House debates

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2007

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 30 May, on motion by Mr Billson:

That this bill be now read a second time.

11:35 am

Photo of Arch BevisArch Bevis (Brisbane, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Homeland Security) Share this | | Hansard source

The Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2007 makes minor but nonetheless important amendments to the Customs Tariff Act 1995. There are two amendments contained in the bill and both deal directly with the act. The two amendments are as follows. The first repeals the current subheading for the chemical pesticide binapacryl and creates a new subheading for this chemical. The second moves prepared culture medium for the development and maintenance of viruses from its current subheading where it has a customs duty rate of five per cent to a new subheading where it will receive a customs duty rate of three per cent.

The main purpose of the first amendment to the bill is to bring Australia into line with its international obligations under the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, mercifully known simply as the Rotterdam convention, to which Australia is a signatory. The convention operates under the auspices of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. The Rotterdam convention list includes chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted in five or more countries. Acutely hazardous pesticides that may not have been banned or severely restricted in any country but that are known to cause health or environmental problems are also able to be included on the list.

The Rotterdam convention was adopted at a conference on 10 September 1998 and was signed by Australia in New York on 6 July 1999. The national interest analysis was tabled in both houses of parliament on 9 September 2003. The Joint Committee on Treaties tabled its report, No. 55, covering the convention on 16 October 2003. The committee concluded by quoting and supporting the evidence received from the Department of Environment and Heritage that said:

... ratification would strengthen our existing systems which protect the environment and human health of Australia and Australians and enhance our capacity to influence international efforts to address chemical issues.

The Australian government deposited instruments of ratification for the Rotterdam convention on 20 May 2004. Obligations relating to the convention came into force for Australia on 18 August 2004, three years ago. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry describes the convention as a procedure that helps participating countries learn more about the characteristics of potentially hazardous chemicals that may be shipped to them. It also initiates a decision-making process on the future importation of these chemicals by the countries themselves and it helps convey this decision to other countries. It does not involve international bans.

The procedure promotes a shared responsibility between exporting and importing countries in protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects of hazardous chemicals that are being traded internationally. It allows countries to make informed decisions about what chemicals they allow to enter and contributes to the processes of managing chemical risk. The convention covers pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by the parties which have been notified by parties for inclusion in the procedure. One notification from each of two specified regions triggers consideration of the addition of a chemical to annex III of the Rotterdam convention. Severely hazardous pesticides that present a hazard under conditions of use in developing countries or countries with economies in transition may also be nominated for inclusion in annex III.

There are 39 chemicals listed in annex III of the Rotterdam convention which subject to these procedures, including 24 pesticides, four severely hazardous pesticide formulations and 11 industrial chemicals. Many more chemicals are expected to be added in the future. The conference of the parties decides on the inclusion of new chemicals. Once a chemical is included in annex III, a decision guidance document containing information concerning the chemical and the regulatory decisions to ban or severely restrict the chemical for health or environmental reasons is circulated to all parties. Parties have nine months to prepare a response concerning the future importation of the chemical. The response can consist of either a final decision to allow importation, not to allow importation or to allow importation subject to specific conditions, or an interim response.

Decisions by an importing country must be trade neutral—that is, they have to apply equally to domestic production for domestic use as well as to imports from any source. The import decisions are circulated and exporting country parties are obliged under the Rotterdam convention to take appropriate measures to ensure that exporters within their jurisdiction comply with the decisions.

The Rotterdam convention promotes the exchange of information on a very broad range of chemicals. It does so through the requirement for a party to inform other parties of each national ban or severe restriction of the chemical; the possibility for a party which is a developing country or a country in transition to inform other parties that it is experiencing problems caused by a severely hazardous pesticide formulation under conditions of use in its territory; the requirement for a party that plans to export a chemical that is banned or severely restricted for use within a territory to inform the importing party that such exports will take place before the first shipment and annually thereafter; the requirement for an exporting party, when exporting chemicals that are to be used for occupational purposes, to ensure that an up-to-date safety data sheet is sent to the importer; and, finally, labelling requirements for exports of chemicals included in the procedure as well as for chemicals that are banned or severely restricted in the exporting countries.

