Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (19:21): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the legislation before the House. It concerns dumping, but it also fits within the context of Australia as a free-trading nation, and I would like to make some observations about this before dealing with the details of the bill. Australia has been a leading advocate of free trade for more than two decades. While we have seen enormous benefits, such as greater market access for our exports and cheaper imports of everything from TVs, PCs and the shoes and clothes that we wear, it has not been without cost—massive restructuring of the economy and even greater exposure to the vicissitudes of international markets.
Governments simply must win support for open trade. The best way to do that is to show that there are benefits for Australians—as consumers, as businesses and as workers. It is not always easy, particularly when governments make populist decisions and give a nod to economic xenophobia. It is one thing to argue that the roll-back of protection has led to more efficient local industry, to cheaper cars and to electrical goods, but this is cold comfort to those who have lost their job, had to close their business or to send offshore some or all of their production.
Put simply , if we can not demonstrate that open trade exists within a set of rules, that these rules are fair and that everyone must stick to them , then we lose the argument. Moreover, we must be able to show that when someone breaks the rules there are consequences. The rules are contained in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and in other bilateral agreements. They allow signatories to impose corrective measures to respond to dumping of goods and certain subsidies known as countervailing measures . The W orld Trade Organisation oversees the rules. In Australia the rules are also overseen by the courts.
Some argue that the imposition of a tariff in response to dumping or for any other purpose is a retreat to protectionism that distorts the efficient allocation of resources in Australia and props up inefficient industries. Others go further and argue that if a company or a country is willing to subsidise Australian consumers by selling us goods which are heavily subsidised or at below cost , we should grab it with both hands. I argue that t his is short-sighted. Importing goods at below cost may provide some short-term windfalls for some con sumers but at the price of long- term headwinds for open trade—the factory worker who loses his job, the farmer who loses access to a local market who will turn their sights on a bigger target , to the whole system of open trade itself. A point was made by the Productivity Commission, albeit half- heartedly , when it accepted in its 2009 r eview of Australia's antidumping laws that o ur antidumping framework was about ' system preservation ' .
While these political economy arguments stack up , there are commercial realities as well. Many ask—with some force , I say —about the impact on our domestic industry which is struggling to deal with the high Australian dollar while recovering from the GFC and dumped goods can be the straw that breaks the camel ' s back.
In my own electorate, s teel is a good example. In Australia , steelmakers have had to make a series of very tough decisions —to restructure , toreduce costs and to focus on the domestic steel market. In the case of BlueScope it has mean t large-scale redundancies and big reductions in spending, including the closure of one of its two blast furnaces. These changes have been designed to allow it to focus on the domestic market , which is worth around 2.5 million tonnes per annum . To put that into perspective , China now produces about the same amount of steel within a month.Competing is not easy in these circumstances. It is h arder still when companies , including Chinese companies, sell goods at or below cost with the objective of injuring a domestic producer.
In g overnment, Labor strengthened Australia's antidumping and countervailing system to provide stronger protection for Australian firms from unfair competition. We implemented the most significant reforms to Australia's antidumping regime in more than a decade. The bill before the House is a logical extension of those changes.
In 2011, we announced comprehensive, WTO-consistent improvements to Australia's antidumping system, as detailed in the Streamlining Australia's Anti-dumping S ystem policy statement. We also established the International Trade Remedies Foru m, ITRF , to provide advice on antidumping matters, with members from industry, unions and government.
In December 2012, we announced a package of reforms to Australia's antidumping system to deliver stronger protection for Australian industry against unfair competition from overseas. We recognised that as global economic circumstances change and Australia is facing intense and in some cases unfair or illegal competition from dumped goods , more needs to be done to ensure that Australia continues to have an effective antidumpingsystem. We were not acting alone. Other jurisdictions around the world, through legislative and administrative action, imposed new standards as well.Our reforms deliver stronger protection for Australian industry against u nfair competition from overseas.
These reforms were enshrined in L abor's Industry and Innovation Statement in February 2013 and in a $27.7 million package of further reforms to Australia's antidumping system including establishing a new Anti-Dumping Commission er to investigate dumping complaints ; putting in resources to make it easier for small- and medium-sized enterprises to access and use the system ; and, we i nvest ed more than $24.4 million to increase theCustom s and Border Protect ion Service's investigative capability to ensure that they had the staff to do the investigations and to put in place the administrative arrangements to follow up complaints.
Strengthening remedies against overseas producers that injure Australian businesses by dumping and that attempt to circumvent Australia'santidumping rules were at the heart of these reforms. We also commissioned the former Premier of Victoria, Mr John Brumby, to conduct a review about the administrative arrangements, about whether it would be better for the new body to continue to exist with the Customs and Border Protection Service or move to the industry department. In his review of that report, he found that most submitters were neutral on the point. However, he left it open for further changes and administrative arrangements to be put in place if it suited the government of the day. So this legislation follows on from the track record of Labor in government taking this issue seriously.
The measures are welcomed by Australian manufacturers, including the largest manufacturer in the Illawarra, BlueScope in Port Kembla, and industry organisations including the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Steel Institute.
Manufacturing still employs over one million Australians and the agricultural sector is also a beneficiary of these changes with many thousands of Australians as well . So it is an important source of employment and business. Our commitment to open trade means we are able to buy more with our pay packet than we could 10 years ago , but to ensure that we continue to maintain faith in our system we need to be able to show that Australia is not a soft touch for those who break the rules. We need to have the administrative arrangements in place to ensure that where rules exist they are enforced. That i s why the legislation before the House is a logical extension of the reforms put in place by the former Labor government, enjoying support from all sides of the House.
I commend the bill to the House.