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Tuesday, 8 February 1994
Page: 519

Senator SPINDLER (3.15 p.m.) —I, too, wish to comment briefly on the answer given by the Minister for Science and Small Business (Senator Schacht) to the question asked by Senator Jones in which he referred to the review of the Australian Customs Service entitled The Turning Point. I welcome the report as the result of a very searching and far-reaching inquiry and I express the hope that it will lead to some much needed reforms in the Customs Service. In particular, I wish to refer to the section on anti-dumping provisions.

Senator Schacht —I thought you would!

Senator SPINDLER —It is a matter on which I had occasion to appear before the committee and give evidence. Page 163 of the report details the concerns that have been expressed to the committee not just by me but by a wide cross-section of witnesses from industry. These concerns include: the general quality of the performance by the Anti-Dumping Authority in administering the anti-dumping provisions; the time taken to see a complaint dealt with and brought to the stage where a countervailing duty may be imposed; the need for a more coherent relationship between Australian industry and the agencies administering these laws; and the difficulties experienced by customs, especially Australian customs representatives, when conducting anti-dumping inquiries overseas. There are a couple of other concerns, but I think these are the main ones.

  I also note that on page 165 of its report the committee says that by rationalising the existing structure the overall basic processing time could be abridged by up to 80 days. I look forward to some urgent amendments brought into the chamber by the minister to bring that about.

  The recommendations of the committee include some other worthwhile initiatives which we are looking forward to; a manual of policies and practices; the suggestion that material injury inquiries be conducted contemporaneously with a customs investigation of dumping; and the proposal that the legal provisions be reviewed, revised and amended to provide clear and effective laws in this area.

  I have one problem with the way in which the report deals with anti-dumping, and that is with regard to industry concerns—expressed by a range of witnesses—that the anti-dumping provisions should be interpreted by the department and by the authority in such a way that they assist Australian industries to resist the deleterious effect of the dumping of cheap goods. On page 166 of the report, the committee says that the commercial behaviour in industry is very complex. It points out that many products that are being brought in may be used by industry as components, or for resale, and benefit industry if they are cheaper, and therefore the interests of Australian industries are not clear.

  I reject that totally. While I certainly agree that it is advisable for industry to buy components at the cheapest possible price—there are provisions to facilitate that—it is quite clear that where finished products are being imported into Australia at dumped prices they simply serve to destroy our industries and our employment. This section of the report does no service to the interests of Australian industry and Australian workers. I would like the minister to have another look at that section and clarify the way in which he believes this should be interpreted.(Time expired)