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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1720

Mr RIPOLL (Oxley) (09:17): I am pleased to be able to speak on this antidumping bill because this bill builds on the very good reforms and the very good work that Labor did in government for many years to ensure that Australian industry has a fair go and is not the victim of malicious dumping actions by a whole range of particular producers from countries all over the world. It is not particular to any one nation, and I will probably restrict myself from naming any particular country, although there are some industries and some particular dumping behaviours from a range of countries that have been ongoing for many, many years. We will not be opposing this bill, because this bill, as I said, does build on the reforms that we put in place. And they were significant reforms. It should not just be brushed over as though nothing had been happening in this space. In fact, quite significant things have happened.

It reminds me of the complexity that is involved in this particular area of policy. Some people listening to government members speaking on this might make the assumption or the assessment that it is all very clear and simple; that it is just black and white: something is clearly being dumped, and we should take immediate action on the spot and the dumping will cease. If only it were that easy; if only it were that clear; if only there were no other prices to be paid, then we might have resolved this ongoing issue much earlier, not just for Australian but for the rest of the world.

But the reality is somewhat different. It is a very complex set of actions and determinations and measures to determine that there is a particular dumping behaviour going on, to determine how you then deal with it in a proper, fair manner, and to determine how you then rectify it and ensure that it does not continue to happen. We were not slouches in this area. We actually did a lot of work. I was involved with quite a bit of that work and realised how much we had been left behind in some of those areas under previous governments.

The idea of antidumping is not so much about protection per se. It is about ensuring a playing field that is as fair as possible for our industries, our companies, our business and our workers. Government, opposition, state governments and territory governments ought to all be on the same page on this, because the ultimate goal, and what we all desire in this, is the same outcome: that we grow Australian industry, and that we give Australian businesses, companies and workers a fair go, so that they are not the victims and they are not being injured by the malicious behaviour of certain industries and companies and countries that would want to do us harm by dumping their products on to our markets.

As I said, it is a complex area of policy because initially you might think that everyone would agree that we just need to stop these products coming in, or to get rid of them the moment that we know that they are there. But you will actually find that there are a whole heap of people who want them. This is the controversy of cheap versus dumped, because sometimes it is hard to tell which is which. It is hard to tell a consumer that they cannot have that really, really cheap product because it is being dumped on our markets and it is injuring one of their neighbours who happens to have a small business up the road that is producing a similar product but cannot compete on the basis that the market is being flooded by not a cheap product but a dumped product—and there is a significant difference. In there lies a whole range of complex policy positions that you have to take in order to best provide that consumers—and that includes industry, right through the supply chain—can access good cheap goods and inputs to their businesses and so that consumers, in the end, can get value for money. We see it across a whole heap of industries. It is pretty hard to argue against a consumer who wants to buy a really cheap car. Why should they be forced to pay for a more expensive car?

Using examples of New Zealand and other countries in terms of how they might deal with things I think belies the reality of what happens in individual countries like Australia with a much more complex economy and which are much more complex in terms of some of the industries and some of the things that we produce here as a manufacturing nation. We are not just a nation that digs holes, although predominantly that is what we are. We dig holes and export resources; that is the backbone of our economy, the strength of our economy. But it is much more complex than that as well.

We have the potential to be the food bowl of the world, not just of Asia but of the world. We have the opportunity to take agribusiness and make that a key underpinning economic piece of infrastructure for Australia. But there is a lot of work to be done in that area. It is not the old bizarre thinking of Left and Right in terms of where these things lie, because anyone who spends five minutes to look at these things and the benefits they bring to all of us understands that it really is in all of our best interests to go down these paths.

When Labor were in government, we did not sit on our hands. We did not just look at this and say it was too hard. We said, 'We're going to tackle these very difficult issues and we're going to do something about it because we want a fair, effective, antidumping regime.' We implemented some of the most significant reforms in Australia's antidumping regime in more than a decade. In 2011 we announced the comprehensive WTO-consistent improvements to Australia's antidumping system, as detailed in the Streamlining Australia's anti-dumping system policy statement. We also established the International Trade Remedies Forum, the ITRF, to provide advice on antidumping matters, with members from industry, unions and government, and in December 2012 we announced a package of reforms to Australia's antidumping system to deliver stronger protection for Australian industry against unfair competition from overseas.

Our reforms delivered much stronger protection for Australian industry—and there is nothing wrong with using the word 'protection', because it is protection against those who are doing us injury unfairly. It is not a protectionism principle or policy; it is about protecting us, our industries and our economy, from those who are deliberately trying to do us harm.

We did not just make statements and create bodies without investing some money in it as well. These reforms were enshrined in Labor's Industry and Innovation Statement in February this year, which included $27.7 million to ensure that these things would move forward. We streamlined the system. We made it faster, fairer and more timely in order that when somebody is taking some action, when there is some dumping happening in Australia, we can move fast. I know personally where there are significant areas of damage that was done in different industries, from the aluminium extrusion industry to steel to food products. Right across the gamut, there are a whole range of areas where our reforms made significant difference. They made the difference for some industry participants between surviving and not surviving. In one case in particular in the aluminium extrusion industry, they literally made the difference between whether the last manufacturer in Australia would survive or not survive.

