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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1951


Mr JOSH WILSON (Fremantle) (12:57): There is no doubt that well-framed and fair multilateral trade arrangements have the potential to benefit Australia, and, what's more, to help build an open and balanced international system of trade that supports sustainable growth in developing countries. But not every trade agreement meets that standard, and all trade agreements should be subject to careful scrutiny and analysis.

The starting point is to recognise that modern so-called free trade agreements generally encompass a lot more than trade, and they continue, in many cases, to add to the noodle bowl of bilateral or, at best, plurilateral arrangements. Complicated and uneven preferential deals between pairs of countries are not helpful in the long run, and yet the TPP-11, with its myriad side letters and suspended terms, has been described by the trade minister himself as '18 free trade agreements'. The TPP-11 includes, for example, the liberalisation of foreign labour access.

The TPP also exposes Australia to investor-state dispute mechanisms that allow multinational companies to sue governments. That gives multinational companies rights that aren't afforded to domestic companies—rights that can have a chilling effect on domestic policy in areas like public health and environmental protection. We've previously seen ISDS action taken by Philip Morris against Australia's world-leading tobacco-harm-reduction policies. The highly concerning aspects of the original TPP that would've extended monopoly rights over biologic medicines—with corresponding healthcare and health-cost implications for Australia—have merely been suspended, pending the possible re-entry of the US.

If trade agreements were simply about reducing the tariff applied to Australian wine in Canada or increasing the tonnage of hard cheese that can be exported to Japan, it would be relatively easy to weigh up their quality. But modern trade and investment agreements go much wider than that. And what has been disappointing in the work of this parliament is both the obfuscation and the superficial cheerleading from the government in relation to any and all preferential trade agreements. Such treaties have been shielded from proper analysis and scrutiny. If the government is so convinced about the value of any particular trade agreement, why does it continue to keep the Australian public and indeed the Australian parliament in the dark? Why does it present these complex agreements in such a cartoonish fashion, describing them in magic or even reverential terms rather than being up-front about their details and allowing their impacts to be modelled?

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, when considering the first version of the TPP in 2016, sensibly recommended that all such agreements should be made subject to independent analysis. That follows the same recommendation from the 2015 report of the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade References Committee, and the same recommendation was subsequently made by the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth last year. All those recommendations have been rejected and, on that basis, the call at the end of this motion for the parliament to work cooperatively in pursuit of trade agreements really is a bit rich. If the government ignores the JSCOT and rejects out of hand recommendations from two separate committees on which it has a majority of members, it is more than a bit ridiculous for this motion to suggest that it is parliament that needs to be cooperative.

It does no-one any good to have trade and investment agreements considered in an atmosphere of simplistic and sloganeering self-congratulation. Over and over, coalition members and ministers have talked about prospective agreements in laughably misleading terms. Trade agreements have been yoked willy-nilly onto the jobs-and-growth wagon, which is only understandable to the extent that the government is otherwise without a clear economic plan. The marketing job on the TPP-11 has been improved to the extent that the government is now making reference to one piece of outside analysis, but the publication in question is little more than a working paper from a US based institute. Its analysis is not Australia-specific and the projected benefits are very small indeed, with an increase to national income over the next 12 years of half of one per cent.

One thing we know is that trade agreements entered into from our position as a developed high-wage economy don't do much to create jobs. Not surprisingly, the analysis of the full TPP agreement by Tufts University as part of a World Bank study showed the deal would result in the loss of 39,000 jobs over the first decade. The TPP-11 removes labour market testing for workers brought into Australia under contractual service arrangements and that is in relation to 400 professions on the temporary skills shortage list. Anyone who thinks the weakening of our temporary foreign labour system won't impact on Australian jobs, pay and conditions is kidding themselves.

The pursuit of a genuinely multilateral free and fair trade framework should be a means by which we can advance the economic and social wellbeing of the Australian community while contributing to stable, shared and sustainable prosperity across the globe; this is not it.