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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2109

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (19:23): It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 2) 2011, which seems to be part of an incredibly incoherent and inconsistent trade policy on the part of this government. In trying to piece together where the government's current trade policy is at, I have become extremely perplexed by what the government is trying to achieve. Just to point this out, I want to go back to the Labor Party's platform for the election in 2007. In that platform it said:

In trade negotiations a Rudd Labor government will focus on achieving the best possible outcomes for the nation and for Australian business, particularly through multilateral structures. Labor believes there is an ongoing role for bilateral and regional agreements, especially where they are consistent with and can contribute to multilateral outcomes.

I remember that during the 2007 campaign the future government said about the coalition's approach—which had been a very practical approach whereby we were looking for trade liberalisation and investment liberalisation where we could find it, whether it be regionally, bilaterally or multilaterally—that, no, the Rudd government knew best. They were going to refocus multilaterally. That was going to be their approach, as was documented in their election 2007 platform. Somehow things did not quite work out. They found the going a bit difficult. So what did they do?

In the 2010 election we saw some subtle changes to the government's approach. We saw the Gillard government trade policy approach:

We will also fight for better market access through whichever process will deliver the best gains, whether through global trade agreements, agreements with groups of countries and bilateral agreements with individual trading partners.

So we saw a complete reverse. They were back—although they would not admit it—to adopting the very successful Howard government trade policy agenda. I must say that it was good to see that they had recognised the errors of their ways, even if they were not prepared to admit it and say that they had gone back to borrowing their trade policy approach from the Howard government.

That all looked reasonable in 2010. It looked like, 'Okay, we're happy to admit that we got it wrong and we're going to try your approach because, you never know, we might actually achieve something from it.' It looked like we might be going to get some consistency from this government in how it dealt with trade policy. That all seemed fine at that stage. We had had that commitment in 2010 during the election. But then we got to September 2010, and the Australian Minister for Trade said that he was going to use services to kick-start global trade talks. I quote:

The Minister for Trade, Dr Craig Emerson, today urged a focus on services trade liberalisation to kick-start the stalled WTO Doha Round of trade negotiations.

'There was not enough on the table to conclude the Round in 2008,' Dr Emerson said.

'We need to ensure that Doha delivers commercially meaningful outcomes for the services sector, as well as for agriculture and manufacturing.'

So all of a sudden they had gone from an approach whereby they were going to do multilateral, they were going to do regional and they were going to be bilateral; then they were going to start redefining how they were going to take their multilateral approach. They were going to focus first on services.

Anyone who knows anything about multilateral trade negotiations knows about the dangers of taking a single sectoral approach, because it will then be cherry picked and we will not get the outcomes across the board. That is the single biggest difficulty we have had with getting meaningful agricultural trade reform. So Dr Emerson, after agreeing that, okay, the coalition got it right, then started heading down his own path when it came to multilateral trade reform—a very, very worrying development. That was in September 2010.

Where did we get to next? We got to October 2011, and they had a new approach again. They were not going to use a sectoral approach and the services sector to try and get Doha started again; they were going to head down what is called a 'new pathways' approach. What were the types of new pathways we should head down? We were going to have new WTO rules on bilateral free trade agreements and regional free trade agreements. This was the path that we should single out and try and get meaningful agreement on. I quote again:

Agreeing on new disciplines for WTO-consistent bilateral and regional trade deals should not depend on or wait for the success of negotiations on manufacturing industry tariffs, farm subsidies, export subsidies or anything else. It should be done for its own sake to prevent the further degradation of the non-discrimination principle.

…   …   …

A new approach involving an initial down-payment, further instalments and the parallel negotiation of selected agreements is a realistic way of achieving further liberalisation.

Obviously his sectoral approach with services did not work, so he headed down the path of seeing if we could change the rules around bilateral and regional agreements. That was in October 2011. In December, we got a different approach again—the new pathway approach. Then he looked at whether we could change the rules around regional and bilateral free trade agreements. Then we got a statement:

Mr Chair, there are many paths to the mountain top and Australia has been advocating a new pathway in recognition of the fact that the Round has stalled.

So, we strongly support the WTO General Council statement of 30 November, which has actually been agreed by all Members, and it has several essential features.

