Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 5 August 2004
Page: 25742

Senator MARSHALL (11:47 AM) —Last night I started to speak on the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation (Customs Tariff) Bill 2004 but ran out of time, so I continue my remarks today. The question before us, which has not been satisfactorily addressed by the government at any point throughout this debate, is: why were health policy, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and its operation included in a trade agreement? What was the purpose of putting good public health policy into a trade agreement?

Trade agreements are not areas where we develop good public policy in the national interest; they are for trade policy. One can only make the assumption—I think correctly—that the trade in pharmaceuticals is a concern to the US companies and that the US required the PBS to be in the trade agreement because they wanted to change the operation of it. There can be no other explanation for that: they seek to change the operation of good public health policy. That is something that the Labor Party will never accept or tolerate. We are not the only people who think it is inappropriate for trade agreements to be impinging upon good public health policy. US congressman Mr Tom Allen said:

... I question whether it is appropriate to use trade policy to interfere in other nations' health systems. We certainly wouldn't accept such a demand from other countries.

Clearly US congressmen have a higher standard of what should or should not be in trade agreements. Congressman Tom Allen would not accept these sorts of clauses in agreements, which would impinge upon health policy in the US, but, when the US insisted on them being included in this agreement, the Australian government simply buckled and folded. Mr Henry A. Waxman, another congressman in the US—

Senator Brandis —But you support the agreement.

Senator MARSHALL —I am glad Senator Brandis is here. He might be able to answer the question why the PBS has been included in trade policy. I look forward to listening to his speech, and maybe he will address that. What did Mr Henry Waxman say about it? He said:

Domestic healthcare policy should not be decided in trade agreements. It is wrong for us to interfere with another country's domestic health policy, particularly when it comes to the affordability of medicine which is an equally sensitive issue here in the United States. This is special interest policy making at its worst. The Bush Administration is letting the pharmaceutical industry use trade agreements to manipulate the drug laws of the United States and other countries in ways that the industry could not otherwise achieve.

That is an absolute condemnation of the PBS being included in this trade agreement, and it is being condemned by the USA as well. There can be no other explanation. That says it all. The PBS is there so it can be manipulated by US multinational drug companies because they have consistently said they want Australians to pay higher prices for drugs. That is their agenda and that is why the Howard government simply rolled over and allowed the PBS to be included in trade policy. Mark Udall, another US congressman, said:

I am concerned about the potential precedent of the Administration meddling excessively in the internal affairs of a trading partner. With regard to this treaty, the USTR initially sought substantial changes in Australia's drug-pricing program. Though the USTR was not completely successful, the agreement does give U.S. drug companies more say in what drugs are included under Australia's universal drug coverage program. While market access for U.S. goods is important, we shouldn't be in the business of bullying the world and potentially undermining a country's ability to provide prescription drugs to its citizens.

Again, US congressmen know the end result of including the PBS in this agreement. That is where we come to the difference between us. The only difference between the government and the Labor Party on the free trade agreement is that the Labor Party want to protect the PBS. We will stand by the PBS. We will ensure that Australians continue to get affordable medicines. We will protect the integrity of the PBS and this coalition government will not. The coalition government will not because they have been happy to include it in the trade agreement. They have not come clean with their true agenda and they have not addressed the issue of why the PBS is there in the first place. All they have done all the way through is play party politics with this. They are using their self-interest for political purposes to try to undermine this agreement. They have tried to wedge the Labor Party and they have accused this of being a political stunt. Let me be absolutely clear: this is no political stunt. This is an attempt by the Labor Party to ensure that the PBS remains intact for the purpose for which it was designed: to provide affordable medicines to Australians. We will not back off from that. We will force these amendments through and we will not move away from that position.

The reason we are in this position in the first place is that the government did not negotiate this agreement to its completion because it needed to rush it through. It needed to rush the negotiations to complete them in time to put it up as an election issue before the forthcoming election. It has been rushed through; it has not been negotiated satisfactorily. Quite frankly, the government has achieved only the most meagre of gains for Australia as a result of this agreement. It has been a serious problem. They have rushed it through for their political self-interest.

