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Friday, 28 June 1996
Page: 2542

Senator MARGETTS(10.47 a.m.) —That was helpful. The image that first arose in my head in reference to advanced food packaging was some new sort of plastic film or something of that nature. We are talking about canned goods.

On Senator Cook's amendments, No.1 seems to be okay from the Greens' point of view. It removes the higher tariff on capital equipment used in manufacturing advanced materials. Australia is a source of feedstock for many advanced materials. It is silly to make downstream processing of these materials more expensive, especially as we are encouraging the manufacturers' products with a very high level of value adding.

On amendment No.2, we are not too happy that there is no straight concession on goods not produced here. Senator Cook's amendments would allow ministerial discretion to extend a tariff-free status, explicitly any good under items 57 or 60 of schedule 4, whether or not an equivalent good is produced in Australia.

Under the current legislation, goods which have no equivalents produced in Australia are allowed in free and goods which have equivalent goods produced here have the potential to be allowed in free with ministerial discretion. In other words, there is a straight objective hurdle which grants a tariff-free concession and then a discretionary factor where a minister can be lobbied by the big corporate entities and may grant a similar concession to those who fail a test.

Senator Schacht —Or the small ones; by anybody.

Senator MARGETTS —Yes. But, basically, it will get down to the people who can lobby the most effectively. Personally, the Greens would like to see these concessions clearly set out so that everybody knows what concessions apply, rather than have them based on the effectiveness or power of the lobbying group.

With regard to what happens to those who fail the test, Senator Cook is reversing the current situation. He is seeking to set the ministerial discretion to allow a minister to eliminate tariffs if the lobbying is effective, and to adjust the legislation so that discretion is allowed to cover goods where equivalent goods are not produced here. The effect of the wording would be to allow concession goods to be included in discretion, because under the current act they are excluded. In effect, the amendments will ensure that, if a company fails in their lobbying, then they can fall back on the three per cent concessional rate.

It will make ministerial discretion the most powerful thing with a three per cent tariff as a backup second choice for companies that can argue that their imports fit the criteria. I do not particularly like that system. The problem lies where lobbying power is stronger than a more equitable and open system of non-discretionary hurdle jumping. I do not like the fact that it means goods that have equivalent goods produced here, can get a lower tariff than goods that have no equivalent goods produced here just because somebody's lobbying power is greater than somebody else's.

I am not convinced that in the face of a decision to reduce the tariff concession from zero to three per cent the minister will be able to use this discretion to reinstate a zero concession on any broad or equitable basis. Perhaps either the minister or Senator Cook could respond to that.

I wish most of the goods in items 72 to 81 of schedule 3—basically, industry inputs of non-machine metal products—would get a zero concession. Item 82, which includes cutlery and tools, is a little more problematic. I do not know why cutlery should be included. It all refers to goods covered in item 60 of schedule 3.

Item 57 of schedule 4 is a little more problematic for us, since a number of goods may go to industries we personally do not think should be here from a Greens' perspective. My response to Senator Cook's remarks on the concept of plastics for advanced food packaging is an example.

We are not that enthusiastic about promoting heavily packaged foods. We would obviously have problems with promoting particular types of packaging anyway, depending on whether they are recyclable and do not easily break down and cause a variety of environmental problems.

Frankly, the Greens' position on lots of these issues is that the process should be open and honest. We should have a means by which we can include through some form of sales tax differential those kinds of differences. If environmental costs are involved, they should be built into the cost of the product—I realise that the problematical categories have probably just been included as a part of item 39 of schedule 3. So a whole lot of goods have been lumped in as part of item 39 of schedule 3.

If this sounds confusing to everybody, it is why at the dot last night we found that we were not able to make a decision. It is quite a complicated issue. It includes a whole range of polymer products, including resins for carbon fibre products. I would rather items such as chapter 48 paper and paper board had no possibility of inclusion. Quite frankly, I am sure a lot of companies in Australia would like to reduce the $2 billion worth of imports if they could, in an environmentally friendly way, produce them in Australia. On the whole, we can quite happily support amendment 1. We are not really convinced about amendment 2, although we realise that it is clearing up an existing anomaly. Either way, we oppose the bill.