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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8540

Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (10:27): I rise to support the Customs Amendments (Anti-Dumping Improvements) Bill 2011. This legislation is about providing fairness and security after a decade of indifference. We see this in a lot of things that the government has had to do during the previous term and the past few years, whether it be guaranteeing bank deposits or the work we are now doing trying to prepare the horse industry for the potential of equine influenza. We see it in this bill because for a decade or so many problems that were brought to the then conservative government's attention were simply ignored. The previous government sat on its hands on a whole range of issues, some of which I have mentioned. You can look at disability reform and aged-care reform—these problems did not emerge with the election of a Labor government. These problems have been around for a great deal of time, and so it is with dumping of products in our markets.

The member for Oxley talked about free trade. I think most Australians are free-traders. We understand that we are an exporting nation and that we send more products overseas than we import. We are a country with a small population base and our comparative advantages are in mining at the moment, as well as in exporting wine, wheat, wool and our manufactured goods. We understand that protectionism is largely a siren song. It is a very tempting siren song. There is a tale about the Scullin government: that you could not move for seeing members of the government and the opposition with tariff lobbyists. I do not think anybody wants to return to those days because we understand that protectionism actually costs jobs, reduces wealth and stops incomes from growing. Largely it is counterproductive; it protects industries that cannot last in the longer term.

I do not think this is a question of free trade or fair trade versus protectionism. I think that dumping of goods is profoundly unfair not just to Australian industry but to anybody who wants to import to Australia, anybody who is not importing goods at a lower cost than that at which they can produce them. he dumping of goods raises a question of fairness and security around the rules for trade. People do not mind competing, but they want to compete on a fair and level playing field.

I heard the member for Barker in this debate talking about some of the issues that have emerged in the south-east, particularly as a result of the dumping of toilet paper, and some of the adjustments that Kimberly-Clark have had to make there. He made some criticism of the $17 million provided by this government for structural adjustment to help workers and to help the local community adjust to the job losses and changes. I think he was a little cynical. It is possible to be cynical around this place. Cynicism is the great scourge of modern life; people tend to be cynical rather than believing. But I have had some experience of these structural adjustment funds. Bridgestone closed in my electorate and we worked very closely with Job Services Australia providers and with the bureaucrats, unions and business involved. We were pushy about getting people jobs because we knew about the transition from one job to the next. We knew that people were transferring from manufacturing jobs where they had worked for decades. For many it had been their only job; others had only had a couple of jobs. So it was a profoundly insecure time for them.

We found that working with those bodies and pushing bureaucrats, job service providers and others to get good outcomes was the key. Standing back and being cynical and taking pot shots did not help the process, because workers feel that cynicism. Hopelessness is often a really corrosive thing for job seekers. It depends on whether you roll up your sleeves and get stuck into it. We have to accept that the high Aussie dollar and the change in our terms of trade present some challenges for manufacturing. Those challenges differ industry to industry, but we know that we have to adjust to them, and part of this government's approach to this adjustment is to provide a fair and level playing field, and this anti-dumping legislation is part of that.

Leon Byner is a talkback radio presenter in my home state. He is a great friend of the member for Hindmarsh; I know they have a great friendship both on and off the air. I must say that Leon Byner and I spar a bit, but he has been very good on this issue. He has done a lot to bring the issue of the dumping of goods and the profound unfairness, to Australians and others, into the public eye. I know that he has taken a great interest in this. He has defined this phenomenon as being a situation where somebody imports something for a price less than what you can buy it at the market where the import comes from. His public advocacy of this has done a great deal—not to fan the siren songs of protectionism but as a great call for fairness in our trading system. I would certainly like to add my voice to that.

We know that this is not a new problem. In fact, in 2002 Bill Shorten, who was then the National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, spoke in response to some of the things that were going on with steel tariffs in the United States and other places, and some of the dumping of steel that was occurring into the American market. The now member for Maribyrnong said:

We need tougher anti-dumping laws and clear local content requirements on major infrastructure projects.

