Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 6395

Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (17:01): I move:

That the Senate notes the importance of protecting Australian jobs, skills, industries and sovereignty when negotiating, and agreeing to, free trade agreements.

The discovery of hypocrisy in politics is rarely a revelation, especially in this place. But today's policy shift by the Labor Party concerning so-called free trade agreements, specifically the TPP-11, is particularly noteworthy. It's certainly a good illustration of what happens when a political party gets a whiff of government and starts trimming their sails in anticipation of power and all of its entitlements.

Before I go to the details of how the Labor Party has folded and signed off on a policy that is against its own national platform, I think it is important to give credit where credit is due. In the face of constant claims from the government that the Labor Party is beholden to their union mates, the shadow minister for trade, the member for Blaxland, Jason Clare, has managed to get the Labor caucus to sign off to consenting to the TPP even when it's against their own party policy. Perhaps the government will need to update its talking points when it comes to just how much influence the unions have over the decisions made by the Labor Party.

As I noted in the chamber yesterday, Labor has announced new proposals relating to labour protections, national sovereignty, future trade deals and proposed measures relating to the transparency of future negotiations involving parliament, industry and unions. All is well and good.

Labor also moved a second reading amendment to the TPP enabling legislation in the House of Representatives today. It is quite remarkable. Paragraph 1 of that amendment notes the following:

… the Coalition Government has waived labour market testing for contractual service suppliers for six new countries in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership as well as including investor state dispute settlement mechanisms which Labor does not support;

But Labor isn't going to stand in the way of the enabling legislation; they are going to wave it through. If you don't support the waiver of labour market testing, and if you don't support the inclusion of ISDS clauses, then why are you supporting the very legislation that gives effect to them?

It's all well and good to say that a future Labor government would address these deficiencies, but what use is that when the TPP-11 is one of the largest trade agreements after the North American Free Trade Agreement?

In order to address these deficiencies, a future Labor government would need to negotiate side agreements, with each government agreeing not to apply the labour market testing or ISDS provisions.

It's apparent that the TPP-11 contains many harmful provisions which will act to the detriment of the Australian economy, including ISDS and labour market testing exemptions. This is not just my view; it's a view shared by the Electrical Trades Union and many other unions. It's no wonder many in the Labor Party and the trade union movement are concerned. The Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sally McManus, said the ACTU and the union movement are 'disappointed by the ALP's decision to vote for the TPP enabling legislation'. Just how disappointed has been made clear by other union leaders. The ETU National Secretary, Allen Hicks, is reported in The Sydney Morning Herald today as saying:

Labor has announced a policy to improve how current trade deals are negotiated, in particular the fact that agreements like the TPP are negotiated in secret without community input, yet they are failing to put that commitment into action by demanding improvements to this trade deal.

He went on to say:

The Opposition not only has an unprecedented ability to demand a better deal, failing to do so will see them forced to accept responsibility for the significant failings of this agreement.

So, in my view, we've got this Westminster system of government where the opposition keeps an eye on the government, but now a new element's been added, and that is where the crossbench has to keep an eye on the opposition.

The AMWU's National Secretary, Paul Bastian, was reported in The Australianyesterday as saying:

It beggars belief that the Labor caucus would sign off on ratifying the TTP given it's against the party's own policy.

The TPP-11 is a disaster for Australian workers.

The labour mobility provisions would give open access to six signatory countries without labour market testing. This has the potential to see huge pressures on our labour market, further downward pressure on wages and conditions, and foreign workers exploited.

He went on to say that provisions giving multinational corporations the ability to sue a government were a grave risk to sovereignty. He said:

It is clear that Labor knows these are issues—they admit as such, and note that any future trade deals would require labour market testing and a rejection of investor state dispute settlement provisions.

If these issues are crucial for any future trade deals—why not for the TPP? The TPP must be amended before it is ratified by Parliament.

These are salient points but they appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

I want to make it very, very clear: the numbers in the Senate, with Senator Hanson's One Nation and Centre Alliance voting against the TPP enabling legislation—and those policies, of voting against it, have been announced—allow the Labor Party to stop this going through.

