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Monday, 9 August 2004
Page: 25960

Senator CONROY (9:44 PM) —I can understand Senator Brown's frustration at the process. The Labor Party has said consistently that the process involved in this free trade agreement has been unsatisfactory. There has not been enough consultation and public discussion on this. I can understand Senator Brown's frustration, because Senator Brown and Senator Nettle tried to get onto the Senate Select Committee on the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the United States of America so they could participate in the discussions. But, in what can only be described as a very despicable act, the Democrats voted with the government to knock the Greens off the committee. I can understand Senator Brown's frustrations at the Democrats' behaviour, which excluded the Greens from the process. It was very disappointing.

As you would know, Senator Brown, the Labor Party voted for you. It is probably one of the few times in my life that I would ever vote for you or Senator Nettle, but we voted for the Greens to be represented on the committee. So I understand your frustration at you and Senator Nettle not getting an opportunity to be part of this debate. I can only suggest that you have a look behind you at who tried to ensure that you did not get a voice and an opportunity to participate. I would have welcomed your participation in the limited process that was available to the Senate. Labor welcomed your support of the Senate select committee, which the government was initially very reluctant to support.

The Labor Party has consistently stated its concerns about this process, and it has consistently written reports. Senator Cook recently wrote a Senate committee report on the failings of the current system, and he made a whole string of recommendations. Many of those were picked up in the ALP national platform. Labor has said that, in the future, it would support environmental impact statements beforehand and much more public consultation. I am happy to table the ALP national platform document and some of the recommendations around those EIS issues that the Labor senators put in their report from the Senate select committee.

When the Labor Party are in government, we will go down that path, because we do agree with Senator Brown that these are important issues. As to whether we are prepared to stop this process coming into force, I suspect not. Unfortunately this government has controlled the process. It has abused the process and it has ensured that many Australians have not had their chance to have a voice. We have committed publicly, if Labor are elected to government, to a proper process involving environmental impact statements, regional impact statements and all those sorts of issues that are dear to your heart, Senator Brown. I hope that clarifies our position for you. Hopefully, with the election of a Labor government in the next couple of months, we will see an opportunity to put those processes in place so the sort of abuse that this government has been involved cannot happen again.