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Friday, 28 June 1996
Page: 2540

Senator COOK(10.37 a.m.) —When the Customs Tariff Amendment (No. 1) Bill 1996 was last before the committee I moved two amendments. The amendments were circulated; I think they are known to the lead speakers for all parties. I re-move the two amendments:

(1)   Schedule 1, item 5, page 3 (lines 15 to 17), omit the item.

(2)   Schedule 1, items 6 and 7, page 3 (lines 18 to 23), omit the items, substitute:

6 Item 57 of Schedule 4

   Omit "which are ineligible for a Tariff Concession Order".

7 Item 60 of Schedule 4

   Omit "which are ineligible for a Tariff Concession Order".

In support of moving these amendments again, I will briefly say that these two amendments refer to the issue of policy by-laws and enhance ministerial discretion under the policy by-laws provision. This enables companies to make application to the minister for the level of duty to be waived on the importation of particular goods and, if the minister finds favour with their submissions, he is able to do that. The bill as it currently stands means that the minister's discretion would only reduce it down to three per cent of duty. The amendment enables the minister to reduce it down to zero.

We would like to insist on these amendments because they relate to three areas under the act: items 55, 57 and 60. Item 55 relates to machine tools for working advanced metals; item 57 relates to high performance raw materials and intermediate goods, and item 60 relates to high performance food packaging materials.

It seems to me that this nation, Australia, is developing industry which uses machine tools for working advanced metals. In fact, it is a growing industry; it is one in which we are very competitive throughout the world. It is an area of high technology. It is important to sophisticated manufacturing, and it is an area in which we ought not impose a penalty on the industry when, by imposing a penalty, the industry's chances of growing stronger will be stunted. Therefore a company ought to be able to apply to the minister and the minister ought to have the discretion to remove all duty on imported goods necessary to the growth of this industry.

The same remarks can be made of high performance raw materials and intermediate goods. Basically, this refers to chemicals, plastics and paper used in production which offer a performance advantage over substitutable goods produced in Australia. Again this is at the sophisticated end of the manufacturing chain. These are the industries we want in this country. The minister should have the discretion on the facts to waive duty. The final area of high performance food packaging material—

Senator Schacht —This is very important.

Senator COOK —This is very important, as Senator Schacht interjects—and he interjects quite rightly. As a country, Australia has a world advantage in food production. We are acknowledged around the globe as a site for the production of clean and green agricultural products. That is our reputation in Asia. Getting those food products to the Asian market in pristine condition is an important consideration for our industry, and high performance food packaging materials enable that to be done. If our food is not on the supermarket shelves of Asia in a way that is attractive to Asian consumers—that is, fresh, crisp, green and clean—then our ability to win an even greater share of that market would be reduced. Therefore, the packaging material used to keep it in that pristine condition is an important consideration. These are mainly metal materials and goods which offer a performance advantage over similar goods produced in Australia. That is what item 60 relates to.

I repeat that these are all key industries to enable Australia to grow in world stature as a competitive nation, to produce jobs for Australians which are sophisticated, highly skilled jobs which challenge them intellectually, and which draw on the technical training and skill we have in this country. All of these are areas on which, if the bill stands, the government will impose a tax of three per cent. It seems to me that that tax goes against the evolution of these industries and the jobs that they will create. All we ask is that, in appropriate cases, where it can be made under a by-law application to the minister, the minister have discretion to remove the tax and provide zero.