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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 6277


Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (09:32): I've not had a lot of time to look at the Customs Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018. I understand they have been brought on in a bit of a rush. Clearly the government is a bit short of business again, so I'll give this lengthy consideration. It is a tragedy to see the once-great Liberal Party descend to this level of chaos and indecision so soon after they thought they'd sorted out all their problems. But they were able to find this somewhere deep in the barrel. They ducked in and produced some legislation that they had to get exempted from the cut-off to allow it to proceed. This is not controversial legislation. It's a straightforward matter. I guess you'll have to dig a lot deeper to get to the next piece of legislation. This will not take a long period of time, I expect, because Labor supports the bills.

As much of this legislation goes to development measures as it does to customs and trade matters. These measures amend the Customs Tariff Act 1995 to implement the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus, known as PACER Plus. Australia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu signed this agreement last year. The agreement is a comprehensive regional economic integration agreement, consistent with World Trade Organization rules. It covers a range of goods and services, investment and established rules and commitment between the various parties to the agreement.

The agreement also, as the bill outlines, includes an aid component to help with the development of the region. Under the agreement, tariffs will be cut on 88.5 per cent of Australian exports to signatory countries, apart from New Zealand. It also means that there will be no tariffs on goods imported from signatory countries to Australia, apart from New Zealand. Under the agreement, we will also provide some $4 million to assist Pacific island nations to prepare to ratify this agreement and $19 million for them to update their customs processes. That, of course, does not even begin to compensate for the $11 billion this government has cut from the aid budget. There's a bit of irony that we should be debating bills that provide $4 million when some $11 billion has been cut from the budget.

The agreement has been scrutinised by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which has recommended that the agreement include an independent economic analysis of the merits of this agreement. That's a proposition that this chamber should fully endorse. The JSCOT has made the same recommendation for other trade bills, including some of the more contentious legislation that is to come before the chamber. The Labor Party will have more to say on this matter when those bills are introduced, but I give notice that a future Labor government will ensure that all future trade agreements are subject to independent economic analysis.

These bills provide for 'free' rates of customs duty, which, when enacted, will mean that a new schedule will be provided for excise-equivalent rates of duty on certain alcohol, tobacco and fuel products in accordance with this agreement. The amendments provide for certain concessional items listed under the Customs Tariff Act to maintain customs duty rates in line with the applicable concession items and in accordance with the agreement. Complementary amendments will be made to the Customs Act by the customs amendment bill to introduce new rules of origin for goods imported into Australia from parties to the agreement. The bill provides that these new rules will determine what eligible goods would be subject to preferential treatment of customs duty in accordance with the agreement. The bill contains no matters which we would regard as being contentious, and it is surprising that it is not being considered in the non-controversial bills section of our normal business. The Labor Party is pleased to support it.

I had a look at the details of some of the measures that have taken my interest in regard to Niue. It is a country of some importance, as the ABC told us in a recent story. Niue is a country with a population of about 1,800. I'm told that about 80 per cent of them are actually from New Zealand and that many of them participate in sporting clubs in New Zealand. Of particular note was the appearance of a mallard duck in Niue. People can't quite work out where it's come from. The ABC has given us very good coverage of the issue; there is a lot of news generated in the Pacific these days from the ABC. The duck even has a name—Trevor—and is said to have come from New Zealand. It's described as a major problem, because there are no wetlands and no ponds on Niue, so the fire brigade has to provide the necessary water conditions for Trevor the mallard duck. I understand that it's named Trevor after the Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives. It's said to be a very miserable duck, because it is so lonely. Unfortunately, there are no other ducks on Niue, so it has no partners. We're looking forward to seeing what other biosecurity issues have arisen as a result of this matter and whether or not this agreement will cover these questions in the future.