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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1842

Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (19:52): I rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011. This bill introduces three sets of changes to Australia's anti-dumping system and attempts to address some of the numerous concerns among stakeholders with regard to the current generally unworkable anti-dumping arrangements.

Essentially, the purpose of an anti-dumping system is to allow countries to take action against foreign businesses that seek to export their product into a market at a price lower than that charged in their home market or lower than the price of production. Dumping is little more than a clinical and calculated attempt to exploit Australia's commitment to free trade by artificially distorting the domestic market. It is therefore only right and proper that we have in place measures to stamp it out. However, there are a number of technical impediments to assessing Australia's anti-dumping system, as well as difficulties with the administration of the system. In recent times there has been a great deal of frustration about the tardiness of investigations and the significant cost imposed on businesses who wish to raise cases for consideration. Bizarrely, the current system frequently imposes a greater burden of proof on local industries than on foreign competitors. As it currently stands, the system is too expensive, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, too slow and too lopsided. Some anti-dumping cases can drag on for years, at the end of which time the damage may already have been done. When rulings are made they frequently occur too late to reverse the harm that has been caused, not only to the firms that have been directly affected, but also to the wider parts of their supply chain.

The legislation under discussion today contains provisions for several things: a new appeals process, the establishment of a trades remedy forum comprising government, local industry, importers and unions, and new guidelines to allow investigations to be extended under certain circumstances. By and large, we believe that these changes will help address some of the faults in the system. However, given that one of the main problems with the current arrangements relates to the time lines of investigations, care will need to be taken to ensure that new provisions for extensions do not result in unnecessary delays in decision making.

The coalition is also concerned about Labor's reluctance to provide more resources to Customs. Initially, the government said it would increase staff in the relevant sections of Customs, from 31 to 45. However, we have subsequently discovered that these additional staff are not based on new investment—quite the opposite. Once again, we see the government saying one thing and then doing another. The Achilles heel of the government at the moment is: 'there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. These additional staff will be moved, through a redeployment of resources, from other areas of Customs. This is an extraordinary decision that will no doubt put additional pressure on the Customs service, which already has plenty on its plate due to the government's ongoing ineptitude in the area of border protection.

We have seen similar situations in ASIO, with staff being dragged away from their core duties to conduct background checks on the never-ending parade of illegal arrivals. Some of you blokes opposite need to remember that you can only cut the pie into a certain number of pieces before it turns into crumbs. The coalition's preference, and indeed our policy, is for a genuine increase in the branch's resources. We believe that it would allow for stronger interpretations of evidence and prosecutions of anti-dumping cases. It would also bring our system into line with those operating in the USA and a number of EU states.

The government speaks about the protection of jobs in manufacturing. I suggest that this bill goes to protecting some of those Australian jobs from anti-dumping. The coalition's anti-dumping policy, released in November last year, is based on increasing the quality of investigations, lowering the cost to participants and providing more scope for penalties to apply to parties who refuse to cooperate with the authorities.

I mentioned earlier the perverse situation we have where the burden of proof rests more heavily on local businesses than on foreign competitors. The coalition's policy would address this by providing the authorities with the opportunity to make use of the preliminary affirmative determinations. For two months into an investigation preliminary affirmative determinations create a shift in the burden of proof, requiring the foreign producer rather than the Australian company that believes it is being damaged by dumping to prove its conduct has not hurt the Australian industry.

One industry that comes to mind with regard to anti-dumping is the steel industry. A good colleague of mine, who is one of Australia's largest privately owned steel merchants, got caught up with 18 million tonnes of steel being dropped on the docks from a Chinese manufacturer. Thank heavens that the provisions were in place whereby BlueScope was able to put an interim action on that dumping action. It stopped the stock getting to the marketplace and destroying the steel industry overnight. Interims are provisions in the act that provide for product on the dock to be quarantined and an evaluation to be made of the difference between the price it has landed for and the so-called production price. Where an Australian company believes that there is a case for anti-dumping in its sector, that money can be quarantined until a determination can be made by the relevant authorities.

Under the coalition's plan, greater financial resources and specialist anti-dumping investigators would ensure decisions are made in a timely fashion, providing greater certainty to all involved. Not surprisingly, Labor jumped on our proposal and accused us of being in breach of WTO agreements. It should come as no surprise that these allegations were completely false. Not only were the preliminary affirmative decisions consistent with the WTO's provisions, they are consistent with what Labor was actually advocating just a few months before. I imagine that must have been quite embarrassing.

Debate interrupted.