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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6209

Senator NETTLE (1:15 PM) —I rise to speak on a matter of fundamental importance to the Australian economy and society, both now and in the future, and that is the issue of international trade. In this parliament, we often hear about the impact of international trade on our economic indicators. Statistics about trading figures are quoted by both sides of the chamber to demonstrate various different points at various different times. In presenting this matter of public interest, I would like to focus not on the economic indicators or dry numbers relating to trade but on the real social impacts and environmental implications of these economically driven decisions.

One of the unique things about the Greens is that in our policies we look beyond the assumptions that apply in many areas, including in the economy. There are two major parties in this chamber whose policy differences essentially split hairs in tinkering with the mechanics or the finetuning of the details of the trading system. In contrast, our major interest is in looking at questions that neither of these parties will address: the real effect of trade and economic policies on people's lives, the environment, the equity of our world for future generations, and the capacity to democratically shape our own society. The Greens' policy is based on a fundamental belief that economic systems should exist to support people, not the other way around. Too often the self-serving logic of corporations and economists takes too much for granted. We believe that, instead of adopting the vision of ordinary people to the pressures of powerful interests, we must imagine the economic world that we want and work to achieve it.

The World Trade Organisation provides a good example of this difference of approach. On Monday in the other place, the member for Farrer singled out Greens' policy for attack when she said that we must take on the international trading system on its own terms. The member's argument was that as a small economy we cannot expect to have control over our own economic destiny. She misses the point of Greens' policy, which is that there is nothing sacred about the international trading system. It is an artificial structure, set up by people for their own interests, and there is no reason why it cannot be and should not be turned around, taken over or turned down if it does not serve these interests. As a global movement, we advocate that this should happen on an international level. Indeed, Greens parties from around the world have signed on to a charter calling for the World Trade Organisation to be reformed to make sustainability its central goal. This reform must be supported by transparent and democratic processes and it must be accountable to representatives from affected communities. The WTO in its current form meets none of these requirements. Greens internationally state that if it cannot be reformed to meet these objectives it should be abolished.

The Greens believe that international agreements on the environment, labour conditions and health should take precedence over international rules on trade. The goals of these agreements promote quality of life, health and dignity of work and these are the very goals that the economic system is meant to be serving. But instead of serving these needs, we currently have a system where our environment, workers' conditions and human rights buckle under the power wielded by transnational corporations through the World Trade Organisation. In essence, we have the means overtaking the ends.

The next round of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation will focus on the General Agreement on Trade in Services, or GATS. This agreement seeks to force national governments to deregulate and privatise their essential public services. These services include health, education and environmental regulation. The negotiations affect every level of government, from national to local, and every aspect of people's lives. At the next round of the World Trade Organisation meetings in Mexico next year, we will see a continuation of the push to expand the scope of the General Agreement on Trade in Services. It was driven by the transnationals of the service industry, the fastest growing sector of the world economy. The aim of these negotiations is to force all countries, developing countries in particular, to open their doors and commit to essential services being listed in the GATS negotiations and therefore open them to deregulation, privatisation and international competition. I will be moving a motion in the Senate later today to address some of the worst aspects of this situation. I will call on the government to reveal Australia's negotiating position at these WTO talks. I look forward to the support of the majority of senators for that motion.

I will not dwell on the specifics today, because I want to turn to the question of the public response to these issues. Clearly, the immediate impetus for the debate today is the unofficial meeting of world trade ministers happening in Sydney over the next two days. This meeting is not officially a part of the next round of trade negotiations; indeed, it is more of a gentlemen's club where those who will be attending have received invitations from our esteemed Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile. The purpose is for the wealthier nations to come together to plan their strategy for negotiating with developing countries to have the essential services of those developing countries put out to tender for transnational corporations. It is an opportunity for the wealthiest countries to work out how they can get access to the markets that the majority of citizens are involved in: essential services such as health, education and water.

This meeting is neatly symbolic of the problems with the World Trade Organisation and the General Agreement on Trade in Services. It is exclusive and unrepresentative with only 25 out of the 144 countries in the World Trade Organisation having been invited. It is undemocratic in that the negotiations are to be completely secret and decisions reached at this meeting will never have to be ratified by this parliament. It is weighted against developing and smaller countries as the purpose of this meeting is to place pressure on those countries to support the interests of the wealthier countries. It is also a meeting that is organised to be against the interests of ordinary people. Why else would it be necessary to hold it in a special zone where legislation left over from the Olympics will make it almost impossible to undertake peaceful protest and democratic dissent?

This event has attracted a lot of media attention but not, unfortunately, for the profound implications of the future structure and control of our essential services. Instead the media attention, backed by the irresponsible and unfounded statements of some politicians, including the New South Wales Minister for Police, has focused on the potential for violence in demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation meeting. Tomorrow I will not be at the protests in Sydney, because I will be here in the Senate, but I will be sending a message to these protesters who will be gathering to make links between their opposition to the WTO and their opposition to the war on Iraq.

I would like to read part of this message that I will be sending to them tomorrow into the record of this chamber. I will be saying to them that, despite the pressures that will be put on them by the police and security forces, the Greens believe that protesters against the war and against the World Trade Organisation must show it is the strength of their conviction, support for each other and a belief that a better world is possible that will bring change—not violence. The Greens support the right to protest and to break unjust laws without the use of violence. It is a part of our freedom and it is one of the things that our political leaders claim to be fighting for. This is why people will be at the protest tomorrow, to protest peacefully against the war and the WTO, and this is why the Greens will be 100 per cent behind them in this endeavour. Peaceful protest against the World Trade Organisation is legitimate and democratic.

Contemptibly the decisions of the New South Wales government about how to handle such incidents are not. For example, the decision by the New South Wales police to ban all forms of peaceful protest in the city this week and, we hear today, potentially to ban the holding up of banners at Homebush this week is a recipe for disaster. It can be only for the most serious of reasons that the rights of citizens in a democracy to protest should be shut down. The limited incidences of violence by a small number of protesters out of tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators are merely an excuse and not a reason.

Of the celebrated incidents of violence, particularly the September 11 protests of year 2000, the cold light of an ombudsman's inquiry has shown that the overwhelming perpetrators of violence were the police and security forces. The civil actions for compensation that have been lodged by innocent protesters injured by illegal police actions are on the public record. Yet the New South Wales government and the Minister for Trade are setting themselves up to make the same mistakes again. There may be a cheap political gain to be made out of headlines about violent protests, but the health of our democracy is the loser in the long run. There is no question that tomorrow and on Friday people will protest as they have every right to do. These protests are founded on real and serious concerns about the World Trade Organisation and the General Agreement on Trade in Services. These protests must be peaceful and I hope that the police and the security response will equally be peaceful.