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Monday, 9 August 2004
Page: 25950

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (8:54 PM) —I think Senator Brown put six specific arguments. Firstly, he said that the CIE could provide only a best guess of the greenhouse consequences of the free trade agreement. If that is the case, I think it proves my case. That is the problem of trying to attach environmental cost to a framework agreement. You have to estimate the extent to which there will be economic growth, pursuant to this agreement, and you have to distinguish that from the growth that there would otherwise be. You have to try to assess the nature of that growth, the sources of energy and so forth and, in Senator Brown's own words, you come to a best guess. I think that proves the difficulty of environmental assessments on framework agreements and demonstrates why the Australian approach is a better approach. It means that, when action is to be taken that can have significant effects on a matter of national environmental significance, the Commonwealth legislation will be triggered. So far from proving what I said was wrong, I think it rather proves that what I said was right.

Senator Brown's second point was to list the number of organisations which he said were opposed to this agreement because of what they saw as detrimental environmental consequences, but what they are really saying is that they are opposed to economic growth. You can argue that any economic growth has environmental consequences. The issue is whether they are consequences you are prepared to accept for some other benefit. Most of us want the benefit of improved living standards with a minimum environmental downside. That is why we on this side of the chamber support sustainable growth. You best achieve sustainable growth through your own domestic regulatory system; you do not achieve it through a free trade agreement of this type.

Senator Brown's third argument was that the agreement has a prejudice in favour of voluntary rather than regulatory enforcement. I have looked at the agreement and I cannot find that assertion. Article 19.3 says:

Each Party shall provide remedies for violations of its environmental laws to ensure the effective enforcement of those laws.

Article 19.4 says:

Each Party shall promote public awareness of its environmental laws ...

I would have thought that is something that Senator Brown would applaud rather than condemn. A well-educated public is more likely to contribute to better environmental outcomes rather than a less informed public.

Senator Brown's fourth argument was that there was insufficient opportunity for citizen-initiated action under this agreement. Again, I would argue that it is not through this agreement; rather, it is through domestic laws that that opportunity is given. Certainly the EPBC legislation broke some new ground in relation to citizens initiating action. As a result of some of those citizen-initiated actions prosecutions have been launched and successfully concluded.

The fifth argument he sought to put was that investors are not subject to rules. Investors into Australia are subject to Australia's domestic laws, whether they be environmental, quarantine or whatever. That is not prejudiced under this agreement. And Australian investors into the US will be subject to their laws as well. Provided those laws are genuinely structured for those purposes, they are not prejudiced by this agreement.

Senator Brown's sixth argument was that the trade in services could in some way be utilised to avoid environmental standards. Again, I have looked at the trade and services part of the agreement and I cannot see how in any way that argument can be sustained. I noticed that Senator Brown did not specifically draw our attention to the part of the language that was of concern to him but rather referred to the views of third parties.

So in relation to the six matters that Senator Brown has just raised, I think that each can be answered more than effectively.