Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 23 June 2004
Page: 31317

Mr RUDD (5:30 PM) —On the parliamentary consideration of the free trade agreement with the United States there is a single policy question which I would put to the Australian government as this debate begins. That question is: why is the government introducing the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation (Customs Tariff) Bill 2004 now when, firstly, within the next few weeks we will know the outcome of the US congressional consideration of the FTA and, secondly, within the same period of time we will know the outcome of the Australian Senate committee inquiry into the economic, social and environmental impact of the FTA for Australia?

A precondition for good public policy is a properly informed debate. I would have thought that knowing the outcome of the US congressional consideration of the FTA would be important in informing the debate here in Australia. I also would have thought that knowing the outcome of a Senate inquiry tasked with analysing the breadth of the impact of the FTA in Australia would also play an important role in properly informing the debate here in Australia.

The Prime Minister's challenge to the opposition in parliament—yesterday, I think—was: `Get on with it.' But if he wants us to get on with it, which was the Prime Minister's injunction to us, why is it that his own senators spent an entire month denying quorum to the Senate inquiry, during the month of April, so that an inquiry set up in February this year did not have its first public hearings until 4 May—that is, only six weeks ago? And the Prime Minister tells us to get on with it. The government has an army of public servants crawling all over the FTA. We in the opposition do not have that available to us. We rely in large part on the data collated by the Senate in its deliberations on this matter, and we are informed also by the 533 submissions made to that inquiry from organisations ranging from the AMWU to the NFF.

For the nation this is an important public debate about a most important piece of public policy which impacts on the range of Australia's economic, trade, investment, social and environmental policies. It represents a large part of the bilateral transaction between Australia and our American ally this last 18 months. It impacts also on Australia's trade policy credentials and the great debate between bilateralism and WTO based multilateralism in pursuit of our common policy purpose of global trade liberalisation. Does bilateralism complement or conflict with the objectives of the Doha Round? Global trade liberalisation enhances not only this economy; it also enhances and enables much of the developing world to trade its way out of poverty, as in fact this country was able to do a century ago through proper access to international markets.

As I asked at the beginning of this debate, what is the policy reason for the government bringing this on now, when they know that both the United States Congress and the Australian Senate inquiry would have concluded their deliberations by the middle of July? The truth is that there is no policy reason for this, but there is a political reason—a totally political reason—which is that, for this government, so much of their international policy agenda is the continuation of domestic electoral politics by other means, whether it is in relation to foreign policy, whether it is in relation to foreign economic policy or whether it is in relation to international security policy.

The government is obsessed with what the government defines as anti-Americanism, parroted in this place each day by the worst Minister for Foreign Affairs that this country has seen in a generation or more. It has everything to do with key lines and themes for an election. It has nothing to do with a rational debate about foreign policy alternatives and nothing to do with the facts. But, then again, the facts have never been a priority for this particular foreign minister. What we have on a regular basis from the dispatch box is low-rent vaudeville and occasionally high school debating society hyperbole, but never a debate on the facts, never a debate on the merits and never a debate on the substance of foreign policy argument.

Our view of America is that America is an overwhelming force for good in the world. That has been the case for more than half a century, from the darkest days of the last world war when America acted to defend Australia, Britain and Europe from totalitarianism and the darkest days of the Cold War when America stood firm with Berlin during the airlift and with Europe during the Marshall Plan—making European democracy, prosperity and unity a possibility today—right through to the reconstruction of postwar Japan and its political transformation as well. In the post-1975 period, the economic and political transformation of much of the rest of East Asia was underpinned by the stabilising strategic presence of the US in East Asia and the west Pacific and by the openness of American markets to East Asian exports.

These are no small achievements; they are, in fact, great achievements in the full spectrum of history. They do not mean that American policy has been without failure. There have been plenty of failures. Parts of Latin America and Indochina demonstrate this as well as the disagreement that much of the world has had with America over the invasion of Iraq. But these should be placed in context. That context is a superpower which, in the full sweep of history, has been—as I said before—an overwhelming force for good in the world. The world would have been a radically different place were it not for America's contribution.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I am not a member of the Chester A. Arthur Society and I do not share their total obsession with the entrails of US domestic politics. But when you look at the lives, the work and the words of US presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, you cannot help but be inspired, whether it was by Roosevelt's New Deal to respond to the human horror, despair and tragedy of the Depression; whether it was by Roosevelt's great speech on the arsenal of democracy; or whether it was by Roosevelt's work on the embryonic architecture of the postwar international order—the Bretton Woods machinery as well as the United Nations. FDR was no saint—no-one in politics is—but, following the failure of American internationalism after 1919, he dreamt of a new American internationalism anchored in universal values of democracy, justice and security, which brings us to the security alliance with Australia and the second John Howard charge against his political opponents.

