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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 640

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (11.20 a.m.) —I rise to speak on the Horticultural Levy Amendment Bill 1994, the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 1994 and the Horticultural Export Charge Amendment Bill 1994 which are being debated cognately. The Horticultural Levy Amendment Bill broadens the base of the levy by imposing levies on prescribed amounts of leviable horticultural products of a certain class presumed to be produced in Australia. Levies and charges are imposed on apples, pears, avocadoes, chestnuts, cherries, macadamia nuts, potted nursery plants, grapefruit and other citrus fruits, potatoes, onions, currants, sultanas and raisins.

  The levies are mainly paid by the producer. Levies on exported potatoes are paid by the processor and the exporter. The Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act governs the collection of the levies, which are apportioned between the Australian Horticultural Corporation and the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation. The changes to the levies have been requested by various industries, and the coalition supports the bill.

  This bill gives me an opportunity to address my comments to the horticultural industry, which is a great employer through the growing and processing activities attached to it. The industry directly employs 170,000 people. It is Australia's largest employer, directly and indirectly. For this reason, the horticultural industry needs some of its problems attended to.

  For many years, the industry has borne the brunt of the highly corrupt and subsidised world prices, which have made its life difficult. Various horticultural industries had to contend with expensive anti-dumping cases, as prices were lowered considerably by the importation, and threat of importation, of subsidised fruit. In particular, after many years of price damage, the pear and cherry industries were successful in anti-dumping and countervailing actions against subsidised fruit from the European Union.

  Fortunately, amendments to our anti-dumping rules—following a Senate inquiry which I initiated—have enabled some successful anti-dumping and countervailing actions, but they come only after there has been a lot of financial damage and high cost to the industry arising from bringing proceedings through customs, the Anti-Dumping Authority and possibly the courts. This is unlike some other countries where the government funds the actions of the industry. In practice, Australian industries—even after a successful action—cannot sit back and plan, based on imposed duties that have been proven and granted.

  An example is the tomato industry. After a 15-month process that cost the industry a six-figure amount, dumping and subsidies were proven against Thai and Italian tomatoes. These duties were supposed to apply for a period of three years. This was increased to five years after amendments which were recommended initially by the government and the Senate inquiry. However, the industry has not been able to do its necessary planning unthreatened by dumped and subsidised tomatoes coming into the Australian market, because further actions within the duty period have been brought by importers. The Australian tomato industry finds itself again having to collect its evidence and resources to fight these further actions to remove the dumping duties.

  The focus of the industry has to be directed towards anti-dumping. If much of the industry's manpower goes into this task, the direction is taken away from marketing, growing and exporting and focused on mounting an anti-dumping case. Australia is one of the few free markets in the world into which other subsidised countries can dump their oversupply of tomatoes and other produce. We have negligible tariffs and are a very attractive destination. By contrast, the United States has a 100 per cent tariff on imported tomatoes.

  I will illustrate the plight of the tomato industry. Duties were imposed in 1992 after dumping and subsidised imports were proven. The duties were revoked in June 1993, while the industry had to address itself to a challenge to the duties from Australian-based processors and supermarkets. After the dumping and subsidies of produce from overseas countries into the Australian industry were found to still exist, the duties were reimposed retrospectively to February 1993. However, there has been a further challenge to suspend the duties, and the Anti-Dumping Authority is due to reach its decision on 19 September. In reality, for the whole time the duties have been imposed after a successful case, the Australian industry has had to devote itself and its resources to fighting challenges.

  I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Sherry), who is responsible for these matters—and he is in the chamber at the moment—is taking note of this. He would agree that this is no way to run an industry. Industries need to establish prices with growers. They need to make continued capital investment in their future. Generally, there must be a process to control continual appeals, particularly if they are frivolous and for the wrong reasons. The government devotes resources to encourage Australian industries to value add and export. No honourable senator would disagree with that.

  The Australian canned fruit industry has a 30-year history of exporting Australian produce. It is a proud history. But the industry requires certainty. Senator McMullan has just released a report on food and agricultural opportunities in South-East Asia. The report speaks in glowing terms of the opportunities for a fairly huge increase in our share of the South-East Asian market over the next two decades from the current 7.5 per cent to a figure which would lift our export earnings fivefold—from the present $1.2 billion to $7.7 billion in the year 2010. It is an ambitious plan that everyone would support. Australian industry wants desperately to play a part in such efforts and progress. But when it is continuously being belted over the head by constantly fighting dumping duties which put returns in doubt, it is very difficult to plan for the future.

  Another example of the hardship of Australian industries is that they suffer before relief can be sought under the Australian system. This is happening to the pineapple industry in Queensland. The world is presently oversupplied and glutted with pineapples. In Thailand—which is our main competitor—every factory suffered a loss last year ranging from $2 million to $10 million. This means that there are a lot of pineapples available for dumping into the free market of Australia.

  In the area of food services, the Australian market is being oversupplied by this dumped product. At the same time, the Australian pineapple industry had to suffer material injury for three years before it was worth its while to bring an action under our anti-dumping laws. This is massively unfair, not only to the producers of the pineapples but also to the 1,300 unionists who work in the Golden Circle pineapple factory. When the parliamentary secretary addresses his reply, I ask him to consider not only the pineapple growers but also the 1,300 unionists—who basically all come from the electorate of Lilley, Mr Wayne Swan's electorate—who require some consistency in their jobs.

  Customs has advised that three years damage is the required period before it will accept an anti-dumping case. When this is the Australian requirement, it is an open invitation to dump products. Most importantly, what untold damage must be suffered by an industry before action can be taken against the GATT illegal practice of dumping? By contrast, when the only pineapple factory in the US, in Hawaii, made a $24 million loss last year, the US government immediately acted and imposed a 138 per cent tariff or duty on imported pineapples. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy may be able to address how the US government was able to do that under the GATT commitments.

  The US industry got immediate relief with massive tariffs while the Australian industry has to sit out its obligatory three years on the sidelines to enable it to meet Customs requirement of three years of material injury. Even then, after having suffered, an expensive process must be commenced by the industry through Customs and Anti-Dumping Authority hearings—maybe like the tomato industry—all the way to the High Court.

  The coalition, especially the National Party, enthusiastically supports the export opportunities in South-East Asia and elsewhere that the government promotes. The coalition of the National and Liberal parties enthusiastically supports the notion of value adding for our Australian rural industries, but the coalition also knows that the rhetoric and the good intentions are not translating into reality. It knows about the problems suffered by our processing industries when dumped and subsidised products can very easily enter our markets, and how for years dumped products have unfairly done irreparable harm to our growing canning industry.

  Very few in this parliament would not accept that GATT is going to be beneficial to Australia. But to put our complete faith in GATT, and to be completely pure, is not going to solve the problems of some of these industries. We have to tighten our anti-dumping laws. We cannot allow our producers, our unionists, our farmers and our canners to cop three years of damage, of harm and hurt, while they fulfil a mandatory obligation in order to be eligible to make a claim for damage that is recognised by Customs, the government and the Anti-Dumping Authority.

  These problems have to be addressed, because the government has put great reliance on our food producing industries. As I said earlier in my speech, they are the biggest employer of Australians. We cannot walk away from it. We have to look at the damage that is being done and, within the confines of GATT, find some resolution that will solve the problems for these industries.