Our policy is clear: while we support open and fair trade, we don't support the TPP enabling legislation. The deal that has been negotiated by the government is, on balance, bad for Australia. Recently released modelling commissioned by Australian industry heavyweights shows that the deal would amount to, at best, a 0.5 per cent increase in GDP by 2030. This figure is tempered by the fact that the Productivity Commission has found that predictions for growth and jobs from free trade agreements have rarely been delivered, because the economic models employed exaggerate the benefits, ignore many of the costs and assume away unemployment benefits. The modelling shows Australia's grain exports would not change at all under the deal and all other agriculture could decline. It shows that durable manufacturing, a key sector of interest to Centre Alliance, would actually shrink under the TPP-11. Labor's going to let that happen! The very questionable gains discussed in the modelling report in no way balance the negative aspects of the abolition of labour market testing for temporary workers and the inclusion of ISDS provisions that are an affront to our national sovereignty. I would point out that when you have a former High Court justice, Justice French, calling ISDS a Trojan Horse, you should take note.

In this regard I'll add that it was only down to the work of Centre Alliance, especially former Senator Nick Xenophon, that the cost of one of Australia's existing ISDS mechanisms was exposed with the Philip Morris tobacco case, with the ISDS costs costing the taxpayer an eye-watering $39 million. To be very clear, Centre Alliance supported the government in responding to the action initiated by Philip Morris. But the point is that, when this parliament passed legislation to enable plain tobacco packaging, it was challenged and went all the way to our High Court. The High Court affirmed our parliament's right to make the changes. So Philip Morris then set up a tribunal in Hong Kong, made up not of esteemed judicial officers but of lawyers, that could then usurp the ruling of our High Court. That's treasonous, in my view. In opposing the enabling legislation, Centre Alliance is presenting Labor with an opportunity to give effect to their own national policy position. One would think that Labor would join us in sending a very strong message that we do not enter into trade deals unless there is a clear benefit and strong labour market testing and all ISDS provisions have been removed.

Centre Alliance isn't trying to kill this deal in its entirety, like the union movement. We just want to cut the cancer out. But Labor's support will mean that the enabling legislation will sail through the Senate and become law. Labor says they will fix things when they get into government. They are certainly feeling confident, but it's still a pretty big assumption. In any case, I'm prepared to make the observation that, if they are elected to government, Labor won't be changing course on trade policy. Sure, there'll be a lot of talk about greater openness and transparency in the negotiations. There will be policy reviews. Numerous experts will be called in to look at things. But I doubt it will amount to much. I doubt very much that there's much stomach on the part of Labor's frontbench to challenge the trade orthodoxies within the Foreign Affairs and Trade bureaucracy. If today's policy backflip is anything to go by, there will be much talk about the difficulties of revisiting existing agreements and about the challenges of trade policy in the context of the US presidency of Donald Trump. They will eventually say that it's all too hard and will seek to move the policy conversation elsewhere.

Perhaps the most interesting question today, however, is just why the parliamentary Labor Party turned its back on Australian workers. The truth is that they don't have the courage of their own conviction, their own policy. Again I stress: with Centre Alliance's numbers and Pauline Hanson's One Nation not backing the enabling legislation—I make it very clear—this enabling legislation will not get through this parliament unless Labor supports it. For years they've been criticising the coalition's approach to trade policy, but in the lead-up to an election campaign they don't want to have an argument about trade. They don't want to have a fight—not only with the government, perhaps, but, more importantly, with some parts of the business community and the Murdoch press. Instead, they want to trim their sails and quietly glide into office, free from any commitments to substantial policy change, bereft of any real ambition. Instead, they are content to be in a trade policy cartel with the coalition. This is the politics of expediency, the politics of hypocrisy. But I guess that's what we expect from this so-called opposition.

There is good news, however. I foreshadow that I will be moving amendments to the three pieces of legislation that must pass through this chamber to give force to this agreement. These amendments will seek to adjust the commencement date of the legislation until after the ISDS provisions have been removed and after labour market testing has been restored. That'll give us an opportunity to see which of the Labor senators have the courage of their own convictions and will join us. This is bad legislation that grounds a poorly negotiated TPP. I'm very interested to see what happens from here.