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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1222

Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (16:44): I am genuinely delighted to have the opportunity to debate this bill. It gives me and other members of the opposition an opportunity to highlight the problems that the Labor Party has had with this very important policy area. This bill gives expression to quite a mea culpa from the Labor Party. This is because the government is playing catch-up with a B-grade copy of coalition policy.

It is very good to see the current Home Affairs minister, Minister Clare, having had completely overridden the former Home Affairs minister, Minister O'Connor, and effectively repudiated Mr O'Connor's quite embarrassing attempts, in 2011, to slag and bag the opposition's approach on the issue we are debating today. It has taken the Labor Party over a year to recognise that a better way was needed in anti-dumping administration, to follow the coalition's lead in moving responsibility away from the International Trade Remedies branch of customs. Eventually, it finally got there.

For a party with all the resources of government at its disposal to have taken so long and so laboriously to get to that point, with only a B-grade copy of coalition policy, can manufacturers, the agricultural sector or the Australian public expect this government to deliver the policy, details and personnel that are required for a robust and effective anti-dumping regime? Of course not. How could they? This is the government that cannot deliver free fluff in people's roofs without causing disasters. No doubt it has cost the government a lot of money to get to a similar position as the opposition.

What it needed to do was go through some sort of charade. It went through an unnecessary process of appointing yet another failed Labor premier, John Brumby, to another nice little earner in the process, to oversee a review of whether there should be a change in the body that administers the anti-dumping regime. It should have come a long way since ministers O'Connor and Emerson said all sorts of inaccurate things about coalition policy in their panic not to be seen as lagging behind in this very important policy area of anti-dumping. One of the key parts of that policy was to have a greater focus on anti-dumping investigations and to commit more funding to additional resourcing of the system.

I might take this opportunity to highlight some of the things that were said at the time by then Minister O'Connor. He said, on 28 November 2011, 'It is not practical, as the opposition proposes, to expect employees of an agency to have the skills to tackle every fact or situation that may present itself.' So what have we got? This bill is creating a new agency, the anti-dumping commission, and moving it from Canberra to Melbourne. This is a new agency. And yet we do not hear any apologies from Minister O'Connor. We had another criticism at the time, when Minister O'Connor said, 'The opposition's headline reform'—and I interrupt here as it was not our one headline reform; we have announced many policies in this important area to assist manufacturing and will announce many more—'was to do a bureaucratic soft-shoe shuffle befitting Yes Minister, moving responsibility for investigations from Customs to the department of industry.' He has criticised it as a non-important policy, yet claimed it was a headline reform for the opposition. What did we have last year, on 4 December, when the government accepted the Brumby recommendations to create this new agency? We had another big headline announcement, with ministers Clare and Combet and Prime Minister Gillard. What they have criticised the opposition for doing, they are quite happy to do themselves. These are the sorts of cheap stunts and attacks that the Australian public are absolutely sick of.

We know that the anti-dumping regime in Australia has had significant problems. It has been unworkable with excessive costs and time. There has been difficulty for those wanting to pursue an anti-dumping applications to access the system. These concerns have been voiced to us by industry for a long time. I have been shadow minister in this portfolio for just over three years. It was an important priority for us and we came up with a comprehensive world's-best-practice policy back in 2011. The government has panicked, followed suit and introduced a whole series of bills regarding anti-dumping, trying to play catch-up. We have not opposed those bills, as we will not oppose these ones.

Our approach has been to genuinely consult industry—to understand and feel the anxiety and difficulty it has had in accessing a system that did not work. We set up a task force of frontbenchers, we consulted extensively and from that we drafted our policy. I am quite satisfied that the coalition has set the agenda in this very important area. When the coalition starts getting accolades from the trade union movement for the initiative it takes in policy, as happened in this area of anti-dumping, you know that the Labor Party is very embarrassed about its inability to listen to industry's concerns of the day.

What we see here is the moving of responsibility for anti-dumping from the International Trade Remedies section of Customs to a separate, new anti-dumping commission based in Melbourne. We heard Minister O'Connor say, back when he was criticising the opposition, that it was just bureaucratic reshuffling to move the administration of it to another section. Then we had the hypocrisy and the waste of money of paying a failed Labor premier to conduct an inquiry to come to a similar conclusion. That occurred last year when the government announced that it was going to establish the Anti-Dumping Commission and commit $24.4 million to the new commission as funding. We do not know where this funding is coming from, and given past practice it is quite possible that this money has again—as has occurred in the past—been found from cost shifting within Customs.

