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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 819


Senator MARGETTS (4.31 p.m.) —When I spoke with respect to the last report of AFTA I pointed out that this organisation largely promotes increased penetration of unregulated transnational corporations and warned that economic benefits to Australia are likely to be minimal. I mentioned the Greens' concerns about the impact of unregulated trade, which sets up a situation where transnational corporations are given freedom without any associated responsibility. These corporations end up wielding immense power without any real obligations.

  In abandoning national regulation of trade without developing international social and environmental regulation of trade, we set up the conditions where all nations become dependent on faceless international economic forces which have responsibility to their management and owners only. We have a situation where, like dependent workers, nations keep their heads down, bow, scrape and tug the forelock, and scurry to open doors for their corporate masters. Corporations feel it is their right to tell nations what to do in order to attract them.

  In the AP News of 31 May 1994 was a report that BHP and General Electric want to build a power plant and urea factory in Vietnam. BHP's general manager in Vietnam says:

Unless the gas pricing policy was in an acceptable range, the whole project would just not go ahead.

Anybody knowing about international trade will know that this is not the only factor that must be in the acceptable range, but Vietnamese labour is already among the lowest paid in the world and Vietnam is not known for its environmental or workplace standards. What we have here is the equivalent of saying, `If you want us here, you dance to our tune.' The Greens have major concerns with the push to totally strip all the nations of our region of any framework to allow them to make their own decisions re industry and regional development, especially by employment strategies.

  So-called free trade can be a form of trade fascism. I have frequently mentioned that the Greens are in favour of seeing some breaks introduced at an international level to bring a measure of social and environmental accountability to the activities of transnational corporations. My concern is that, as in Vietnam, the push through GATT, APEC or AFTA, or through demands for structural adjustment by the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, will lead to a situation where nations are no longer able to bring to bear any effective social or environmental controls without damaging their economies.

  As this happens, we will see more multinational corporations moving into developing nations with little regard for the environment or people. As a consequence, we will see more Bougainvilles, more regional instability, domestic conflict or domestic abuse. We will see more Nike plants being sited in Indonesia and other places, where shoes are manufactured for a couple of dollars and subsequently sold for at least $100 in Australia and elsewhere. We will see more Indonesian and other labour activists gaoled for lengthy periods for daring to ask that minimum wage levels—$1.80 per day—be enforced. We will continue to arm and train the troops that put down the labour demonstrations in those countries.

  It is irresponsible to promote open slather for corporations in South-East Asia, as this report does. There must be a regime somewhere that can effectively prevent corporations from waltzing into these nations, telling them what standards and prices they want to see and using their ability to deny investment as a lever to force their views.

  It is completely irresponsible to advocate national vulnerability before such controls are in place. We have seen the results in Bougainville. We have seen reforestation plans in Thailand that do nothing less than force villagers to move away at gunpoint, clear-fell the forest, and plant gum trees for the Japanese pulp industry. I condemn the implication in this report that such action is in any way desirable for Australia.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Debate resumed from 25 August, on motion by Senator Margetts:

  That the Senate take note of the document.