Monday, 30 August 2021
Customs Tariff Amendment (Incorporation of Proposals) Bill 2021; In Committee
[by video link] I will speak to the amendments offered by the Greens in the committee stage. Let me just firstly make an observation in relation to the legislation. I think what we have before us here today is a bit of a nonsense sandwich, really. We've got two aspects of a three-part bill which are more or less innocuous or in some ways to be supported. Part of this legislation goes to import duties on PPE in relation to COVID-19, and that's perfectly reasonable. Another part of this bill goes to import duties in relation to the car industry or what remains of the car industry here in Australia.
On that note, I can't pass by without reflecting on the dark humour of the Liberal government putting forward a piece of legislation with the aim of supporting what remains of the Australian motor industry after they comprehensively failed it through their failure to support the continuation of the car industry here in Australia. On behalf of the many folks who lost their jobs, particularly in South Australia, Victoria and elsewhere, we can't forget that it was literally the dogged hatred of the Abbott government, particularly in relation to the union movement, that led them to quite spitefully remove the subsidy and the government's support for the car industry here in Australia, despite the fact that Australia at the time subsidised our motor vehicle industry to a lesser extent than other comparable nations. So they basically just did it because they don't like the union movement. It was a heavily unionised workforce and they took the opportunity to get rid of it. What we lost in that process and the exodus of the car industry from here in Australia was not only the capacity for complex manufacturing, not only jobs, which are very difficult to replace, and not only careers spent in devoted service to the creation of Australian-made vehicles but also the opportunity to gain an upper hand in the electric vehicle market.
South Australia is noted and known for its incredible strides forward in the renewable energy system and it would have been a very easy and desirable thing for a large part of the Australian car industry to transition to the manufacture of electric vehicles. Yet, once again, we see the after-effects of the Liberal Party's terrible industrial policy wreaking havoc upon communities and robbing them of opportunities to benefit from the renewable energy transition which is underway.
Let me get to the middle of the nonsense sandwich which is this piece of legislation. The section refers to bits and pieces, parts and what have you, in relation to the Joint Strike Fighter program—a multibillion dollar defence debacle. Let me say really clearly, the Joint Strike Fighter program is a laughing stock. It has been subject to criticism and thinly veiled derision from experts from the United States and the European Union to Australia and everywhere in between. It is being continued solely because of a sense of bureaucratic momentum, and upon its scale-up to full capacity it will be rendered almost obsolete. It is a product of a period of defence thinking in the United States where buzz words like 'interoperability' and 'multifunctional battle platform' were thrown about with reckless abandon. It shares, I think, a common ancestry and thinking with failed projects such as the Zumwalt class American warships developed around a similar period. It is a program which the Australian Greens wholeheartedly oppose. If we had anything to do with it, we would see it scrapped and the money returned to the public for services such as health, education and housing—things in the public good.
This is really one of those situations where you can't help but giggle at the absolute cheek of the people who put this stuff forward. This bill suggests that parts relating to a multibillion dollar defence project should have no import duties. Meanwhile, if you import or buy from overseas a hair straightener, or a product that has come from somewhere other than Australia, you pay imports. It's an absolute joke. What this amendment seeks to do is separate the two bits of the bill which we support from the bit that is nonsense, and to have them considered and voted on separately. I commend the amendment to the chamber and I move:
(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table item 3), omit the table item.
And I also oppose schedule 1 in the following terms:
(2) Schedule 1, Part 2, page 4 (lines 1 to 13), to be opposed.
The CHAIR: The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 1395, as moved by Senator Steele-John, be agreed to.
The CHAIR: The question now is that schedule 1 stand as printed.
Question agreed to.