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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25971

Senator NETTLE (12:32 PM) —During the debate last night on these two amendments moved by the Greens, Senator Ridgeway informed the committee that he had more questions to ask on these amendments, so I will use this opportunity to ask some questions about the quarantine component of the free trade agreement. What the particular amendment we are debating at the moment does is to ensure that the joint committee with the responsibility to implement the US-Australia free trade agreement, which has people appointed to it by the executive of the Australian government and the executive of the United States government, holds meetings which are open and provides a report to the parliament on membership and attendance at the meetings, meetings that have been held, issues considered and recommendations made at the meetings.

This is the committee that is given the responsibility of implementing the US-Australia free trade agreement, a committee to which our government and the Bush administration appoint individuals, and it, not the parliament, becomes the responsible committee for the implementation of the US-Australia free trade agreement. The amendment that the Australian Greens have moved brings back the responsibility for the implementation of the US-Australia free trade agreement to this parliament, rather than allowing the executive government—be it a Howard or a Latham government—to hand that responsibility over to a committee to which they appoint individuals.

Paragraph (4) of the first amendment on sheet 4366 ensures that any decisions that are made by this joint committee—by the executives of the two governments—about the implementation of the US-Australia free trade agreement become instruments that can be disallowed by either the Senate or the House of Representatives. This Greens' amendment brings the power back to the Senate and the House of Representatives when decisions are made by the joint committee as to how the US-Australia free trade agreement is going to be implemented, rather than handing it over to a committee on which President Bush and Prime Minister Howard appoint individuals. The reason we need to do this should be patently obvious: decisions about sovereignty and decisions about being able to implement laws in a way in which they serve the public interest of this country and the United States should be made in our parliaments; they should not be made in a committee to which the two executives can appoint individuals who then make decisions and rulings that need to be adhered to by our parliament or the parliament of the United States.

I will move to one particular area which, as I mentioned last night, farmers, particularly orchardists, in parts of New South Wales that I have been visiting are concerned about, and that is the way in which our quarantine laws are weakened by the mechanisms of the US-Australia free trade agreement. Quarantine laws in Australia, I am sure all of us would stand up and agree, are there for a scientific purpose. They are to protect our produce and its capacity to be disease and pest free. But the US-Australia free trade agreement sets up a range of different committees which make determinations about whether or not our quarantine laws are perceived as a barrier to trade. The SPS committee, which is one of two committees being set up, will comprise trade representatives as well as scientists. Both of the committees that are being set up as a part of the quarantine concessions that this government has made to the United States are intended to `facilitate trade between the parties'. That is a quote from the trade agreement's article 7.4, annex 7-A, section A1.

We have two committees on which trade representatives as well as scientists are based, and these committees are given, by the US-Australia free trade agreement, the prerogative to make decisions that will facilitate trade between parties—trade representatives, not scientists, making decisions about whether our quarantine laws are scientifically prudent. Clearly, by appointing trade representatives to these committees and by setting a term of reference for them which is about facilitating trade between parties, there cannot be an expectation that these trade representatives or bodies set up to make decisions on trade will be making decisions on the basis of our scientific laws and the standing of our quarantine laws. No wonder the small farmers and orchardists who are growing apples and pears in the northern tablelands of New South Wales are concerned.

We have scientifically proven quarantine laws that we are continually defending from attacks from not just the United States but also the European Union, who claim that our quarantine laws are a barrier to trade, that our quarantine laws are not there for scientific reasons but for trading reasons. They have not won those disputes in the World Trade Organisation. We have been able to defend the scientific validity of our quarantine laws. Now the United States has another opportunity through a free trade agreement with Australia—let us remember that the US is the largest economic superpower in the world—that sets up a committee with trade representatives on it that will make determinations as to whether our quarantine laws are scientifically prudent. If that is not getting in through the back door, I do not know what is. The US have not been able to win their cases in the World Trade Organisation so now they have a trade agreement set up with a country that has a far smaller economy than they do, and out of that trade agreement they have got concessions from this government for committees that make decisions on the basis of facilitating trade between countries and that have trade representatives as well as scientists on them. That is not a protection of our quarantine laws.

The question needs to be asked of the minister: why has the government failed in this regard? The Minister for Trade, Mr Vaile, went into these negotiations saying that he would be defending Australia's quarantine laws. Yet he has set up these committees with a clear framework for the basis on which they are to make decisions, and put trade representatives on them rather than keeping them as scientific forums which decide on our quarantine laws. This is why we need to ensure that decisions made by this joint committee appointed by the Howard government and the Bush administration to implement our free trade agreement are decisions that we can debate here in the parliament. They impact on the livelihoods of orchardists—people growing citrus fruits, stone fruits, apples and pears—and producers of pork, who rely on our quarantine laws to protect their pork exports. We have seen comments from the United States saying with respect to these exact industries, stone fruits, citrus and pork, that Australia's quarantine laws will be weakened as a result of the trade agreement. Wins will come for American farmers in these three areas as a result of what the Australian government has agreed to. There is no comfort there for Australian farmers, and the government and the opposition need to answer the question: why are you doing this to our farmers and orchardists? Why are you putting their livelihoods and the quarantine laws that protect their livelihoods in the hands of trade representatives to make decisions—not our own existing scientifically based analysis that has stood up in the World Trade Organisation?