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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26449


Senator HARRIS (9:36 AM) —In making my comments in relation to the US-Australia free trade agreement I want to place very strongly on the record that One Nation is not anti-American. This is not about saying we should not have a trade deal with America; it is about saying this is the wrong deal with America. Australia is a small economy about to be swamped by a tidal wave called the US economy. We have just seen the ALP vote against One Nation's amendment to protect workers' jobs in Australia. But the ALP will not worry. They are not a labour party; they are a liberalised party—a party for big business, just like the Liberals and Nationals. They are no longer supporters of workers and—very sadly—they will sit back and see jobs destroyed.

Under this agreement, workers will be laid off. Workers will unbolt the very machines that they have worked for years and years, dismantle them, put them into shipping containers and send them overseas along with their jobs. Jobs are not statistics. They are a lifeline for our families. And yet we have an agreement that will see huge job losses over the coming decades.

Still unanswered is the question of the impact of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Australia has now, to all intents and purposes, signed up to the US-Australia free trade agreement. I ask each senator in this chamber in the vote on the third reading of this bill: are you taking into account the fact that America is moving into a free trade agreement that will cover the whole of America—North America and South America? That is 800 million people. Australia's economy is going to be competing against the strength and the economies of scale of 800 million Americans. God help us, because we are going to need it.

Why haven't we had a conscience vote on this issue? Why can't each senator be allowed to voice their opinion for the constituents that they represent. We are friends when it counts, but friends do not slavishly follow the free trade economic model that has hurt so many American, Canadian and Mexican people. We should not subject our own country to that same treatment.

When we have a decision by the Labor Party and the Liberal and National parties to pass this agreement, we know emphatically that they are not poles apart, as they will try to imply for the polls at the next federal election. They are cold, calculating economic rationalists who do not care about Australia's interests but care more about getting the corporate donations that this trade agreement will deliver for their election campaigns. The crossbench senators in the chamber have delivered documented evidence—not rhetoric—to back up each and every amendment that we have put forward that clearly demonstrates that free trade agreements cause severe economic hardship, job losses, family breakdowns, untold suffering, misery and, most importantly, environmental devastation. I most certainly hope that the people of Australia reflect their dissatisfaction in the next election. Furthermore, the preamble of the agreement commits us to expand bilateral trade and investment, so we have not seen the end of the process yet. This is just the beginning.

I wonder whether senators, when they sit down in their seats in this chamber in the third reading division that will occur, have ever heard of Maquiladora? I will lay London to a brick on that none of them have. But they should have. If you get onto the Internet and have a look at the ads for Maquiladora, you will find labour and environmental standards under American free trade—they have a zone on the US-Mexico border—that will take your breath away. The cost of labour, the reimbursement to the workers there, and the devastation to the environment in that border area are absolutely appalling, and we are going to purchase goods derived from that devastation. I do not believe that the ministers have any idea how many jobs will be lost from our textile, clothing and footwear industry. Why not? Because that sort of thing is just too hard to work out. And yet they will commit to this experiment which history has shown to be an absolute disaster.

At the end of the day, senators in this chamber will not get a vote on the text of the document. That agreement is already signed off, and the statements in the media over the last few days emphatically deliver to the Australian people the message that this agreement was and always will be beyond the power of this parliament. This is not a free trade agreement; it is a farcical trade agreement. It is an agreement inspired by big business, put together by big business and administered by big business for the benefit of big business. If you doubt that, have a look at the list of companies, both American and Australian based, that have signed up to support this trade agreement. Close inspection of the FTA reveals not genuine free trade but managed trade. It is an agreement designed to create a favourable environment for multinational corporations. Despite the free trade rhetoric behind the FTA, the treaty itself is a mixture of trade liberalising and trade restricting elements. It liberalises trade into Australia; it restricts our ability to have any say over our national entity.

One Nation questions the wisdom and the theoretical basis of the free trade agreement. The bureaucracies, such as the dispute resolution panel which implements the trade agreement rules, are ripe for manipulation and capture by special interests, particularly corporate interests. This agreement is characterised by the typical hallmarks of excessive, unaccountable government—government by executive and not by parliament; government by a clique of elite workers—in the interests of a narrow section of big business, and a weak, limp, pathetic opposition that cannot even raise its voice to protect the national interest or the interests of its own constituents, that is, the workers of Australia.

This agreement will not produce the results that are being scripted by the government. US markets will not be transformed into a paradise for Australian companies. The Australian market will be a paradise for the US multinationals that now, as a result of this agreement, will receive most favoured nation treatment. The biggest economy presently in the world is about to roll over into Australia and roll over our businesses. Under this agreement, the major exporting industries in Australia will become jobs offshore. The Americans have all the protection they need to protect their workers, their industries, their farmers and their investments. After the experience of NAFTA what else would you expect? They have had 10 years to get the violin out and really tune it up to do a number on us.

One Nation are opposed to corporate defined globalism where the interests of multinational corporations are put before people, democratic practices and the environment. Our key concerns are corporate control and power imbalance. Australia's economy is minuscule compared with that of the United States. Exports from Australia to the US represent 11 per cent of total exports from this country. Conversely, US exports to Australia represent only 0.7 per cent of American exports. The sheer imbalance in the trade between the US and Australia means that there is a potential for a massive impact through economic changes in the US. Barely a ripple would be felt in the reverse situation. Moreover, the US would be able to leverage its power to continually open Australian markets up to more and more competition without necessarily reciprocating or compensating. Poorer people in both Australia and the US are already feeling the effects of privatisation, while multinational corporations make the profits.

The free trade is based on neoliberalism, the idea that the most efficient way for societies to distribute resources is by ensuring that the capitalist economy is managed with the barest possible level of government intervention and administration. In other words, the market becomes the key determinant in deciding who gets what. It is highly questionable whether the market is the most efficient way of distributing resources. The question quickly becomes: efficiency for whom? Far from the trickle-down effect, the gap between the rich and the poor across the world is widening. The profits of free trade are lining the pockets of the super rich while the rest of the world is forced to face the social and ecological consequences. The public are bamboozled and the big political parties are bought.

Senator Hill, representing the Minister for Trade, says that the free trade agreement is a win-win for Australia. I say that is codswallop, claptrap and absolute twaddle. The US is a big country and makes up the rules to help the US. I personally have been through the committee process and say to all: why would any government in its right mind sign such an agreement that so seriously undermines its own authority?

The Liberal, National and Labor parties get the bulk of their campaign contributions from corporations, so they do what the corporations want. The large corporations are, quite understandably, wildly in favour of chapter 11 on investment. The negotiators of the treaty were lawyers and public relations spin doctors who can now earn billions teaching corporations how to milk the chapter 11 cow and how to propagandise the public. They put the language in there on purpose so that they could exploit it later. The coalition have not realised how foolish they were being when they signed the agreement, and Labor has supported it.

The major news media, television and newspapers, particularly the News Ltd stable, have engaged in a conspiracy of silence. We have heard about the PBS and we have heard a little about intellectual property rights, but very few in the media have reported on the investment chapter. Not one has substantially explained what the free trade controversy is about. What is it about? The Americanisation of Australia's economy. In closing, I want to reiterate what I said at the commencement of my contribution. In opposing the free trade agreement between Australia and America, One Nation is not anti-American. What One Nation is, and is proud to be, is fiercely parochially Australian.

Question put:

That these bills be now read a third time.