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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12221


Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (12:35): by leave—The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties is recommending the ratification of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement. This is consistent with the weight of evidence and submissions to the committee, which stressed the advantages of this agreement for Australian agriculture, and the opposition supports that recommendation.

Having said that, I am not going to let this opportunity pass without expressing my concern that the trade agreements we are entering into reflect a willingness to sacrifice some parts of the Australian economy—conspicuously manufacturing—in order to advantage others, conspicuously agriculture. I have a number of concerns about this strategy. First, it is a recipe for unemployment in Australia's manufacturing centres.

I have just received the latest Department of Employment small area labour market figures for my area. They show that for the City of Moreland unemployment has increased since the change of government from 6.8 per cent in September 2013 to eight per cent in June this year. Unemployment in Coburg has risen from 8.5 per cent to 10 per cent, and unemployment in Brunswick and Fawkner has also climbed about 1½ per cent since the change of government, to over nine per cent.

But it is to the immediate north of my electorate where the real catastrophe is unfolding. In Broadmeadows unemployment has risen since    the change of government from 21.9 per cent to 26.4 per cent. That is more than one in four. Unemployment in Campbellfield and Coolaroo has risen from 18.8 per cent to 22.9 per cent. Unemployment in Meadow Heights has risen from 18.6 per cent to also be 22.9 per cent. These are terrible figures. They are a recipe for social disadvantage on a massive scale with the certainty of crime, drugs and mental health problems to follow.

The second problem, as Tom Skladzien from the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union says, is that these bilateral trade agreements will lead to the continued narrowing of our economic base, making secure employment harder and making us all the more vulnerable to international shocks and price changes. It is my absolute conviction that if Australia continues to go down the path of narrowing our economic base there will come a time when we will regret it. The mining and energy resources boom will not last forever. With apologies to Winston Churchill, never before in our history have we put so many eggs in so few baskets. The third problem is that, in practice, we often do not get the gains for agriculture that could justify the losses for manufacturing due to behind-the-border barriers.

I also want to make some comments about the way in which trade agreements have moved beyond tariffs and quotas and into every area where governments seek to regulate in the national interest, such as foreign ownership and migration. Chapter 12 sets out the conditions for the temporary entry of skilled persons. It is unlikely to prove problematic. But I cannot say the same thing about the proposed bilateral trade agreement with China. Michael O'Connor from the CFMEU warns that any agreement with China must not restrict the ability of Australia to regulate movement of workers, including through labour market testing, as well as numerical quotas. He says if the Korean labour market testing exemption is replicated in the China FTA then the impact on the labour market would be disastrous.

The other area of concern is the way in which trade agreements are being used to advance global corporate power at the expense of democratic decision making by elected governments. I am particularly concerned at the prospect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, including a provision on investor state dispute settlement. It would bust the door wide open for US companies to sue government decisions they did not like. Since the NAFTA was signed, Canada in particular has been the victim of regular attacks by US corporations. Egypt was sued by a French company after the Arab Spring for raising the minimum wage! It goes to show how pernicious and wicked these provisions are.

What we do know about the TPP, from documents leaked by WikiLeaks, is very troubling. A few days ago WikiLeaks released the negotiating text for the intellectual property chapter of the TPP. Last week I was able to discuss copyright, intellectual property, patenting and pharmaceutical issues in the TPP with Trish Hepworth, the Executive Officer of the Australian Digital Alliance, Dr Burcu Kilic, Legal Counsel of the Washington-based Global Access to Medicines Program, and Sanya Reid Smith, Legal Adviser to the Geneva-based Third World Network. I share their concern that the intellectual property chapter of the TPP as it stands will impact adversely on innovation policy, freedom of expression and public health.

One of the key problems is that a lot of treaty negotiating goes on in secret and the public does not know what is actually being considered. By the time a treaty comes to the parliament, the Australian government, and other governments, have already signed it, and it is extremely difficult to do much about it then. I urge that there be more transparency in the negotiating of the China bilateral trade deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.