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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2107

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (19:14): I rise today to speak on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011, which the coalition has expressed its in-theory support for. I say 'in theory' as the coalition is sceptical that the key changes agreed to will actually be implemented in a timely fashion. Labor's track record on swift execution is nothing to write home about. But as a whole I am pleased that the government has finally realised that there is an urgent need to make changes to Australia's antidumping system, which the coalition has pushed for for some time.

Dumping means Australian businesses face unfair competition from imported products sold into the domestic market at below production cost, a tactic which, while it may provide short-term benefits to the consumer, risks shutting down domestic industries, leaving us dependent on imports that are often of inferior quality. Even more worrying is that ongoing international dumping seeks to exploit Australia's commitment to free trade. The overall aim is to eliminate the local competition and increase product prices, which will eventually lead to local job losses.

What Australia's businesses and industries need is stronger action to ensure a level playing field. We cannot have underhand activities from overseas businesses undermining Australia's commitment to free trade. Labor indicated three years ago, in 2008, that they wanted revisions to the current antidumping system. This was largely welcomed by the coalition, but it was followed by a long period of inaction. Amendments were only made known in June last year, yet the government has still failed to show how these reforms actually would be delivered.

With this in mind, I along with the coalition, agree that these changes are a good starting point. However, we will continue to pressure the government into swift action so as to get the new system up and running as quickly as possible. At present, Customs have failed to act in a timely and effective manner when responding to reports from Australian businesses regarding antidumping activities. This has meant many antidumping cases have gone under the radar. It is simply not acceptable. It is hoped that Labor's amendments to the antidumping system, which outline changes in three different areas, are able to combat these issues.

The amendments include the introduction of a new appeals process to replace the existing appeals mechanism, the establishment of the so-called International Trade Remedies Forum and the creation of new guidelines for extensions to be allowed in certain circumstances. Again, I stress that the coalition is broadly supportive of these changes. They seem sensible and practical and will go some way to addressing the inherent faults in the current system.

However, there are a number of other changes that we would like to see implemented and which we believe would genuinely make the system more compelling—in particular, providing extra resources to Customs. We need to ensure we have a robust policy which provides strong action against the illegal activities of overseas businesses who seek to sell in Australia at below cost. Our nation's industries must be aware of the dangers of dumping. It is the enemy of free trade, as it undermines business and public support for free trade.

The coalition's antidumping taskforce consulted extensively with a range of stakeholders to formulate our policy guidelines. Such organisations included BlueScope Steel, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, SPC Ardmona and various others. As a person on that task force, I think we got a very good outline of how it is very hard currently for industry to go the full gamut. It is expensive.

From my point of view, there is no industry that suffers more as a result of dumping than agriculture. For agriculture, these new antidumping arrangements are pivotal to the sustainability of our sector. What our agriculture sector need is transparency, like the others. We need checks and balances in place, and this is why tightening the reins on the antidumping measures is essential. There are a number of cases where our domestic production is under threat from imports, and we need to reassure our industries that it is not because of dumping practices.

We have Italian tomatoes for sale in our supermarkets cheaper than they are on the shelves in Italy. We have Californian and Brazilian orange juice and concentrates selling at below the cost of production for our citrus growers, while our fruit rots on the tree, with the producers unable to match the imported market prices. These are just two examples, but there have also been many complaints about imported seafood, pork and numerous other imports. You only need to walk down the aisles of any major supermarket to see the plethora of imported foodstuffs. While I, like many consumers, enjoy lower prices and food variety, we cannot foster this pleasure over the viability of our country's industries, especially if it involves dumping.

With the high Australian dollar and myriad government regulations, our producers are under enough pressure without also facing dumped products from foreign markets. Our nation's producers are genuinely concerned about the increase of foreign imports. With overseas products being dumped on the market and selling at ridiculously low prices, local producers are finding themselves no longer competitive and no longer sustainable, and this is threatening entire industries.

Australia's industries, including agriculture, need a level playing field, and the continuation of dumping is impacting on the livelihoods of our farmers and the jobs of employees and those in allied industries. We need to be able to help secure a viable and sustainable future for our nation's industries, and the coalition is determined to ensure this. As far as manufacturing is concerned, the Labor government say they are supporting the industry, but they need to make sure they are supporting it, not pretending to. Over the past 3½ years, 136,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost, which has not given the manufacturing sector much confidence. A string of iconic manufacturing companies, including BlueScope Steel, Mitsubishi, Pacific Brands, Heinz, Bosch, Golden Circle and Bridgestone, have either closed or scaled back their Australian operations. The introduction of changes to the antidumping system may be a step closer to securing the trust of Australia's industries. Through Labor's Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011 the coalition wants to see that individual companies are able to take action against foreign manufacturers who seek to export products into countries at a price which is either lower than the price they charge in their home market and/or lower than their costs of production. Far too often we have seen industries avoid action against dumping due to the time, cost and complexity of pursuing their case.

On top of this already perilous trading environment, Labor has decided to force through the carbon tax. Many Australian industries are already operating on wafer-thin margins, struggling to function in a very tight pricing environment. This tax will only add fuel to the fire, forcing some of our largest operators to further tighten their belts, with the only way out being further job losses.

The government must guarantee the swift implementation of an antidumping system to ensure that Australia's industries are able to compete on a level and fair playing field. In the long run, the impact of poor policy implementation only means further pain for all Australians. Job losses, which I guarantee will result should action not be taken, will only make it harder for everyday Australians to make a living. The coalition wants to see more done to assist our industries and hopes that this can be achieved in time. We want assurances from the Labor government that the new systems can be implemented. Will Labor be able to provide clarification as to a set time frame? We eagerly await their answer.