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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2093

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (18:18): I also rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (Anti-Dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011. This bill makes three sets of minor changes to Australia's antidumping system, aiming to improve the effectiveness of the current system. The coalition recognises that there are concerns with the framework that Australia currently has in place to deal with dumping problems, and supports measures taken to ensure fairness for Australian companies and their workers.

Dumping is a serious problem for Australian manufacturers and across a large range of industries. It takes place when an international manufacturer floods the local market with their product at a price below that which they charge in their own country, forcing out local manufacturers who simply cannot compete in the unfair match-up. This poses a threat to North Queensland's and the nation's manufacturers and is something that, as a part of the coalition, I want to see strong action taken against.

There have long been problems with our antidumping regulations as they currently stand, and this has had negative consequences for Australian businesses. To date it has taken extensive pressure, not just from the coalition but from industry groups, businesses, unions and everyone affected by Australia's trade, to finally see action from the government. One problem has been the process for having an investigation made over a claim of dumping, which has been a source of frustration for many companies. The time frame for this process is often drawn out over an unacceptable length of time and the result is frequently seen by those involved to be ineffective. There are also substantial costs incurred by businesses that raise possible cases of dumping for investigation. It is a lose-lose situation for North Queensland businesses that are suffering financially as a result of dumping—they can either continue to fight the losing battle or further suffer financially to pay and have something done about it. This cost burden is preventing companies from being assisted by an antidumping system that should exist entirely to help them.

Our current system also has a greater expectation on local businesses to prove the case of dumping in a market rather than placing the onus on the accused foreign competitor to prove that they are not involved in illegal dumping. This is where the coalition makes the point that, at a certain level, the investigation should be taken away from Customs and given to the department of industry, which can follow up these things—because the first thing that Customs should be doing is protecting the country.

This bill represents the government's second lot of changes to antidumping regulations. It provides for the introduction of a new appeals process and establishes the International Trade Remedies Forum, a new body that will allow for a discourse between representatives from each stakeholder group, including producers, importers and government. And it aims to provide flexible extensions for the time frame under which investigations take place. We support the establishment of this body as an opportunity for industry to articulate problems they experience with antidumping measures and how these can be fixed.

This bill also makes amendments to the rules in place related to the time frame for dumping investigations. We also support these measures, but I am wary of the risk that the extensions to the time frame may be granted too freely. I hope that the government does not allow a relaxed approach like this to take place.

Finally, the bill makes changes to the appeals process. In response to this, the coalition are well aware of the problems that exist in Australia's current antidumping provisions and consider making appropriate amendments to this a matter of priority. That is why we support the initial steps being taken in this bill. We have our own comprehensive antidumping policy which goes further than the government's current plans. To begin with, we need to see the government shift the administration of dumping investigations away from Customs to the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

The Customs and Border Protection Service already has its hands full and this pressure has only been increased as a result of this government's extensive cuts to the agency's budget. Dumping investigations are also more appropriately handled by a department that has economic and industry knowledge. It is the job of the department of industry to have this industry awareness and it makes sense for them to take over antidumping measures, allowing Customs to focus on the core purpose of border protection that it is designed for. We also need to see a shift in the burden of proof that dumping has or has not occurred away from local businesses and onto foreign competitors defending themselves from dumping allegations. Importantly, this should be dependent on the department of industry having a reasonable level of evidence that dumping may have taken place. This protects foreign companies from accusations that have no grounding, while taking the cost burden associated with proving the existence of dumping away from the companies that are the victims of such measures. This measure would bring us into line with the system that other countries have in place and would mean that Australia's antidumping regulation will help Australian businesses.

The coalition would also commit an additional $2½ million per year to hire an additional 20 specialist antidumping staff to improve the quality and speed of dumping investigations. That is what we are after here—so that once a thing is identified, we are able to act on it as quickly as is humanly possible. These additional resources are badly needed, despite the government's continuous funding and job cuts to the Customs and Border Protection Service. We also believe that the 40-day limit on submissions to an investigation should be more strictly adhered to. In the current system extensions to that deadline seem to be too easy to obtain, unfairly dragging the process out. Better penalties are also needed against those who do not cooperate properly with an investigation.

In Townsville we are looking to expand our international reach. We want to capitalise on the benefits of trade and increase our inbound tourism, but this government's customs regulations have hampered us at every turn. In 2010 we got direct international flights out of Townsville airport when Strategic Airlines started flying to Bali. This was a huge opportunity for the city's tourism market. To get this in place, Strategic had to fly Customs officials up to North Queensland and put them up for a few days while they made their inspections. Some would say that was just the usual practice of throwing up barriers in front of a new business venture or that this was just paying for a government junket for the weekend. But we needed their numbers in Townsville then and we need their numbers now, and we need them permanently.

