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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31602

Mr BEAZLEY (9:28 PM) —The Minister for Trade, having listened to the debate on the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation (Customs Tariff) Bill 2004 for most of the day, would assume there would be few friends of this legislation in this House. From this side of the chamber there has been a degree of intelligent criticism and questioning of both the process and content of the legislation. The views that have been expressed deserve to be heard. The call for a more leisurely consideration also deserves to be heard.

Within the confines of the Labor Party I will be supporting this legislation. I am doing so conscious of the fact that the Labor Party will determine in its own conclaves whether this legislation stands or falls. That is the simple fact of the matter. It does not matter whether this legislation is put before or after the next election. That will be the case—it will be determined by the Labor Party whether or not this legislation carries. That is obvious to members of the government, as it is obvious to me.

Why do the members of the government make it so darn hard for members of the Labor Party to support this legislation? We have been subjected to vilification in question time after question time; the supporting base of the Labor Party has been subjected to vilification in question time after question time in this place. It is almost as though those who proposed this legislation do not believe in it—that those who proposed this legislation, having entered into those negotiations, are in fact disappointed with their handiwork. They felt that they could have done much better and felt they deserved to do much better and so, if it is not going to be a good trade agreement for this nation, it might as well be a useful tool to whip the Labor Party with in the period three months before an election. It is as though they believe that. One of the reasons I will be supporting this legislation—and it is a minor reason—is that I know the trade minister does not feel that way himself. But by golly his colleagues do! There are many of his colleagues along that front bench who are deeply disappointed with what the United States has been prepared to lay on the table in dealing with us now.

We are approaching this legislation very much as though we are the frog at the bottom of the pond looking upwards and not the fellow outside the pond looking down to those within it. From an American point of view, looking at this legislation and looking at the current trading arrangement with Australia, there is scarcely a product the United States cannot place in this country at a competitive price. There is scarcely a thing the United States cannot do in this country in terms of its investments and in terms of the product that it sells that it cannot do with as much ease here as the average American can do in the United States. That is why there is a trade imbalance in favour of the United States in the global trading system in relation to us that makes up to a very considerable degree for the poor trade balance the United States earns with many other countries with whom it trades. So there is, from the American point of view, very little to be gained in a trade agreement with Australia. Why bother, when you can place anything you want to place in Australia, make any investment you want to make or sell anything you want to sell to this country at a competitive price? Indeed, many in the United States say precisely this. We know that it is very hard to get many Australian products on a competitive basis in the United States market—particularly manufactured products, particularly if they are defence related products, particularly if they are products that compete with a major, powerful American industry. We know this. We know that we are the subject of anti-dumping laws and all other forms of treatment which makes life extraordinarily hard for us.

I attempted from time to time, when I was defence minister, to get products sold into their market. I almost always failed. It is a very difficult thing to do, even with this agreement going through—and it would much improve the situation. One of the biggest industries in my electorate—and it borders my electorate and that of Carmen Lawrence, the member for Fremantle—is shipbuilding. We do that, in niche terms, massively competitively in an unsubsidised way. But if the firms who are now offering to the United States what they call their littoral ships are to deliver them to the American Marine Corps and the American navy, which they probably will do, they have to enter into partnership with General Dynamics and produce them in the United States. The Jones act still applies, no matter what the fate of this legislation here or of legislation in the United States. So great Australian intellectual property, great Australian naval architects and great Australian naval engineers, will place their brains on the banks of the Mississippi, and American workers will produce the product of their brains.

But many in the United States do fear this agreement. They fear it because they know their situation is vastly more protected in dealing with us than ours is in dealing with them. They know that, over time, this will permit penetration of the American market by a first-class economy, not a second-class economy. They have their trade relationship with Canada, but I would place that on exactly the same plane as ours with New Zealand: there is an issue there of kin and there is an issue there of geography. They are a single economic entity as we are a single economic entity with the New Zealanders. So exclude Canada. When you take Canada out of the equation, this is the first trade arrangement of this type they have done with a first-class power: a power with workers as skilled as theirs or better skilled, workers more multiskilled than their workers, researchers more effectively niched than their researchers and engineers more effectively educated than their engineers—and all at about one-third of the price of theirs.

The people you talk to in the United States about this trade agreement cannot believe that there would be any opposition in Australia. I can think of a whole variety of good reasons why there should be. But they cannot believe it. They cannot believe there would be any opposition in Australia, because they assume that, once this is put in place, every barrier that is left will be torn down at some point of time over the course of the next decade. They would regard the disappointing result for agriculture as a foot in the door—a door that will ultimately be kicked wide open. In the United States they know that they are going to have some of their most treasured protections stripped away by a nation that is capable of ripping the veil right off when it comes to dealing with the many and varied different mechanisms for protecting the position that have been organised by different American industries over the years. Once we are in the door, it is an Australian Trojan Horse that has just marched in.

Having said that, obviously any agreement like this needs to be viewed not simply in terms of long-term prospects—because in the end, in the long term, we are all dead—but in terms of what it delivers right now. It is true that this parliament has not had a proper opportunity to evaluate this. It is true that there has been a committee process under way in the Senate which should have been concluded before we concluded on these matters. So everything I say carries with it this caveat: I have not seen the good advice of the quality individuals who are serving on that Senate committee, and I certainly would want to before I took any ultimate decision on this legislation before us now.

