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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26446

Senator BROWN (9:21 AM) —Here we have, at the end of a long debate, a very simple concluding point—that is, the Labor Party are going to join with the coalition in a moment to put through the enabling legislation for the US-Australia free trade agreement. It has been a long debate but what has emerged, above all, is the loss of sovereignty of our nation of Australia. In every avenue, in every component, of this legislation—from quarantine to health, to manufacturing, to intellectual property, to protecting our culture, to agriculture and to the environment—this nation is disempowered. This parliament is disempowered by the big parties assenting to legislation which puts arbitration on a whole range of matters into the hands of an appointed judicial system beyond the reach of our courts.

The free trade agreement, after this, is beyond the reach of this parliament. It cannot even be terminated by the parliament—that is up to the Prime Minister and the President of the United States. It cannot be altered by the parliament—that is up to the President and the Prime Minister. The arbitration system under this joint committee, and several other committees yet to be appointed by the Prime Minister and the President, is beyond the reach of this parliament, not open to scrutiny by this parliament. Its determinations—whether in relation to cutting back the Australian cultural content of films, lowering our quarantine barriers, harsher and more expensive intellectual property restrictions or the import of manufactures resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs for Australian workers—are beyond the reach of appeal in our courts and do not come to this parliament to be vetted. We are disempowered by the Latham Labor opposition and the Howard government of the day.

This morning we got a message from the United States trade department which said: `You passed an amendment in your parliament in Canberra, down-under, last night. We'll see. We'll let you know a bit later whether or not that's acceptable.' There is nothing this parliament can do about it, because it has been disempowered by the Rt Hon. John Howard and Mark Latham.

Senator Brandis —Australia's got the same right, Senator Brown.

Senator BROWN —We await the pleasure of the US department of trade to tell this parliament whether or not its legislation is acceptable. The barking dog opposite is barking at the wrong person. I stand here on behalf of the Greens and this crossbench in defence of the sovereignty of this country, sold out by the Labor Party and sold out by the Howard coalition to faceless people in the department of trade, Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the drug corporations in New England. They are empowered. This parliament and our courts are disempowered.

Senator Brandis —Australia's got exactly the same right to do that.

Senator BROWN —The barking dog opposite says: we've got the same rights they've got. What he means is that the corporations have the same rights. Try to get to this unelected, faceless joint committee and its subcommittees, and the best an Australian or an ordinary American can do is write a letter—that is it, full stop. The corporations will be in there with their lawyers, but the ordinary people will be locked out. What a black day for democracy this is. What a black day for Australia's sovereignty this is—defended honourably by the crossbench but sold out by the big parties, the Labor Party along with the Howard government.

The press gallery has been concentrating on that minor pharmaceutical amendment, of which the Americans now say, `You have to wait and see whether that's allowable.' But the big picture—that this legislation moves our sovereignty out of this parliament into the clutches of the multinationals and the appointed ayatollah of trade, appointed without any comeback from this parliament—makes this, in my books, a derogation of the duty of every parliamentarian to defend our sovereignty. The Americans are not giving up their right to legislate as they want to. When will our department of trade send a message to congress saying: `We've vetted your legislation. We'll determine some time down the line whether or not it's good enough'? Can you imagine that happening? The US department of trade says, on the very first day that this trade agreement gets settled in this parliament: `Well, Canberra, hang on here. The drug companies and the United States haven't made a decision yet. What your parliament says doesn't stand until they've ticked it off.' It is disgusting.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Brown, three times in your contribution you did use unparliamentary language to another senator. I did not interrupt the flow of your speech, but I ask you to withdraw. You were referring to Senator Brandis using unparliamentary language, and I would ask you to withdraw.

Senator BROWN —What reference was made?

The PRESIDENT —You accused Senator Brandis of being a barking dog, which is unparliamentary. I did not want to interrupt your speech while you were speaking, and I ask you to withdraw that comment.

Senator BROWN —My canine sensitivities make me withdraw that comment at your pleasure, President.