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Thursday, 5 August 2004
Page: 25745

Senator BRANDIS (12:00 PM) —Let there be no doubt about it: this is a historic debate. The free trade agreement with the United States is or will become perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the Howard government and, when this legislation passes—as I hope it will—this debate will come to be seen as perhaps the most important debate that the Senate has had during the 40th Parliament. What the free trade agreement represents is nothing less than this: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for access to the world's largest market and most dynamic economy. The achievement of the Australian negotiators, led by Mr Stephen Deady, in securing this agreement is a historic achievement which will underwrite the prosperity of this nation into the 21st century. For that reason—and you would not have thought it, having heard Senator Marshall's contribution a few minutes ago—we do have bipartisanship on the substance of this issue. Disregard this latest little political stunt that Mr Latham is playing to cover the backdown from his earlier positions—the Labor Party has given us bipartisanship on this issue. The two sides of politics which are capable of forming governments in this country—the coalition and the Australian Labor Party—are both of the view that the free trade agreement is a worthwhile agreement for Australia.

The point that must not be missed, when we listen to the meanderings of people like Senator Ridgeway and Senator Harris from the minor parties, is this: to the extent that there is a controversy, it is a controversy about the extent of the benefits. What a tremendous position to be in, that, where we have a controversy about this epoch-making trade treaty, the controversy is about the extent of the gains. That is the measure of the achievement of the government and of the negotiators who have secured this agreement. This tremendously beneficial agreement delivers conspicuous gains for Australia—not meagre gains, as Senator Marshall would have you believe, but gains like this: the gain, according to the government's modeller, the Centre for International Economics, of $6 billion a year from the start, which will increase with time; and the disappearance of 97 per cent of American tariffs on Australian manufactures from day one. That is not a meagre gain.

The United States is the most protected economy in the industrialised world, the largest economy in the world, the biggest market in the world—and from day one, tariffs on 97 per cent of Australian manufactures go to zero. How is that a meagre gain? From day one, tariffs on two-thirds of agricultural exports to the United States go to zero, and tariffs on other sectors—in particular, the beef and the dairy sector—will reduce over time so that, at the outyears, the last tariffs go in 2016. And once they are gone, they are gone for good. For all generations to come, there will be no tariffs on manufactured goods and virtually no tariffs on agricultural goods. Every senator in this place knows in particular how protected the American agricultural sector is. So do not kid us, Senator Marshall, about meagre gains; these are real and substantial gains, as every single businessperson, every last businessperson, who appeared before the Senate select committee on the free trade agreement was eager to point out.

Nevertheless, there have been the carping critics. They have been a bizarre coalition—a veritable political Noah's ark of industrial dinosaurs, pseudo-intellectuals, movie stars, ageing rock stars, footloose trendies, America haters, conspiracy theorists, old-fashioned socialists, right-wing Hansonites, left-wing Hansonites, Luddites, levellers and luvvies—a veritable political witches' brew. But none of them represents the mainstream of the Australian community, and not one of them represents the point of view of the people who will actually trade and take advantage of this agreement. Nevertheless, we did have the old line dished up to us by the inhabitants of the political Noah's ark. It reminded me of nothing more than the debates we had in the early 1980s, when the Hawke government did what the Fraser government should have done, I must say—that is, liberalise the Australian economy—a course of action which the Howard government has continued.

But I decided to go back a bit further into history, because, prior to the US free trade agreement, I think we would all accept that the most important trade agreement that this nation ever entered into was the trade treaty with Japan in 1957. That was the treaty that underwrote the Australia-Japan economic relationship. Japan, in every year since 1967, has been Australia's No. 1 export market. For most years since 1971, the volume of trade between Australia and Japan has been larger than the volume of trade between Australia and any other nation. And the treaty that underwrote that beneficial economic relationship was the great Australia-Japan trade treaty of 1957.

And do you know what? What did the Labor Party do in relation to that treaty? They opposed it tooth and nail. When the then Minister for Trade, Sir John McEwen, introduced the treaty into the House of Representatives on 27 August 1957 and moved that the House take note of the treaty, it was opposed for six days of debate by the Labor Party. If the Labor Party had had their way then, just like the Left if they had their way today with this free trade agreement, we would never have had that treaty. We would never have had the foundation of the economic and trading relationship that this country has enjoyed with Japan in all the half century since. Look at the remarks that were made in that debate by Dr Evatt.

