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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26435

Senator RIDGEWAY (11:08 PM) —by leave—On behalf of the Australian Democrats, I move amendments (1), (2), (4) and (24) on sheet 4361:

(1) Title, page 1 (lines 1 to 3), omit “Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, and for other purposes”, substitute “Restricted Trade Agreement”.

(2) Clause 1, page 1 (lines 6 and 7), omit “US Free Trade Agreement Implementation”, substitute “Restricted Trade Agreement”.

(4) Page 4 (after line 11), after clause 3, insert:

4 Protection of the national interest

(1) No action may be taken under this Act or its regulations that is contrary to Australia's national interest.

(2) For the purpose of this section, Australia's national interest means the:

(a) economic welfare; and

(b) social welfare; and

(c) environmental protection; and

(d) national cultural identity;

of Australia and the Australian people.

(24) Page 163 (after line 27), at the end of the bill, add:

Schedule 10Preservation of Australian national interests amendments

Broadcasting Services Act 1992

1 At the end of section 122


(5) In making determinations as to the appropriate level of Australian content, the Australian Broadcasting Authority must not have regard to any obligations under free trade agreements entered into by the Commonwealth Government.

National Health Act 1953

1 After section 100


100AAA Special Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listing

For the purpose of making decisions with regard to the listing of medications on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the Minister must give priority to the best interests of the Australian community and must not have regard to the interests of, or requests from, other nations or foreign companies.

Quarantine Act 1908

3 At the end of section 11C


(4) The interests of, or requests from, any other nation must not be taken into account when making determinations under the risk assessment process.

At the eleventh hour the Democrats have sought to change the name of the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 to the Restricted Trade Agreement Bill. We propose to change the name, because we have to be fearless and frank about what we have under the free trade agreement. It simply is not a free trade agreement; it is much less. I think that the government itself has agreed that this is nowhere near a completely free trade agreement. It leaves in place plenty of barriers and sets a dangerous precedent in a number of ways that will indicate to the world trading community the terms Australia is willing to accept in trade deals.

We went through a number of options when trying to decide the best name for this legislation. It is probably good to put a bit of humour into this debate right at the end. Some of the options that we considered were `The Unfair Trade Agreement Bill' and `The un-Australian Bill'—which was a particular favourite of mine. What authority do we have for such a statement? None other than the Deputy Prime Minister himself, Mr Anderson. This was a reference to his comments at the beginning of the year, when he said that `to accept a deal without sugar would be un-Australian'. That is what he said and that is what happened. Not a full week later the trade minister ticked off on a deal that did just that. The deal is un-Australian; it will harm our long-term trade interests in an economic, social, cultural and environmental sense. A final option was to rename the legislation the `51st State of America Transition Bill'. We made the considered judgment, however, that the government and the ALP were unlikely to accept any of these alternatives—or even the one that we chose—because that would be to admit the truth.

The government and the ALP know that this is a substandard deal that will do more harm than good to our country; nevertheless, they are all going to support it. They cannot deny, however, that this is not a free trade agreement or a fair trade agreement in the proper sense of the term. In February, when the deal was announced, the opposition leader, Mr Latham, said:

This is not a free trade agreement, it is not a free trade agreement at all, it's a partial trade agreement that from our assessment this morning is not in Australia's interest.

Later, whilst speaking on the Sunday program he described the free trade agreement as a `restricted trade agreement which is a major concern'. The government should agree that the title of this bill is misleading. It does infer that this deal will open up trade between our two countries when, in fact, it is all about opening up the areas America wanted and maintaining the restrictions that would have brought real gains to Australian producers. This is a restricted trade agreement—it is time that we called a spade a spade—which is why the Democrats are seeking to amend the title of the bill. I think the government have based most of their sales pitch relating to this FTA on the assumption that it will bring a significant economic benefit to Australia. They talk about the analysis, but they have not weighed up the costs in the process because they have not bothered to look at those questions.

While the Democrats believe that wide-ranging trade agreements of this nature should be assessed according to a broader set of criteria than mere economics, it is useful to look at the vastly divergent views about whether the government's loudly proclaimed benefits are ever likely to eventuate. We recognise that modelling is an inexact science and that there are a range of different assumptions that can be used to produce remarkably different results. However, I think the government have deliberately misled the Australian people with respect to the benefits of the deal. They have done so according to results from their own economic modelling study. It is useful therefore to consider the CIE report that the government are basing their projections on and to outline some of the shortcomings of the analysis.

The debate has probably been exhausted in terms of going through those issues, so I will not repeat them. I make the point in closing that we have to be genuine when we talk about the effect of the free trade agreement as subordinating the national interest to the interests of the United States. As I have said many times, social policy and, more particularly, health and IP policy and policy concerning the environment and culture have all been subjugated to the text of the free trade agreement. It will be the deciding factor as to how we deal with these crucial issues into the future. While we would expect the free trade agreement to be a great opportunity to carve out something unique, positive and progressive, we may get some winners and some losers. There are those who are happy and who will say that they will get some benefits from it. But, quite frankly, even when you consider the hoops which have to be jumped through in the various states for small and medium enterprises and the costs involved in doing that, I would imagine that they will come back to Australia and say, `Let's just deal here or deal in any other country.'

I will not delay the chamber anymore. I just wanted to give a very brief explanation about this particular issue. I do want to say finally that I appreciate the work done by Senator Hill and the officials who have stayed for the past couple of nights. I am sure that everyone has families and other commitments that they need to get to, but I thought I would acknowledge the work that has been done. Thank you.

Question negatived.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator McLucas)—The question is that item 1 in schedule 8 stand as printed.