Press Conference – Melbourne


Opening of the Anti-Dumping Commission

10 July 2013


Topics: Anti-Dumping Commission; ALP reforms; boats

MATT WARDELL: Well good morning ladies and gentleman, fellow customs officers, distinguished guests including the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Justice the Honourable Jason Clare. The Honourable John Brumby, former premier and treasurer of Victoria, and the author of the review into anti-dumping arrangements delivered in 2012. The chief executive officer of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Mr Michael Pezzullo. Deputy chief operating officer for Customs and Border Protection Ms Marion Grant. Mr Dale Seymour, and the acting commissioner of the Anti-Dumping Commission Ms Kim Farrant. My name’s Matt Wardell from Customs and Border Protection.

We’re here at the site of the Melbourne office of the Anti-Dumping Commission, a new and dedicated division within Customs and Border Protection with a reformed a dedicated focus on efficiently and effectively administering Australia’s anti-dumping system.

Before we get any further into today’s proceedings, I’d like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people, who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today. I would also like to pay respect to the elders, both past and present of the Coolum nations. And, in this NAIDOC Week, where we all celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Torres Straight and islander people, I take this opportunity to extend that respect to all indigenous Australians.

I’d now like to call on the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Justice, the Honourable Jason Clare, to begin today’s proceedings.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Matt. Last week the chief executive officer of Customs and I announced major reforms to customs and border protection. They’re the biggest reforms to customs in decades, and they include aggressively targeting corruption to weed it out and stop it coming back, as well as hardening our borders, making it easier for passengers to move from the aeroplane, through the customs hall, and onto the train – or get into the taxi or the car to begin their holiday. It’s also about facilitating trade.

What we’re announcing today is an important part of those reforms. Today we are officially opening the new Australian Anti-Dumping Commission. Customs has been responsible for the investigation of anti-dumping matters. And dumping is where something is imported into Australia at less than its real cost – it’s effectively cheating. And it can cost Australians their jobs, it can hurt Australian businesses, and it can undermine confidence in free trade. And that’s why it’s important that we’ve got an umpire with the powers and the resources that they need to make sure that people play by the rules.

Over the course of the last few years we’ve seen a big increase in the amount of anti-dumping investigations that we’ve had to focus on – a tripling over the last few years. Last year I asked John Brumby, the former premier of Victoria, to conduct a review into the best structure to make sure we’ve got our system set up to investigate these dumping cases and make sure that people play by the rules.

John made a number of recommendations. He recommended we create an anti-dumping commission, he recommended that we inject more resources to do this work, and he also recommended that we base the commission here in Melbourne – the heart of Australia’s manufacturing industry. And we’ve done all three. We’ve passed new laws through the Parliament to establish the commission, we’ve put more money in the Budget, and today we’re opening the new commission right here in Melbourne.

In the Budget we’ve put in an extra $24 million over the next four years. Now what that will mean that we’ll almost double the amount of resources available to the commission, and almost double the total number of investigators to do this work. And recruitment is underway right now for about 25 new staff who will work here.

Today I can announce that I’ve formally appointed Mr Dale Seymour as the head of the Australian Anti-Dumping Commission. Dale’s worked at very high levels in business, and in government – has enormous experience. We’ve got Dale direct from Deloitte Access Economics, he’s previously worked as the president of Wormser Energy in the United States, and as the deputy secretary of the Department of Business and Innovation here in Victoria. So he comes to this job with a raft of experience, and congratulations Dale on your appointment. I think the team here that are behind the cameras are very excited to see you here.

In short, this is a big reform. Australia is a trading nation, and we need to make sure that people have confidence in the system. In order to have confidence in the system we need to have an umpire with the powers and the people to make sure that people play by the rules, and that’s why this commission is so important and why I’m so glad to be here today to officially open the new commission.

I’ll ask Mr Brumby to say a few words. I’ll then ask Dale to say a few words, and then very happy to take all of your questions.

JOHN BRUMBY: Well thank you very much to Minister Jason Clare, and I’m delighted to be here today and to add my comments, really, to the comments that the minister has made.

