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senate vote 2021-02-04#1

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on 2021-04-02 11:00:39


  • Bills — Customs Amendment (Product Specific Rule Modernisation) Bill 2019; in Committee
  • Customs Amendment (Product Specific Rule Modernisation) Bill 2019 - in Committee - Keep Schedule 1 unchanged


  • <p class="speaker">Sue Lines</p>
  • <p>The committee is considering amendments (1) to (7) on sheet 8819, moved by Senator Keneally. The question is that items 5, 9 to 13, 19 to 21, 27, 28, 34, 35, 41, 42, 47 and 48 of schedule 1 stand as printed.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Malcolm Roberts</p>
  • The majority voted in favour of keeping the following items in [Schedule 1](;db=LEGISLATION;id=legislation%2Fbills%2Fr6391_first-reps%2F0001;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fbills%2Fr6391_first-reps%2F0000%22;rec=0) unchanged: items 5, 9 to 13, 19 to 21, 27, 28, 34, 35, 41, 42, 47 and 48. This vote was put after NSW Senator [Kristina Keneally]( (Labor) proposed to [oppose them](;query=Id:legislation/billhome/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Famend%2Fr6391_amend_1a80f994-3b2e-4034-a49a-630dd68ea076%22;rec=0).
  • ### What does the bill do?
  • According to the [bill homepage](;query=Id:legislation/billhome/r6391), this bill was introduced in order to:
  • > *streamline the way in which product specific rules of origin of the Australia-Chile Free Trade Agreement, Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Agreement, Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement, Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement and Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement are given effect domestically.*
  • <p>I must address comments made yesterday during the committee stage related to this bill. Bluster and rhetoric delivered with disconcerting force do not alter the facts and do not bother me. We read Labor's amendment, I listened to the debate and I spoke with the crossbench. I then examined the history of harmonisation and asked questions of the department. I say again: I responded to Senator Carr's and Senator Ayres's comments in previous debate, and we went and got our facts. The result from getting our facts and consulting all those people was a clear understanding that this amendment from Labor is pointless and counterproductive. I did seek, through the questions I asked, to indicate to Labor, to the crossbench and to the many Australians listening to parliament that Labor's amendment was predicated on a thorough misunderstanding of the bill. It became clear, in looking at the history of the bill, that Labor had previously been in support, and I pointed that out. Senator Carr said yesterday, 'You can quote <i>Hansard</i> all you like,' and, yes, I did reference the senator's words in <i>Hansard</i> back to him. The purpose was not to upset the senator. The purpose was to ask&#8212;and I thought this was clear from my questions&#8212;what has changed? How do you get from being a strong supporter of the bill to being a strong critic, with no change in the fundamentals behind that decision, no change in the facts?</p>
  • <p>This bill is identical to one in 2018 amending another group of free trade agreements in the same way as this bill does. I recall that Labor voted in support of free trade agreements with this same harmonised system only last year, those agreements being the Indonesia, Peru and Hong Kong free trade agreements. What has changed in these few short months? Well, nothing. Harmonising industry definitions and descriptions makes it easier for exporters to export. Instead of dealing with 15 sets of rules, they only need to deal with one. If a rule change by the World Customs Organization results in a material change to a free trade agreement&#8212;a change in commitments which means we lose money or opportunities or control as a result of that change&#8212;then the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties are required to examine the change and recommend yes or no, and then parliament can scrutinise their finding, which is presented as a legislative instrument. This is the same procedure that Labor is trying to introduce with this amendment. Labor is introducing a measure that already exists. Labor can huff and puff all they like, but this is a pointless amendment that has the effect of cancelling a system that they voted for only a few months ago. It will make it harder for our exporters to export. It will not protect our industries or workers any more than they are protected now; in fact, it will make things harder for them.</p>
  • <p>I have no idea what election or social media messaging Labor was trying to set up with this amendment, but I can't see it as an honest one. One Nation remains opposed to Labor's hollow, grandstanding amendment. One Nation remains opposed to free trade agreements that the Liberal-National coalition and Labor pass together, as a duopoly. Yet, as always, we will work honestly with anyone who wants to improve on the mess that the Liberals, the Nationals and Labor jointly create with their free trade agreements. That's why, in this case, we support legislation that reduces bureaucracy, makes it easier for Australian producers to export, minimises the cost to taxpayers and still retains parliamentary oversight.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Peter Whish-Wilson</p>
