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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1229

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (17:16): I am speaking in support of the Customs Amendment (Anti-Dumping Commission) Bill 2013. I have to say that it is deja vu in the parliament on this issue. Last year, I spoke on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill No. 3 2012 and said that the government was predictable if nothing else. It does nothing on an issue. Then they try to ridicule the coalition for coming up sensible, sound and needed policy proposals. When they are unable to make that stick, they then turn round and adopt our policy. This is pretty much what they are doing here, so obviously we are going to speak in favour of it. It is needed.

In fact, when you think about, you hear the government bellowing about why the coalition is not coming out with its proposals for the election that, we are told, is on 14 September. They ask why we are not coming out with our costings, totally ignoring the fact that we cannot until they come up with a few budget figures that we are probably not going to see any time soon. The real reason they want us to come up with policy proposals, costings et cetera is so that they can find some policies that they can adopt and sound sensible on—that is a fact. The government is so bereft of ideas that it is desperately pursuing the coalition, trying to get us to release our policies early not so they can ridicule them—which they will do—but so they can adopt them.

Let us get back to this issue of anti-dumping. If you speak to industry, as we have—and I was privileged to be part of the panel that looked at it—the issues become obvious. As always, there are a few different views within industry. But there are issues that stand out. Our anti-dumping system is widely regarded as being far too costly to access and as unworkable in its present form. Perversely, its processes also impose a greater burden of proof—and this has always been true—on local industries than on the competitors who wish to take advantage of our market. Yet the government ignored the issue, so the coalition set out to put in place a robust process to address the problems.

As I said, we set up a task force. The shadow minister for agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck, Michael Keenan, Sophie Mirabella and I were on that task force, which had the task of extensively consulting a range of stakeholders and of drafting a policy. As a result, our anti-dumping policy was publicly released just over two years ago in November 2011. Further, on 7 November 2011 we said that the provision of extra resourcing for anti-dumping administration was a critical step in facilitating improvements to the system. In short, increased resourcing will almost certainly pave the way for the use of stronger interpretations and evidence in prosecuting dumping cases. It will also be likely to better align Australia's system with those systems in countries such as the USA and EU member states. The USA has always had very strong anti-dumping legislation. In those nations, it is common for the relevant authorities to apply countervailing measures as soon as they are able, within WTO rules, to argue that subsidised imports or potential imports threaten to cause harm to a local industry or industries.

Labor initially slammed our proposals, primarily through its then home affairs minister, Brendan O'Connor, who said over two years ago on 7 November:

Moving responsibility for anti-dumping decisions from Customs to another department is just bureaucratic reshuffling and will take away the responsibility for making decisions from the staff who actually monitor what is being imported into Australia.

However, in 2012 the government announced that it had commissioned former Victorian Labor Premier John Brumby to oversee a review of the merits of transferring responsibility for anti-dumping administration. It was Brumby, in fact, who ultimately recommended the establishment of the Anti-Dumping Commission. That is a little different from saying that it should not be taken away from Customs.

The purpose of this bill is to legislate for the establishment of an Australian Anti-Dumping Commission. The commission will inherit from the international trade remedies branch of Customs the responsibility for investigating and pursuing—and that is very important—anti-dumping cases.

But the critical point is that the Anti-Dumping Commission will be accompanied by increased resources and, as articulated in our policy, this will lead to substantial improvement in the quality of the economic and legal analysis that underpins Australian anti-dumping investigations through a significant sharpening in the skills and qualifications of those people conducting them. In fact, it will be a different mindset and, hopefully, a fresh look.

The government's intention to establish the commission and to inject new funding into the system has generally received strong support from our Australian manufacturers. Principally, they believe that the move will help to enhance the quality of anti-dumping investigations and increase the focus on an issue that is becoming increasingly problematic for a range of our businesses. How do we know that? We know that because we consulted with industry and they told us so. The coalition should be rightly proud of its work on anti-dumping and having played a central role in publicly shaming the government into implementing changes after several years of trying to avoid the issue. I again commend the member for Indi for being so passionate in her pursuit of the issue and her commitment to working with stakeholders to resolve this, and I was very pleased to be part of the panel that did so.

The Australian processing industries have taken a beating in recent years; and, while the high Australian dollar is a significant factor, it is clear that dumping from other countries is certainly also a factor. As a result, many food processors in Australia have closed or shifted operations offshore. That has had a dramatic effect on the farm sector, especially horticultural production of tomatoes and other foodstuffs. If we actually look at the tomato processing industry in Australia, it has been devastated in recent years by cheap imports, particularly from Italy. Thirty years ago, 400 growers supplied seven canneries; now, I think there are only about nine growers supplying just one processor. If anyone ever goes into a supermarket, it is very obvious that that is a fact. Recent media reports suggest that the EU has protected the processed tomato industry with subsidies since 1978 and currently, for every dollar an Italian farmer makes, the EU puts another 41c in their pocket, which means they can sell to canneries more cheaply than an Australian farmer. That is a fact. The dumping of tinned tomatoes was last reviewed by customs in 2002. They found no 'material injury' to the Australian canned tomato industry. But that was over 10 years ago and I believe that with extra resourcing it is now time to have another look at this issue. We need to look at it soon or customs will again find no material injury to the Australian industry—not because they are not dumping but on the grounds that there is no Australian industry left.

I congratulate the government for adopting our policy even though they could not initiate the solution themselves, but I am very pleased that they have taken this position. I again reiterate that I understand why the government want to release our policies: not so that they can be costed but so they can adopt them. At least they are looking forward a bit and looking for policies that they cannot find themselves. These are policies—I am sure the member for Wentworth would agree with me—that we think about that are meant to be for the nation in the future, not for the party that is adopting them. I support this legislation as it is our policy, and I congratulate the government for finally realising that if they cannot come up with policies for the good of the nation then they can at least adopt ours.