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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26444

Senator HARRIS (9:02 AM) —I will not detain the chamber for any great period of time this morning, because it is very obvious that we have two sets of rules here. We have one set of rules that apply to America and we have a very different set of rules that apply to Australia and in relation to our legislation. I referred yesterday to a US document headed `US-Australia Free Trade Agreement—Questions and Answers About Pharmaceuticals'. Even though these references pertain to pharmaceuticals, I think it is worth while reiterating them this morning as they are relevant to the different outlook of the United States and the different position that it claims to be in in relation to this free trade agreement. One question that was put in that document is:

Does the U.S.-Australia FTA prevent Congress from passing drug re-importation legislation?

The answer is:

No. The FTA reflects current law in the United States.

It continues—and this is the important wording:

Nothing in this FTA or any other trade agreement prevents Congress from changing U.S. law in the future. Even if a dispute settlement panel found the U.S. acted inconsistently with the FTA, it could not require Congress to amend the law.

So we have both sides of the argument there. In other words, the Americans can have two bob each way. The Americans clearly say that they can change US law in the future if they want to, but they do not have to change US law even if a dispute panel finds that the US has acted inconsistently with the free trade agreement. Yet in the Australian media this morning we have the outstanding statements of the US Ambassador to Australia saying that if we make any amendments to the enabling legislation America may pull out of the deal. Is that a balance? Of course it is not. That is one set of rules for the United States and a totally different set of rules for Australia.

Speaking to the amendment that I have before the chair, there could be no issue with a higher priority for the Australian people than the environment. Yet each time the crossbenches have brought an amendment into this chamber to effectively protect workers' jobs, the environment or the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme they have been voted down. It has been said time and time again in this chamber by the government minister, Senator Hill, that we cannot alter any of this legislation, because it reflects our commitment under the treaty. Well, if we cannot why can the Americans? It should be a balance. What is good for the US should also be good for Australia.

The amendment I moved late last night is to protect the environment. Under this act or its regulations, any act or measure necessary, including by way of increasing customs tariffs, may be taken to protect the environment from the adverse impacts of imported products or produce. I commend the amendment to the chamber. It will be interesting to see whether the government and the opposition are again willing to put the environment of this nation before their commitment to getting the FTA through.

Question negatived.