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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8776


Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (18:21): I rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 3) 2012. Like my colleagues, I am seeing a pattern here in government policy—or lack thereof. The government does not seem to do much except come up with something that is pretty half-baked in reaction to stakeholders' very genuine concerns. I was a member of the shadow minister's committee, and we saw this repeated quite a lot. The stakeholders, when they get no reaction from the government, come to us and, as in this case, we come up with a robust process and balanced policies. The government ridicules us and then, lo and behold, uses our policy. So in broad terms we support Labor's latest adoption of coalition policy. It is worth stating that the changes in this bill effectively represent an endorsement of the key recommendations and points in our antidumping policy.

Dumping is a very real issue for industry, including, as we have just heard from the member for Riverina, many of our agricultural industries and the domestic food processors who value-add to the things that Australian farmers grow. Dumping sees Australian businesses exposed to goods imported into the domestic market at below production cost or through unlawful subsidies—when it comes to exports, anyway—from other governments. It is a tactic that provides an illusion of short-term benefit to consumers. In the longer term, international dumping hollows out our industry, decreases competition, costs jobs and in the end will increase prices as domestic competition becomes non-existent. International dumping seeks to exploit our commitment to free trade. The catchcry of the Minister for Trade, Mr Emerson, seems to be: 'We can't do anything about anything because of World Trade Organization rules.'

It is great that the government seems to have run out of excuses not to do anything in this case and, as usual, has jumped on the coat-tails of the coalition. We have long supported any revisions that can be made to the legislation to sensibly reduce the time and the significant costs imposed on busin­esses who wish to raise a case. In particular, it is reassuring that there is now a recog­nition from the government that, across a number of areas of antidumping legislation, Australia's approach should be more aligned with the legislation of a number of other jurisdictions. The current bill is intended to achieve progress on this issue on various fronts.

The changes, after years of inaction, are a belated reaction to stakeholder concerns, which had been largely ignored until we set up our antidumping task force and developed policy on the issue. The government and its ministers have been dragged kicking and screaming into action. I suspect we may see further adoption of coalition policy when the Brumby investigation is completed. The government are trying to clear the decks for an election. If they adopt all our policies—and probably there are another 40 or so they could adopt—then they might be ready for an election, but I somehow doubt their resolve when it comes to serious action.

As others have said, this mirrors the immigration debate and the foreign ownership debate, in both of which we have led the government by the hand. In the same manner that the government used the Houston review to adopt some ingredients of the coalition's strategy to stop the boats—they will probably have to go back for the rest—the government now plan to use the Brumby review into the feasibility of a Commonwealth antidumping agency as an excuse to further adopt the coalition policy. That is right: Labor's own John Brumby has been rewarded with the plum job of undertaking another review, at taxpayers' expense, in order to allow the government—who may think they are saving some face—to adopt more of the coalition's policy. It is a massive about-face—the second one we have talked about today—from the hysterical reaction when the coalition first put forward the proposal to shift the responsibility from Customs.

The coalition is rightly proud of its work on antidumping. We have played a central role in shaming the government into action. I commend the member for Indi for her passionate pursuit of the issue and commitment to work with the stakeholders. As a member of the task force, I saw so many industries come before us talking about how the investigations are too long and too expensive and there is not enough assistance for them in trying to resolve the issues. The Gillard government has embedded a culture of complacency, of 'She'll be right, mate,' and it has only been through stakeholder and coalition commitment to resolve the issue that we have had any movement at all.

Our system would benefit greatly from a decisive change of political attitude and culture, which was one of the principal reasons we advocated the removal of this role from Customs. There simply must be less tolerance of noncompliance and noncooperation, and we stated that very plainly within coalition policy. It is undoubted that changes that generally increase the effectiveness of antidumping investigations in Australia are badly needed, because, as I said before, the investigations are too long, too expensive and there is not enough help for companies—which some­times are not terribly big; they cannot afford the incredible costs and the time. Quite often we heard of companies that had pretty much disappeared by the time their case looked like coming to fruition. That is how long it takes and how expensive and hard it is for them to deal with.

Anyway, it is good that Labor now agrees with us and is taking some of the correct steps, through this legislation, to close some of the openings and escape clauses that presently exist. It is right across industry. We heard the member for Riverina outlining how devastating it can be for an industry when they go out of business, if they try and wear the losses when it gets too much. They are our people and they deserve our assistance and our help, particularly when antidumping is happening.

I think that most of these issues have been covered by others. I have listened to a lot of industries come across the task force desk. Every time it was pretty much the same issue: it is the time taken and the culture of saying 'we are not sure we can help you with this'. The cost to a medium or small business is prohibitive. By the time anything happens the damage is well and truly done. I commend the changes to the House.