COVER: by Victor SirlNews Weekly
Dumped imports threaten Golden Circle
, July 28, 2001
Victor Sirl reports on the consequences of the import of canned pineapple on one of Australia’s icon brands, Golden Circle.
The pineapple industry has a long, proud history in Queensland, indeed the pineapple itself is one unofficial emblem of the Sunshine State. This is in no small part due to the fact that over a century ago in the colony of Queensland Richard Sumner, a Brisbane farmer, built a pineapple cannery at Northgate and a manufacturing industry was born. Today, an anti-dumping submission is before the Australian Custom Service (ACS) that may determine if the industry has a future as a continuing part of Queensland society or merely as heritage.
Golden Circle, the Australian food manufacturer, is in the modern-day business of manufacturing pineapple products. The canning of pineapples, along with other produce, still occurs at Northgate. However, imported Thai and Indonesian solid-pack pineapple and pineapple concentrate are having a devastating impact on the viability of the manufacturing and farming of pineapples.
Golden Circle directly employs 1,600 people, but indirectly contributes to the employment of many thousand more, especially from the small business sector. It believes that jobs have already been lost to the Australian community as a result of dumped produce. Indeed, its submission says that as result of their reduced gross product in the last four years the number of pineapple growers has reduced from 310 to 268; but this drop of 14 per cent is expected to be followed by a further 15 per cent in 2002.
Wayne Swan, the ALP member for the Federal seat of Lilley, is concerned that dumping could result in job losses for workers at Golden Circle, related small business and farms. He has spoken in Parliament on the issue and raised a public petition in support of Golden Circle. In June he orchestrated a doorstop meeting at the Golden Circle Cannery between journalists and Kim Beazley.
Beazley spoke on a range of issues but gave strong voice in support of the Queensland pineapple industry. He commented: "They need a sympathetic Government on dumping, because they’re experiencing substantial dumping problems now." Interestingly on a much broader level he stated, "We are in favour of strong anti-dumping legislation, yes. And we have put forward proposals before about tightening up anti-dumping rules".
Swan had vehemently criticised Liberal Party politicians, such as Mal Brough and Peter Slipper, for not standing up for pineapple farmers in their electorates. In July, Slipper joined a delegation with the Minister for Customs, Senator Ellison, to the Golden Circle Cannery.
The Minister, as a spokesperson from his office was keen to point out, must make the final decision in a neutral manner in accordance with existing legislation.
So, it is yet to be seen if existing legislation can assist Golden Circle and pineapple growers. Customs will send the Minister a ‘Statement of Essential Facts’ due by the end of September to guide his deliberations.
The parties involved will have the opportunity to comment and the Minister can direct further elaboration from the ACS of matters he considers relevant. Sadly, as the process drags on, jobs and farms are lost.
However, the issue of dumping in the pineapple industry is far from new, just as the need for stronger anti-dumping legislation is not new. Swan’s efforts on the issue are commendable, especially as he can see consequences for his electorate despite the fact the cannery is not within it, but the ALP are no past saints on this issue.
The tale of Caford Castors in the late 1980s illustrates the role Labor played in contributing to the decline in Australia’s manufacturing sector. The Victorian company was a manufacturer of furniture castors that found itself losing market share to dumped produce from Taiwan. Representations were made to all appropriate authorities including a submission to the relevant Minister, John Button. Their pleas fell upon deaf ears. Not surprising in an era when Labor was weakening Australia’s anti-dumping regime.
The company then took the matter to the Federal Court. The judge ruled that it had indeed been dumped against and directed Customs to conduct another inquiry.
In the end, Caford found itself back at the Federal Court, where it lost because it was found the Minister had final say on the matter. The Labor Minister was far more concerned with pursuing trade liberalisation than protecting the jobs of Australian workers.
Caford became an importer of castors and manufacturing jobs were lost. It did move into the manufacturing of office furniture but once more became a target for dumped produce from Taiwan.
The company was not foolish enough to attempt another anti-dumping case.
Today, Caford employs 14 people compared to 60 in 1986. Queenslanders can only hope that Golden Circle receives a more sympathetic hearing.
Queensland contains a number of marginal seats and could prove a crucial and decisive battleground at the coming Federal election. Mr Beazley will need more than rhetoric to convince voters Labor has reformed its ways in relation to anti-dumping legislation. But likewise, the Coalition needs to win back support, especially in rural Australia, by getting tougher on dumping and quarantine.
Wayne Swan in a speech to Parliament on the February 8, 2001 correctly defined dumping as "when a company sells a product or an export material at a price that is either lower than that charged in its home market or at a price that is less than the producer’s full cost". News Weekly
has pointed out in the past that the large rural subsidies offered to agriculture by overseas competitors mean that very little raw or manufactured food and fibre product can be sold more cheaply by them, yet it flows into Australia. It is time for both sides of Parliament to get serious about anti-dumping regulations.
Perhaps they need to share the same values as the pineapple farming pioneer who built Queensland’s first pineapple cannery. At the time of Richard Sumner’s death, the editorial of the Lilley Dispatch
claimed that the Labor stalwart and former State member for Nundah was "always out for the little chap" adding "he always gave the orchardists ‘a square deal’." It’s now time for Government to ensure pineapple growers and "the little chaps" employed by the fruits of their labour "get a square deal".
When Richard Sumner pioneered the formation of a pineapple industry in Queensland he invested also in Hawaii and contributed substantially to the growth of the industry there. Let’s hope that the descendants of the man who gave Queensland pineapples to the world do not witness the end of the Queensland pineapple industry, due to so-called "free trade". It would be tragic if this Australian manufacturing industry may only have a place in an historical museum.Related letter: ABARE's export figures 'fanciful', Mark McGovern