But one aspect of the debate which is not going to influence my vote at all unless it is in a slightly hostile direction is this: this has nothing to do with the United States alliance and ought to have nothing to do with the United States alliance. This has nothing to do with Australian participation in the Iraq war and ought to have nothing to do with the Australian participation in the Iraq war. We Australians do not buy with our blood economic opportunities. We Australians make decisions on these matters on the basis of what we believe is the right thing to do globally and the right thing to do in defence of the Australian national interest.

As a person who was an assistant defence minister and defence minister of this country for seven years and then served on the security committee of cabinet for another six years, I cannot convey to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the sense of disappointment and frustration that I feel that this is placed within the context of the alliance relationship with the United States. In defending the joint facilities and the critical role they played in the global balance during the era of the Cold War—and still play in the defence of this nation and the defence of the United States—year after year I was obliged to go out there and argue with Australian farmers and the many others who have reasonable grievances, economically, against the United States about their demands. They argued that I should incorporate those demands within our discussions on renegotiating the ANZUS alliance, as the responsibility fell to me and Bill Hayden, after the New Zealanders wrote themselves out of it. At that point of time it was seen as a decisive opportunity by many in our farming community to ramp into those negotiations their really genuine, heartfelt grievances about the way in which they were treated by the United States collectively in terms of the perversion of international markets in which they were so strongly competitive. I had to say to them, `Listen, I do not mind talking to our American counterparts about these matters, and of course I will. But don't think for one moment that it is going to enter my conversation with them that if they not do what we ask them to do I'm going to pull the plug on Pine Gap. That will not be said by me.'

Nor would it be said by me in the contemporary era that we will decide to go to war in Iraq or we will go into Afghanistan if you do the right thing by us in this trade agreement. This trade agreement is not worth the life of a single Australian. Other issues may be worth those lives and historically have been, but not the trading arrangements between Australia and the United States—or for that matter global trading arrangements generally. To me it is an extraordinarily damaging thing to go out there now and argue that somehow or other we do not have the freedom to arrive at reasonable judgments on this matter because, if we arrive at a judgment in some way hostile to or critical of this, it will collapse the relationship with the United States.

While the two ought not to be interlinked, we have to accept the fact that, whether or not we feel happy about the character of the relationship, it is always going to be there in any argument about a military relationship with a power. If scores of Australians walk away unhappy with this and with a feeling that the government signed on to it only because it was a reward for a war with which they disagree, or if they feel that they are obliged to bear a burden as a result of the unsatisfactory features of this agreement because it was necessary to do it to uphold that alliance which was deemed important for other reasons, there will be no alliance with the United States within a decade. It will not stand. That alliance relationship stands because many in government make judgments about the Australian national interest and the fact that it serves it. But it also stands because Australians believe their relationship with the United States is a matter of fair dealing. Australians believe that, in entering a relationship with the United States, we are entering a relationship with a people who are roughly compatible with us in outlook and views about life.

If you do not like the government of the day in the United States, they might not like ours. If you do not like their opposition, they might not like ours. But you know that at the end of the day the process will produce from time to time governments in the United States which every single Australian will have agreements with. But suppose you put a poison into that relationship. Suppose you tell a sugar farmer that, whatever the government has been prepared to give them to come on side, and despite their disappointment with it, they have to lie down in their disappointment. If they come to believe that in lying down with their disappointment they will have to sell their farm and leave it, that is connecting this directly with the alliance, and that means that there is one individual out there poisoned against the totality of the alliance relationship instead of simply the character of this agreement.

I think Australian actors misconceive in many of their views about the potential impact of this agreement. The United States could sell a great deal more in entertainment product to this country. We way exceed in our television and film industry regulations any criteria put in place to protect Australian content. The Australian people have made decisions and will always make decisions in favour of Australian-produced content, so those views are misconceived. If those very influential actors and actresses believe—however misguidedly—that they are being sacrificed on the altar of a power play which is outside the character of this agreement, watch out!

We will not always find things so easy, in dealing with the United States, as we have found now. And we are finding it less easy these days than we have for the last few years. If we create a constituency of intelligent people in this country whose participation in the work force and capacity to earn their living is in some way hampered by arriving at this agreement then we create a constituency which, in a certain set of circumstances, could well undermine an alliance which is critical to us for other reasons.

I am about to support these bills—and, as I said, there are caveats in this—because, on balance, I think it allows us to more effectively penetrate the American market than we can at this point in time. But I am going to look at the provisions on pharmaceuticals very carefully when the Senate reports. As far as I can see, the Americans can pretty much do anything they please in this country as things stand now, so the balance of benefits has to work in the long term for us in those circumstances. That is the reason I am considering supporting these bills and arguing within the party conclaves that we all should.

I will miss no opportunity to deprecate those in the government who in this place—and I do exempt one of the ministers at the table from this—have said to us that this is a test of where we stand in terms of the military relationship this country has with the United States. That has nothing to do with it. If this treaty falls in a Senate or House vote in the United States in the next three weeks, I will think no less of the alliance. If the American people rejected this, I would be disappointed but I would not assume that their rejection meant that we would not have a military relationship with them, and I think the reverse consideration applies. We should discuss this in the next month on the merits of the proposition before us and on no other grounds.