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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8545

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (10:50): I rise to support the Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill 2011 and wish to make a few brief observations about its importance in the panoply of policy measures that are needed to assist local producers. I note that this bill is about dumping and anti-dumping and it is a broad issue that affects the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, but the observations I wish to make are in relation to manufacturing, an issue which is of deep concern to the residents of my electorate of Throsby.

It has been observed by previous speakers that, since European settlement, Australia has benefited from the fact that it is a trading nation. In each of the 200 years since white settlement, we have had and relied upon a net inflow of capital to develop our industries and to ensure that we have been able to build a modern economy. Equally, we have relied on the markets of Asia, America and Europe to sell our agricultural resources and manufactured goods. It is beyond belief that anyone could stand in this place and say that Australia as a whole does not benefit from the fact that we are a trading nation integrated into the markets of the world. So the debates that we must have as policymakers are not about whether or not we should be engaged in an open trade with the rest of the world but how indeed we design those markets to ensure that we foster a competitive, robust domestic manufacturing sector at the same time as reaping the benefits that we undoubtedly gain from our natural advantages in the area of resources and agriculture and in many other areas. have made a number of observations over the past two months in this place and elsewhere about the fact that manufacturing is doing it very tough in this country at the moment. Manufacturing is a sector which has employed over one million Australians for well over 50 years, and the circumstances which manufacturing has faced over the last two years are, in my view, the toughest circumstances that we have faced in well over 20 years. They are tougher indeed than the manufacturing sector faced during the global financial crisis.

They are tough because on the one hand we enjoy the benefits of the high prices that our commodities are able to command on international markets, particularly iron ore and coal, and they are no doubt reaping benefits for mining communities and those associated with mining communities. But for electorates such as mine on the other hand the high cost of iron ore and coal directly relates to high input costs for steelmakers and the manufacturing sector. The impact that is having on the Australian dollar is working an economic tsunami through the manufacturing sector such that our manufactured goods are finding it very difficult to compete with imported products from China, India and other places around the world. Added to the very sluggish international demand for steel and other manufactured products we have a very difficult situation indeed.

We need a holistic approach to these issues; there is not one silver bullet. But I welcome the fact that the Minister for Home Affairs has taken this issue seriously and has taken the review that has been commissioned into dumping seriously and brought this bill before this parliament. It is not a silver bullet, but it will help to make a difference. It goes together with our proposals to provide more assistance for research and development to inject literally billions of dollars into innovation and to spend more money in the areas of skills and infrastructure to ensure that we provide our local businesses with a fighting chance in a very difficult world market.

I have a couple of observations about dumping in general and the legislation. The first thing I wish to say is that dumping goods in Australian markets at below cost or below normal price is not an exercise of efficient markets; it is anti-competitive behaviour. The provisions of this bill are aimed at ensuring that we stamp out anti-competitive behaviour. The sole objective of dumping is to ensure that the perpetrator does harm to their natural competitors, to drive them out of the market place so that they then have the capacity to command greater prices than they would otherwise be able to command in a more competitive marketplace. Dumping is not competitive behaviour and it is not evidence of an efficiently operating market; it is anti-competitive behaviour designed to drive out the competition, and therefore any responsible government is required to put in place responsible measures to stamp it out.

The second observation I would make is built upon the experience of a conversation I had on Monday with a manufacturer from my electorate, when he was in Canberra to talk to a number of ministers and departments about circumstances facing his business, Metal Manufacturers—MM Kembla—a copper pipe and a wire manufacturer based in Port Kembla in my electorate. They have had significant experience with the previous anti-dumping provisions in the legislation. In 1998 they had cause to bring action for anti-competitive dumping behaviour by a Korean merchant who was offering cheap copper tube at well below market price. This had the very real threat—if allowed to run its course—of making Metal Manufacturers lay off literally hundreds of workers because they were losing some of their traditional markets.

One of the observations that the CEO of that company made to me was that a problem with the existing system was it took too long. Their action was commenced in 1998 and they still did not have a remedy in place until 2001, and even when the remedy was put in place we saw the perpetrator flouting that remedy by continuing to offer their goods on the Australian market at well below the normal price for those goods. So timeliness is critical and having a credible remedy is critical. I think that the measures in this bill go some way to addressing those concerns—the concerns of Metal Manufacturers and other employers in my electorate—so I welcome them.

The other observation I would make about this—and why I say that there is no one silver bullet in this area and that we need a raft of measures to assist manufacturing—is that even with provisions such as this in place employers and manufacturers are going to be very reticent to take action because it puts at risk the markets and the relationships that they have. Whilst the legislation is good, and it is an important part of an overall raft of measures to assist manufacturing, the implementation of these measures is going to be critical. I welcome the fact that in addition to the new measures within the bill the minister has succeeded in beefing up the resources that are available to the Australians Customs and Border Protection Service and others to ensure that we have a tough cop on the beat to assist manufacturers and others to enjoy the benefits of these new measures. I commend the bill to the House and once again thank the minister for taking the issue seriously.