It was interesting that in one of the previous debates Senator Tierney tried to criticise the Labor Party for going into the committee process with a predetermined position. But Senator Brandis went into the select committee process with a predetermined position, because he had already stated that he supported the free trade agreement. The treaties committee process was likewise compromised, because the chair of that committee had already predetermined and put in writing that he supported the free trade agreement. Prior to even seeing the text of the free trade agreement, and prior to hearing any of the evidence, Senator Brandis and Dr Southcott were happy to make up their minds. And they made up their minds based on what? An agreement they had not seen, on this false hope that everything was going to be good. They were seduced by the word `free'. If coalition MPs can get something for nothing, they will try and grab it.

Senator MARSHALL —The fact is that you should have done more work and you should have negotiated this to a more effective result. All through the debate we have heard your hollow criticisms. When Labor said that we wanted to evaluate the effects of this agreement based on the evidence before us, consider it and then come to a considered position, what did we hear from the government? They said: `How dare you do that. Just sign it. Listen to the Labor premiers.' I do not know how the Labor premiers came to their decision. I think it was probably a little bit of dumb luck, as it was for you guys. That is the position we are in. But now you need to listen to what the Labor premiers are saying.

Senator MARSHALL —You wanted us to listen to what the Labor premiers were saying. Every one of them now says: pass our amendments. They say this agreement should not go forward without the protection of the PBS. They want you, and urge you, to support our amendments. Eat your own words, Senator Brandis, because you were the one on many occasions saying: `Listen to the state premiers. Why don't you do what the state premiers say?' I throw that challenge back to you, Senator Brandis. Listen to what the state premiers say: support our amendment and protect the PBS. This is an opportunity for the government to actually do something that is right—to stand up for the Australian people and protect the PBS. You will still get your free trade agreement, as meagre as it is. You did not put enough work into it, but there are some very meagre benefits. We will support it on that basis. We could have done a lot better, and we should have done a lot better, but we will not undermine the PBS and nor should you.

I sense, looking at the press today, that there may be a bit of weakening in your position. I heard Mr Downer say, `Well, maybe we could consider some amendments; we might have a little look at it.' It is a little late coming, but you will have your opportunity to support our amendments. At the end of the day, even you will have to conclude that what we propose will protect the PBS. You will have to admit that your misleading statements, made through the whole process, that nothing in the free trade agreement would undermine the PBS were not true. If they were true, you would not have put it in the FTA. You buckled because the US wanted it in there and you just put it in there. Good public health policy being negotiated away through trade agreements is not something that the Labor Party will do. That is not something the Labor Party will stand for, and quite frankly the government ought to be condemned for doing so.

Throughout this year the Labor Party said, as we have always said, that we will judge the Howard government's trade agreement with the United States on the evidence and we will decide whether it is a net plus or a minus. That is why we referred it to a Senate select committee. Again, how many government members did we hear say that that was just a political stunt? The report was tabled today. Unfortunately, there only seems to be one copy of that report available to the opposition, which certainly gives me some concerns. Senator Brandis indicated that these were issues that were heavily contested. I think he went on to say that they were matters of great debate—these `heavily contested matters of great debate', where the government said it was simply a political stunt.

We then heard Senator Ferris, another government member on the committee, say there were four areas of serious concern that she wanted to address through the committee process. So, through their own mouths they say how important the committee process was, but we hear all the other government members saying what a political stunt it was. It just does not ring true. In this matter the government has simply put its own self-interest and its own political goals ahead of the national interest. If anyone has made this a political football, it has been the government from day one. Instead of allowing a proper, fair dinkum process that was going to analyse the benefits and the negatives from this agreement, it has wanted to politicise it all the way through.

The other thing I want to cover is the concern that Labor has about the lack of economic modelling on jobs. It is something that I asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to do when we had a briefing with them as members of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. DFAT indicated that they would do economic modelling on jobs. They would do so based on occupation, on sector and on regions. Ultimately, they did not do that. They refused to do it. That brings into play serious concerns. Understanding that there may be a negative impact on jobs, Labor will boost enterprise export growth in jobs in the Australian manufacturing sector through a manufacturing support package. We will provide a $25 million centre of excellence for advanced manufacturing in this country. (Time expired)