First, it embraces the notion of different approaches, of a new pathway.

Second, it provides a focus on components of the Doha Declaration where we can reach agreement on a provisional or definitive basis earlier than full conclusion of the single undertaking.

And third, it says we fully respect the development component of the Doha Round.

So, once again, we have a different strategy from the trade minister. All we are seeing is mass confusion. We are seeing panic. We are seeing: 'Okay, we are not achieving anything. We'll try this, we'll try that.' What is missing is the actual hard work in getting countries to agree to a single undertaking.

It is all very well for the trade minister to criticise the coalition, as he did, for not having concluded Doha. Yet five years on, what have we seen from this government? We are further away from a conclusion than we have ever been. It is worth examining exactly why. It is because, sadly, our trade minister is full of talk but will not do the hard work or take the action to get the agreements that we need, to get confidence back in the Australian public that meaningful trade liberalisation is good for our local economy. Instead, what do we get? We get pledges. At the same time as we headed down another path to try to get more meaningful trade liberalisation we also got a pledge—the pledge on 15 December 2011against protectionism. Yet here we are today debating the legislation in front of us.

So what has the trade minister been doing since the pledge on 15 December? It is interesting. I went to the minister's website and had a look at five of the transcripts there. You would think that the trade minister's transcripts might be about trade. But what are they about? The first four of them are about leadership. I thought: 'Oh, this will be good. They are about leadership. They might be about this bill. They might be about the government's trade policy and where it is heading and whether we might get some consistency with it.'

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! The honourable member will come back to the bill.

Mr TEHAN: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will come back to the bill. But I would like to talk about the need for leadership in making sure that we get proper direction in our trade policy. I assume this bill is the Minister for Trade's.

Mr Clare: No, it's not.

Ms Macklin: It's not—you don't even know what the bill is.

Mr TEHAN: Well, I am sure that the Minister for Trade was consulted with regard to this bill.

Ms Macklin interjecting

Mr TEHAN: You can say that, but what does it go to the heart of? It goes to the agreement on antidumping. Where do the antidumping rules come from? The World Trade Organisation. It goes to the heart of our trade policy.

Ms Macklin: Talk about the bill.

Mr TEHAN: I am talking about the bill, and I will get to the point of the bill. We are here debating this bill because of the failure of the government's trade policy agenda. We have the minister pledging on protectionism, yet the failure of the government's trade policy agenda has led us to where we are today.

The first four transcripts on the minister's website were on leadership. I thought: 'This will be interesting. Maybe they are about the need for leadership on antidumping or the need for leadership on trade policy.' Sadly, no, they were not. They were about the ALP leadership.

Before we go to specifics in introducing antidumping legislation, we need a broader, more coherent trade policy. Instead of having to put in measures to protect us from other people's trade policy approaches, we should be on the front foot making sure we are getting the type of access to markets that does not mean that we have to be defensive in how we go about our trade policy. It is all right for us to preach the purity of trade liberalisation, but if our actions do not follow that then, as we have seen today, we will have to take antidumping measures. We have failed to advocate in our trade policy fora—whether they be multilateral, regional or bilateral—the benefits of a proper trade liberalisation approach. That is what has led us to being here today debating this bill. I would hope that the Minister for Trade was consulted on this bill. I would hope that he will now admit that his approach to advancing Australia's trade liberalisation has not worked and that we need to see some action rather than some words. Turning to the bill specifically—

Ms Macklin: One minute!

Mr TEHAN: One minute and 35 seconds, actually. I have not heard where this bill fits within the government's broader agenda. It just seems to be a very ad hoc approach—it does not seem to have any broader meaning. Where does it fit within the broader economic narrative of this government? Where does it fit within the broader approach of this government? Nothing in the debate on this bill has given us that information. Everyone is left extremely confused. We have all this direction and all these statements, but when it comes to actions we have the stand-alone bill on antidumping. From what I can gather, it does not fit into the context of the government's broader narrative. This bill represents a failure of the Minister for Trade, and it is no wonder he has passed the buck of taking it through the chamber to the customs minister, making him carry the can for it. At least he has not been afraid to come in and do that.