  • <p>I'd like to make a brief contribution to this debate in the committee stage. I understand that Senator Roberts and One Nation are very new to this trade debate. Senator Carr gave a very considered overview yesterday of his many years in this chamber and as a minister working in the trade area. I'd like to point out that the Greens too are very aware that the fundamental principle at stake here is one of executive power&#8212;more executive power&#8212;being wrestled off parliament, of more decisions being outsourced to the bureaucracy. The Greens, back in 2014-15, initiated an inquiry into our treaty-making process. We believe that the trade- and treaty-making process in this place is broken and needs to be revisited. We had a very interesting and long Senate inquiry into that. I then introduced a private member's bill into this place, to reform the trade treaty process.</p>
  • <p>Parliament has always been aware that the executive holds the power in trade negotiations. This is a hangover of the old Westminster system. It goes back hundreds of years, to when governments negotiated treaties, to when the British Empire conquered countries and negotiated treaties. It really hasn't changed that much. What the government did back in the seventies and eighties, when debate started on this, was to introduce the JSCOT process. I've sat on JSCOT for many years, as have my colleagues. What Senator Roberts doesn't understand is that it is a government dominated committee and a rubber stamp process. The trade negotiations that set the rules and regulations that go into the treaties that we ratify in parliament&#8212;and I underline that word 'ratify'&#8212;are done in secret. Essentially, DFAT, in the process of trade negotiations, is a black box. Having sat for many years with my colleagues, trying to ask questions about decisions around, for example, the TPP, I can tell Senator Roberts and One Nation that we have virtually no say in what goes into these trade agreements.</p>
  • <p>If you listen to the senators across the chamber, you might think this is about farmers exporting more products. Trade is about that, but these trade treaty processes have been almost completely overwhelmed by trade in services and a whole range of other exports and imports. The kinds of trade treaty processes we are negotiating in this day and age are extremely complex and ubiquitous across every aspect of our life in this country. They affect everything we do&#8212;everything&#8212;and yet this parliament only gets to ratify them. If you want to change a trade treaty process and you raise those issues in JSCOT, they will be rejected, because it's a government run committee. If you come in here and ask to amend a trade treaty process, you can't, even if they're entirely sensible amendments, because those decisions have been made by bureaucrats and stamped by the executive. Before it even comes to parliament and to JSCOT, it's already been signed; I bet Senator Roberts didn't know that. These things have already been signed before they even come to us. You can reject it and vote against it&#8212;as, I'm very proud to say, the Greens have done on a number of trade deals&#8212;but you cannot change it. Our preference would be to amend them and change them, but that option is not available to us as parliamentarians.</p>
  • <p>The last thing we should be doing is giving more power to the executive and to bureaucrats, and removing our role of oversight in this chamber as senators. It's almost like there is a parallel economic system and governance system in this country and around the world in the context of globalisation&#8212;that is, through the trade and treaty process where executives of countries negotiate this. May I say: the people who actually do know what's going on in these very complex trade and treaty processes are mostly big pharmaceutical companies and big corporations. Civil society, including the unions, might get invited to a couple of shallow presentations and given some detail, but they're not invited into the trade and treaty process. I would urge One Nation to reject this bill and, more importantly, fundamentally reject the principle of giving more power to the executive and removing the power that we have as senators of oversight of these critically important matters.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rex Patrick</p>
  • <p>In looking at these amendments, I'm going to declare that, unfortunately, until yesterday I wasn't really across the subtleties of them. With that in mind, I'm going to ask the minister some questions to try and clarify in my mind exactly what is happening here. I apologise; it's subtle but nonetheless important. I share the view of people on this side of the chamber that we always want to make sure that the parliament is doing its job in conducting scrutiny. I've listened, and I re-read last night's <i>Hansard</i> for Senator Keneally's contribution and Senator Carr's contribution. I just want to get an understanding from the minister, from her perspective, of the amendments that Labor are proposing and where she says they cause harm. I'd appreciate it if you could help me through that.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Sue Lines</p>
