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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26217

Senator HARRIS (8:01 PM) —I rise to speak to the Greens' amendment (1) on sheet 4377 headed `Reservation to agreement'. In brief, it covers the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, environment and health laws, local content, quarantine and a disallowance process. Not inferring that any one of those issues is more paramount than another, it is the disallowance process that the Greens are putting forward that I would like to speak to briefly. To have a disallowance process in an act enabling a trade agreement brings all the regulations and the changes before this chamber for scrutiny. Bringing them into this chamber by way of a disallowance motion allows senators time to go to their respective states throughout Australia and consult the public on their support for or opposition to the particular instruments.

When looking at the Greens' amendment in its entirety we have to have an understanding of what is happening here. The government has brought in the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004. What does it actually do? It brings to a conclusion only one of the stages in relation to this free trade agreement. The American side of the process required that a bill be passed by the Senate and Congress and then be signed by President George Bush. That ratified the agreement. That was the conclusion of the American side of the process—it is completed. In Australia, it is my understanding that all relevant enabling legislation that the executive deems necessary to uphold our good faith obligations under the agreement needs to be passed and granted royal assent. After that the executive government ratifies the agreement. That is the process we are gradually working towards. The actual date for ratification by Australia and the coming into effect of the agreement is 1 January 2005. That begs the question: why is it so important to have this piece of legislation completed this week?

To get an understanding of that we need to look at broader issues. In Australia we are facing a federal election and that, obviously, is very clearly in the back of the government's mind. They would like to see this legislation bedded down and passed before they go into this election. Why would the Labor Party, equally, be so eager to see this outcome? I believe the answer to that lies in some figures—and these are public figures; they are available on the Australian Electoral Commission's web site.

The following figures are from receipts for donations to political parties in the year 2000-01. During that year, the government disclosed to the Electoral Commission a very healthy amount of $22,393,834 in donations. The National Party received $6,649,815. Collectively, the government—the Liberal and National parties—received, in round figures, $29 million. What is amazing is the amount donated to the Labor Party—it exceeds that of both the Liberal Party and the National Party. I believe that therein lies the eagerness of the Labor Party to assist in passing this legislation.

The Labor Party received $31,957,331. Every one of those dollars is a very good incentive for them to go into an election, saying to their corporate donators: `We delivered the FTA for you as well.' We do not have converging politics in Australia; it is converged politics. The same people who are making these donations to the political parties are lobbying for the FTA. Is it any wonder that we have the government and the Labor Party concurring on the outcome of this bill?

Let us come back to the Greens' amendment and its significance. It states:

Before the entry into force of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (the Agreement), the Commonwealth is required by this section to make a reservation or interpretive declaration in the terms set out in subsections (2) to (10).

Whether it be the Liberal Party or the Labor Party in government after the next election, the amendment would require them to come into this chamber before 1 January and lay on the table the outcomes of this agreement. That is why tonight we have both the government and the opposition opposing the amendment by the Australian Greens.

Let us look at another document on this agreement. An article on USINFO.STATE. GOV—International Information Programs—titled `Trade pact: a milestone in US-Australian relations' states:

The President signs the free trade agreement, eliminating most tariffs.

The article then goes on to quote President Bush:

That is the largest immediate reduction of tariffs on manufactured goods ever achieved in an American free trade agreement ...

That statement by the President of the United States of America is America's view of what they have achieved in the Australian-US free trade agreement. I will repeat it: `... the largest immediate reduction of tariffs on manufactured goods ever achieved in an American free trade agreement'. Why wouldn't they be pleased with the outcome? But the effect on Australian workers will be absolutely devastating—and I think in this chamber we have given enough examples from NAFTA. The article goes on to say:

America's manufacturers estimate that eliminating these tariffs will increase the export of manufactured goods by nearly $2 billion per year. That will mean new jobs for American workers.

That is not an overall $US2 billion improvement for the life of the agreement. The Americans are claiming that they will achieve an additional $2 billion per year and that it will mean new jobs for American workers. The article continues:

This agreement opens important sectors of Australia's economy such as telecommunications, government procurements, express delivery, computers, tourism, energy, construction, financial services and entertainment.

Yes, some of those are currently open to America.

Senator Conroy —The President also said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Did you believe that?

Senator HARRIS —It is not contained in this document. The free trade agreement means more than eliminating tariffs on existing trade. The document goes on to say:

We must also work to open up new sectors of our economy to competition and trade.

On the American side, they have very clear impressions and anticipations of what they are going to gain from this agreement. That is why it is absolutely critical that the reservation contained in the amendment goes into the agreement. We have to get some protection for Australia's sovereignty and for the jobs of Australian workers.

I will return briefly to the significance of the disallowance sections. The disallowance process was brought into this chamber—not this physical one—in 1901. Our forefathers saw the necessity to have the decisions that are made by both levels of government exposed to public critique. For 100 years—with some alterations, I must admit—the Acts Interpretation Act has done its job. One of the major sections of the Acts Interpretation Act is the disallowance section. It is absolutely paramount that these safeguards, these pressure valves, are placed into this agreement. One Nation place on record our support of the Greens' amendments.