Senator McGauran —He was crazy!

Senator BRANDIS —Senator McGauran, there are certain similarities between the late Dr Evatt and the current Leader of the Opposition, it must be said. Dr Evatt said the treaty would have a `detrimental, disastrous' effect upon Australian industry. He accused the Menzies government of `deliberately sacrificing the industry of this country'. He condemned the treaty for its lack of safeguards.

Senator McGauran —Is this Latham or Evatt?

Senator BRANDIS —This is Dr Evatt—Mr Latham's strikingly similar predecessor in the office of Leader of the Opposition, an office from which, like Dr Evatt, I am sure Mr Latham will never rise. Dr Evatt said:

I submit that the treaty should not be adopted. From an Australian point of view it is a thoroughly bad treaty.

He also said that the safeguards were inadequate and that there had been inadequate consultation. Dr Evatt said:

If the House accepts such an agreement, it, in effect, condones economic aggression—

by Japanese companies against the Australian work force. These are the very same lines that have been trotted out in relation to this free trade agreement. He said:

The treaty represents a serious danger to the Australian industry—

that sees the `the interests of Australian workers' particularly in the manufacturing industry being `prejudiced' by the `aggressive action' of Japanese capital. He said:

... it is against the interests of ordinary people and especially of the employees of Australia.

Dr Evatt was followed in that debate by the redoubtable Mr Eddie Ward. Mr Ward was even more virulent in his condemnation of the Japan trade treaty. He had this to say at the conclusion of a long tirade. He said in his speech to the House of Representatives on 5 September 1957:

... the Australian Labour Party is urging the rejection of this infamous document ...

... ... ...

this criminal action against the Australian nation and the Australian people.

These are the very arguments, the very forebodings of economic disaster that we have heard lately from people on the Left and trendies wherever they happen to be on the political spectrum at any given time—you can never be sure. These are the same forebodings and doom-laden imprecations in almost the very same words that we have heard from sections of the Australian Labor Party in condemning the free trade agreement that we heard half a century ago explaining why the Japan treaty would be a disaster.

Now, fast forward 47 years to Melbourne on Monday, 7 June 2004 to the evidence of Mr Doug Cameron, the head of the AMWU, to the Senate inquiry on the free trade agreement.

Senator McGauran —Doc Evatt's love child.

Senator BRANDIS —The ghost of Dr Evatt; the ghost of Eddie Ward. Among other things he said that if the Australian government and the Australian parliament commit this country to the US free trade agreement they will be committing `economic treason'. That is almost word for word the same ignorant argument as was used half a century before. As Talleyrand once famously said of the Bourbons, so can we say of people like Mr Doug Cameron: `They have learnt nothing and they have forgotten nothing.' Today people like Mr Doug Cameron and the point of view he represents are about as relevant to our contemporary politics as would be a claimant to the Bourbon throne.

I have taken you at some length to that debate in 1957 because I want to remind the Senate that we have heard it all before—not only have we heard it all before but we have heard it in almost the same words before, two generations ago from the Luddites of the 1950s. If the Australian Labor Party had had their way in the 1950s, we would not have had the economically beneficial relationship with Japan that we now have. Perhaps in 50 years time somebody will reflect back on some of the extraordinary evidence given to the Senate committee and they will say, `They were wrong in 1957 and they were wrong in 2004 and they have learnt nothing since.' They have a mindset which is in its essentials hostile to the notion of free trade.

At least Senator Harris in his remarks yesterday was candid enough to say that the One Nation Party opposes free trade—those were his very words. But it is not just the One Nation Party; it is also the Luddites and the left-wing Hansonites of certain sections of the union movement—although not all of them and I should acknowledge, for example, the intelligent contribution made to this debate by Senator Ludwig's father, a very distinguished Queensland trade union leader, and many other more sensible members of the trade union movement.

