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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8769

Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (17:50): In rising to speak on the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 3) 2012 I state again that the coalition supports in broad terms the changes that are proposed in this legislation. Given that this is at least the fourth time in the past year that we have been asked to debate the same general set of government changes to antidumping legislation, I have already made the same point about coalition support a number of times, but I am happy to state yet again that this legislation contains a sensible set of changes and that we are comfortable about supporting them. The coalition has long taken the view that any revisions that can be made to the legislation to sensibly reduce the time and the significant costs imposed on Australian businesses which wish to raise possible antidumping cases for consideration should be regarded as very important.

There is, justifiably, considerable frustration across Australia about the barriers and the costs in the way of businesses and industries that are the targets of dumping.

Within the coalition, we believe it to be beyond doubt that changes that genuinely increase the effectiveness of antidumping investigations in Australia are desperately needed. That philosophy was heavily reflected in our work on our own antidumping policy that was released last year following detailed consultation with a range of affected parties and extensive internal work by four of our frontbenchers in drafting that policy, extensive discussions and analysis of world best practice, particularly the European model and the American model. As a result of that work, we are proud to have played a central role in publicly shaming the government into finally beginning to implement changes, after several years of sitting on their hands, as well as to have shone a light on their utterly protracted and unnecessary process of repeatedly filing the issue in the too-hard basket and shuffling it off to one inquiry after another.

Indeed, it with is worth stating that the changes in this bill effectively represent an endorsement of some of the key recommendations and points in the coalition's antidumping policy—but it did not have to take this long. It is a shame these changes have not been implemented more quickly and that there has now been another depressing return to procrastination from Labor on antidumping in recent weeks. I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies in that the changes in the bill are actually, eventually, being legislated at all. In particular, it is reassuring that there is now recognition from the government that, across a number of areas of antidumping legislation, Australia's approach should be aligned more closely with that of a number of other jurisdictions. I am glad that the current bill is intended to achieve progress on that issue on various fronts. Again, that is a key component of the coalition's policy.

As I say, the principle of embedding closer consistency with other countries' approaches is an absolute no-brainer, particularly when other like nations are facing the same challenges of dumping from the usual suspects and the effect on their industries, particularly manufacturing, is akin to the impact on ours.

The tolerance of non-compliance and non-cooperation has been there for far too long. We have been easy targets. We have been a soft touch when it comes to getting assistance and cooperation with investigations and compliance with decisions, and that is stated quite openly and unambiguously in our policy.

In that sense, I am glad that the Labor Party agrees with us and that steps are now being taken, through this legislation, to close some of the openings and escape clauses that presently allow uncooperative parties to potentially evade or reduce their liabilities. It is something the Australian people expect us to do. If we believe that there should be an antidumping system, then necessarily it must be an antidumping system which works and is effective, which ensures we have adequate investigation and enforces our decisions. However—and, again, as has been pointed out many times in the course of the protracted debate on the various tranches of this legislation—the Australian system would also benefit greatly from a much more decisive change of political will, attitude and culture. To that end, it is especially disappointing that the Labor government is still not investing a single extra dollar into the Customs budget in order to specifically fund any changes to the antidumping system. This is notwithstanding the point that it is clear, and indeed it has been clear for some time now, that the system needs to be better resourced. It is not an appropriate response to the current set of problems to attempt simply to cost-shift from other areas of Customs, let alone after a period during which it has placed the agency under severe strain in so many areas.

It is also utterly remarkable that the government now thinks it appropriate that John Brumby—yes, John Brumby!—should be called in to 'consider the feasibility of a Commonwealth anti-dumping agency', including 'the benefits and costs of retaining this function within the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service'. The previous speaker, the member for Blair, said we hope that the recommendations from yet another Brumby review board would advocate taking administration responsibility for the antidumping regime out of Customs and he also said more things can be done. Yes, more things can be done. You do not need yet another review, yet another inquiry, to state the obvious. You do not need to waste more money or to give another failed Labor Premier a job to tell you the world's best practice shows that Customs is not and has not been the most appropriate place in the Public Service to have a functioning, well-resourced antidumping regime with access to appropriate legal and economic expertise.

Even more frustrating than the waste of money and procrastination is the breathtaking hypocrisy. Some members of this Labor government foamed at the mouth when the coalition pointed out last year that administrative responsibility urgently needed to be shifted from Customs. This is something I was and am very passionate about. It is what the Americans did for good reason and it is in our policy.

On 7 November 2011, the then Minister for Home Affairs, no less, said that:

… 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.

And yet what do we find out now? That the Labor Party has secretly called up Mr Brumby to ask if he could spend several months acquainting himself with the issues and work out how he could do this very thing. Today seems to be a day of deja vus and history repeating itself. There was no call to the coalition at any time over the past year to talk to us about how we could have very easily worked together to quickly and efficiently achieve this. Instead, all we received was abuse—not as vitriolic as the abuse John Howard got when he introduced the Pacific solution that this government has adopted today, but it was still abuse. We were told, yet again, that we were wrong, when in fact we were right. Now we will no doubt be treated to the spectre of several months' more delay and more wasted spending on another tortured review process that the government hopes might enable it to stumble upon a possible future course of action that is already immediately obvious.

It is as unnecessary as it is disappointing. What is it about this current government that they do not understand the basic responsibility that comes with a ministerial salary? You cannot outsource all your policy making and your decisions. You have 1,500 spin doctors, you have thousands of public servants, you have ministerial advisers and you should have an interest and a passion in the relevant portfolio areas that ministers have fundamental responsibility for. You have the coalition's policy. What more do you want? Why do you need yet another review and yet another job for a failed Labor premier? It is not only a waste of time and money; it reinforces yet again to business, to industry, to people who have borne the brunt of dumped goods in Australia that this government moves at an excruciatingly slow pace at their expense.

All of that said, it is the coalition's intention to support this piece of legislation. We will be doing so on the basis that it will give effect to a small set of sensible and practical improvements, and in the hope that the government will implement those changes effectively. I also agree entirely with the sentiments with which the minister closed his second reading speech when he said that more can be done and that there are 'other areas where future reform may be required'. We have been saying that more can be done in this area for quite some time. The coalition is not only pleased to see the government accepting the need for change to Australia's anti-dumping system but also believes that further revisions are needed and we stand ready to deliver them.

As I said in my contributions on previous antidumping improvements bills, we need antidumping arrangements that are accessible and that are effective in preventing goods being dumped in Australia. That is the very least that industry and workers expect—a system that actually works and that is not too expensive or too complicated to access. Part of the problem has been that those with primary responsibility for this area have not had their hearts in having a system that works. When you do not have the political will to make a complex policy area work, it infiltrates the culture of those who are charged with administering that policy.

If the coalition is privileged enough to win government at the next election, we look forward very much to the opportunity of implementing the much needed remaining elements of the antidumping policy that Labor has not yet pilfered. We will do so in a comprehensive way with real reform and without jobs for the boys. We know what the problems are. We have looked at world's best practice, we have done the hard yards, and we will implement an antidumping regime that will be the envy of the world and that we can hold up to say, 'You know what? We don't think that dumping should damage our industries and we are going to do something about it.' We will not just talk about it or have yet another press conference or endless inquiries and amendments, but we will have something that actually works in a timely manner that is cost effective and delivers what is so desperately needed by industry.