Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Customs Tariff Amendment (Incorporation of Proposals and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I rise to speak to the Customs Tariff Amendment (Incorporation of Proposals and Other Measures) Bill 2020. I do so by also moving an amendment:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
(1) acknowledges the bill provides for reduced rates of customs duty for goods required to combat the COVID-19 pandemic; and
(2) notes that the Government has failed to outline a plan to address the economic impacts of COVID-19."
Labor supports the aims and objectives of this bill which, in essence, is to provide a free rate of customs duty for specific medical products used in Australia's response to COVID-19, to make a series of changes to align the operation of the Customs Tariff Act 1985 with international practice and, finally, to allow for better identification and monitoring of products as they cross the Australian border. However, even though Labor does support this bill and acknowledges the bill provides for reduced rates of customs duty for goods required to combat the pandemic, we believe it's important to note that the government has failed to outline a plan to address the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Last year, while in the midst of the pandemic, Customs Tariff Proposal (No. 1) 2020 and Customs Tariff Proposal (No. 2) 2020 created temporary concessional items in schedule 4 of the Customs Tariff Act to provide a free rate of customs duty for medical supplies, such as face masks, gloves and COVID-19 test kits, urgently required to combat this virulent pandemic. This bill now confirms the application of those temporary concessions. So it's important, I think, to permanently put in place those measures that are required to make easier the importation of such essential goods to deal with this major challenge.
The bill now confirms the application of those temporary concessions, as I say, and while these were very important measures the government has failed in its response to the economic impacts of the pandemic, which has led to the deepest and most damaging recession in almost a century. All of us know, in this place, as members, as we speak to workers who have lost their jobs, to businesses who have gone under, to many in the community who are struggling to make ends meet, this has been a very big economic blow to constituencies, to communities, right across the country. While parts of the economy are recovering, there are many sectors and Australian workers that are very much still struggling to make ends meet. More than 200,000 jobs have been lost since the start of the pandemic, and there are almost 2.1 million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed—therefore, looking for more work—and that, in itself, is a major challenge that the government needs to respond to.
While too many Australians and communities are hurting, the Liberals and Nationals are reverting to form and using the pandemic as an excuse to cut workers' pay, cut super and strip protections from borrowers. Yesterday the government attempted to say that they're not looking to find an excuse to cut conditions of employment for workers across the country, and yesterday we saw the government tactically decide to remove a boot test provision of the new bill before the House. But there are many other provisions of that bill, we know, which still make it possible for conditions of employment, for rates of pay, to be undermined and, ultimately, cut as a result of the efforts by the government. We always know that's what the government's intentions are. If ever they get a chance, they'll do anything they can to destroy universal super. They did that—in fact, they've never voted for the increase to super. They've never voted for support for workers' wages. They find every reason to undermine them.
which does say there is a failure to economically respond to the needs of the Australian people, in relation to this pandemic. It's fair to say that, whilst we support this bill, in speaking to the amendment it's absolutely critical we articulate the real concerns of the Australian public. I understand the defensiveness of the government. I'm not surprised the minister would rise and seek to stop me from talking about these matters. They're embarrassed and don't want to debate the fact that they're seeking to undermine workers' conditions and other such entitlements, including universal super. For this to be the kind of recovery we need to make, we need to make sure that there's job security and wages growth for ordinary working families. It's not a good enough recovery if it leaves people stranded in joblessness, in unemployment, in underemployment or with weak wages, meaning they can't provide for their families. Labor does think that's really important. The government shouldn't be so nervous in having these debates. If they're confident of their position, they should explain it. Otherwise they should withdraw the other bill in this place.
As I say, this bill is an important measure. What it's looking to do, really, is to codify or to make permanent those decisions that ensure the quick passage of goods into the country by removing duties on those goods. That's something that the opposition does support. In fact, as a former customs minister, I understand entirely why this government would seek to do that, and that's why the government has our support with respect to this measure. But I don't think it should go without saying that there are other concerns that we have. If the government were truly concerned about some of the issues and consequences of the effects of the pandemic then they wouldn't be looking to make it harder for ordinary workers to make ends meet.
