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Wednesday, 28 February 2001
Page: 24709


Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (10:31 AM) —In closing this debate on the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 4) 2000, I thank the honourable members for Denison and Barker for their contributions to the debate. The amendments in this bill have previously been tabled in the House of Representatives as customs tariff proposals. They now require incorporation into the Customs Tariff Act.

Part 1 of the schedule to the bill contains a number of unrelated amendments and is operative from 1 July 2000. The first of these amendments relates to preferential tariff treatment for developing countries. Following a review by the United Nations, Angola and Madagascar have been added to the list of least developed countries in part 3 of schedule 1 of the Customs Tariff Act. The effect of this change will be to accord, where possible, a five per cent tariff margin over the general rate of duty to imports from these countries. A further change acknowledges the renaming of Zaire to the Democratic Republic of Congo. As the member for Barker highlighted, the member for Denison was critical of this system of listing developing countries. In response, let me simply say that all this bill is doing is responding to a decision of the United Nations. It is not in any sense an occasion for a debate about the United Nations system.

This part also implements the duty reduction on 30 tariff subheadings from five per cent to three per cent, as part of the settlement reached between Australia and the United Nations in the Howe Leather trade dispute. The final amendment contained in this part involves item 54 of schedule 4 of the Customs Tariff Act, which relates to the textiles, clothing and footwear import credit scheme. The member for Denison suggested that the Howe Leather dispute could have been handled better. That criticism is rejected, but this is not the occasion for debating that. What we are doing is responding, through this bill and the prior tariff proposal, to the resolution reached in the settlement between the two countries. The current wording of item 54 has been amended to reflect the administrative arrangements whereby import credits earned under the scheme may be used until 30 December 2001. Previously, the wording of item 54 only allowed the use of these credits until 30 June 2000.

Part 2 of the schedule, which is effective from 4 July 2000, contains an amendment to item 17 of schedule 4 to the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 4) 2000. This item provides concessional entry for goods which have been exported from Australia and are subsequently reimported in an unaltered condition. The principle of the application of this concession is that duty is only payable on imported goods once and that the concession should not be used where a duty liability has not previously been acquitted. The current provisions of the item do not adequately reflect the original policy intent of the concession.

The amendments are designed to clarify the intent that goods on which duties, taxes and charges of the Commonwealth have not been paid and on which drawback or refund of duties was not paid on exportation are excluded from the coverage of the item.

Item 17A has been created to cover the situation where the returned goods contain components previously imported under the Tradex Scheme or the Manufacturing in Bond Scheme. The amendments provide for separate sets of entry conditions for each of a number of uniquely different import transactions.

Part 3 of the schedule contains further amendments to item 17 and 17A. These further amendments exclude goods that contain components which were excisable goods and on which excise duty was not paid.

Part 4 of the schedule, which is effective from 1 September 2000, reintroduces the five per cent duty rate on certain woven fibreglass fabric. The duty was removed from these goods from 15 December 1999 as part of the nuisance tariff exercise. The criteria used to identify nuisance tariffs were that the duty collected under an item was insignificant and that there was no local production of the goods covered by the item.

The member for Denison was also critical of this in that it was going back on a previous decision. After extensive consultation with industry on a list of 268 nuisance tariff items, the proposal was created and the duty rate on these items was reduced from five per cent to free. Following the removal of duty on these 268 items on 15 December 1999, one local manufacturer wrote to the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources seeking reinstatement of duty on one of the items, namely a certain woven fibreglass fabric. This was despite the extensive consultation with industry.

As the original intent of cabinet was to remove tariffs only where there was no local production, the duty was reinstated with approval from Minister Minchin and Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Justice and Customs at the time, through Customs Tariff Proposal No. 6 of 2000 with effect from 1 September 2000. I commend the bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.