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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26121


Senator BROWN (12:18 PM) —What hopeless gobbledygook that is—that it will be open `wherever it appropriately can be achieved'. The provisions here leave it wide open for all the proceedings to be closed down where the commercial entity, the corporation, says it is a matter of confidence. That is why I asked the minister earlier whether freedom of information had reach into these committees. He went to seek legal advice on that; he did not know. Senator Hill said a while ago that he would expect that corporate personnel would not be appointed to the joint committee. He might expect whatever he likes. The fact is that the committee is set up to have appointments made without reference to the parliament by the Minister for Trade.

A whole raft of other committees are then set up under this joint committee to look at the implementation of the agreement on a whole range of things, from quarantine through to manufacturing. Their members are appointed down the line by this unknown person, the ayatollah of trade, who is appointed by the trade minister—the government, the executive—outside this parliament. The ayatollah has the ability to appoint a whole raft of other judge adjudicators, referees, who may or may not meet in secret—they have no real impediment to not meeting in the open if they do not want to; who may or may not receive written submissions from ordinary Australians and ordinary Americans who have no other avenue of access to this process; and who make deliberations based on the trade imperative, not on other matters that are equally important to Australians, like social outcomes or the impact on the land. And the whole thing is outside the reach of parliament. This Democrat amendment moves towards remedying that situation. We are simply getting no information from the government on the matter. We would be foolish to support a situation in which there is no definitive information coming from the government on these very important matters.

There is no good time to do this, but I ask the government what is happening with the Labor Party's amendments on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme regarding evergreening. Has an agreement been made? When is the Committee of the Whole going to be informed about that matter? Talk about delay and holding up the whole procedure; here are the government and the opposition doing so in abundance. The crossbench have to be able to look at carefully at these matters, with ample opportunity to seek our own expert advice on them. This is not just a sweetheart arrangement between Labor and the government, between Mr Latham and Prime Minister Howard; this is a matter to be put before this committee. It has obviously attracted a great deal of public attention. Unfortunately, the hugely important matters we are discussing with regard to this amendment are not going to get that public attention, but I congratulate the Democrats and Senator Ridgeway for moving the amendment and having this debate. At least it will be on record in the years to come. However, we have a right to hear from the government and/or the opposition what the state of play is regarding the amendments that, so late in this debate about the free trade agreement, have not yet been brought before the committee.