I was asked to do the review into anti-dumping arrangements around this time last year. And in the big scheme of things, if you look at the way that governments work, to be asked to undertake that review, to complete that review, to make recommendations, and to be here essentially less than 12 months later, shows, I think, the commitment – the extraordinary commitment of the minister to getting things done, to getting things moving, and to make the changes that are required.

There have been a lot of changes made to anti-dumping arrangements in Australia over recent years. The Minister and his predecessor have put in place a major reform program, but the one piece of the jigsaw that hadn’t been examined was the organisational arrangements for anti-dumping within customs in Australia. And that’s what I was asked to examine.

In the course of my work I talked to dozens of Australian business – locally producing businesses and import business. We took, literally, hundreds of submissions that came over the website, I had round tables with industry groups. And from that I produced the report which I presented to the minister last year in November.

The thing that came through most strongly to me was that for Australia as a trading nation and an exporting nation, Australian businesses need to have confidence in their anti-dumping arrangements. And the other thing that came through very strongly is that in recent years there has been a huge increase in the number of goods, the types of goods, dumped into the Australian market.

And we are an attractive market. There are not many places in the world where you’ve got cities the size of Melbourne and Sydney with good ports where there are goods travelling around the world, looking for a home, we are an attractive market. And so change was necessary and I recommended a number of measures for the Government to consider and I’m delighted that all of those have been embraced by the Government and they’re being implemented here today.

More resources, because there had been increase in workload. A new organisation, a better focused organisation, still within Customs, but Anti-Dumping Commission with new leadership reporting directly to the Minister. Those things I think are important. And I also recommended a significant increase in resources and the Government has provided something like $24 million extra over the forward estimates period, which means that we can invest in more people, more staff, and more skills to get the job done more quickly. And that’s what business wants.

So I think this is an exciting day. You know, it’s – you’ve got to go back to the 1990s really for the last time there was a review of these organisational arrangements, but the way in which the Anti-Dumping Commission and governments manage this issue of dumping is important to our economy, it’s important to manufacturers, it’s important to our faith and confidence in an open trading system.

And what people want is certainty, they want strong leadership, they want confidence in the system, and I believe that the recommendations I made will produce that and I am delighted that the Minister and the Federal Government have found the commitment, the will, and the resource to do that and to do that so quickly. So I think it’s a very positive day.

JASON CLARE: Thanks very much, John, and Dale, congratulations on your appointment as the Anti-Dumping Commissioner. Well done and invite you to say a few words.

DALE SEYMOUR: Just a few words. I’m very, very honoured indeed to accept the Minister’s offer of appointment as Australia Anti-Dumping Commissioner. The task for the commission now is to deliver the outcomes that recognise the importance to our economy in terms of fair economic competition, investment in jobs, of act of anti-dumping jurisdiction for Australia. That’s my task as the Commissioner and I intend to pursue that with vigour. So thank you very much.

JASON CLARE: Okay. Very happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

JASON CLARE: We’ve put through over the course of the last 18 months six tranches of legislative reform through the parliament. The last of those bills went through the parliament only in the last few weeks. They form part of a package of reforms that my predecessor, Brendan O’Connor, announced about 18 months or so ago that make sure that we’ve got the right legislative structure to investigate anti-dumping cases, supported by an expert panel that can provide with advice where legislative change is needed in the future. That’s the key. That’s what we’ve done there. All of those reforms, I should say, are all compliant with the WTO rules.

One of the big challenges we’ve found that existed here though was that the number of investigations had tripled and the team to do that investigation hadn’t increased. So we needed an organisation that was focused on this, we needed the resources, the people to do those investigations, and that’s why we’re almost doubling the number of investigators. And John made the point, and I think he’s right, that we need to base the commission where a lot of the work is, the heart of Australia’s manufacturing industry, here in Melbourne.

QUESTION: Some commentators have said that dumping is actually good for the consumers and for the economy. [Inaudible]

JASON CLARE: What’s good for Australia, what’s good for the world, is when people play by the rules, and it’s important that companies overseas and companies in Australia know what the rules are and play by them. And in order to make sure that everybody plays by the rules, you’ve got to have an umpire that has the people and has the powers to do that job. That’s what the establishment of this commission will ensure.