With respect to the bill, measure 1 introduces new tariff subheadings for supplementary sports food and highly concentrated caffeine products. This will allow the identification and monitoring of these products as they cross the Australian border, ensuring the goods meet Australian standards and are safe for consumption by the public, which is another intention of this bill that we do support. This is particularly important because last year Food Standards Australia New Zealand found highly concentrated caffeine products posed a potential medium-to-high risk to public health and safety. Again, this is a measure that the government is introducing that Labor does support.
Measures 2, 3 and 4 rely on the Customs Tariff Act with the international tariff classification practices of the World Customs Organization's Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System. These measures allow Australia to adopt the World Customs Organization's rulings on the classification of goods. This is important when we have domestic tribunal and court decisions on classification of goods that do not align with WCO rulings. For example, measure 2 clarifies that wheelie bins are not unmotorised vehicles, which doesn't sound particularly important but is a very important regulation. Consistent with that—
Mr Wood interjecting—
There's nothing too small in this place to be discussed, as the minister, I'm sure, would concede. This is consistent with international practice, after a decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal held that wheelie bins be classified as unmotorised vehicles—did you know that?
Measure 3 clarifies the difference between vitamin products and other supplements with proven therapeutic and prophylactic benefits and those products intended to supplement a person's diet. These amendments are required following a decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and subsequently the High Court on a range of vitamin and mineral products in the form of weight-loss gummies that caused Australia's classification of vitamins to become misaligned with international practice.
Measure 4 introduces a series of additional notes that clarify the distinction between goods which should be classified as specialised parts of other goods and goods that should be classified as pieces of metal of various shapes. This change is required because the AAT has determined that various goods that are metal profiles, and which require further modification before being used as parts in furniture or other goods, should be classified as parts of that final good.
Measure 5 removes the $12,000 special customs duty on used and second-hand motor vehicles applied under the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Finally, measure 6 makes a number of technical amendments which remove redundant provisions, covering Australia's numerous free trade agreements, that have been fully implemented and are no longer required in the text of the act.
As I said, while Labor supports this bill, we have moved an amendment because of the concerns we have about other matters. As you can see, the bill makes permanent some of the decisions that were made, using the powers of the Customs Act, to make the importation of essential goods to deal with the pandemic easier, and we support the government in their endeavours in that regard. The bill also removes some irregularities and makes sure that the public are safer as a result of the measures it contains. We do support the substantive provisions of the bill but are still concerned that the government, in many respects, has failed to fully comprehend the consequences of this pandemic, economically and socially. For that reason, we will divide on that second reading amendment. We will be imploring the government to do better when it comes to looking after businesses, working people and their families, and communities across Australia.
First of all, I thank the member for Gorton and the opposition for their support of the bill. The Customs Tariff Amendment (Incorporation of Proposals and Other Measures) Bill 2020 makes amendments to the Customs Tariff Act 1995 to strengthen Australia's customs practice. The bill will incorporate Customs Tariff Proposal (No. 1) 2020 and Customs Tariff Proposal (No. 2) 2020, tabled in parliament in May and August of last year. These proposals provide a temporary concession for medical supplies such as face masks, soaps and eyewear, which were urgently required to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
This bill makes a series of amendments to improve the functionality of the act and ensure it remains in line with international practice. The bill will create new tariff classifications separately, identify certain foods and beverages and insert new additional notes to align Australia's tariff practice with international practice for goods, including wheelie bins, metal pipes and metal profiles. The bill will remove the $12,000 special duty on used and second-hand motor vehicles from two free trade agreements to align the duty rates applied on these goods across all schedules of the act. The bill also removes the several redundant provisions, including the removal of a free trade agreement, due to phasing rates agreements that have expired. I thank all those who participated in the debate, and I commend the bill to the House.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Gorton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question before the House is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.