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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 30200


Mr KERR (10:48 AM) —The parliament definitely appreciates this occasion to once again delve into the intricacies and complexities of the Customs Tariff Act 1995—an arcane piece of legislation of great bulk. But on this occasion, changes are being made for cosmetic and administrative reasons rather than for reasons of substance. The opposition does not disagree with this because it is part of an arrangement that Australia has entered into with other countries to ensure that our customs regime is in harmony with theirs. As a consequence of that harmonisation, there is a need for reclassification of various items under the Customs Act, so we have a substantial piece of legislation with many items which appear to warrant extended debate in the parliament. In practice, when one examines what is actually occurring, we are given assurances that the actual tariffs being imposed in relation to various items that will be imported into Australia remain unchanged, and that this is essentially a piece of administrative work being done so that exporters will be able to operate in a synchronised way with exporters of other countries, and that our customs regime operates in that way.



Mr KERR —As the parliamentary secretary so correctly mentions, similar legislation has been introduced over the years by governments of all persuasions and colours. I have no envy of those who work in the technical and arcane world of customs designations. It is a very complex area. When, as shadow customs minister, one sits down to discuss these issues with those technically versed in these areas, one's mind rapidly becomes filled with detail which one feels perhaps one knows too much about. However, customs designations are extremely important in terms of Australia's economic place in the world and this is an important matter for this parliament. I am pleased to indicate that the opposition joins with the government in supporting this legislation.

As a signatory to the International Convention on the Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System, Australia undertook to complete this task by 1 January 2002. Perhaps the parliamentary secretary is exactly the right person—although I could also test this proposition on the member for Curtin—to provide a detailed explanation of precisely what is included in item 178, which says that we are repealing the description and substituting `articles of apparel and clothing accessories (including gloves, mittens and mitts), for all purposes, of vulcanised rubber other than hard rubber'. If either of you wishes to elucidate on the nature of the products that are covered by that description, I am certain that this debate might be somewhat more interesting to the public of Australia than has hitherto been the case. I do not think it is within my very naive and innocent capacity to further elucidate to the chamber on the nature of those particular items.

However, all joking aside, this is appropriate legislation. There are significant issues with the administration and management of the customs system which the opposition does differ from the government on in terms of administration and processing, particularly with some of the issues around the way in which technology is being implemented and some of the costs that are going on to the industry sectors. Those are complex issues. There are many different parties and they have different interests. However, there is, delightfully, consensus on this particular piece of legislation—and I look forward to hearing the member for Curtin explain a bit about the detail of the schedules and what they mean for this great nation.