QUESTION: But how effective can it be when there are no international rules that back it up and the World Trade Organisation doesn’t have rules in this?

JASON CLARE: Well, you’ve got WTO rules that all countries of the world need to comply with. The laws we’ve put in place over the course of the last 12 to 18 months are WTO compliant.

QUESTION: Minister, do you have any estimation of how much dumping costs [inaudible]?

JASON CLARE: I don’t have a figure off the top of my head. John might have got one over the course of his investigation. The point I made earlier is that where companies dump goods into Australia, it can cost Australians jobs. Where dumping happens, Australians can lose their jobs and companies can go under, and that’s not on. We’ve got to make sure that where dumping occurs, it’s investigated and stopped, otherwise it hurts the Australian economy, hurts Australian jobs, that’s why we need a strong Anti-Dumping Commission.

QUESTION: Which industries does it affect the most?

JASON CLARE: It is a range of industries. In recent times, we’ve seen investigations into the building industry. Steel, aluminium, timber. But we’ve also seen dumping happen with food products. We’ve got an investigation which kicks off today into peaches imported from South Africa and tomatoes imported from Italy. So dumping can happen in a number of different industries and from different countries around the world.

QUESTION: Minister, just on another matter, Alcoa have announced their yearly results today and – or yesterday. There’s talk that the smelters might close in Australia. You’ve also got Holden, who is wanting more government assistance. What is your stance on further government assistance for companies that have already received it?

JASON CLARE: Well, this sits a little outside my portfolio. I’ll ask you to refer that question to my colleague, Kim Carr.

QUESTION: But do you have a stance at all on the Government propping up companies?

JASON CLARE: Well, the general point I would make is the point that the Prime Minister made last week, which is this is a government which wants to make sure that Australia makes things and support Australian industry. An Anti-Dumping Commission is not about protecting Australian industry, it’s about making sure that everybody plays off the same rules of the same song sheet.

QUESTION: And how about in regards to the Prime Minister’s changes to the way the Labor Party elects its leader. Are you supportive of these changes despite unions harking up and saying they don’t want them?

JASON CLARE: I think these are important reforms. They’re big reforms. They mean that somebody joins the Labor Party, they’ll get to vote on who they think the leader of the Labor Party should be. They mean that when somebody is elected Prime Minister, that person is Prime Minister for the term – the next term of government. So they’re big reforms, they’re important reforms, they’ll be welcomed by all members of the Labor Party. People who are members of unions, I’d encourage to join the Labor Party and they’ll get a vote in determining who the leader of the Labor Party is.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that unions may withhold funding, particularly from this upcoming election, given that they are pretty unhappy about these changes?

JASON CLARE: I’m not sure if I agree that unions are unhappy with this. This doesn’t change the powers that unions have inside the Labor Party, what it does is it increases the powers of members of the Labor Party.

The point I’d make is that it increases the powers for members of the Labor Party, that’s a good thing, its democratising the Labor Party, it’s giving more power to people who want to be members of the Labor Party, and I think it’s a reform that’s long overdue and I congratulate Kevin Rudd for putting it in.

QUESTION: Mr Brumby, can I ask you your opinion on the party reforms [indistinct]?

JOHN BRUMBY: Well, you can ask me but I won’t answer it.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the reforms?

JOHN BRUMBY: No, well you can ask me, but I’m chairman of the COAG reform council and it’s probably not appropriate that I comment about internal party matters. Thank you for your question.

QUESTION: How about in terms of [indistinct] holding you were the premier of this state, and they’re quite influential businesses in the state. Is it important to continue assistance to them because they are threatening to [indistinct] operations [indistinct]?

JOHN BRUMBY: Well again, I think they’re questions for federal government and state government, both levels of government – and it is important that Australia continues to manufacture things and to make things. And I think, you know, the announcement today just to be clear about it, is an important part of that set of arrangements. So what we’re announcing today is not about artificial barriers or protection, but it’s about making sure that we apply the rules and apply them well and apply them expeditiously. And that’s what the Minister’s done, with all of the reforms and the additional resources. And that’s what industry needs and industry wants.

