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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12075

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (18:38): Well, parliament has drunk the Kool-Aid. Labor and the Liberals have well and truly drunk the Kool-Aid, and presumably we are sitting here late tonight because at the appointed hour the free trade saviour is going to come and take us to a better place. Never has there been a more apparent instance where bipartisanship, when it chooses to ignore the evidence and ignore government departments, flips over into collective self-delusion. When you have not just the unions but also the Productivity Commission and the Treasury saying, 'Hang on, we don't think the benefits are actually what you say they are, and we think the costs are much higher than anyone is talking about,' perhaps we ought to sit down and take a closer look. But, instead, parliament is being given a 'take it or leave it' agreement containing a provision that not even John Howard was prepared to sign up to, that has no analysis by Treasury or the Productivity Commission of its benefits, and contains holes so big that you could fly plane-loads of exploited and underpaid overseas workers through them.

If there was ever any case for saying that our treaty-making process is broken, it is this. When we are being given a 'take it or leave it' agreement, where all of the stakeholders and the Treasury and the Productivity Commission do not get the chance to look at it beforehand, and we are being told to take it on faith that it will deliver all of these wonderful benefits we are told about, and then we are being told to sit here till as late as necessary to pass it through, parliament and the treaty-making process are well and truly broken.

We need to reflect on something our Prime Minister and opposition leader are about to do. Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten are about to agree to something that not even John Howard would agree to. Parliament is about to rubber-stamp an agreement that contains a provision that will allow overseas corporations to sue the Australian government when it passes laws that are in the public's interest but that affect the profits of these companies. These clauses are called investor-state dispute settlement clauses, or ISDS clauses. What it means is that when parliament passes a law that says we want to protect people's health or we want to look after the environment, then, a company from China, in this instance, is able to come and sue the Australian government and say, 'You are affecting our profits and we want that law changed.' Those cases are then dealt with by a secret panel—not a panel of judges but of appointed people on a secret panel—and they get to decide whether or not parliament gets told to change its law. In other words, an overseas company is able to say, through a secret disputes panel, that the Australian parliament must change its law. Members opposite are saying this is simply not true.

The investor-state dispute settlement provision contained in this agreement is open-ended. It says that we want our companies to have the right to sue an Australian government over a variety of matters, and we will get around later to telling you what those matters are. When DFAT gave evidence to the Senate inquiry about it, they said that China will know what it wants in these clauses, once it has completed bilateral negotiations with the EU and the US. In other words, we have to wait for a couple of years to find out what this agreement will contain that will allow overseas companies to sue Australian governments.

In Canada, the government said they wanted to put a moratorium on coal-seam gas development, until they worked out what it meant for people and for agriculture, and a company sued them for it. They said they wanted to restrict the use of certain pesticides or fertilisers, and they got sued. The thing about getting sued is that it does not matter what the outcome of the case is a lot of the time. The fact that governments worry about getting sued means that governments are less likely to pass laws that protect people, the environment, farmers and the local economy. That is exactly what these agreements are about. It is not about free trade. It is about a new blueprint that means the Australian parliament and Australian democracy is subservient to a panel that gets to decide what happens when a corporation sues a government.

The benefits of this agreement are overstated. We have been told that this is a cornerstone of Australia's future prosperity. We have been told that this will usher in an era of unprecedented growth. Okay, so give us some evidence. If that is the case, you, the government, have a whole series of departments at your disposal. You have the Productivity Commission at your disposal. Give us some evidence about the benefits that are going to come from it.

One of them, we have been told, is jobs. We have been told that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of jobs are going to flow from this. In the Senate it has been said by the government that modelling shows that, as a result of all the free trade agreements, 'between 2016 and 2035 there will be 178,000 additional jobs, on average 9,000 extra jobs a year'. They based that on a Centre for International Economics report. There was nothing from the government, nothing from Treasury and nothing from the Productivity Commission. What they did not realise was that they had misread the table. The table went through and said, 'In this year, here's how many jobs it will create; in the next year, here's how many jobs it will create.' That was a point in time; it was not cumulative. The government added it all up and said there would be over 100,000 new jobs. Do you know what? When you work out from that report how many jobs are going to come from this agreement and make an estimate, you see that there will be about 3,300 jobs by 2035. That is the only evidence. If that was wrong, you would imagine that the government would line up with Treasury paper and Productivity Commission paper, saying, 'You've got it wrong.' They do not—because they have drunk the Kool-Aid and they want us to drink it, and they are not prepared to come with anything other than rhetoric. I am not prepared to accept rhetoric.

