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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25987

Senator BROWN (1:56 PM) —Last night Senator Hill told this committee that an example of a matter that we might want to see resolved is if a US entity thought that an environmental law Australia was bringing in was not really aimed at protecting the environment. He gave the game away then and there. Any environmental law that this parliament chooses to enact in the future could be challenged on the basis that it is not fair dinkum. If you bring in a carbon tax, for example, the American corporations who do not want to see that—for example, the big petroleum corporations—could immediately challenge that on the basis that it was a tax-raising matter, that that was its primary aim—something the minister said had indicated that—and that it was not about the environment at all.

You can see a whole range of such laws. Cultural integrity is another one. They could say that the reason for bringing in an increase of protection for cultural rights in Australia or an increase for home-made entertainment or other content on broadcasting was not really to protect Australian culture but was to beat competition in the United States. That goes to a dispute mechanism, under the minister's own reasoning. This is the government telling us that their understanding is that US corporations will be able to challenge the free trade agreement when this parliament moves on laws if the US corporations suspect that it is not just for the purpose that is intended in the name of the bill and that there can be some advantage for Australia over US interests involved in such a law. The government knows this. This is simply opening up the way for US corporations, through the US government with the assent of the government of the day, to go to a dispute mechanism.

What are the Australian government going to say? Will they say, `We won't allow that to be disputed'? The US government will immediately retaliate by saying, `We won't hear your disputes.' Of course the disputes will be heard and of course the secret, faceless arbitration body outside the reach of this parliament—the undemocratic body not elected by parliament, not vetted by parliament, with no response or responsibility to the parliament and with the parliament unable to do anything about it—is going to arbitrate on matters of importance and critical interest to this country, because the government said so and because the Labor Party agreed to it. We will resume this debate later in the afternoon, but the minister is going to have to do better than that. I will be asking him to give examples of the safeguards which he says exist in this legislation but which in effect are not there at all.

Progress reported.