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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4206

Mr RIPOLL (Oxley) (16:04): I rise to speak on the Customs Tariff Amendment (2012 Harmonized System Changes) Bill 2011. This bill is well supported and well understood across both houses. While it does a lot of different technical things, it does one very important thing—that is, to make sure that Australia meets its World Customs Organisation, or WCO, commitments. Australia does that as part of a global network of customs organisations that have made a commitment to ensuring that there is a tracking system and a six-digit-number system for goods that are imported and exported. There are over 200 countries participating in the system and Australia is one of the signatories. We are currently in the fourth review of that system.

This bill before the House has approximately 800 amendments, which is an awful lot, covering a range of different subheadings. Those amendments are mainly to the Customs Tariff Act 1995. As I said, these changes result from a World Customs Organisation review—a review of the harmonised commodity system, also known as the harmonised system. This system is unique and it uniquely identifies everything that is traded, everything that moves in and out of member countries—of which there are over 200—right across the world. Its uniqueness is that it is uniform and that it is agreed to by all the countries that use the system. Since 1988, this system has formed the basis of Australia's commodity classification for traded goods.

But like all things, even those that work well, the system needs review from time to time as things change, as goods come on and off markets or as we find that there are new classifications needed for particular chemicals, products or dangerous goods. Some of these latter items need to be closely monitored and identified as they travel from one country to the next for a whole range of very good reasons, not the least being environmental and social impacts. The driving forces behind this fourth review, in fact, are those two key areas of environmental impact and social impact across the globe. It was agreed that these issues were of global concern and that this harmonised system for identifying goods of specific importance was needed.

It would not surprise members in this House to understand that some of these goods relate specifically to food security, something about which I have spoken many times before—food security and food programs, particularly their relationship to the agricultural organisations of the United Nations. As you can probably understand from that, it is quite a complex system of tracking goods—particular agricultural commodities and products—across a lot of countries. There are literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of movements. To maintain the proper integrity of the system, it is vital for any country that it not only understands what goods travel in and outside of its jurisdictional borders, but that it can properly track, monitor and respond to anything that occurs with such goods.

There is a particular emphasis in this review on certain fish and certain fish products. These, in recent years, have become particularly important as there is more trade, particularly among ASEAN countries, of particular fish products. The tracking of these products may be for health reasons or security reasons, but it may also be tracking of rare or protected species. It is a really important part of this system to properly inform governments of the movement of specific types of products. It can be very helpful in formulating policies and ensuring appropriate customs and border protection with respect to these products.

The new amendments will also create some new subheadings, specifically for chemicals—recognising new chemicals or altered chemicals and making sure there is proper tracking of those as well. That will include particular pesticides and—something which I think is really important and which has come back onto the agenda after some many years—ozone-depleting products. Members and senators, I am sure, can recall the very successful campaigns to rid the world of ozone-depleting chemicals and gases. The success of those campaigns was very important, but we need to continue to monitor and track any new chemicals, new products or new gases that are coming onto the markets through these unique identifiers. This will facilitate the monitoring and control of international trade in these products under the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. It is quite comprehensive; hence there are these 800 amendments contained within it. There is obviously a lot of change.

The bill also amends schedules 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Customs Tariff Act 1995. This will give effect to the application of duty on imported products, particularly from the United States of America, Thailand, Chile, New Zealand and ASEAN nations which are under Australia's bilateral free trade agreements. Something the bill does not do is change existing levels of industry protection and margins of tariff protection on imported goods, including goods imported under the free trade agreements. That is an important part of this bill. It isolates all of those products to the harmonisation system and does not impact or impinge in any way on the very complex system of World Trade Organisation regulations and agreements to which Australia is a signatory. This bill will ensure that we maintain the existing levels, so no-one ought to have any fear or concern that any of its 800 amendments will have some sort of material impact on the customs and other protection measures currently in place. Another bill which is coming to the House shortly will deal more specifically with antidumping measures, and there is certainly much more that can be said and needs to be done in those areas.

This bill ensures that Australia does meet its obligations under the harmonised system in a manner consistent with that of our major trading partners. It helps to monitor and control trade in chemicals, including ozone-depleting chemicals, and will provide certainty to our importers and exporters. It is fair to say that Australia has a pretty strong track record in its capacity to deal with its trading partners, whether that be through bilateral free trade, through free trade generally speaking or through the World Trade Organisation. Australia does have a strong reputation not only for meeting its obligations and understanding what those obligations are but also for being a fair actor.

Something not acknowledged enough in these debates is the way in which Australia conducts itself in the global trade market. That is not to say that it is an equal and fair playing field and that all countries play by the same rules, because the reality is that they do not. While it is a complex and sophisticated set of arrangements around trade, Australia ought to understand better that it is a fast-moving environment, an environment where trading partners and trading organisations can react much more quickly and robustly than our own regulatory systems or the agreements that we set up sometimes do. It is something that ought always to be in the back of our minds when we talk about trade monitoring and controls and when we look at the systems that are in place.

The bill before us today is certainly well supported by everyone in this House. It is a bill for which the Hon. Brendan O'Connor, in his role as Minister for Home Affairs and responsible for a range of other portfolios, ought to be commended. I commend the bill to the House.