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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26113

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (11:40 AM) —The government will not be supporting this amendment. As in all matters, the government submits itself and its actions to the scrutiny of parliament and the Australian people. Senator Ridgeway will well know, far better than I, the processes that are available in this parliament to inquire into any action of the government, be those processes the special committees, the regular committees or the estimates committee processes. This government is the most accountable, I would suggest, of any government anywhere in the world, with the number of committees and the opportunities for parliamentarians to consider, investigate and question the executive on any aspect of any government activity, and that certainly will include the free trade agreement with the US.

We expect that any issues with the operation of this bill or the agreement will be raised with the Minister for Trade or his department on an ongoing basis throughout the life of the agreement. Where relevant, these issues will be pursued with the United States in the annual joint committee process. In addition, the government will be able to consider whether there is any value in undertaking specific reviews of the operation of the agreement. Senator Ridgeway may be aware that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has recommended that the Productivity Commission undertake a review in five years time. There have also been recommendations about a more detailed environmental review. These recommendations can be considered in the light of experience with the agreement, and any reviews conducted could be tailored to any particular concerns raised about the operation. I think there will be ample opportunity for any parliamentarian to raise any issue in the normal processes of this parliament. For those reasons, the government will not be supporting the amendment.