Clearly with trade opportunities in a city like Townsville, we have to be looking at having Customs services based in the city. I was speaking to Chris McMahon from North Queensland Customs Services about this issue. He has been working with Customs in Townsville for around 40 years. He believes that the city's staffing has slipped from 27 to about half that number. We must remember that Townsville is still an international airport. Customs are there to make sure we are all safe and they are there to facilitate trade. If we do not have the staff, we cannot process the products in and out of our airport and the port. This gets back to the point that we are still using Customs staff to do the investigation. We can get Customs to do what they are supposed to be doing. If staff want to specialise, they can move to the department of industry and specialise. Customs staff are better used in protecting our borders and making sure we are safe from disease and other things that come into our county.

I also spoke to Barry Holden who, in his capacity as CEO of the Port of Townsville Ltd, reiterated the importance of Customs in keeping disease out of Townsville. He said that, in his experience, the Customs officials in Townsville are doing a great job and that, contrary to Chris McMahon's report, at the moment the number of staff there are adequate. He did, however, point out that, as Townsville grows and the port expands, with more container traffic will come a need for a greater Customs presence.

The Asian honeybee is an example of something which has come in through the Townsville port. Could Customs have got on top of that with their staff numbers? Could they have found it? That is the big question which everyone wants an answer to. The Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Zone has just released a 50-year plan—real plans producing real growth which must be supported by all levels of government. We must get Customs doing what they are supposed to do. They must hand the responsibility to the department of industry to make sure this can happen.

We are seeing massive growth through the North West Queensland Mineral Province. We are talking about the expansion of not just our port but also the port at Abbott Point. We are talking about major things happening in Townsville. Customs should not have to deal with these particular issues. They should be getting back into facilitating trade. We must make sure that the people of Townsville and North Queensland and the North West Queensland Mineral Province have hope and opportunity every time to progress their businesses.

Finally, I spoke to Patricia O'Callaghan from Townsville Enterprise Ltd, who focused on the importance of growth in trade in the region. She said that, from a TEL perspective, Customs officers are doing their best in Townsville to assist with keeping the country safe from imported pests and other risks associated with bringing goods into the country. TEL are trying to grow our trade and tourism sector. Knowledge and educational tourism with our nearest neighbour, PNG, is a top priority for the city. We must ensure that our Customs officers are on the ground working hand in hand to ensure our port and our international transport is handled efficiently. We have situations at the moment where people with tuberculosis are arriving in Townsville and Cairns. We must get on top of these things. We have it all through Torres Strait. This is what Customs people are going through. I want changes made to the department of industry to take the bureaucratic work away from the Customs department—they flag it, they get on top of it and away they go.

I will also take this opportunity to thank the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys, who on the weekend will be hosting 97 Papua New Guinean trade students, who are currently undergoing certificate II and III courses at Barrier Reef Institute of TAFE in Townsville. This is an example of what can happen when two cities come together. Townsville has a sister city relationship with Port Moresby. Our institute of TAFE is doing fantastic work bringing these people in. We are increasing our relationship with Ok Tedi and getting their management people to Townsville to increase their level of training so that the Papua New Guinean nationals can then progress up the ladder. This is a great two-way trade that we should be participating in. Customs play a very real part in it.

The key message coming from everyone I have spoken to about this in Townsville is that we need to be working on building our international connections to drive our economic expansion in the region. How can we strive for trade growth in North Queensland when our Customs presence is going in the other direction?

The antidumping legislation is not about xenophobia or being anti trade; it is simply about fairness to Australian industry. It is good to see the government finally respond to the coalition's fight in this area. I know we do have arguments over who starts what and that sort of thing, but let us put that to the side. I support this bill for the measures it takes, but it cannot afford to stop here when it comes to working with Customs to help local businesses.

Trade is crucial to the economic prosperity of Australia and I want to see Townsville harness the opportunities that the trade of goods and services provides. To encourage this we need to make trade as easy as possible. We need the right infrastructure and we need fewer regulations, ones that enable rather than hamper trade prospects, as much of it currently does. A strong and efficiently run Customs in the city will help us achieve this. This bill is a good step, but it is not the end of the road for antidumping measures or for building up a robust Customs agency.