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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1836

Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (19:25): I rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No.2) 2011. I would like to begin by indicating that the opposition will be giving its support to the government on this legislation. For the record I would like to quickly restate some of what I said in my second reading speech from August 2011 on a forerunner version of this bill. The coalition is pleased to see the government accepting the need for change to Australia's antidumping system, for which key stakeholders have been calling for some time. It is good that something is finally being done about such problems. We are glad that the government has eventually responded to combined pressure from the coalition, Senator Xenophon, industry groups, individual businesses and trade unions to make changes such as those in this bill, including the introduction of a new appeals process to replace the existing appeals mechanism, establishment of the International Trade Remedies Forum and the creation of new guidelines for extensions to be allowed in certain circumstances. In principle these are all sensible and practical changes.

That said, I am unsure of exactly how long the process of delivering all of the government's 20-odd mooted changes is going to take, especially given that in the course of more than six months this is now the second tranche of legislation containing a combined total of seven of the changes. As a side note and in perfectly good faith I would like to ask those opposite if they could indicate in one of their contributions in this debate exactly how many further tranches they expect there to be regarding the foreshadowed changes to the antidumping regime and also by what date they expect the last of the various bills into which they have codified the changes of June last year to come before the parliament. It is not just the opposition that needs to know these matters; industry needs to know the time frame as well. At this point in time the answers to those questions are unclear and I assume they are unclear to everyone following this debate. At the very least, those of us on this side of the House would be grateful for clarification of whether the government still envisages that all of its measures will be implemented before the end of the financial year.

As for the specific changes that are being legislated through this bill, we support the establishment of the International Trade Remedies Forum. Indeed, the coalition has said for a long time that industry must be given a much greater voice in articulating improvements to the system and, more to the point, that its voice should be far more clearly heard. I am going to reserve my full judgment on the success of the practical operation of the forum until we are bit further down the track. If we take the government at face value on this and accept that its genuine intention is to bring together representatives from local industries, importers and unions and give them a better say in identifying problems and suggesting future improvements to our national antidumping system, then it is certainly a step in the right direction. However, I would like to add that it is not exactly ideal that the government convened the opening meetings of the forum, got the administrative niceties out of the way and began the discussions only to then uproot the process with a ministerial reshuffle that transferred the relevant frontbenchers to a different part of the ministry and effectively forced everyone to start the process all over again. As I understand from a few quarters, that is what seems to have happened, not to mention that the Labor Party has obviously been plagued by even more intense internecine warfare since then, one of the results of which will be that everyone now has to endure yet another ministerial reshuffle. As well, we approve the amendments being made to the rules and the guidelines surrounding extensions to investigation time lines. I want to add, though, that it is vital that the government devotes great care to how and how frequently these extensions are granted. Many parties in antidumping cases over the years have been intensely frustrated at the sheer amount of time it takes to resolve some cases, all the while incurring substantial financial costs—which is to say nothing of the damage in that relevant market. If the extensions allow for better and more accurate decision making then that is obviously a good thing. But if a large number and a wider range of extensions are in and of themselves potentially going to lead to unnecessary blow-outs in the time frames of investigations and/or be used as a cover to avoid expediting decisions where they should be made more quickly then that would represent seriously undesirable development.

I also want to stress much the same point in relation to the changes being introduced through this bill to the appeals process. In a general sense, we are supportive of the changes the government have outlined. I recognise and appreciate that one of the things that the government are trying to do here is raise the threshold for appeals to be instigated in the first place. In expanding the scope of the appeal hearings and increasing the number of people responsible for overseeing them, I want to sound a cautionary note again that the government will need to maintain a close watching brief to ensure this does not have the opposite effect to the one intended.

There is wide recognition that there are a number of flaws in Australia's current antidumping regime and that, unlike the systems in force in many other countries, it often works to the disadvantage of local industries and business. On the basis that the intent of this bill is to make some sensible administrative changes and on the assumption that the government will implement them effectively—a big assumption considering governance in the last couple of years—then the coalition is happy to support its passage.

But—and this is a significant 'but'—I really cannot let this occasion pass without expressing my disdain at the actions of the government in relentlessly using the issue of antidumping as the pretext for another unsavoury and desperate set of attacks on the Leader of the Opposition and the opposition generally during recent months, especially after the public release of our antidumping policy in November last year. Like everyone else, I recognise why the government think launching crazed attacks on the opposition might be its best form of defence at the moment, because the last thing they want is to be reminded of their own atrocious failings and dysfunction.

