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Tuesday, 3 August 2004
Page: 25435


Senator McGAURAN (6:42 PM) —As the chamber is aware, we are discussing the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation (Customs Tariff) Bill 2004. This is a historic and significant free trade agreement with the United States. It is a significant time in the parliament because the free trade agreement we are discussing is probably the most significant and important agreement to Australia in trade and in economics since 1957, when another significant trade agreement was signed with Japan. The parallels between these two trade agreements are quite uncanny. First of all, both were negotiated by a National Party minister. The Minister for Trade in 1957 was Jack McEwen, who undertook an agreement with Japan. Mr Acting Deputy President, you can see that I am looking for my formal notes rather than trying to wing it.

Opposition senators interjecting


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Sandy Macdonald)—Order, Senator Campbell! You are doing very well, Senator McGauran.


Senator McGAURAN —Thank you. I was interrupted by the opposition, who, I should add, were against the trade agreement with Japan in 1957 just as they have been, right up to this very last moment, against this free trade agreement. You have to remember that in 1957 when negotiating that agreement it was soon after the war. So there was a lot of pressure on the then government over negotiating with a former enemy. Of course, those against it were from the same party that is against this agreement. That is of foremost significance.

Look at the result of that trade agreement that the then coalition parties pushed through the parliament. Look at how, during the 1960s and 1970s, that particular agreement underpinned the growth in the Australian economy and the many good and great years we have had in Australia. Our relationship with Japan during the decades that followed was, in fact, what established Australia as one of the top eight OECD countries.

Mr Acting Deputy President Macdonald, is there another speaker to follow me in the chamber?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is not, Senator McGauran, but you have to go for only another four minutes.


Senator McGAURAN —I was just trying to measure my comments. That particular agreement underpinned decades of a very healthy Australian economy. The significance of it is that it was negotiated by a National Party minister back in 1957—no less than Jack McEwen—under extreme pressure, provocation and doomsaying by the same types who are trying to pull this particular agreement down. What we have before us today, speeding forward, is of exactly the same significance: this particular agreement will underpin the growth in the Australian economy for decades to come. Why have the opposition, be it that they are now going to vote for this agreement at this eleventh hour, made it so difficult for the government to put it through? It really should have been put through months ago. Why have they made it so difficult when it is so obvious that we are signing a most significant economic link with the largest economy in the world? Quite frankly, every country in our region would envy this particular agreement. If they thought we were not going to sign it, if it ever came to that, they would be the first in the rush to have such an agreement signed.

We heard during the five months of deliberation of the opposition how the fact that we are making strong economic links with the United States is going to affect our relationships within the region. What a load of rubbish that has turned out to be. As the opposition know only too well, we have a free trade agreement with Singapore and we have a free trade agreement with Thailand all but put through the parliament. We have a trade agreement being negotiated with China, no less, and now Malaysia wants to be in on the act with a free trade agreement. So it is absolute rubbish to say that this particular agreement would affect our economic, political, social or military relationships with our Asian neighbours. It is quite the contrary; it has given us the prestige to be able to negotiate.

But you cannot get it through the likes of Senator Lundy, who happens to be in the chamber, or the likes of Senator George Campbell, who happens to be leaving the chamber at the moment. Why? It is pretty basic. We never heard them criticise the Thai free trade agreement or the Singapore free trade agreement or the pending China agreement, or the Malaysians. There is one basic and simple reason why you are against this agreement, because your criticism simply does not stack up economically. There is only one basic reason. Why don't you have the courage to come out and say it? You are anti-American in every shape and form, even to the detriment of the welfare of Australia for decades to come—and that is what this free trade agreement delivers. There is no other reason, Senator Lundy: your bias is dripping off you.

This agreement particularly brings benefits to the primary industry sector. This is something we have been waiting for for years. We have been hanging around the World Trade Organisation for a long time now waiting for a breakthrough, and perhaps in the last couple of days there has been a renewed breakthrough with the World Trade Organisation, but bilateral agreements of this sort are invaluable to the primary industry sector, and no less this one. This one absolutely champions the cause of primary industry. We have the beef industry, the wool industry, the sheepmeat industry and the dairy industry all benefiting from this agreement. Of course, we wanted better for all of those industries, and quicker access. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.