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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1616

Senator SPINDLER —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the minister aware that, at the recent meeting in New York of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development, Australia was virtually the only nation to resist including trade issues in the commission's work on sustainable development? Given that the government claims to be implementing a national strategy on ecologically sustainable development, why does the government oppose the development of trade policies which take account of environmental and social consequences? Will the minister suggest to the Australian delegation attending the upcoming Paris meeting of the OECD trade and environment committee that it take a position more consistent with that of the rest of the world community and with today's Saulwick poll, which shows that 75 per cent of the Australian community rejects the government's economic rationalist policies?

Senator McMULLAN —The first two parts of the question are based on fallacy, and the third on a rather poorly drafted question in an opinion poll. I hope I get a chance to deal with the third part, but let me deal with the serious elements of the first and second. My advice is that it is not true that Australia was isolated at the recent meeting of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development, as Senator Spindler implies in his question. It is our view that there may well be more appropriate international organisations with expertise to take the lead on work on trade and the environment, specifically the World Trade Organisation, UNCTAD, UNEP and the OECD. All of these are actively looking at the issue at the moment: a proliferation of bodies looking at the same issue may be more expensive but not necessarily more productive. So there is a question of who should most appropriately conduct this work while avoiding duplication and building on the experience and background which those organisations already have in this area. That is the position which was taken by Australia and by others.

  It is also a fallacy to suggest that the government opposes the development of trade policies which take account of environmental consequences. Agenda 21 or the Rio declaration, both of which I think Senator Spindler supports, said that an open and non-discriminatory, multi-lateral trading system is an important contribution towards sustainable development. It is certainly the view of most people that reduced agricultural subsidies, for example, would reduce the production of agriculture in uneconomic and environmentally sensitive areas in Europe and in North America, for example, and they would make significant improvements in terms of sustainable development.

  Those are important issues for Australia to look at in its domestic policy and internationally to participate in these important international fora which affect the future of all Australians, even if some senators would like us to opt out of these organisations because they are trying to go back to the old certainties of the 1950s. I do not mean Senator Spindler: I mean those opposite.

  It is true that trade liberalisation also requires complementary domestic industry and environment policies in order to realise its potential in promoting sustainable development. On the third point of the question, there is an OECD meeting on 23 June. The broad approach that the government will take there will be consistent with the policies I have just outlined.

  I want to take up that part of Senator Spindler's question about the Saulwick poll. If the Saulwick organisation had gone out and asked, `Would you like inefficient Australian industry to be subsidised by a tax on cheap clothing and food?', people would have said, `No.' That is exactly what Senator Spindler is advocating. He is saying, `Let us put up the price of the cheapest food and clothing in Australia.' He thinks he is opposed to a consumption tax but he supports tariffs; he has got a problem. If we put a tariff on clothing we put up the price of clothes, and most effectively work on the price of clothing that goes to the poorest Australians. He is saying, `Let us keep efficient industries here by charging the poor more for their food and clothing.' If that question had been asked in the opinion poll there would not have been 75 per cent approval. Senator Spindler wants tariffs but he does not want prices to go up. I am sorry, it does not work like that.