Know much about the Anti-Dumping Commission? Of course not — it’s a secretive Canberra bureaucracy that pushes costs up for consumers and businesses without any accountability — indeed, with the enthusiastic support of both sides of politics. But if you don’t know much about the Commission, you can be sure of one thing. It has Levelled The Playing Field.™ 

The establishment of the Commission was one of the last acts of the Gillard government. But in late 2014, Industry minister Ian Macfarlane decided it had to be tougher. “The Australian government is bolstering Australia’s anti-dumping system with a range of reforms to ensure Australian industry is in the strongest position to compete on a level playing field,” Macca announced. All good, then? Well, not quite, because a few months later in May 2015, Macca announced even more reforms to dumping laws. What would these reforms do? “New anti-dumping reforms passed by the Australian Parliament will level the playing field for Australian businesses competing against unfair international trade.”

Alas, those reforms didn’t quite work. A few months after that, and after Macca had been given the flick by Malcolm Turnbull, new Industry Minister Christopher Pyne announced he was going to “strengthen and streamline” anti-dumping laws. And guess what Pyne’s reforms were going to achieve? “Reforms to Australia’s anti-dumping system effective from today will level the playing field for Australian manufacturers and producers.”

That damn playing field’s on a gimbal. Still — level at last! OK, not really. A few months on, Pyne announced more reforms to prevent circumvention of the previous laws. Apparently foreign companies had been sneaking underneath the playing field and tilting it again. So this time, Pyne was more circumspect, and merely claimed “Australian steelmakers need to be able to benefit from free and fair trade.”

A few months later, with Pyne dispatched to Defence Industry in one of Turnbull’s numerous reshuffles, it was Craig Laundy’s turn to announce a review by the Commission which had — perhaps not unexpectedly — found that there was a need to keep fighting dumping (we long for the day a public service body conducts a study and says “look, everything’s fine — there’s no actual need for us to exist”). According to Laundy, the government was “committed to ensuring Australian businesses can compete on a level playing field.”

That lasted just under a year, until the government found that there was a need for yet more changes to strengthen the anti-dumping regime — the fifth set in less than three years. Last October, the government celebrated the passage of its latest changes. “New legislation to help ensure a ***** ******* ***** for Australian manufacturers passed through Parliament today,” said Laundy.

OK, no prizes for guessing the missing letters.

None of this was good enough for Labor. The government have been laggards on dumping, according to the opposition, which took a policy to strengthen anti-dumping laws to the 2016 election. And then just last week, shadow trade minister Jason Clare announced harsher penalties and more money for the Commission. After all, as Clare said, “Labor strongly believes in free trade, but we also believe that it needs to be conducted on a…”

You guessed it.

Peter Fray

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