Despite the Rotterdam convention clearly stipulating that binapacryl would be subject to prior informed consent conditions for all signatories from 1 February 2005, it has taken the government over 2½ years to take the appropriate action. This represents yet another example of the Howard government’s lethargy and complacency in office. As in so many areas, it has fallen asleep at the wheel. Today, about 2½ years after the parliament should have been considering this matter, it has finally been brought before us. Although there have been no imports of binapacryl since 1 January 2007, it was not previously classified separately in the tariff and its importation was not readily identifiable. The United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods also classifies binapacryl as a poisonous substance requiring further regulation under the Rotterdam convention.

The second amendment in this bill was contained in Customs Tariff Proposal (No. 1) 2007, which was tabled in the House of Representatives on 15 February 2007. The date of effect of the change was 1 January 2007, as the change was originally included in Customs Tariff Notice No. 1 (2006), which was published in special Commonwealth Gazette S222 on 15 December 2006, in accordance with the requirements of section 273EA of the Customs Act 1901. This amendment will allow for the duty rate of ‘free’ rather than five per cent for the prepared culture media for the development or maintenance of viruses, as intended by the Customs Tariff Amendment (2007 Harmonized System Changes) Act 2006. This is a positive amendment.

The Labor Party supports both of the measures contained in this bill. They are both valuable additions to the legislative framework of the country in two respects. I think it is worthy of mention again that our obligations under the Rotterdam convention, to which we all subscribe and which are supported in this bill, seem to have been lost in the paperwork of the Howard government over the course of the last two years. Here we are, in the dying weeks of this parliament and in the lead-up to an election, with the government now tidying up some of these matters. These measures should have been dealt with much earlier. We are pleased that they have finally come before the parliament, and they have bipartisan support.

11:45 am

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party, Minister for Workforce Participation) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Brisbane for his contribution to the debate on the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2007. The legislation is receiving bipartisan support. Government does a very significant amount of work in this area to make sure that the country is protected in all ways.

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, which the member for Brisbane referred to, is a multilateral environmental agreement designed to promote shared responsibility and cooperation among parties in international trade of certain hazardous industrial chemicals and pesticides. This government takes the whole business of trading hazardous industrial chemicals and pesticides very seriously indeed. Our agribusiness industry is dependent, as is our manufacturing industry, on the very careful management of these substances and, indeed, the Rotterdam convention is very seriously considered and complied with by this government. The aim of this convention is to protect human health and the environment from potential harm and to contribute to the environmentally sound use of these hazardous products.

The amendment to the classification of the pesticide binapacryl allows for its separate identification. This will allow the Australian Customs Service and other regulatory agencies in Australia and throughout the world to identify and monitor this trade and this pesticide, thereby having greater control over the movement of this good.

The Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2007 contains minor amendments to the Customs Tariff Act 1995. In this final summary of this debate, let me just repeat that the bill contains amendments to repeal the current subheading for binapacryl and create a new subheading for this chemical. This amendment comes as a result of information received from the World Customs Organisation acknowledging that binapacryl was classified incorrectly in the third review of the harmonised commodity description and coding system which forms the basis of Australia’s custom tariff.

These measures will take effect on the day the act receives the royal ascent. The bill will also amend the text of the subheading for microbiological culture media to remove the reference to culture media for viruses. This amendment will ensure that the rate of customs duty of ‘free’ will continue to apply to prepared culture media for the development or maintenance of viruses.

This measure was implemented via customs tariff notice in December 2006 and then included in Customs Tariff Proposal (No. 1) 2007, which was tabled in the House of Representatives on 15 February 2007. The measure contained in this bill will take effect from 1 January 2007. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.