Senate debates

Thursday, 27 June 2013


Fair Trade (Australian Standards) Bill 2013; Second Reading

12:06 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Democratic Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—


Today I introduce the Fair Trade (Australian Standards) Bill 2013.

Last week I introduced the first of a series of Fair Trade Bills that I hope will bring us closer to that mythical 'level playing field' we hear so much about with regards to our international trade agreements.

The Fair Trade (Workers' Rights) Bill was introduced with the hope that by addressing the pitiful situation of workers' rights in many of the countries with which we trade, Australia will be able to effect some manner of improvement in their conditions, while helping our own industries to become more competitive in our own domestic market.

Today I am pleased to be introducing the second of these Fair Trade Bills.

Just as the rights of workers in so many countries are sub-standard by Australian standards so too we find that many of the products being exported from countries we trade with fail to meet Australian Standards. Under current regulations the import of these products is permitted provided they are brought up to the necessary standard level before being used or on sold within Australia.

As we know there is little policing of these regulations and as a result sub-standard and dangerous products are regularly released into the Australian workplaces and marketplaces, often with tragic results. The immediate finger of blame can be pointed at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC); but while policing of these regulations does fall to their department; can we honestly expect them to examine every article that enters the country without vastly increasing their administrative budget and workforce ?

I could give example after example of cases where workplace injuries have occurred as a result of sub-standard products being released into the Australian market without having been examined by the ACCC. However, this Bill is not an exercise in berating the ACCC for failing to act or of criticising the government for not dramatically increasing their workforce. This Bill is directed at the Trade negotiations we hold with other countries and the conditions we are prepared to bargain away.

As I said when introducing the Fair Trade (Workers' Rights) Bill, many will say this Bill cannot work because we cannot legislate for countries other than Australia. Again I remind Senators that, while that statement is essentially true, that is not what this Bill seeks to do. After all, unless we have given up all control of our borders, we can legislate on which products we accept into this country and the circumstances under which we will accept them.

The intent of this Bill is simply to ensure that every step possible is taken to comply with the necessary Australian Standards before a product is released onto the Australian marketplace or workplace. Likewise, if an Australian company exports goods to another country, that company should be required to meet local product standards.

At present there are very few requirements for an overseas company to comply with Australian Standards when exporting their products to our shores. Once the product leaves their country their obligations generally cease and it becomes the responsibility of the Australian importer to comply with the regulations to bring the product up to the necessary standards.

Time and again we see importers who fail to meet those requirements and who, once their faulty products are detected, fold up leaving little or no recourse for the Australian consumer. Shortly after another, similar importer sets up business, importing similar or identical goods, and the process starts up again.

The lack of policing leaves workers and consumers at the mercy of shonky operators who import substandard goods and, having decided that a quick profit makes more sense than a safe marketplace, they put lives and livelihoods at risk.

And let's not forget the thousands of genuine businesses across our country who are trying to comply with all necessary regulations and who are committed to selling only those products that meet Australian Standards. How much do they suffer because their business can't compete with these irresponsible importers?

Substandard products do not only injure Australian workers and consumers, they also injure Australian businesses who are trying to compete against all odds in what is ridiculously referred to as a level playing field.

Surely at some point the manufacturer, the overseas exporter, must be held accountable. To produce a product that is acceptable in their own country is their own business; but to produce a product that is acceptable in our country is both our and their business. Ensuring their products are imported by reputable businesses and are on sold only after they have complied with local regulations is simply good business.

The Fair Trade (Australian Standards) Bill 2013 calls for all future trade agreements to include a binding requirement (binding on all parties involved) that goods sold to a purchaser located in one country by a company or entity located in the other country, must comply with all applicable product standards that apply in the purchasers country or if they do not comply – the company or entity selling the products must ensure that the goods are improved to standards that comply with all applicable product standards.

In other words, any product imported to Australia from a country we have a signed agreement with must be guaranteed by the exporting country, to comply with Australian Standards before being used or on sold in Australia. For our part Australia will agree to do the same with regards products we export to their country.

It is hoped that with this requirement in place, companies exporting to Australia will see the benefit in trading only with reputable importers who will bring their products up to standard or will improve their procedures to ensure the goods are up to standard before reaching our shores.

While it is understood that it is difficult to force an overseas company to comply with many of our domestic regulations, the fact that this would be a binding arrangement in a trade agreement means that by not complying with these requirements the exporting company could lose lucrative contracts to competitors who are prepared to abide by the regulations.

Likewise, with pressure on exporting companies to use reputable importers to guarantee long term compliance with the regulations rather than using disreputable importers whose desire for quick profits will damage the standing of the exporter by leading to a breach in the regulations; local importers will have less competition from the 'shonky' operators and will be better able to compete in the local marketplace.

Mr President, again I say there is no level playing field. We know it and the Australian people know it. And what's worse our international competitors know it and are only too glad to exploit it.

Today, instead of raising the standards of imported goods to the levels of quality equal to that of Australian manufacturers, we are expecting Australian producers to compete against low quality goods that are exported by overseas companies with little or no obligation for the final standard of that product. This position is untenable and grossly unfair to Australian consumers, Australian workers and Australian businesses.

While this Bill cannot deal with all the problems we face from cheap imports and under policing, I am hopeful it can go some way towards improving the situation and at least move us towards a more competitive position in our own country.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.