In the area of industry policy more specifically, they are desperate to make their absolutely miserable record and appalling disregard for Australian manufacturing vanish from view as swiftly as possible. It is obvious that there is significant internal division within the government on the subject of manufacturing. It is no surprise in the circumstances to see backbenchers in manufacturing seats like Wakefield and Corangamite backing the member for Griffith as a better choice of leader than the member for Lalor. It is also no surprise in the circumstances to see policymaking increasingly more about shrill statements than sensible manufacturing policy. It is why we have seen the ludicrous political rhetoric lately from the Labor Party on the subject of the car industry and the serial hypocrisy and arrogance of people like the Prime Minister, Senator Carr and the member for Corangamite, Mr Cheeseman, who prey on the fears and anxieties of car workers in Geelong before elections by spreading all manner of misinformation about the coalition's policies and then break billions of dollars worth of promises after those elections. That hypocrisy is breathtaking.

I still have a couple of copies of the edition of the Geelong Advertiser from mid-2010 that had Senator Carr and the member for Corangamite shamefully telling the community there how the coalition was supposedly going to cripple Ford and cripple Geelong with the proposed cut to the Green Car Innovation Fund. What happened? Overall, the Labor Party cut more than three times the amount of the saving that we suggested. Our suggest cut was $217 million. Labor ended up cutting the scheme by $885 million. There has still been no apology, no contrition and no fessing up to the squalid deception and dirty tricks.

Mr Dreyfus: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Indi should address her remarks to something that is remotely relevant to the bill before the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr KJ Thomson ): The parliamentary secretary has a point. I invite the member for Indi to return her remarks to the Customs Amendment (Anti-Dumping Improvements) Bill.

Mrs MIRABELLA: Antidumping is critical to the manufacturing sector that is facing all sorts of challenges, including that of sovereign risk due to broken promises. In that environment, it is important to canvass the issue of broken promises and how that impacts on the future viability of the manufacturing sector, and what role antidumping can play. We have seen 130,000 workers in Australian manufacturing lose their jobs since mid-2008. There are other industries in manufacturing—many SMEs in food processing, steel, glass, plastics and chemicals—who are already surviving on wafer-thin margins even before the government clubs them with ridiculous measures like the carbon tax. They are very concerned about antidumping. We have had extensive discussions with them and they are very keen to see the government's policy rolled out before they pass final judgment. The government have an obligation to explain their policies and explain how and why, if policies are so good for manufacturing, they have presided over such a sustained burning of jobs in the manufacturing sector. In the area of antidumping specifically, I have not yet seen the latest iteration of Labor's talking points, but no doubt the member for Fraser will help us out and fulfil his trademark role in his party by parroting them dutifully, word for word, a bit later in this debate. The latest lot included things along the lines that, apparently, the coalition's position was in 'fundamental breach of WTO obligations'. I think we were probably responsible for all manner of other things.

Insofar as I can make any sense of this ranting and raving, most of Labor's criticism has been directed at us because what we said in our policy was that we were determined, where possible, to make better use of preliminary affirmative determinations—and, where appropriate, we would be active in applying them from the 60-day stage of investigations. This was enough for Ministers O'Connor and Emerson to foam at the mouth about how allegedly irresponsible we were and how none of this was allowed under the WTO. In reality, what they were angry about was not that anything we were suggesting was not compliant with WTO rules; what bothered them, what really got under their skin, was that the changes we had proposed would go a long way towards creating a fundamental shift in thinking and emphasis in the way that Australia administers its national antidumping arrangements—real reform, not tinkering around the edges. I am afraid that the government have been humiliated by their own words because, as it turns out, in their own policy document, printed in June 2011, they said the following:

By day 60 (the earliest WTO consistent date a PAD can be considered) the Branch will usually have verified the domestic industry’s data, and will have received data from the exporters.

It goes on to say:

If the data submitted by the exporters shows evidence of dumping or subsidisation, this may be sufficient evidence on which to base a PAD prior to verification.

Ironically enough, that material has also been subsequently reprinted in the explanatory memorandum for this bill. So, at the same time the Labor Party is admitting to the parliament that preliminary affirmative determinations are expressly allowed at the 60-day stage and beyond, it is trying to hoodwink the public about the coalition's policy and pretending otherwise.

Of course, these kinds of double standards have been witnessed over and over again from this government—and it will no doubt continue to happen over and over again, particularly now that the member for Lalor has survived today as the leader of the Labor Party. I am hopeful that, with a new Minister for Home Affairs, we will see a far more constructive and reasonable approach, in the area of antidumping at the very least. I do not have high expectations—I am just choosing this one area of policy to see whether perhaps we could get some greater consistency and honesty in the area of policymaking. But, for goodness sake, the rest of the members on the other side are meant to be part of a government—and it is long past time the Labor Party stopped making up nonsense, breaking promises, breaking faith with the Australian people and trying to blame the opposition for its own internal dysfunctional and disgraceful failings.