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Tuesday, 15 December 1992
Page: 5063

Senator ARCHER (9.48 p.m.) —I have to say that this has been the craziest presentation of legislation that I have ever seen. I would not know how many times over the last two or three weeks Bills have been on and off and up and down. I think the arrangements have been changed five or six times today. I am absolutely staggered that the Government believes that it can run its business and the country in such a manner.

  The Bills deal with issues of customs administration and implement a number of decisions on industry assistance, as well as dealing with a number of housekeeping matters, especially in the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2). Key issues are, however, the amendments to anti-dumping administration and the further phasing down of assistance to the textiles, clothing and footwear industries. This highlights the interaction of these two facets of industry policy.

  The Opposition supports an orderly phase-down in tariffs, but it must be accompanied by effective protection against predatory dumping and subsidisation of goods exported to Australia. It must also be facilitated through the micro-economic reforms so necessary to enable Australian industry to compete both domestically and abroad. The Government has failed to measure up in both these areas.

  While these amendments to the anti-dumping administration are welcomed by the Opposition, they are late in arriving and do not go far enough. Why has it taken so long for Australia to adopt the European and North American approach of a mandatory up-front interim duty? Was it because the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology took the initiative to look at the question of dumping?

  Unlike the present situation where duty is not collected if the exporter raises the export price to the level of the normal value determined by Customs on price undertaking, firm action will now occur in each case where dumping or subsidisation is found to cause material injury. The onus remains on the applicant for dumping and subsidy action to make a case for material injury occurring. This is appropriate. The legislation now places the onus of proof on the exporter-importer when it comes to adjustments to the duty liability or a review of the liability, and this is how it should be.

  Some press reports have stated that because dumping duty will now be payable for each and every shipment of an item for a six-month period, irrespective of any bona fide change in the export price of the goods, importers can have a problem. It is suggested that an importer can face enormous price disadvantages in the marketplace over this period. While this could be true in some cases, the local producer of the goods concerned would also have experienced price disadvantages in the market prior to the imposition of dumping duty.

  Part of the solution for the importer is to have very close relations with the overseas supplier to ensure that the goods do not get involved in a dumping or subsidy situation in the first place. This may not always be easy, but under this legislation there is now a real incentive to avoid problems arising. Our anti-dumping mechanism should be swift and effective but in no way provide an alternative form of protection for industry in lieu of tariff protection. Neither should it be a de facto means of industry protection, but an effective measure to be used against those who cheat in international trade.

  While this legislation improves the effectiveness of our anti-dumping administration, it is not as speedy as it should be. Following the Government's statement of 5 December 1991, it legislated to reduce the period for a preliminary finding to 125 days, or 145 days for the more complex cases. This is 25 days for determining a prima facie case and 100 days for the Customs investigation. This in the commercial world is still just too long.

  The coalition proposes to reduce this to five days for the prima facie case and 60 days for the investigation. In these cases, time is of the essence. Companies can fail completely while their claim is being investigated. Also, the coalition will replace the present harsh material injury test with one that is less severe, again making sure that companies are not wiped out by the unfair trading practices of international competitors.

  I turn now to the TCF industry. In maintaining its timetable for the phase-down of the TCF tariffs, the Government has put in place a program of measures to assist restructuring, boosting exports and enhancing the import credit scheme. Because we have reached the TCF area, I think it is appropriate that I make some mention of the report of the Industry Commission which came down last week. I draw particular attention to this on account of the fact that I am aware that there will be an amendment coming forward from another quarter concerning the actual quota figures. On page 5 of the IC annual report it states:

To give in to calls for a delay would send the wrong signals to industry. It would show that lobbying for government assistance can be more profitable in the short term than finding ways to improve long-term competitiveness. With that attitude, self-serving reasons for not resuming microeconomic reforms would multiply—the time would never be right.

In short, a pause in the reform process would not be effective in saving jobs overall, even in the short term. A pause now runs the risk that the reform process will lose momentum altogether. Deferring reforms which have the potential to confer wide-ranging benefits would be at the expense of taxpayers and consumers generally. The cost to the nation in terms of building opportunities for growth and sustainable jobs would be substantial.

While the proposals are good and proper, they are no substitute for meaningful micro-economic reforms, such as waterfront reform, which flows through to the importers and exporters; other transport reform, including rail; labour market reform; and reforms in energy supply. One has only to compare the situation of New Zealand industry with the Australian equivalent. New Zealand has lower labour on-costs, lower transport costs, quicker turnaround times and lower packaging material costs.

  Australian industry must become more internationally competitive. A lowering of our protective walls is consistent with the objective, but so essentially is the reform of the economic infrastructure within such industry functions. The Industry Commission in its 1991-92 annual report strongly supports this view. On page 8 of that report, it says:

Further progress in a broad program of microeconomic reform aimed at tackling underlying structural problems would improve Australia's international competitiveness, so that the economy would grow faster (and in a sustainable way).

That is what is important at this juncture. There has been lip-service given to this view, but the Government has done little in practice. The coalition has made a clear public policy to deliver on these reforms.

  I turn to the Customs Legislation Amendment Bill. The movement of cargo automation is welcomed. Anything that can speed up the import process, reduce paperwork and reduce costs while maintaining control must be welcomed. But there are features of this program about which we are still not happy and which we will certainly be watching very closely. I am pleased to note that benefits will flow on to the port authorities and to AQIS as a result.

  It is important that facilitation of imports does not occur at the expense of control. It is important that Customs puts maximum effort into its risk assessment, as reflected in its profiles used under the new system. The Opposition supports the measures to enforce greater waterfront security through identification requirements and new powers to stop and search vehicles. Again, I ask why it has taken so long after the need was identified in 1989 by the National Crime Authority.

  Finally, there is the diesel fuel rebate amendment extending eligibility to fuel used in certain ships while travelling to and from Australian ports for repairs or refits. While the amendment is supported, it is yet another amendment to a thoroughly discredited administrative arrangement which, fortunately, will become redundant when excise is abolished under the coalition's economic policies for revitalising the country. The Opposition does not oppose the legislation.