Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Customs Amendment (Product Specific Rule Modernisation) Bill 2019; Second Reading
Here we have the coalition essentially handing the pen over to intergovernmental organisations and telling them, 'Write our laws.' That's what we're voting on today. Those rules get updated by the World Customs Organization every five years. We can't even predict what is going to happen tomorrow—we couldn't predict COVID coming on—and yet we're letting somebody else, an organisation outside this country, update our customs every five years.
What we are debating right now is whether our Aussie laws should be written for us every five years. The minister likes to say that the changes in the Customs Amendment (Product Specific Rule Modernisation) Bill 2019 are just technical. They're just administrative, apparently. But don't worry because they're not our technical or administrative problem anymore, they're somebody else's now. They're the World Customs Organization's problem. It's their problem now, it has been taken out of our hands; let's not worry about that. I'll be honest: I have to ask what you're paying me for up here.
Let me tell you, whenever a minister says they're only making technical amendments, you had better sit up and start paying attention. I tell you what, if a red alert isn't going off above your head then you are not paying attention. A lot of the time those changes aren't small at all, and a lot of the time they come back to bite us. We think: 'It's okay. She'll be right, mate.' The fact is, what the government really wants is not to have to worry about the Senate anymore. Maybe they'd prefer it if we weren't here at all. And if any of us in the Senate have a problem with any of the changes that are being made, you know what? That's too bad. Don't worry about it because apparently the World Customs Organization have got it all under control. They've got the technical stuff, they obviously know it better than we senators do here in Australia, and they're better at administrative stuff than what we are. That's great. Once again, what are we getting paid for?
What is this bill about?
I'll tell you what it is, Australians: we're being asked to take on trust that there'll be no changes that affect the operation, size or scope of these free trade agreements. I've seen these free trade agreements in and out of here for eight years. I've seen the ChAFTA. That's not doing us real well, is it? I don't know if these free trade agreements stand for much these days. But don't worry, though! It doesn't matter, because we're passing everything over to the World Customs Organization, so don't worry about it! We're good!
We're being told the only thing that automatically updating these regulations does is to save public servants from having to get through more paperwork. Oh, dear! God help those public servants! God help them if they were to put in a day's work! Wouldn't that be a shocker? This is my question. What if that's not right? Who's going to fix that five years down the track? What if something slips up? What do you think is going to happen then if it's taken out of our control? The Senate has no control. Australia's lost control of the situation. There is no control here. But don't worry! There's nothing to see, because apparently they're only small technical or administrative moves! It's scary.
The bill would mean there's nothing for us to do—nothing at all. Our free trade rules would change without any debate and without our parliamentary consent. Once again, now we're not making these decisions on our own home soil; we are letting somebody else do that for us. Why don't you just pass it in parliament and get it over and done with? The government is asking us to exchange proper parliamentary scrutiny for a basic committee review. That's what we're up to now. I'm not comfortable with that, and any Australian out there should not be comfortable with that either. We all know that government-stacked committees come out with government-friendly results. That's how this stuff happens up here. That's how it goes down up here. God forbid the unintended consequences that it has! We've seen that going on for years. What's even worse, though, is this: don't worry about what's going on up here, because we're not controlling this now. She's all gone. She's over. World Customs Organization, come on in! Either way, a committee can't vote down regulatory changes that shouldn't be made. That's not what a committee's for. A committee is for writing reports. It can't replace a proper debate on the Senate floor.
I can tell you right now that to allow this bill to take away the Senate's rights and responsibilities is extremely concerning. It is extremely concerning that we have got to this. I don't know if this is just lazy, but, God forbid, there'll be many of you who probably won't be around when this happens in five years time. I only hope that you can sleep at night and that this doesn't come back to bite this country. But I suppose it won't matter, because you'll be sitting there on your pensions and your nice super. That's fabulous.
I just don't understand why you would do that—why you would take even the slightest risk. Why would you take the slightest risk by passing some sort of administrative and technical changes over to somebody else who is outside of this country? What is the purpose? Did someone give you a donation or something? Did I miss something? I'm just a little confused. Why would you even think about doing that? Aren't there much bigger things on the agenda? We've just gone through COVID, and we're sitting here worrying about some administrative and technical moves that need to be made, passing it over to some World Customs Organization. Who does that? Is there nothing else more important to worry about? That's why it bothers me. I just don't understand this. I'm missing something, which is a real shame, because no doubt it'll come out and I'll find out what it is, and then I'll be bringing this down in the next few months to say, 'I'll tell you why they did this.' It's just a shame I haven't been able to do that today.
Anyway, I can tell you now: there is absolutely no way I trust any move that has been made, let alone trust any technical or administrative movement or anything else over to the World Customs Organization and leaving that outside of Australia to do that. There is just no way. I'll worry about the nation first and put that first, and I'll tell you what: this will come back to bite. So I can tell you now: I will never, ever vote to hand over parliament's power to the World Customs Organization—not ever.
I would like to thank all honourable members for their contributions to this debate on the Customs Amendment (Product Specific Rule Modernisation) Bill 2019. The bill will amend the Customs Act to simplify the way in which the product specific rules of origin annexes six of Australia's free trade agreements implemented domestically. The Customs Act will refer directly to the annexes, enabling future changes to the annexes to be recognised in the Customs Act. This will remove the need to proscribe the product-specific rules of origin in regulations and to amend them where annexes are updated. It's my understanding that these regulations have never been disallowed. In fact, this chamber, this parliament, has already passed into law, over the past two years, four bills containing the same automatic incorporation mechanism for PSRs.
The changes to the Customs Act proposed by the bill are technical in nature. They do not change the benefits available under any of the FTAs. However, these amendments will streamline the implementation of updates to FTAs that relate to goods; help facilitate smoother trade between Australia and our FTA partners; and reduce the administrative burden on importers. Further, and I think very significantly, it's expected that the size of the regulations for the six affected FTAs will be significantly reduced from over 3,000 pages to about 90 pages, lowering the cost of administering the FTAs and removing unnecessary red tape.
In the debate on this bill here today in the chamber we've had many red herrings and a lot of shadowboxing going on from those opposite about what is and isn't included in this bill. We've heard about this being unprecedented, how we haven't done this before and how it's about foreign workers or antidumping, but I can confirm for this chamber and for you, Senator Lambie, that this is about none of that. In fact, this bill streamlines the technical processes of updating product specific rules of origin for six of Australia's current 15 FTA agreements—that is, Thailand, Malaysia, the United States, Korea, Chile and New Zealand. This aligns these six FTAs with the practice that has already been adopted for all nine of Australia's other FTAs. This chamber and, in fact, the opposition and those opposite have previously voted for exactly the same bill for these other free trade agreements as we are considering here today. The first bill of this kind in 2018 passed with the support of the opposition. It applied to FTAs for China, Japan, ASEAN, New Zealand and Singapore. Again, I reiterate, this bill only affects the final technical step in this process.
A question that comes from some of the debate from those on opposite is: has this parliament, this chamber, passed other FTAs with the same modernised, updated practice? Yes, we have. The parliament has adopted the modernisation approach that is exactly identical to that contained in this bill for the FTAs for Peru, Hong Kong, Indonesia plus the Pacific Island countries and for the CPTPP. This parliament and those opposite passed this already. They're talking about consistency and a fair go for workers, but where is the fairness or the consistency in their position that they've taken here today? Despite what those opposite have said, this bill does not introduce a new process for amending Australia's FTAs. This bill is the second of its kind to be considered by this chamber. Therefore, that is not the case. For all of those reasons, I very strongly commend this bill to the chamber.