So whether you’re an SPC Ardmona in relation to peaches or tomatoes, or whether you’re a company in relation to steel or aluminium, you want to know that if you believe goods are being dumped into the Australian market at below their real cost of production, that you can come to the Anti-Dumping Commission and your case will be heard fairly and efficiently and expeditiously so that you can get some certainty in the way in which you run your operations.

So this is a small but nevertheless important part of the framework for doing business in Australia. And the rest of it, of course, is going to go to the settings about the national economy, about skills, about education, about taxation, about all of the other things that go to make the setting for international business. But, you know, it is important that we continue to make things, it’s particularly important for Victoria, and one of the reasons why I recommended that the Commission be based here in Victoria is because it is the home of manufacturing in Australia.

QUESTION: Mr Brumby, you mentioned the number of investigations have tripled in recent years, do you know what’s led to that?

JOHN BRUMBY: Well, there’d be a range of factors. But I think probably three principal factors. Firstly, the global financial crisis, so it’s literally true to say that across the world you’ve had many large businesses, and countries, producing more goods than the world can buy at regular prices, so you have literally had shiploads of goods moving around the world looking for a market. So there’s been over production. So, they’ve been cutting prices below the cost, so that’s factor number one.

Factor number two is, as I said before, Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane are very attractive markets in the global sense. You know, you put together cities of three, four, five million people, good ports, easy to get to, big markets within four kilometres of the port, you’re a very attractive location.

And the third one is obviously the value of the dollar, which has been until recently at above parity. You put all of those things together, and you get a combination of factors which makes us very attractive for seeing goods dumped into our market. And again I think the policy response that the Minister has made is absolutely appropriate, and very timely.

QUESTION: Mr Brumby, will you be joining Steve Bracks and Simon Crean in writing to local members of Hotham in regard to promoting Geoff Lake’s appointment to the seat?

JOHN BRUMBY: No I won’t be, no. And not because I don’t know Geoff Lake, but I’m not taking sides.

QUESTION: Minister Clare, can I just ask what you know, or what you’ve been told about the asylum seekers who have currently jumped overboard?

JASON CLARE: I don’t have any specific detail about that at the moment. But more generally the point that I would make is that this is the sort of thing that happens when you try and push a boat back out to sea, and worse. We should be very clear about this, people smugglers aren’t stupid. When they see a navy vessel coming, if they think they’re going to be pushed back or towed back to Indonesia, they’ll sabotage the boat, the boat will sink, people will jump into the water. Our officers, our sailors, will have to jump in to rescue them and it puts their lives at risk, it puts everyone’s life at risk.

We should be pretty clear about this. You can’t push a boat back to Indonesia if it’s at the bottom of the ocean. And you can’t tow a boat back to Indonesia if Indonesia says no, and that’s what the Indonesian Government has said.

Now, what does all of this mean? It means that Tony Abbott’s policy is in tatters. He says he’ll stop the boats, but the next question is how? And he has no answer to that.

QUESTION: What do you make of Scott Morrison’s comments this week about sending in the SAS if asylum seekers are threatening self harm on boats?

JASON CLARE: Well I think I answered this question earlier on. The prospect of sending Special Forces soldiers within 40 nautical miles of the Indonesian coast, I think beggars belief in itself. But I have made the point before, and I’ll make the point again that these decisions are made by officers not made by politicians sitting in an armchair in Canberra.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if Mr Pezzullo might be able to answer some questions. Is Customs hearing that asylum seekers are resorting to self-harm?

MICHAEL PEZZULLO: Sorry, in what specific circumstance?

QUESTION: When Customs has been involved, when you’re intercepting any boats, and had reports that asylum seekers are threatening self-harm?

MICHAEL PEZZULLO: If you’re referring to the recent incident where a merchant vessel rescued some people at sea and – in that case it is alleged that some of them threatened to harm themselves, or indeed harm other persons, I haven’t seen a full report on that, no.

QUESTION: And do you think there needs to be some sort of intervention from the military, or otherwise?

MICHAEL PEZZULLO: Look, our job – the Customs and Border Protection Service, working with the Australian Defence Force through the joint operation that we have known as the Border Protection Command – our job is to apply the policies of the Government of the day within the law, and to apply the laws of Australia, and we do it.

JASON CLARE: Alright, terrific. Thanks very much.