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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 123


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (19:02): I also rise to speak to the report as presented by the chair, Senator Gallacher, and make the point that the coalition senators placed additional comments but did not dissent at all from the primary report. We had no difficulty with the recommendation on deferring undertaking binding treaty action, because, as the chair has said, the United States of America has at this moment, disappointingly, withdrawn from the process, but we hope that will not be a permanent decision. As to the second recommendation, that of expediting widely supported reforms, I point again to that comment made by Senator Gallacher. As a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, we endorse two particular areas in the treaty-making process. The first is the approach to free trade agreement negotiations to permit security-cleared representatives from business and civil society to view the government's position as part of negotiations—remembering that it is within the capability of people here in the parliament by signing a confidentiality agreement, as indeed is the case with the United States and other legislatures. It has been offered, but not accepted, by some members of the committee. The second one, as illustrated by Senator Gallacher, is the provision of independent modelling and analysis of the proposed trade agreements. Coalition senators endorse both of those recommendations.

But in so doing, I want to make the very strong point that this a trading nation. We are a population of 24 million people in a land mass equal to that of continental USA with the exception of Alaska. We have always relied on external trade. We will continue to rely economically, socially, community-wise and employment-wise on our capacity to trade internationally. It is where we are expert. We are regionally so phenomenally well placed now in the fastest growing area in the world, the Asian region. The 12 partners that undertook these TPP negotiations for five years account for some 40 per cent of world economic activity. Have those who are opposed to the progress of these negotiations on Australia's behalf stopped to think about where Australia might be if we were denied the opportunity to participate in that 41 per cent?

But even since the Senate directed the committee to look into this issue, we have now had in the United Kingdom the decision by the UK community to depart from the EU, through what is called Brexit, and that is going to open up both enormous challenges and enormous opportunities for Australia. We need to be flexible and we need to be innovative in our capacity to maximise what were once very lucrative trading opportunities with the UK before they went into the EU. One need only think of the circumstances with the sale of horticultural products out of Senator Polley's home state of Tasmania, with the export of apples and pears that went to the UK markets pre the EU, so there are tremendous opportunities there.

We know that the new President of the United States, President Trump, has at this time taken the United States away from the TPP, at a time when most of the US Congress—Republicans and Democrats, senators and members of the House of Representatives—were in favour of a Trans-Pacific Partnership. I want to draw attention not to the Asian representatives of the TPP, not to New Zealand, with whom we already have a very strong trading relationship, but to our opportunities in Central and South America, our opportunities in Mexico to radically improve free trade between our two countries. We know where the benefits are and will be between ourselves and Mexico: in horticultural products, in dairy products, in wine, in mining products and services, in oil and gas, and in TAFE and higher education. I for one am very strongly, privately and publicly, urging the trade minister to continue what has been started—by this particular chamber, in fact—to actually see where our opportunities lie with Mexico. And of course Peru and Chile are also participants in the TPP.

For example, concern is expressed about some of the standards. Well, I think the best way to see standards of labour relations, occupational health and safety, and environmental advancement in many of the countries with whom we relate would be through a TPP so that countries like Brunei and Vietnam would have the opportunity to improve in those areas. The investor-state dispute settlement process is one that exercises the minds of a lot of people. Well, I say again, as I have said in this place before: when you have yourself done business and traded in other countries without some degree of protection, the ISDS provision not only exists for others wanting to do business with Australia but also gives Australian business the protection that is necessary when trading and dealing in other countries. That never, ever seems to come to the fore.

And great discussion went on previously in ISDS relations about the capacity of a tobacco company to take the Australian government through the processes and to get compensation. Well, it is amazing how quiet everybody went when indeed those matters were dealt with and under the ISDS provisions that company failed. For those who are interested, our joint standing committee met in Perth and we had evidence from the lawyer who represented the tobacco company in all of those negotiations. And for those who really genuinely do want some information on ISDS and how it works, his evidence to the committee and his submission is enlightening, and he certainly came away with the view—very strongly, although he represented the other side in that dispute—and the advice to the committee that these are very sound provisions to have in the process.

So, I conclude my remarks by saying that coalition senators concur with the recommendations that have come through from the report but very, very strongly want to place on record that Australia's interests lie best in continuing our trading relations with other countries. And we need look no further than to the advances and the benefits that have been made in recent times through the excellence of negotiations of then trade minister Andrew Robb in the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement and the agreement with South Korea. We are already seeing enormous benefits, which are flowing through to employment, to trading activity, to economic benefit and to further investment. I commend the report.