That was way back on 7 March 2002. So we know that this is not a new problem. We know that OneSteel, the year before, brought an anti-dumping case against several steel manufacturers from Korea. This has been a problem for some time and you might wonder why a decade or so has passed before this parliament is finally dealing with it.

This is tremendously important legislation. We know that it affects workers, unions, businesses and others. Other speakers have talked about the very important merits of this bill and the fact that we have improved time lines, increased staff for Customs and created a 30-day time limit for ministerial decisions that makes sure that anti-dumping cases move quickly. We know that the injury that dumping causes is immediate but that it often takes some time to get anti-dumping cases up. Justice delayed is justice denied. If the injury is done we should do all we can to get quick action in response.

This bill provides for stronger compliance. We want to make sure that there is a dedicated resource within Customs and we want to make sure that they are out there working as hard as they can on compliance. We want improved decision making, greater use of trade and industry experts in investigating complaints and the introduction of a rigorous appeals process supported by more resources. And we want to clarify the list of injury factors that can be claimed by domestic industry. We want to clarify the Customs approach to those determinations. We want to provide flexibility in allowing extensions of time to complex cases while keeping that immediacy there.

We want better access to the anti-dumping system and a new support officer to help small and medium business and downstream manufacturers to participate in these investigations and actions. We want to improve the data that is available so that people can make their cases. We want to clarify who can participate in investigations and provide more access to anti-dumping regimes for unions, for businesses and for individuals who are injured by dumping into our markets. e want to make sure that we have greater consistency with other countries, with regular consideration of practices and decisions of other countries, allowing Australian companies to combat a wider range of subsidies. All of this, I might say, is consistent with the World Trade Organisation approach. It is consistent with the international trading system, which is an important system that has brought down tariffs across the world in the postwar period. People often get very frustrated about the levels of protection elsewhere, but we do find that, over time, tariffs have reduced. Most importantly, we have not had a flight to protectionism during these times of great financial upheaval. That is one of the things that happened during the Great Depression, when the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in the United States unleashed a wave of protection which stopped world trade. That caused job losses and overall economic decline, with a decline in incomes not just for workers but for pensioners and others. We want to make sure that that does not occur.

There have been many groups in society which have welcomed this legislation. Mr Willox, the Director of International and Government Relations at the Australian Industry Group, said on 5AA—no doubt on Mr Byner's program—that this is 'undeniably good news for Australian business'. The National Farmers Federation said it was:

… very important that industries like agriculture, that have legitimate claims against dumped exports, have the opportunity to seek a remedy for this through Australia's anti-dumping system, ensuring unfair trading practices can be challenged.

As I said before, many of my constituents, and I think Australians generally, understand that we are an exporting nation, that we must necessarily be a free-trading nation. But they want fair rules, not a return to protectionism—not favours but fairness. That is an important principle, not just in this legislation but in all legislation.

This bill, like so many others, is about providing fairness and security in a troubled world, after a decade of indifference by the previous government. It was a decade of saying, 'She'll be right!' no matter where you look—at the fact that we did not have guaranteed bank deposits, at the fact that we were profoundly unprepared for the onset of equine influenza and at the fact that we did not save enough money out of the first mining boom when some $300 billion extra went into government coffers. For all the chest beating by the opposition about how much they saved during that period and about their wonderful surpluses, we as a nation did not save enough.

We now know, given what has happened to the rest of the world, that we live in an uncertain and insecure world. It is world which has great challenges that require international cooperation, but they also require this parliament and the Australian people to have honest discussions about how we prepare ourselves, how we insulate ourselves and how we provide ourselves with security in this uncertain world. And I tell you this: it will not come from protectionism. It will not come from a 'fortress Australia' mentality or from the idea that we can somehow stand apart from the challenges in the financial world or in climate change or in international economic cooperation. We cannot simply put up the shutters and pretend the rest of the world does not exist. We know these are challenging times. We must participate and we must take sensible measures to secure ourselves. This anti-dumping legislation is exactly that sort of measure and I commend it to the House.