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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 425

Mr CONROY (Shortland) (16:37): I stand to discuss the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties into the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. I want to clear up a couple of the previous speaker's misconceptions. I congratulate him on his promotion, but you can be in favour of free trade and oppose a dud deal. You can be in favour of trade liberalisation and say that a deal has to deliver for all Australians, not just narrow sectarian interests. Unfortunately, this TPP does not do either. It is a dud deal that delivers for certain sectors at the expense of the whole nation. I will get to the substance of the deal in a minute.

I find it ridiculous that we are debating this report and engaging in this discussion about whether we will legislate in support of the TPP. The TPP is dead. It is deader than the parrot in the Monty Python sketch. It is deader than the Black Knight that the Prime Minister seems to do a great impersonation of. It is dead because the US have very clearly said they will not support it. This is not just a blow in terms of removing a major player. The way the TPP is constructed around ratification by member nations means that, without the US ratifying this treaty, this treaty cannot come into force. Other countries like Japan have said that very clearly. It was interesting that the previous speaker applauded the efforts of the Prime Minister in trying to get Japan to continue this deal. He was well and truly leading with his chin because Japan has said that, without the US, there is no TPP. It is a gross waste of Commonwealth time and it is a gross waste of parliamentary time to even be discussing ratifying this agreement because it is dead.

Even if the US had supported this agreement, I think that we should be opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement because it is not in the interests of Australia as a whole. It is in the interests of certain sectors; I do not pretend otherwise. It will benefit the agricultural industry, and that is great—good luck to those farmers who can export more under that agreement. But it is at a much greater cost for the Australian nation as a whole.

And it is at a much greater cost because of five key areas. First off: selling out Australian sovereignty through the investor-state dispute settlement clauses: clauses which give foreign multinationals, foreign companies, the right to sue the Australian government when we make laws in this country that affect their profitability. It has been called out by the Productivity Commission and it has been called out by the Chief Justice of the High Court—neither of those are renowned left-wing radicals! It is a fundamental attack on the sovereignty of our nation, and we have seen that already with the Hong Kong arm of Philip Morris challenging our plain-packaging tobacco laws, laws that are cutting smoking rates right now and laws which are reducing the cancer rates in this country. We are being sued by the Hong Kong arm of Philip Morris because the Australian arm could not take the action.

The safeguards that are supposedly in the TPP are very weak. We have seen similar safeguards completely undermined in court actions. We have seen an ISDS system where tribunal judges one day are then lawyers for the corporations the next day. It is a system without transparency and it is a system which needs massive reform. I am proud that Labor has said it that when in government we will not agree to treaties that include ISDS.

The TPP also does not guarantee ILO convention labour rights. All it provides are weak commitments to enforce existing national labour laws. That means that if the labour laws are weak there is no protection for workers under this agreement. In terms of labour movement, this agreement removes labour market testing for temporary skilled visas from five nations. Let me repeat that, Mr Deputy Speaker: if the TPP came into force there would be five additional nations where the Australian government could not apply labour market testing to guarantee that Australians would get the jobs first. That is really worrying.

In terms of the environmental conventions, there is a failure to guarantee that environmental conventions would be enforceable. And perhaps the biggest concern of this agreement is an extension of protection for biologics within the pharmaceutical industry. Currently, there is a five-year protection for patents pertaining to biologics in our pharmaceuticals. This agreement guarantees an equivalent of another three years of protection. To give some context to this, the 10 most expensive biologics cost the PBS around $1.2 billion per annum. So a three-year extension by definition will increase the cost to the PBS by a very considerable amount.

These are all reasons why the TPP is very flawed. And what is the supposed benefit of it? The government's own, very dodgy, modelling says that there will be a 0.1 per cent benefit to GDP per annum. Now a 0.1 per cent benefit within modelling is near imperceptible. It is almost certainly overstated and it is potentially overwhelmed by the biologics and the change to intellectual property. That is why, if this agreement ever reaches the legislation stage—if this legislation is ever presented to the Labor caucus—I will proudly vote against it, because it is not in the interests of Australians.

I am pro-trade liberalisation, but it must be done in a way that supports the Australian economy and which does not undermine the Australian economy to advance the narrow interests of one particular sector. Unfortunately, at the moment that is what the TPP is, and it continues the appalling trade record of the coalition government.

They brag about the Japanese and South Korean FTAs. Well, they could only do these deals because they killed the Australian automotive industry. They killed the Australian automotive industry, which destroyed 50,000 direct jobs and imperilled another 200,000 indirect jobs. The automotive industry was the main stumbling block to getting these free trade agreements up when Labor was in power. That, in conjunction with the ISDS clause in the South Korean agreement, was why Labor did not sign these agreements while in government.

The coalition government took care of this by destroying the automotive industry. When they were last in government, in the Howard era, they had a similar appalling record on trade agreements. The Thai FTA was supposed to be the saviour of the Australian automotive industry. It was going to lead to exports of tens of thousands of Australian cars to Thailand—particularly the Ford Territory. What happened was that the agreement was signed, reducing tariffs on Australian car exports to Thailand to zero over a period of time. Immediately, the Thai government put up the registration fees for large vehicles, basically ruling out any chance of the Ford Territory being competitive in the Thai market, a behind-the-border move that meant that this agreement was completely ineffective for supporting Australian automotive exports.

The US FTA agreement—something the other side of politics is incredibly proud of—has been in operation for over 10 years now, and what does the evidence show? A recent ANU study—ANU, a bastion of free trade economic theory—has found that the agreement was trade diversionary. Australian and United States trade with the rest of the world fell. What is even more interesting, and probably more worrying, is that trade also fell between the United States and Australia. Let me repeat that: since the beginning of the operation of the US free trade agreement with Australia, trade between Australia and the United States actually fell. It is less now than when the trade agreement came into operation.

This government has an appalling record on trade liberalisation. Government members like to wave pieces of paper in the air. They are almost like Neville Chamberlain, in that they sign an agreement for having an agreement's sake while they sell out the future prospects of the Australian economy and the workers that depend upon it. As I said before, trade should be in the interests of all Australians, not just one sector that employs around 300,000 people. Trade is about all of us and not just farmers—as important as that industry is. I have to applaud the National Party, because they truly are writing the economic policy of this government. If it is good for farmers, it generally gets through this government. But, if it is good for farmers at the expense of the rest of the Australian economy, it should not be supported. Unfortunately, that is what we have got under this government, which has all the hallmarks of 'Black Jack' McEwen.

I have no doubt that I will be accused of being anti free trade, of being an economic dinosaur. Nothing could be further from the truth. I recognise and support the powerful impact trade liberalisation has in our economy and that it does generally, when done right, improve the allocative efficiency of this country: getting resources where they can do most good. But a spaghetti framework of preferential trade agreements—because that is what these agreements are—does not do that. It distorts trade, it distorts the allocative efficiency of our economy and in the end it distorts the economic structure of our country while giving up massive rights around sovereignty, ISDS, intellectual property and the PBS, and that is why I oppose this agreement.

Debate adjourned.