What we do know—and, again, the government has not contradicted this—is that, when we remove tariffs, we remove revenue from tariffs. In other words, over the next 20 years expect the impact from this agreement to be a $40 billion hit to the budget. Forty billion dollars for 3,300 jobs is about $12 million a job. Thanks to this government, we are paying $12 million to create one of 3,300 jobs.

This parliament is choosing, because of this collective delusion that Labor and Liberal are buying into, to ignore what Treasury is saying. When Treasury appeared before the Senate committee and were asked about it, they said that, if they incorporated the supposed benefits of these trade agreements into our nation's forward projection of GDP, it was not substantive enough to make a difference. That is what your Treasury said—'Not substantive enough to make a difference.' Your Productivity Commission said, 'We don't think the benefits are what we they are said to be; give us a chance to model it,' but they were told, 'No.' You would imagine that the government would be lining up report after report, and they cannot, and Labor has swallowed it. We are told that tariff reductions are going to mean so much for exporters. When it comes down to a few cents per bottle of wine or per serve of beef, you do not have to think very hard to realise that the movement of the Australian dollar overnight could completely wipe that out. We have more to worry about for our exporters with the level of the Australian dollar and its rise and fall than we do with tariffs. You would imagine again that the government would come along and make a persuasive case, and they have not.

They are also hiding from the very important question of what this means for the workforce, here and overseas. There should be a simple starting point. Whether you come from overseas or whether you are local, everyone should be paid local wages and conditions and no-one should be exploited. That should be the simple starting point. But, as I said, in this agreement today, because Labor has caved in to the government, we are now about to pass an agreement that contains no protections that will be enshrined in legislation. The only minimal protections that have been negotiated—and I will come to the quality of those in a moment—are in regulation. In other words, Labor is saying to us, 'We are putting our faith in the Liberal workplace relations minister of the day not to repeal those regulations, and that's good enough for us.' What we do know is that there are holes in this agreement that are big enough to fly planeloads of underpaid and exploited overseas workers through. What is crystal clear is that there is a whole category of visas and workers available under this agreement—they are called contractual service suppliers—that will not be touched by anything that the Labor opposition negotiated today. At least the Leader of the Opposition had the courage to admit that in parliament, when he said today:

Labor still remains concerned at how broadly the government has defined 'contractual service suppliers' in chapter 10 of ChAFTA given its agreement to remove labour market testing for these workers.

What does that mean? It means: if you are a company here, you can bypass any requirement to advertise locally just by badging one of the workers that you are importing as one of these contractual service suppliers. They could be an engineer, an electrician or a retail worker. You could bring them in and not have to go through the process of advertising locally.

Mr Katter interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Goodenough ): Order! Member for Kennedy.

Mr BANDT: When people are needed in Victoria to maintain our electricity network—

Honourable members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member will be heard in silence.

Mr BANDT: the electricity network that powers everyone's homes—most people would expect that you would at least advertise locally for people to work on it and that you would go overseas if you could not find local labour. Now you just have to call someone a contractual service supplier, or call them an installer under another provision, and you get to bypass all these so-called protections that have been negotiated and you just get to bring them in. That is why these so-called protections have massive holes in them and why we should not be supporting this agreement. It is another of the reasons that we should not be supporting this agreement. I could go on. There is nothing in this agreement about ensuring that minimum environmental conditions are not undercut. That could have been something that was negotiated and it is not there. So we are given a take-it-or-leave-it agreement that, as I said, contains a provision that not even John Howard was prepared to sign up to.

We have, in many ways, a crossing of the Rubicon here. This parliament, with the full support of the opposition, is about to sign up to something that contains an ISDS clause—an open-ended ISDS clause. If we are about to do that—

Ms Butler: You've already done it!

Mr BANDT: Sorry—sign up to an open-ended ISDS clause before? There are interjections that we have already done it. I do not recall this parliament ever signing up to something that says we are going to sign away our sovereignty to some overseas corporations and they will tell us about the range of matters later. This is pretty unprecedented.

Here we have a situation where standing up for sovereignty, standing up for a basic principle that says we should advertise locally first and then welcome someone in to come and work here afterwards if we cannot find local labour—the basic principle that says, 'Let's have some evidence of economic benefits before we pass it'—is being completely abrogated. This government, which came up and tore shreds off Labor, when it was in power, for not having a Productivity Commission analysis of the NBN, is now asking us to sign up to something that does not even have a Treasury analysis, a Productivity Commission analysis or any reputable analysis underpinning it. Well, I am not prepared to do that. I am not prepared to say that this parliament will write an open-ended cheque to overseas companies and that they can tell us how we are allowed to legislate for the benefit of our people. I hope that the rest of the parliament does not either.