We did some significant things not only to protect Australia's best interests but to protect industry, to protect those jobs that existed in those industries and are significant and also to protect the underpinning. There are some industries where, if you lose the capacity within those industries, if you lose the skills and the expertise, you cannot rebuild them, or it is exceptionally difficult to rebuild them after they are gone. So there are some very important reasons why our antidumping reforms ought to continue to be supported and enhanced in this particular way.

We also made it easier for small to medium enterprises to access and use the system. We invested $24.4 million to increase the Customs and Border Protection Service's investigative capability, almost doubling the number of investigations. Australia is an export country. We are a trading nation. We import and export. You would expect that, with all of these activities that take place, we would need to have a stronger Customs and Border Protection capability to make sure that we are not the victims of very unfair practices, dumping practices, from other countries. We strengthened remedies against overseas producers that injure Australian businesses by dumping and those that try to circumvent Australia's antidumping rules.

The central objective of Labor's Industry and Innovation Statement was to build an economy which prospers into the 21st century. We wanted to make sure that the things that we did, particularly in the antidumping area but right across industry, were to protect jobs and grow the economy—grow jobs, protect jobs and make sure that we can continue to do that. Our reforms to Australia's antidumping system were designed to support local business by ensuring, as best as possible, a level playing field.

But I am not kidding myself, and I do not think anybody else in this House should be kidding themselves either, that somehow this will be the panacea to all of our problems in this area, because it will not be. We have to continue to be vigilant. We have to continue to improve policy and update policy on a regular basis and update the laws in this country, because no-one in this area will be standing still. Those who want to dump products onto the Australian market will not be standing still and saying, 'Oh, well, there are the new rules in place; we'll just observe those.' They will not be doing that. They will be flexible and they will be moving, and they will find more innovative ways to get around our laws. We heard some about tomatoes from the previous speaker. We know we have these continual arguments about: what is 'Australian made'? What is dumped versus what is cheap? Those debates will continue to take place.

Labor also made an enormous commitment right across industry, a $1 billion commitment, in fact, through a range of measures to support and create Australian jobs through our Industry and Innovation Statement. This included a series of measures, particularly to allow Australian business to gain access to major domestic projects. We did that through Australian industry participation plans. This is one of the best ways that you can not only support industry but ensure that, in matching up with your antidumping regime, you have industry that can survive—survive the onslaught of dumping and survive the onslaught of cheap imported products which are not illegal, which are not part of dumping, but which cause serious injury to our industries.

The underlying message has to be the same. It was the same when we were in government. It will be the same when we are in opposition, and it will be the same when this government has gone. That message is that to build a really strong Australian economy, with a small population of just 23 million people, with a large geographic mass, we need to build our industries. We need to be competitive. We need to be productive. And we need to ensure that all the things that we do at a Commonwealth level, at a federal government level, support that. Whether it is support for Australian industry through investment, whether it is support for innovation programs or clean technology, or whether it is support of our financial services industry and continuing to push in positioning Australia to be a financial services hub for our region, because these are where our strengths lie, I think that work just needs to continue.

Labor in government not only believed in that, spoke about it and created policy in those areas but invested money. We invested a whole range of moneys in this and put in place changes to ensure that Australian businesses, Australian companies, get a fair shot at the work that is created here in Australia. We also provided $350 million as part of the venture capital initiative for a new round of industry innovation funding to attract private investment in high-risk venture capital markets, and we continued to invest in the Buy Australian at Home and Abroad program. We also established the Manufacturing Leaders Group to provide advice to government across priority areas. We understood that governments do not know everything or have all the answers. Therefore they have to turn to industry leaders and experts; they have to consult. In government you have to believe that they can contribute something as well. We gave the Manufacturing Leaders Group $5.6 million to progress projects that would help improve productivity across Australia.

We also invested $9.9 million in a clinical-trial reform program to support the pharmaceutical and medical research sectors. In contributing to this anti-dumping bill, I wanted to highlight the importance of the anti-dumping work we did in government. We will not be opposing this bill, because we believe we need to continue to strengthen the work that is being done here. It is work that is never done and it will need to be improved continually. I also wanted to highlight the important help we gave our manufacturing industries to survive. None of us, certainly not industry, should rest on our laurels, because simply having strong anti-dumping measures does not protect us. If you do not compete on price or quality or innovation and if you do not become more productive, you will be left behind. There is no question about that. The keys have never changed. Continual productivity improvement and improvement in quality are our strengths in both domestic and international markets. They are what we have built our economy on and they will continue to be our strength in the future. In conclusion, I note that this government will do some damage, because they are about to cut funding to the clean technology programs. Furthermore, they will not commit to a jobs package and they will cut under the guise of budget savings in a whole range of areas in manufacturing. In these ways they will do damage.