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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26210

Senator BROWN (6:22 PM) —That is an extraordinary statement. The government say that this amendment is redundant because they are going to protect everything. I have in front of me a press release from Minister Vaile, no less, that says:

Our right to ensure local content in Australian broadcasting and audiovisual services, including in new media formats, is retained.

It says that the Prime Minister has said the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will not be affected, and on it goes. The Greens put it in written form to validate those assurances in the parliament and to get the government to vote for it, but the government said, `We won't.' The government are not believable, and the government know they are not believable. The minister said this would be outside the terms of the agreement or implies that it would in some way infringe the agreement. No, it does not. The United States government writes reservations like this, interpretive components, into about one in five of all the agreements it enters into.

It is not new for the Labor Party either. I have here a similar reservation that was written into such an arrangement by a former minister for trade, Peter Cook. The fact is that you would expect this from the government. The government is doing Australia in and it does not want an amendment like this, which would prevent that from happening and would make Australia's interests safe. It is codswallop for the minister to say that this would be outside the terms of the agreement. If you accept that, what an indictment it is on the government that this parliament cannot make an interpretive arrangement which says, `All these faceless organisations, which are set up under the free trade agreement to arbitrate between the two administrations and on behalf of the multinational corporations, have to bring their judgments into this parliament and get them validated.' The government hates that. This government hates parliamentary process. This government loves executive power—the Prime Minister adores executive power—but it will not empower the parliament. This is disempowering the parliament.

But what about the Labor Party? The Labor Party hopes to win the election in about a month's time. This amendment says that the Labor Party will uphold what it has been fighting for in its argument about the free trade agreement. It might be all right for Senator Hill to say, `Trust us, none of these bad things will come to pass,' but Labor Party supporters and members have been out there arguing about this for months. I have to put it to the Labor Party: why would you not support an amendment like this, which fully empowers a new Labor government, if there is one in the next month or two, to make the declarations that carry into effect Labor policy on local content, health, public safety, the environment and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme?

In his one contribution, Senator Sherry said, `We are doing it through the evergeening amendment,' which this chamber has not seen yet and which is being negotiated with Prime Minister Howard at the moment. The clause not only does that but also covers the other component of concern about the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme—that is, the free trade agreement sets up an arbitration system, a review system. In America—if I heard Four Corners properly—that is seen as an appeals system that will allow big American pharmaceutical companies to attack decisions by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to either not adopt drugs or to limit the price on drugs. The Labor Party amendment being negotiated with Prime Minister Howard at the moment does nothing about that loophole. It does nothing about that potential threat to prices under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, but this Greens' amendment does. How can Labor not support it?

This is Labor's opportunity to put its stamp onto this free trade agreement in the wake of the election victory that Labor surely aspires to. The only other interpretation you can put on not supporting this interpretive clause amendment from the Greens is that the Labor Party—except for its evergreening amendment and its very restricted local content amendment that Prime Minister Howard has agreed to, because they do not fuss him—is heading, lock, stock and barrel with the Howard government into this free trade agreement with its eyes wide open and disregarding the constituencies out there that are rightly worried about their disempowerment under this agreement not just now, not just 10 years from now but 100 years from now, with parliament unable to call it back.

Just today, Labor voted against a Democrat amendment which would have seen a review of this legislation, and therefore the free trade agreement, some years from now. The Labor Party stands indicted. The Labor Party is supposed to be a party of social justice and democracy. This amendment has social justice and democracy written into it against the powerful interests of the big end of town—the big corporate sector—which has everything going for it. We have a vulnerable Australia and a vulnerable democratic process—a sidelined democratic process—under the legislation and under the free trade agreement as it stands. Where is Labor on this? How could Labor be so cosy with Prime Minister Howard, the government and George W. Bush and his administration at the expense of the Australian people and our interests that it will not even support an amendment that says, `Where faceless organisations set up under the free trade agreement make deliberations, they shall come back to the parliament and this parliament will decide whether or not they are good for this country'? This amendment is an Australian amendment. It is for Australia's interests, and the Labor Party is going to vote it down. Labor senators should think about that over dinner.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

Senator BROWN —I want to ask the Labor Party about Mr Latham's commitment to fixing up this free trade agreement by saying that we will have two amendments now, one on part of the problem with pharmaceuticals and one on part of the problem with local content, and by saying, `We'll fix the rest after the election.' This Greens' amendment is the prescription for fixing the rest after the election. I ask the opposition: if it is not going to support this amendment, what is its program and plan, its strategy for fixing all the other problems that it knows are in this free trade agreement?