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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 7795


Senator COLBECK (Tasmania) (11:45): I rise to make a contribution on behalf of the opposition in relation to the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 1) 2011, the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2012, the Customs Tariff (Anti-Dumping) Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012 and the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 3) 2012. Right at the outset we note that this is the fourth time that we have been here to look at amendments to this legislation. The government's approach to this, I have to say, has been somewhat tardy and symptomatic of their approach to the management and governance of this country over the last five years. That having been said, the opposition will be supporting this legislation. We note that it does fall within the framework of policy that we already have on the table and in that context, in my view, if the opposition can get this work done with the limited resources of opposition it is a bit difficult to understand why it has taken the government so long to get through this whole process.

These bills will actually do a number of things. The legislation will lead to: the creation of additional forms of duties that the minister can apply to goods that are considered to have been dumped in Australia; the amendment of subsidy provisions in the Customs Act to align them more closely with relevant definitions and provisions of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures; extension of the minister's powers in seeking to continue to impose antidumping duties beyond their originally nominated termination date; and the removal of certain limitations upon the calculation of the so-called 'normal value' of the relevant goods, essentially the prices at which they are assessed to be typically sold in their home market that time at which they were exported to Australia.

The coalition has a number of concerns in relation to the government's approach to antidumping. As I have already indicated, this is the fourth time the government have brought legislation to the chamber to deal with their commitments in relation to antidumping. We do have a particular concern in relation to their commitment to implementing the measures and resourcing the application of the legislation. It is pertinent to note that the government announced they would be increasing the staffing in the relevant branch of Customs to deal with antidumping from 31 to 45, giving the impression that they were actually increasing the resources. But it has subsequently become apparent that these changes are not based on extra financial investment, as was indicated by the ministers at the time, but are just a reworking of resources within the department. So we are robbing Peter to pay Paul as part of the process of trying to meet our obligations to industry here in Australia. We are taking resources from one area of Customs, weakening that area, to strengthen another. I am sure that those who are concerned about antidumping would be happy that resources are being added in respect of their particular area of interest, but it is of significant concern more broadly that Customs is not being adequately resourced in that respect to manage the broader customs task.

The coalition has made some commitments in respect of its policy in relation to that matter and we look forward to the opportunity to implement those commitments. In our view, a genuine increase in the branches' resources would pave the way for the use of stronger interpretations there in prosecuting dumping cases and it would also provide the opportunity for us to better align our system with those in force in other countries such as the United States and a number of EU member states. We think that there is some real work to continue to do in relation to antidumping in Australia.

We already have a strong policy that was put into place after the work of a committee put together by the leader, a dedicated task force of frontbenchers led by our shadow minister, Sophie Mirabella, John Cobb, Michael Keenan and me. We worked through the process of developing that policy that has been out in the public arena for a while, and we note that the government are starting to pick up some of the particular issues that we raised. But unfortunately they are not resourcing Customs as well as they could; they are actually robbing Peter to pay Paul, but at the same time trying to give the impression to the broader community that they are actually putting more resources in. This is deceptive marketing of the way that they are governing when in fact they are starving other areas of Customs of resources at the same time.

The coalition task force consulted broadly with industry and also looked extensively at other models, particularly those of the United States and the European Union, to ensure that what we are proposing is as closely aligned as possible to those jurisdictions and to put our industries in Australia in a situation where they believe that they have some genuine protection against dumping. I have to say that I think Australia was seen as a pretty soft touch, as a country where the rules were applied lightly. It is pleasing that more resources are being applied into that particular area of Customs, but we need to have a process that is affordable for industry in Australia to access and in which industry also has some confidence that it will provide genuine protection in relation to their concerns about product being dumped into Australia. We have done a lot of work to ensure that our policy provides those alignments with our major trading partners and some of the major trading economies around the world. That is now on the public record. Even though it has been a slow and piecemeal process from the government, we are pleased that they are starting to come on board with the legislation. As I said, it must be a system that works, is effective, ensures we have adequate investigation and enforces our decisions.

One of the real issues that industry have brought before the coalition—I am sure they have discussed it with government as well—is that it is sometimes very difficult to access information in other jurisdictions, and that can be used as a way to delay the processes to the disadvantage of Australian industry. I think it is reasonable that we have in place provisions that enforce the need to provide information that is being sought by Australian companies and, more importantly, the Australian government in a timely manner so that decisions can be made that do not disadvantage Australian business. The impact can occur very quickly in some circumstances, and so the negative impact can occur in a short period of time, the investigation may take a long period of time and significant damage could be done in the interim. The additional resources are important, as I said—our system needs to be better resourced. But making sure that the system is effective, is accessible and is cost-effective for industry to access is very important.

Another issue the coalition have talked about, which was pooh-poohed by the government when we raised it, was where the antidumping decisions are actually held within the government. We have talked about taking it out of Customs and giving it to another agency. The Minister for Home Affairs said in November 2007:

Moving responsibility for anti-dumping decisions from Customs to another department is just bureaucratic reshuffling and will take away responsibility for making decisions from staff who actually monitor what is being imported into Australia.

Yet now we find the government are actively considering that themselves. When we released our policy it was a really bad idea, but now it might not be such a bad idea. Again we find the government following the coalition in the development and implementation of policy.

Given that we are supporting the legislation, I do not think I need to say too much. I have highlighted the points that I wanted to highlight about this particular piece of legislation. So again I indicate we are supporting it but reinforce the point that this is symptomatic of the ad hoc way that this government has managed its broader legislative framework. We have seen a number of pieces of legislation that have been brought before the chamber and have had to be modified over time, perhaps the best example of which is the carbon tax where the government did a deal with the Greens to implement the tax. The crazy ideas of the Greens do not work when put into practical application and we have seen the floor price removed and other changes made that the Greens did not want when they did the deal and negotiated the carbon tax. The government then had come back and fix up the mess they created. They have not done a deal with respect to this legislation but they have been very slow—as I said, this is the fourth piece of legislation they have brought forward to deal with dumping. We do not believe they have got it right yet, but this does come some of the way, so the opposition will support this legislation.