keen observer of parliament—that the member for Fremantle is at the table. Mr Hyams said that she would know the damage being done to the apple producers of Donnybrook by cheap imported Chinese apple juice concentrate.

We know that anti-dumping measures need to be put into place. There is no better form of flattery than copying someone else, and certainly the Labor government is copying the coalition when it comes to the Customs Amendment (Anti-Dumping Commission) Bill 2013, because it is something we have been fighting for for a long time.

The bill's passage will result in the establishment of a new body known as the Australian Anti-Dumping Commission. The government intends to empower this new body with the responsibility for anti-dumping investigations as a means of addressing some of the many stakeholders concerns about unworkability of the existing arrangements and the many complexities, and significant complexities they are, and costs associated with accessing the system.

There are all sorts of problems with dumping in Australia. No matter how we try and what sort of commissions or organisations we put into place, as we just heard from the member for Forrest we are going to have problems whilst ever the government does not fund our quarantine system to the level at which it ought to be funded and does not fund it to the point where it can actually stop a lot of the dumped produce coming into our nation.

In July last year there was a particular problem in my electorate concerning growers who raised three matters with me: a tenfold increase of federal Labor government charges associated with registering a facility for export; lack of drive and support for opening and maintaining export market access; and failure to impose the same quality restrictions on imported goods as Australian produced goods. It strikes to the heart of this debate that we are having tonight.

In July 2012 orchardists received a notice from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry advising new charges and fees to be imposed to register sheds for packing oranges for export. The new annual charge for registered establishments under what is called 'Tier 3 protocol markets' increased, under this new law put in place by Labor, from $550 per annum to—wait for it—$8,530. That is on top of the high Aussie dollar. That is on top of the fact that they were having their water taken from them. That is on top of all the other things that are affecting the markets and their ability to make a profit. It was a significant increase and an unfair and unwarranted increase which orchardists have no way of recouping. I am told that for a registered inspector to give the shed the all clear could, in some instances and depending on previous standards met et cetera, take as little as 30 minutes to an hour, which seemed, considering one of the new fees is as high as $8,530, quite exorbitant, if not downright outrageous. This was not just happening in Griffith, this was happening right throughout Australia.

Growers feel they were given very little warning about these changes—nothing new about that, coming from the Labor government, because everything they do is policy on the run and, 'Let's waste money here, but hit Australian families and Australian businesses on the other hand.' The move to a centralised unit in Melbourne for the south-east region plant export program is, as my citrus growers believe, bureaucracy gone mad. Indeed, they were right. Unfortunately, they were the ones who had to foot the bill, as always. Growers, families and small businesses are being hit in the neck by this uncaring, wasteful government. The orchardists felt that in addition to the increase in fees, the federal government placed undue barriers on new entrants to the export market. There is failure to assist growers to help their produce to enter key markets, including Japan.

On one hand they are being hit by imports coming in and flooding the market. On the other hand, when they tried to send our—as member for Forrest quite correctly pointed out—fresh, clean, world's-best produce overseas, they were being impeded all the way. And who by? The Labor federal government—the Commonwealth government which should have been supporting them, helping them and doing whatever it could to make sure that they were able to operate in the so-called free-trade market that we are supposed to be in. The level playing field which—as you would know Mr Deputy Speaker, coming from Maranoa—does not really exist.

Growers believe assistance into the Japanese market could inject many tens of millions of dollars into Australia's balance of trade. In addition to facing difficulty entering the export market, growers feel that they were being disadvantaged in the local market as they were forced to compete with citrus juice and citrus juice concentrate being sourced from overseas countries, particularly Brazil. This has seen many Australian growers withdrawing their juicing varieties. Australian citrus juice is of the highest quality and meets our very high, stringent standards—as it should. Growers are concerned that the imported juice does not appear to be required to meet these standards, and that is a common theme coming from my Riverina electorate, coming from the electorate of the member for Murray and, certainly, from the electorate of the member for Forrest.

Furthermore, many citrus growers are being forced to dump their fruit at record levels as the increase in cheap imports and the high Australian dollar allows juice companies to offer as low as $25 per tonne for navel oranges and the fruit is selling for $4 a box in the cities. So how can they compete? It is just heartbreaking to see this fruit either rotting on the vines or being stripped, laid on the ground and then churned back into the dirt while the good folk of Griffith, Leeton, Yanco and other places in my electorate just watch as their year's produce—their year's work—gets turned over into the ground. It is absolutely shameful and heartbreaking.

Local growers have expressed their dismay at this situation and they believed back then it was the worst case of dumping in history. Nothing has changed. It is still the same today. Citrus growers have a strong history in the Riverina and have spent a century doing what the nation has asked them to do—to produce food to feed us and to produce food to feed foreign nations. It is imperative that the government ensures that Australian produce has the opportunity to thrive not only in local markets but also in the international arena.

I am quite pleased that this Customs Amendment (Anti-Dumping Commission) Bill is going to be put into place, and I certainly hope it is effective. I referred to that huge increase from $550 to $8,530. I wrote to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, and I received a reply. It took him nearly two months, but I got the usual standard words from him and, really, it gave my citrus growers absolutely no hope or recompense for the problems that they felt were brought upon them by the Labor government. Only this week, Graham Gorrel, a friend of mine and a columnist in the local newspaper—indeed, Graham Gorrel was the editor of the Daily Advertiser newspaper when I began my journalistic career, and I followed him as the editor of that publication—wrote to me:

I notice in the past week the prune growers in Australia are facing dwindling markets because of cheaper imports, due to the high Australian dollar and the usual raft of other problems. Then a friend told me growers at Shepparton left either 60 tonnes (or it maybe 600 tonnes, but either way a lot) of apricots to rot because SPC couldn't handle any more for processing. … isn't there some way a Federal Government (of any persuasion) can't simply say no more imports of fresh produce in times like these or at any time for that matter? It is ridiculous that we pay less than half the price of Australian vegetables and fruit for overseas produce like grapefruit, oranges and onions, notably.

Of course, he is so correct.

I notice that earlier in this debate the member for Throsby was talking about the dislocation for manufacturing and for agriculture when we entered these so-called free-trade agreements. He is right. There has been severe dislocation for manufacturing—

Debate interrupted.