I mentioned before Mr Doug Cameron as a kind of poster child of this retro ignorance. But my very poor view of Mr Doug Cameron is not one that I hold alone. This is what Mr Mark Latham said about Mr Doug Cameron and his agenda in an article he published in the Australian Financial Review a few years ago. Mr Mark Latham wrote this:

The key to neo-protectionists like Cameron ... is to decode their message. Having lost the Cold War, they are now using the bogy word “globalisation” to launch a new campaign against capitalism.

... ... ...

Given a choice between two Scotsmen ... follow Adam Smith, not Doug Cameron ...

Senator McGauran —Who was that again?

Senator BRANDIS —That was Mr Mark Latham, writing a few years ago, Senator McGauran. Yes, the same Mr Mark Latham who is now playing chicken with this trade treaty, trying to pull a political stunt, but who nevertheless, it must be said, has given his sanction to bipartisanship on this issue.

Madam Acting Deputy President, we have heard from many senators about the benefits of the treaty. Let me recite, for example, the benefits to my own state of Queensland—the Premier of which has been one of the most eloquent, unambiguous advocates of the adoption of the US free trade agreement. The state of Queensland, which is a mineral-exporting state and an agricultural-exporting state, will benefit enormously from this treaty—from the elimination, for example, of tariffs on the produce of the mining industry. Queensland exports to the United States almost $1 billion worth of beef, $88 million worth of aluminium, $41 million worth of lamb, $33.7 million worth of ships and boats and $24.9 million worth of medicines. My state, like every state in this Commonwealth, will be a huge beneficiary of this agreement. Yet there are still some—the unenlightened, the Hansonites, the Luddites, the trade union leaders like Mr Doug Cameron—who would deny this to the Australian people.

We heard evidence from a variety of witnesses at the Senate committee hearings. We heard evidence from a number of critics of the agreement. We heard the evidence of distinguished economists like Professor Ross Garnaut, who was a critic of the agreement but largely a critic of the process. Professor Garnaut did not say that the agreement was a bad thing for Australia. He advocated the view, which many in this chamber share, that multilateral trade treaties are better than bilateral trade treaties. That may well be so but not even Professor Garnaut was prepared to go so far as to say that it is a zero sum game, that bilateral trade treaties and multilateral trade treaties cannot sit together. Witnesses like Professor Garnaut deserved to be heard with respect, and they were and their evidence was carefully considered.

But I have to say that we also heard evidence from certain witnesses whose critique of the free trade agreement was based, once you scratched the surface, on a visceral, hostile anti-Americanism. No evidence was more so than that of two Sydney academics, Professor Weiss from the University of Sydney and Dr Thurbon from the University of New South Wales. These two commentators, representing themselves as experts in the politics of international economic relations, gave the Senate committee an undistinguished performance and presented a submission which, dressed up as a piece of scholarship, was unadorned by a single scholarly reference and was revealed within a moment to be nothing more than a flimsy polemic. They warned of a new era of economic serfdom. They said that the treaty was anti-Australian, and they gave evidence which revealed that their claimed credentials as experts were nothing more than camouflage for an ideological polemical rant.

The same, I am sorry to say, must be said of a gentleman who has been responsible for much of the misinformation about the effect on the PBS of this treaty, Dr Thomas Faunce. In his evidence to the Senate committee on 21 June he demanded that Australia stand up for human rights and not allow itself to become America's poodle. That was the degree of scholarly objectivity and calm, mature consideration that Dr Faunce gave to the treaty. But let me finish by quoting the evidence of a true expert, Australia's former Ambassador to the GATT, Mr Alan Oxley. He said on 5 May:

You asked, Chair, what would be the downside for Australia if we rejected the agreement. We would probably be regarded as the most bizarre country in the world ... I honestly do not know how any serious Australian government could justify—

rejection of this agreement to its people or—

to the world at large.

Senator Mackay —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. For the record, I think it is appropriate to point that it was not `Madam Acting Deputy President' in that instance. I think you would be appreciative of the fact that it was `Mr Acting Deputy President'. While we are at it, in the interests of intellectual rigour, I also point out that the French dynasty is not pronounced `Burbons' but actually `Borbons'.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman)—There is no point of order.