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Monday, 21 June 2004
Page: 30893


Mr LLOYD (2:17 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House what the prospects are for the implementation of the free trade agreement with the United States?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Robertson, who, along with so many members on this side of the House—and I detect, from this morning's press, along with a growing number of people on the other side of the House—sees the virtue of Australia joining in ratifying, as appropriate, through individual pieces of legislation, the free trade agreement negotiated by the Minister for Trade with the United States several months ago. As I have indicated to the House before, the signs that I received from both sides of Congress when I was in Washington were very encouraging. There is a real prospect that, within a few weeks, the American Congress could vote in favour of the US-Australia free trade agreement. But it is not only both sides of politics in the United States that need to be in favour of this measure if it is to become law; it needs to be a meeting of minds of both sides of politics in Australia as well.

So far, the Leader of the Opposition has been unwilling to declare himself. The Leader of the Opposition has had at least four or five months to examine this, and he still cannot make up his mind, unlike of course the eight Labor state and territory leaders. Of the pieces of correspondence that I had in front of me over the weekend, I had letters to the six premiers and the two chief ministers of Australia. I was writing back to them and thanking them for expressing the willingness of their state governments to participate in the government procurement market section of the Australia-US free trade agreement. At a federal government level, access to the United States federal government procurement market opens up a potential market of $US200 billion. I can now inform the House that 27 states of the United States have also indicated that, at a state level, they will join the procurement market. Those states include California, whose procurement market alone is worth $42.7 billion; New York, where the market is worth $37.6 billion; and Texas, where it is worth $24.6 billion. It is estimated that the state government procurement market is worth another $200 billion on top of the federal government procurement market.

One of the conditions of the free trade agreement is that we can have access to this enormous government procurement market. It is little wonder, therefore, that, for example, the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Carr, said:

It is in Australia's interest to link ourselves with the world's most dynamic and creative economy.

Also, the Premier of South Australia said, `An FTA would give us access to 280 million customers.' The Premier of Victoria said, `I recognise the potential benefits for the Victorian economy through increased access to markets and improved investment flows.' And never one for understatement, the Premier of Queensland said, `An FTA could be the most momentous boost for our primary industries in 100 years.' They are not my words; they are not the words of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Treasurer or the Minister for Trade. They are the words of the Labor premiers of Australia.

I think that people living all around this country will say that, if the Prime Minister can make up his mind, the Deputy Prime Minister can make his mind, the premiers of all of the states can make up their minds and the chief ministers of the territories can make up their minds, why can't the Leader of the Opposition make up his mind? Why can't the Leader of the Opposition get off the fence and take a stand? Why can't he make a decision to support something that is overwhelmingly in the long-term interests of this country? If we reject this free trade agreement, we will be seen as a laughing stock in the Asia-Pacific region.

Apparently, the Labor Party fall over themselves to support a free trade agreement with Singapore and Thailand—and we welcome that, of course—so why won't they give their support to the United States free trade agreement? The Labor Party will have further opportunities to declare themselves over the days and weeks ahead. If they listen to the advice of Labor leaders around Australia who have responsibilities in government as distinct from the opportunism of opposition, they will put the national interest ahead of the political interest and they will back the free trade agreement with United States.