  • <p>Senator Patrick, just before I call the minister, there's no need to apologise. This is Committee of the Whole, and this process is for every senator who wishes to fully interrogate the bill that the Senate is discussing. It is your absolute right to ask whatever questions you have in relation to the bill, so there is no need to apologise.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Linda Reynolds</p>
  • <p>Senator Patrick, thank you very much for those questions. I will answer them in two parts. First of all I'll go through the reasons why the government doesn't support the amendments, and then I'll clarify what this bill is about and what it's not about, because there are some things that the government doesn't agree will impact in some of those areas.</p>
  • <p>First of all, we don't support the proposed amendments because we believe that they would render the bill ineffective. They would break the mechanism incorporating the PSR changes by reference to the updated annex of the relevant FTAs. The intent of the bill is to enable the Customs Act to automatically incorporate periodic PSR updates by referring to the agreed updated PSR schedule in the relevant free trade agreement, rather than requiring a duplicative regulatory amendment to that to accomplish this. The proposed amendments would require those duplicative regulations to still be produced for these last six FTA agreements that are under consideration here today. We also think that the proposed amendments would also defeat the intent of aligning Australia's FTA practice for all of our FTAs. One of the key principles of this is to make sure that all of our 15 FTAs are fully aligned in terms of process. That is currently not the case; we've done nine of them this way and we now want to bring the remaining six into the same framework. Specifically, the bill seeks to align, as I said, these six FTAs. We believe continuing to use the old practice, which still applies to these particular six FTAs, is burdensome and also unnecessary. It's very difficult for traders and for industry to have two different processes in place. I would point out that the Australian parliament has already approved the automatic incorporation practice for nine of Australia's 15 FTAs and in 2018 the parliament passed, with opposition support at the time, as we discussed at some length yesterday, the amendment to the Customs Amendment (Product Specific Rule Modernisation) Act. The 2018 act has the identical impact of this bill; there is no difference, because we're seeking to align and harmonise all of these FTAs.</p>
  • <p>All other FTAs that have been implemented since 2017 have also included this automatic referral mechanism. So this is the third time that this mechanism has now come to this place. Again, as I said, it's all about harmonising and having all of our FTAs under the same rules. A practical consequence of failing to bring the last six FTAs into alignment with our broader practice is that not only will it create that additional regulatory burden that we don't have for the nine FTAs who have this provision but also it will be incredibly challenging for traders who are trading across many of these FTAs. So, in answer to that first part of your question, that is the reason why we are doing this: to bring them all into alignment in a way that we have already done twice in this place&#8212;in exactly the identical way.</p>
  • <p>You referred to some of our colleagues' comments and contributions yesterday. I will just address a couple of what I'll politely call myths that were brought into the debate. This bill does not introduce a new process to deal with these FTA amendments. It is exactly what we've done twice before. It does not affect JSCOT and the parliament's ability to scrutinise. It does not introduce any new procedures. When the World Customs Organization makes these changes every five years for harmonisation, the process for us to work through the FTA agreements and take any of those amendments through JSCOT is exactly the same; there is no change to that. Yesterday one of our colleagues referred to this bill as somehow relating to antidumping. This is not an antidumping measure and doesn't impact any of our antidumping measures.</p>
  • <p>So, what is it? It's the same as the identical bill in 2018 for our FTAs with China, Japan, ASEAN, New Zealand and Singapore. It basically streamlines our arrangements with Thailand, Malaysia, the United States, the Republic of Korea, China and New Zealand to align with those other nine so that they are all treated the same. And it also reduces, of these agreements, 3,000 pages to 80 pages, which makes them simpler and cleaner to administer and also to understand. Again, as I said yesterday, this exact same measure was endorsed as uncontroversial and administrative in nature, as Senator Carr said two years ago. In fact, he stated on this exact same bill two years ago that this was simple and administrative. Yesterday he said that the facts have changed. Well, the government would state very strongly that these are exactly identical circumstances.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>