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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 6279


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (09:38): I rise to add the Greens contribution to this PACER Plus legislation. The Greens remain concerned about the power imbalances in PACER Plus negotiations. We've been concerned for quite some time that Australia and New Zealand have used their big-brother, or big-sister, influence in the region to a point where they have disenfranchised some of the smaller nations in our region and undermined their genuine ability to participate.

We know, of course, that Papua New Guinea and Fiji, the two largest Pacific island nation economies, are notably absent from this deal, and that Vanuatu and Tonga have at various times withdrawn from the process. We've been concerned that in a modern world such as this, where Australia has a responsibility to help those in our region who aren't as big, don't have democracies that are as stable and aren't able to sustain themselves economically in the way Australia is able to, we have in fact stood over them in these negotiations. We are concerned that that is now being reflected in the PACER Plus arrangement that we're debating today.

The refusal of Papua New Guinea and Fiji to sign the agreement is significant, because they represent 80 per cent of the combined GDP of Pacific island countries. If 80 per cent of the economies are not even represented in this deal, you've got to ask yourself why—why is Australia pursuing this in this manner? It raises the question of whether small Pacific nations felt unfairly pressured by Australia and New Zealand to enter the agreement. Anecdotally, of course, we have heard from representatives of these island nations that, yes, they did indeed feel put upon by Australia and New Zealand and felt the pressure immensely.

The primary impact of PACER Plus is to decrease tariffs on Australian and New Zealand exports to these Pacific countries. It's very clear that, as the big nations, we are getting the best deal out of this. Some would say that's fine, except that we live in a neighbourhood and we have a responsibility, as the wealthiest nation, the largest economy in the region, to play better and be a bit fairer in this. We know that this disproportionate pact, which benefits Australia and New Zealand, could easily just be agreed to. But what does that mean and what signal does that send to countries in the rest of the region, particularly the smaller ones, who feel they had to agree or are going to be resentful, going forward, of this and the attitude that's been presented by Australia?

Proposals by Australia and New Zealand to introduce or increase consumption taxes to offset tariff cuts will not provide adequate compensation for revenue loss. Studies have demonstrated that replacing tariffs with consumption taxes in developing nations only compensates for 30 per cent of lost revenue. Countries in the Pacific region are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and it's extraordinary that this deal does nothing to address the real-life impact on these countries of rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate change. We know that, despite a growing urgency to support Pacific island countries to combat climate change, this declaration does zilch. Despite the government signing a declaration just weeks ago identifying climate change as the greatest single threat to Pacific peoples, PACER Plus does not even include proper environmental protection measures. It's a case of 'Look over here while we do something else'; of refusing to tackle what will be, beyond any doubt, the biggest impact into the future for our Pacific island neighbours. We know that climate change needs to be tackled and we know that they need help in dealing with that, yet Australia continues to just turn the other cheek. It's not good enough at all.

Tariff cuts will disproportionately affect women in the Pacific region. Women in Pacific communities are largely employed in the industries that will be affected most by these tariff cuts, such as clothing manufacturing and small-scale agriculture. We hear a lot in this place from various NGOs and community based organisations about what Australia can do to show leadership in the region in relation to empowering women, giving them a voice and giving them independence and the ability to be economically sustainable.

This deal, because of its nature, and because it has been managed quite heavy-handedly from the Australian perspective, is going to impact on our sisters in the Pacific region and those Pacific Islands disproportionately. I think this place needs to consider that when looking at this legislation. The last thing we want is women in the Pacific to be even more disadvantaged just because Australia wanted to squeeze more money out of our poor neighbours and our poor cousins throughout the Pacific. It's not good enough. We should be doing more to support women in the Pacific, not simply allowing this to go through and think it doesn't have an effect. When we talk about clothing manufacturing or small-scale agriculture, we should be doing much more to help these women and their families and communities to become self-sustaining and economically robust. This does the exact opposite. This rips the carpet out from beneath them. It will have dire impacts on these women unless we do something to fix it.

The Greens, as I've said, remain very concerned about this. We won't be supporting it. We wish that the government would have been a little more considerate of the desires and concerns raised by our Pacific island neighbours. The fact that climate change isn't in here and the fact that it disproportionately impacts on the poorest women in our region are enough for me to say that this isn't something that Australia should be pursuing.