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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26125

Senator BROWN (12:39 PM) —The Greens support the amendment. The minister is quite wrong in saying that this would bring a halt to it in four years time; that is not the intent. The intent is to ensure that before four years are up there will be a parliamentary debate to reiterate that all the good things that the minister is saying are true. If the government were confident about the propaganda it is putting forward about the free trade agreement, it would have no trouble with it. But the problem here is that it brings the parliament back into play.

Senator Hill —The act ceases to operate in four years.

Senator BROWN —Yes. Senator Hill is reading from the Democrat amendment which says the act would cease to operate after four years. But, Senator Hill, the intention of any sunset clause like that is to concentrate the minds of those who are involved in the agreement on getting around such an injunction by the parliament four years from now. Logically, a government would sit down and say, `Aha! This will end in four years. Let's bring in the legislation to enable it to keep going and to have the debate in parliament which would justify that.' The alternative to this mechanism and the alternative to voting it down simply says, `No, we don't want the parliament to review it.'

That is how sunset clauses work. It does not mean the end of things at all. It is a provision to insist that parliament revisit this matter three years from now, and it is very reasonable that parliament should do that. The problem underlying this, Senator Ridgeway, is that the government and the Labor Party do not want parliament to be involved with this down the line and that is why you are not going to get support for this amendment other than from the crossbench. They and the corporate sector know that this agreement ought to be kept outside parliamentary scrutiny in the future.

Senator Hill —Parliament can scrutinise it at any time it likes.

Senator BROWN —But there is no sunset clause in—

Senator Hill —You don't need a sunset clause in it.

Senator BROWN —So clever and bland—a typical statement from Senator Hill.

Senator Hill —I am stating the obvious.

Senator BROWN —`It can scrutinise it anytime it likes', except for this: it cannot do anything about it once it has scrutinised it; that is in the hands of the Prime Minister only. That is first up. Secondly, it cannot get the information that it wants to establish that scrutiny, because there is, from the joint committee down, a whole range of operative overseers of this free trade agreement which do not respond to parliament, are not transparent and, as we have just found, are beyond the reach of the laws of this country, including freedom of information.

Senator Hill —This government is very responsive—just look at the days and days of estimates committees. There are so many opportunities to ask about it.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Cherry)—Order! Would senators please speak through the chair.

Senator BROWN —I agree that the interjections from Senator Hill are disorderly and I should not respond to them, so I will respond to you, Mr Temporary Chairman. Let me make it clear though that the insouciant way in which Senator Hill just leans back in his chair and sends out word pictures saying, `Parliament will be able to look at this anytime it wants to'—

Senator Hill —That is correct, isn't it?

Senator BROWN —No, it is not because it is a disempowered parliament that looks at it. That is correct, isn't it, Senator?

Senator Hill —No, I think this parliament is very empowered.

Senator BROWN —Well, that is the problem. We have an intellectual disjuncture here, Mr Temporary Chairman. Senator Hill says he thinks this parliament is empowered. The Democrats have brought in an amendment which says, `Let's make sure of that so that in three years time there will be a review,' and he says, `No, I'll vote that down because that would empower the parliament.' That is the whole point here.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Ridgeway's) be agreed to.