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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26044

Senator BROWN (6:00 PM) —I respectfully suggest that the minister is mischievous, Chair.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Lightfoot)—That is not the amendment we are debating now.

Senator BROWN —No, that is the point I am making in the debate.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —You have made your point, Senator Brown.

Senator BROWN —Yes, and I want to emphasise it. The point is that the minister should give an assurance to this committee that whales, dolphins, porpoises and dugongs will be removed from that tariff schedule. The minister says, `The senator knows that there's no intention to trade in these in the near future.' I do not know anything of the sort. After all, this is a minister who authorised trade in even bigger living entities in Australia, which are the great trees of Tasmania, and it is occurring at the greatest rate in history. He has no worry with that or with the rare and endangered species that are poisoned in the process.

The ruthlessness of that process under the Howard government leaves me and many others bewildered. But the argument in here by the minister is, `Oh, no, we would never resume such a trade under any pressure from any corporation in the United States'—which does trade in them, by the way; it imports such creatures for its aquariums. The minister says, `Oh, no, that won't happen with Australia.' Well, Minister, why have you left it on the schedule? Why have the Australian negotiators left this on the schedule? Was it delinquent, culpable? I do not know.

But we know that every phrase of the free trade agreement was gone over and over by the Australian government. It shows that the Australian government does not give a cuss about the non-monetary aspects of this agreement. It is quite happy to leave this issue on the statutes. It is quite happy to leave it there for people to worry about. I am lucky; I am in the parliament. I can argue about these things. But people outside who devote their time, their lives, to making the world safer, in this case for whales and dolphins, are having the rug pulled from under them. They are being genuinely concerned by a government that did not care and left what Senator Hill calls `an historic remnant' on the statute book—because that was easy, and why worry about it?' Wrong. People have got a right to worry about it.

I refer the minister again to the enforceability components of the agreement. We were talking last night but did not quite get to this section. I refer to the Australian Network of Environmental Defenders Offices. They say that many of the provisions in this agreement are `aspirational' and `platitudinous'. They give as an example from the agreement:

... each Party shall ensure that its laws provide for and encourage high levels of environmental protection and shall strive to continue to improve their respective levels of environmental protection, including through such environmental laws and policies.

Consequent upon that, Chair, you will remember that the minister said, `Oh, well, there is, for example, the potential for action to be taken if parties on either side thought government was bringing in environmental laws for spurious reasons.' The implication from what the minister said there was that action could be taken then and either the law could be stopped or some compensation mechanism could come into play. The Australian environmental defenders organisation say:

Given the lack of detail—

in much of the agreement—

it remains a live question as to whether the Environment Chapter—and particularly, the agreement to negotiate a United States-Australia Joint Statement on Environmental Cooperation—provides adequate safeguards to protect the interests of the environment. By way of contrast, Canada, Mexico and the US created the Commission for Environmental Cooperation under a side agreement to NAFTA. The Commission promotes environmental cooperation among the three countries, and sets down the dispute settlement provisions that can be invoked if a country persistently fails to enforce environmental laws that have conferred a trade benefit. Part of the mandate of the Commission is to help harmonize standards upwards and to oversee the enforcement of existing laws. It is also charged with, among other things, monitoring the environmental effects of NAFTA.

It is submitted that the establishment of such a Commission with full and proper oversight and monitoring powers would be a welcome addition to the Agreement.

Why wasn't such an agreement established here? Was it considered? What was Australia's point of view, and why didn't it eventuate?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —I put the question that Senator Nettle's amendment—

Senator BROWN —I asked a reasoned and fair question, which comes from environmental lawyers around the country, in relation to the commission looking after the environment set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement. We are seeing all sorts of groups set up under this Australia-US free trade agreement. Why isn't there a commission for environmental cooperation set up under a side agreement?