In the context of this debate on the FTA, it is worth looking with some cool reflection at the actual—not imagined—history of this alliance. Labor began this alliance in 1941 when Labor Prime Minister Curtin looked to the United States without pang or regret when it came to this country's traditional reliance on the United Kingdom. This was a radical step in the context of the times—namely, 150 years of British dependency; 150 years in which the foreign policy and defence policy of the Australian colonies and the Australian Commonwealth were seen as a subset of imperial foreign policy and imperial defence policy. Remember Churchill's great promise in the depths of World War II about Fortress Singapore, the British promises about the sending of the British fleet and also Churchill's strategy of fighting the war in Europe first and in Asia second? John Curtin, the Labor Prime Minister of Australia, said no. He turned to America and withdrew Australian troops from the Middle East to fight with American troops in Asia. We take pride in our role in founding this alliance with the United States of America back in 1941. It was an alliance formalised by the conservatives a decade later under the ANZUS treaty.

But it is not just the military alliance which we played a significant role historically in forming; it is also the intelligence relationship. In 1946 an agreement was signed between the then Labor Chifley government and other governments, including the government of the United States, which forms today the architectural foundation upon which the intelligence-sharing relationships between our countries are conducted. Why were we concerned about all of this? We were concerned because intelligence then, as now, was crucial to national security. These days, several generations later, it is even more relevant than ever. The intelligence-sharing relationship with America is important for us because of our concern with terrorism not just globally but also regionally, most particularly in Islamic South-East Asia. That is why we on this side of the parliament proudly stood with those opposite after September 11 and committed this country to war in Afghanistan. It was part of the war against terrorism to remove al-Qaeda—those responsible for the horrific attacks on September 11. That for us remains front and centre as the front line in the fight against terrorism.

The great mythology of the Australia-United States alliance is that it is the political property of the Liberal Party or, even worse, the personal property of the Prime Minister, Mr Howard. It is not. This alliance, in all its dimensions, is the product of the work of 12 American presidents, both Republican and Democrat, and 12 Australian Prime Ministers, both Labor and Liberal, and we on our side of the House began this process more than half a century ago. The other great mythology is that this relationship with the United States has been a recipe for universal agreement with US administrations on national security policy on matters of direct relevance to Australia's national interest. Once again, this is wrong.

Again, it is important when we embrace this debate on the future of the economic relationship to note what has happened in the past under conservative governments. We look at the history and we find that, in fact, when Menzies was Prime Minister there were many areas of fundamental national security policy disagreement with the United States. West New Guinea stands out as a classic case in point—the question of retaining the Netherlands as the governing power in West New Guinea or the absorption of West New Guinea into the Indonesian republic. This was a matter of great national security policy significance in this country and this parliament in the early 1960s, and through the 1950s as well. It led to considerable disagreement between the then Menzies government and the then US administration. It is important to place this on the historical record. Pemberton's history is worth recording. He says:

Spender, the then Australian ambassador, urged the US to intervene in the negotiations between Indonesia and the Netherlands in order to encourage Dutch resistance to Indonesia's claims but his representations fell on deaf ears in Washington. The US quickly adopted a public position of neutrality in order to minimise the harm which the issue may do to the United States' relations with the three powers most directly concerned. For the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, neutrality went as far as indifference as to who controlled West New Guinea so long as it was a nation friendly to the US, yet in view of the US determination to retain Indonesia's friendship—by no means an easy task given the anti-Western mood prevalent in Asia—it was recognised that the dispute “may develop into a serious point of difference” with Australia.

The point of referring to that is this was a major matter of national security policy relevance here in our own region, our own neighbourhood and our own backyard. There was a huge difference between the Menzies government and the then US administration. The US administration chose not to intervene on Australia's behalf.

