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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4942

Senator Brown asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice, on 8 August 2002:

(1) What steps, if any, does the Government intend to take towards giving a commitment: (a) to begin, without delay, a campaign of informing the Australian public, in practical terms, about the implications of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) treaty; and (b) to maintain the public dissemination of information as stages in the completion of GATS occur.

(2) (a) Is the Minister aware of the view that, while Australia is a signatory to the GATS treaty the threat perceived as implicit to the integrity and sovereignty of national Parliament is paramount; and (b) how can the Government sustain its decision to continue its membership of GATS, when foreign investors propose to sue the Government, through the World Trade Organization, on the grounds of claims that government legislation or regulations were `more burdensome that necessary', as stated on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's program, Background Briefing, on 23 June 2002.

Senator Hill (Minister for Defence) —The Minister for Trade has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) (a) The Government is keeping the Australian community informed about progress in the GATS negotiations, and regularly provides opportunities for public input and views on Australia's negotiating positions. The Minister for Trade chairs the WTO Advisory Group comprising experts from industry, non-government organisations, trade unions and academia, which meets regularly to provide advice on Australia's interests across the whole WTO agenda including GATS. The Minister has also twice recently called for public submissions on the WTO negotiations, in July 2001 and again in April 2002. The Minister's press release on 1 July 2002 also provided a detailed overview of Australia's initial GATS requests.

In addition the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade conducts broad based consultations with industry, NGOs and community groups in the development of Australian negotiating positions for the WTO. The DFAT web site includes a weekly bulletin on the Doha negotiations and regular reports on the GATS negotiations.

(b) The Government will continue to inform and consult with the Australian community as the GATS negotiations unfold, consistent with the need to respect the confidentiality of information provided by other Governments and to able to conduct the negotiations efficiently and in the national interest.

(2) (a) The GATS provides explicitly for the right to regulate by Member Governments, and this right was reaffirmed in Paragraph 7 of the Ministerial Declaration adopted in Doha on 14 November 2001. Any amendments to Australia's GATS commitments will be subject to the standard treaty review processes of the Parliament.

(b) As with all WTO treaties, the GATS only confers rights on Member Governments: The private sector has no standing and no legal rights in the WTO and cannot launch a dispute to “sue” member governments.