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Tuesday, 3 August 2004
Page: 25408

Senator BROWN (4:41 PM) —The Greens will oppose the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation (Customs Tariff) Bill 2004. This legislation is not about a free trade agreement at all—there is nothing free about this agreement; it is a restricted, pointed, biased agreement which favours our giant but friendly neighbour across the ocean, the United States, against the interests of this nation. We oppose the legislation because it is not in Australia's interests—albeit that it is in the interests of the United States, and in particular the corporate sector in the United States, which stands to gain most from it.

I will move that further debate on these bills be adjourned until after the US-Australia free trade agreement has been subject to a review of the environmental impacts arising from the agreement. I want to say up front that there is no environmental impact assessment. Extraordinarily enough, if you look at chapter 21 of the agreement, you will find that under this section—which deals with institutional arrangements and administration—there is a tack-on at the end which says:

... At its first meeting, the Joint Committee shall consider each Party's review of the environmental effects of this Agreement and shall provide the public an opportunity to provide views on those effects.

I understand that the US is undertaking a legislative environmental review, which started in March this year. I want to pose a few questions at the outset, because the environment has been left out of this debate. Where is the environmental review by the Australian government? How was it set up? How does the public feed into that? What are the parameters of that environmental review? When is it going to be brought to bear on the free trade agreement and how? These are some questions, amongst many others, that the Greens will be asking in the committee stages.

Here we have a bilateral agreement, in a world of some 200 nations, between Australia and the US. We live in a world, in the 21st century, where we have six billion people living diverse lives under diverse cultures, histories and economic circumstances. Our world is troubled by a breakdown between the haves and the have-nots. We live in an age where there is both mass communication and instant reportage about what is happening in communities in any section of the planet to communities in any other section of the planet. We have seen the inevitable spread of technology, used both for the good and the bad.

If we are going to aim for a secure future for what will be nine billion people on the planet by mid-century—before, hopefully, the population begins to decline to a more sustainable level—we have to ensure that fairness and a fair go are at the social forefront, that there is environmental protection and that there is democratic input into the way that the world works.

This free trade agreement stands against all those things. It does not foster the idea of a multinational trading arrangement which takes into account environmental, social and democratic imperatives in order to raise the level of fairness on the planet, to close the gap somewhat between the haves and have-nots, and to ensure that we bequeath to following generations a fairer and therefore more secure planet, instead of a more unfair and therefore less secure planet, which is the prescription that comes out of agreements such as this one.

However, when it is taken into a narrower focus, we have to ask: where is the democracy in this so-called free trade agreement? It was devised by the Howard and Bush administrations in order to fulfil the political goal of both of these conservative administrations, without reference to parliament. We get that now, at the tail end of proceedings and without the public input and discussion which should have been inherent in what is such a massively important and binding agreement for our great nation, not just for the next five years or 50 years, but, so far as we may judge as we sit here today, forever.

The agreement binds not only many of the processes in our society but also this parliament. It does so in a way that is out of the reach of this parliament, because once the parliament gives assent to this agreement—and that essentially means, on this side of the ocean, the Senate—changing it becomes conditional on the American interest being fostered. If you do not have that, it will not be changed in the future. Being able to alter the agreement will be out of the question unless the American interest is served. The only option would be to repudiate it further down the line. That, of course, is unconscionable when the option now is to repudiate it before it comes into force, with many fewer consequences for this nation—a nation which has an economy and population less than one-tenth the size of those of the United States.

It is very important to understand that the agreement is outside the reach of our democracy in both its formulation and its future impact on this country. This agreement is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny; it is not subject to parliamentary accountability; it is not subject to parliamentary alteration. It is another manifestation of the increasing wish by executive governments in this country, which has been refined and strengthened by the Howard government, to act as extra-parliamentary governing authorities, outside the ability of parliament to review and make alterations in the future.

We know that, in the Senate, the government is in favour of this free trade agreement and, in the main, the crossbench is against it. That has left the opposition, the Labor Party, holding the balance of power. What the Labor Party does in these circumstances is extraordinarily important. I would have expected that it would have stuck with what it felt about the legislation from the outset. That was: no sugar, no deal. That was: no control over and safeguard of our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, no deal. That was: no protection for manufacturing industries in this country, as against the bigger manufacturing clout of the US corporations, no deal. And it ought to have included: no protection for the Australian environment, no deal. But on all counts the opposition has collapsed. On all counts it is left to the Greens and the crossbench to defend this national interest from the impact of a much greater economy, a much greater corporate sector and, I believe, a much less responsive parliamentary system in Washington.

The question is: what is the Labor Party going to do about it? We have heard from Senator O'Brien that it will move two measly amendments which are at the margins as far as the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and cultural integrity are concerned. They are two minor amendments which go no way towards plugging the enormous holes that are created when you look at this agreement from the point of view of the Australian national interest.

One must ask: what does that add up to? It adds up essentially to the Labor Party saying: `We're going with Prime Minister John Howard. We're going with President George W. Bush.' They are saying they want a thin veneer of cover from two of the most outspoken groups within our community—those in the cultural sector of our community, who are outraged by this agreement, and those who are concerned about the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It must be remembered that Labor did a backflip just two months ago in this place when they agreed, at the Howard government's behest, to add a cost of $4.90 per prescription for families when they go to pharmacies. In the wake of the tax cuts for the rich, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme now becomes vulnerable to future appeal action by the gigantic multinational corporations, which have enormous clout in the United States, in ways that are unspecified but real.