The same also applies to confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia, again in the 1960s, over the proposed absorption of British North Borneo into Malaysia. Here I quote from an important work written by the former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dick Woolcott. He said:

Australia sought support for keeping West New Guinea out of Indonesia, even under Sukarno. We failed and had to change our policy. External affairs minister, Garfield Barwick, suggested publicly that a threat to our forces in Sabah and Sarwarak during Indonesia's confrontation against Malaysia in 1964 was a reason to invoke ANZUS. Barwick argued that the ANZUS Treaty specifically covered attacks on Australian military personnel, aircraft or ships in the Pacific area and that the island of Borneo was in the Pacific area.

Woolcott goes on:

He was correct but under the treaty a government—

in this case the United States—

acts in accordance with its constitutional processes. The Americans are uncomfortable with Barwick's public references to ANZUS and, furthermore, the Americans made it quite clear that this was not a conflict in which they were to become engaged, demonstrating that an alliance is effective only to the extent that it reflects a common purpose.

There you have Australia involved in confrontation with Indonesia in the early 1960s over the future of Sabah and Sarawak, and we have, once again, an important case study of a fundamental conflict between the Menzies government and the then US administration.

If we turn to the Menzies child—that is, John Winston Howard—the problem has also seen itself manifested in the late 1990s, with the Prime Minister's then call for American `boots on the ground' in East Timor. He said this and referred to this in a press statement of 10 September 1999, but we find statements in the Australian Financial Review at the time which say that the United States had ruled out any immediate plans to send ground troops to support an international peacekeeping effort in East Timor, despite Australia's requests for assistance. September 1999 is quite recent.

The purpose of these historical examples is to place on record the history of this alliance relationship, which shows that it has always been capable of sustaining disagreements—between Liberal governments in the past and US administrations and also between the Labor Party and US administrations—be those disagreements over Vietnam or be they over Iraq. There is nothing remarkable about disagreement, even on major foreign policy questions which affect our interests here in our own region, our own neighbourhood and our own backyard. The key question is to keep these disagreements in context.

This brings me to the third argument the Prime Minister has been advancing in relation to the FTA. Here the government goes dangerously close to doing something no previous Australian government has done—namely, linking directly our security relationship with our economic relationship and implying that agreement on one automatically requires agreement on the other. In the past, foreign minister Downer has not agreed with this approach. In the early period of his foreign ministership, Mr Downer made the following statement in Washington: `We have not traditionally linked security and trade directly, because they are quite different issues.' When we look at what the trade minister, Mr Vaile, had to say yesterday, it is quite interesting in terms of the change in tone. He said, `They also recognise that by pursuing this bilateral negotiation'—referring to the FTA—`we are elevating the economic relationship to the level of a security relationship.'

Our view very simply is this: consistent with what has been bipartisan policy between Labor and the conservatives in this country for more than a generation, our security relationship with the United States should always be considered separately from our economic relationship with the United States—whether that economic relationship is governed by an FTA or not. As we approach the great debate which is about to unfold in this place and in another place on the future of this draft free trade agreement, it will be important to have this free trade agreement scrutinised purely in terms of its economic impact on this country overall and, furthermore, in terms of its impact on specific sectors of this economy. In addition, we will be scrutinising carefully the impact on key aspects of social policy, not the least of which will be the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It is quite wrong for anyone on the government side to seek to link those two baskets. These are important matters in their own economic, social policy and environmental right. Therefore, as the debate unfolds in the period ahead, that is precisely the way in which this debate should be conducted.

It is a pity that, as this matter is taken through the House of Representatives, we do not have at our disposal the findings of the Senate inquiry. It is a pity that we do not have at our disposal the conclusions of congressional consideration of this matter in Washington—only a few weeks away. If these matters were before us, we would be in a position to have an informed debate about the macroeconomic impact of the proposed agreement across the entire Australian economy. Currently we have between three and four fundamentally conflicting estimates of its impact, from a range of experts commissioned across the country. The estimates range from a large impact to a modest impact, a large advantage to a modest advantage to some disadvantage.

When it came to the individual sectors of great sensitivity to those of us on this side of the parliament, we would be able to have a rational and focused debate, based on the facts, on the detail, on the sectoral applications and on what sort of impact the agreement would have on Australian working families across this country. So, as we approach the weeks ahead, because this is a matter of high policy and it requires a considered debate, let us proceed on a basis which takes the facts first, leaves the political hyperbole to one side and leaves the government's domestic political agenda about anti-Americanism, the alliance and those sorts of matters to one side. Let us with reason examine the matters which are before us, because the implications for the next generation of Australians in getting this decision right require that we conduct the debate in those terms. (Time expired)