So the opposition will be looking very closely at where these funds are coming from and whether they have indeed been shifted from elsewhere in Customs—an arm of government that has suffered serious stress because of extraordinary, historic ineptitude in border control by this government. We have seen many other cuts to the Customs budget by the Labor government over recent years, and they implied on a number of occasions throughout 2011—and again in 2012—that they had made changes during those years to increase the number of staff working on anti-dumping cases. They said at the time that they were increasing staff from 31 to 45, but later it emerged that these changes were not based on extra financial investment in the system but were merely predicated on the redeployment of resources from other areas of Customs. Indeed Minister O'Connor had invoked that renowned British series Yes Minister, but perhaps he should look closer to home for a more appropriate application of life imitating art.

We know that Australian manufacturing is facing very challenging times. But, unlike the government, we are not going to pretend that the government has no role. The first and primary role of government is to ensure that it removes those things that do damage to business and to manufacturing because of its policies. That is absolutely a first principle. We have not seen the government adopt any policies or any statements that acknowledge or accept responsibility for policies that are doing harm to manufacturers. There is the carbon tax, with increased energy costs and extraordinary, historic escalation of regulatory costs. Just speak to any business sector and you will hear that. There is work to do in those areas as well.

In this area of anti-dumping, there should be a proactive approach. In having a system that did not work for so long, it was doing harm by giving a false sense of security that there was a mechanism to ensure that dumped goods were adequately dealt with and there were appropriate duties placed on them. So, although the Labor Party has taken some time to follow the policy initiatives of the coalition, we have supported legislation in this House in making improvements to the anti-dumping regime. We do not have complete faith that this government can deliver the world-class anti-dumping regime that this nation deserves and that exists in other jurisdictions like the United States of America and the EU. We need a world-class anti-dumping administration because we are an open economy, and we take great pride in being an open economy, and that is why legislative regimes like anti-dumping need to actually work and not just exist to give the false sense of security that there is something in place.

We saw the new minister's, Minister Clare's, tacit recognition that his ministerial predecessor Mr O'Connor was wrong to criticise the coalition's proposal to move administrative responsibility for anti-dumping away from the International Trade Remedies Branch of Customs and that such a shift should, in fact, be initiated. If only others in the government could follow the lead of coalition policy, perhaps there could be some redemption for this government for the damage that they have inflicted on industry and manufacturing. Sadly, I doubt that will happen, but I do want to assure manufacturing workers, the manufacturing sector and Australians listening to the debate on this bill that the coalition is committed to a strong five-pillar economy—of which manufacturing is an important pillar. We do that because we understand that, in order to have a strong, growing, diversified economy, manufacturing is important. That is why we will not stand for other nations and other companies dumping goods in our jurisdiction below cost when our manufacturers are doing it tough. They are being slugged with a tax, the carbon tax, that is not applied to imported manufactured goods. They are being slugged with additional regulatory costs, unprecedented in our history. They are being slugged by a poor outlook for our economy. Confidence is at record lows, and can you blame people for lacking confidence in the sideshow that is this government? They are suffering.

Yes, there are tough international economic conditions, but the actions of this government make it even harder for workers. So, in the months ahead, and leading into the next federal election, I hope that the voice of manufacturing workers, their families and the communities who have suffered—who have laboured under the damaging policies of this government—stand up and are heard. We hear, time and time again, from the government, stunts and announcements just to fill the void of the 24-hour media cycle. Then a year later it all fizzles away.

We had an announcement last year during the budget about a new manufacturing technology innovation centre, and how this was the answer for manufacturing. There was much fanfare about $29.8 million. Guess what?—it has not materialised. There is not even a hole in the ground. There is nothing; it was just another stunt.

So I say to those Australians who are concerned about the future of manufacturing: do not listen to the empty promises. Do not listen to the stunts and the announcements. Look at the track record of this government. There will be more stunts—I can promise you that!—and there will be fanfare. There will be grandiose motherhood statements but the government have not been able to deliver on basic policies for manufacturing. And they will not deliver the economic growth and the economic conditions and policies within which manufacturing can not only survive but flourish.