We have had from the ANU one estimate that it may add as much as $1.1 billion per annum onto the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme five years out from now. All of those who saw Four Corners last night will know that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme becomes vulnerable to an extraordinarily powerful US drugs manufacturing sector, which lobbies enormously and has great power within the halls of congress. Advocates have already been in this country—witness Republican senator Jon Kyl—trying to promote the interests of these corporations. An active Republican senator says on that program—I am paraphrasing here, but the sentiment is correct—that, yes, he does expect that people like Australians should be paying more for what he alleges is the development costs of pharmaceuticals but which the program showed very clearly was for helping the profit line and the advertising impact of the drug corporations, which have left the United States with a delivery system for the sick and the ill far, far inferior to this country's.

This agreement will help line the pockets of pharmaceutical corporations in the United States. It inevitably moves us a step towards a far inferior system in the United States where the sick, the aged, the retired and the poor not only cannot afford many of the pharmaceuticals available but, as we know, cannot access hospital care in a country which is far worse served by the unrestrained market and the division between rich and poor than this country is.

Look at the manufacturing industries. What is the outcome there? The government predicts it may create 30,000 jobs. Much closer to the mark is the AMWU's prediction that there will be 40,000-plus jobs potentially lost out of the manufacturing industries in Australia, not least the car components industry.

Senator Abetz —They support the free trade agreement!

Senator BROWN —Where is the amendment to safeguard that? Where is the support for this industry that is going to stop that happening? I hear an interjecting Liberal senator from Tasmania opposite who is amenable to a manufacturing arrangement which says, `Open the door to Australia to all manufactured goods, remove the barriers,' but when it comes the other way it allows a restriction by the United States on the import from Australia of fast ferries. That is an industry that is very important to our home state and to this nation generally. There is a blockage put there because it did not suit the American negotiators. The Howard government collapsed and that senator opposite did not speak up for it. The opposition has not put an amendment in here to fix that either.

The reality is that any amendment coming into this place on this agreement, whether it be on manufacturing jobs, pharmaceuticals, the environment or the proper transparencies and processes overlooking this legislation, cannot be inserted into the free trade agreement, because it is signed outside this parliament. It is an agreement between Mr Howard and President Bush; it is extramural—it is outside the reach of this parliament. Labor has two amendments here which are at the margins and are acceptable, it says—we will see what the government says—within the free trade agreement. It dare not move outside the free trade agreement. It cannot. You accept it or you reject it. Labor accepts it. The Greens reject it because we do not believe it is in the national interest.

Look at water. We are in an age where governments, including this government, are moving to privatise water in this country—to give the God-given rains into the hands of the corporate sector. We know that US corporations are greatly interested in that. They have invested billions of dollars already into water rights in other countries like Mexico and Bolivia. Put down Australia next. What happens when you have a US corporation which owns water rights to a river system in this country and it is determined, as we are finding now time and time again, that we need a natural environmental flow to ensure that river's biodiversity and ecological health? That corporation will be able to overcome any legislation brought through this parliament and demand compensation for its ownership of God's rain falling on this country. It takes the money for something which it does not create and it should not own.

We have expropriation clauses right through this agreement blurring the time-honoured legal situation in this country of governments compensating for appropriation of property. But when it comes to wider rights, that is a different matter—it is not so here. The expropriation clauses enable American corporations in the future to sue governments here who want to implement the public right to a healthy environment, to a better social future and to a whole range of cultural amenity. The so-called expropriation right will end up being expropriation by American corporations of taxpayers' dollars in this country under this agreement. There is no caveat—there is no let-out clause.

What happens when you say, `Who is going to adjudicate on this, for goodness sake?' You will find in chapter 21 that there is a joint committee. It oversees no fewer than eight other working groups, which it sets up. Does the parliament appoint this joint committee? Is there a democratic vote in here as to who will be appointing the judge, jury and executioner if disputes arise between this country and another? No, there is no say whatever. It is the minister for trade of the day and his American counterpart—again, it is the executive government outside the reach of this parliament who appoints those persons.

What are the rules? The committee sets the rules itself. There are no rules set by this parliament or agreed to by the US Congress. There are no rules under this Bush-Howard agreement—aren't they the great advocates of democracy and liberty?—which will allow the elected representatives of the parliament to determine such a matter. When the joint committee makes its findings, do we know about it? Is it open to the public? Will there be parliamentary debate? The answer is no for all those questions. What is this committee's bailiwick? It sets up a whole stack of other committees. It has committees looking at manufacturing and at intellectual property rights, which are going to go up for universities. The US patent rules rule, not the Australian patent rules. We are subservient. There is what is called a mickey mouse clause. It will not be mickey mouse for this country. It will add to costs right across the tertiary sector as well as the business sector. On and on it goes.

This is a sell-out of Australia's right to democratically determine its own future. It gives that to the White House under an agreement this parliament has had no input to. It should be rejected. I would expect the Labor Party to reject it and not just leave it to the Greens to argue for this nation's interests for ever and a day about an agreement that locks down and straitjackets the members of this parliament into the future. We will have none of it. We will be opposing it.