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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25985

Senator BROWN (1:46 PM) —What an appalling reply that was! To go to the last glib response of `difficult to imagine', the Canadians never imagined that their law preventing toxic additives going into their petrol would be challenged, but it was challenged and the corporation involved won under the dispute mechanism. They have toxic additives previously banned under Canadian law now going into their petrol. They did not imagine that, but the reality is that they got it. The environment groups say that such challenges have been followed by more on hazardous waste treatment, transboundary transport of hazardous wastes, open-pit mining mitigation measures and more.

Let us do away with this appalling, irresponsible approach, which says: `We don't know what is going to happen in the future, so it won't happen.' We are in this parliament to make sure that this nation's interests are best served and that we do not have transnational corporations with the power to lobby governments of the day getting up a dispute mechanism which undermines and overrides the laws of this country with no comeback by this parliament. We are not involved. We are not even told about it. We get no report. There is no transparency. There is no report back and this parliament has no ability to vote on it.

The minister is quite correct: if the Labor Party had the gumption to stand up for this country and support Green amendments meaning that this parliament would arbitrate on the secret dispute mechanisms that the government is setting up with the US government for the benefit of multinational corporations, we would be getting somewhere. But do you know what is going to happen? Labor is going to go over there and vote with the Howard government against the Green mechanism which would bring this parliament into play against these secret bodies set up to arbitrate what will or will not be in the national interest under this agreement. We have not got an opposition here; we have a rubber-stamp of the Howard government! Labor has brought in some amendments which fix up a couple of important glitches, but there are 100 more that it is totally happy to go along with. We have a couple of wins for the Labor Party but a lay-down misere for the Howard government, and the country is left with a free trade agreement which puts this parliament out to pasture—it makes it irrelevant. That is what we are debating here today: keeping this parliament empowered. The parliament on Capital Hill comprises the elected representatives of the people. We Greens object to an executive process—we do not have the free trade agreement before us today; we have some enabling legislation, but the free trade agreement is not before this chamber—signing away the powers of this parliament and the rights of the Australian people in an extraparliamentary deal because it suits Prime Minister Howard and big sections of big business, of course, in the run to this election. Labor has fallen into line. We will not; we have no intention of doing that.

What I have pointed out here is that when it comes to this nation's environment the experience in North America is that the laws of Canada, Mexico and indeed the United States can be undermined by multinationals going to whichever government they need to attack the other governments' laws, getting up a dispute mechanism and having those laws ruled invalid. That is the reality and that is the experience of NAFTA. Here we have the legal advice to responsible US groups saying to us in Australia, `Don't sign this agreement.' It is touted as being good for the United States. These are United States groups with enormous experience in what a free trade agreement like this can do to subvert and undermine a country's laws and its sovereignty, and the minister has no answer to it except to say, `I can't imagine a situation in which that could occur for us.' That is irresponsible. These are real cases. They are well known in bilateral free trade agreement law and, indeed, in general free trade agreement law. The minister must be on top of it. He must have been advised about it. I ask again: can the minister give a categorical assurance to this committee that there will not and cannot be a situation like that in Canada, where national law can be overridden by a dispute mechanism outside the reach of this parliament? I do not think we are going to get a `yes' to that.