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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26092

Senator BROWN (9:55 AM) —The amendment to the bill is an important one, as the last two speakers have said. It is about the ability of US corporations to seek arbitration, and therefore compensation, if they feel that their interests have been infringed by Australia acting in the national interest, through Australian governments—and that includes state governments—to foster, for example, the health, education or safety of Australians. What would help greatly at this stage would be for the minister to inform the committee about how the government interprets the loose wording of the agreement and to explain to the chamber just how the dispute resolution mechanism will work—give an example, explain how it will be triggered, what the process is for a dispute mechanism and how the arbitration component of the mechanism comes into play.

The amendment that the Greens have brought here would not allow an arbitration system that has, by the terminology, the equivalent weight of an Australian court, but it will not be an Australian court determining, for example, damages. Both previous speakers have explained how, in cases under the North American Free Trade Agreement, damages have led to billions of dollars in payouts to corporations over such things as the disposal of hazardous waste being prevented or toxic additives to petroleum. There was the famous case in Mexico where protection of a conservation area against being a hazardous waste dump was challenged and succeeded under the free trade agreement there. So I ask the minister to outline to the committee the process that will be undertaken when arbitration is sought by US interests through the US government. Who will be the arbitrating body? Where will the arbitration take place? What are the potential outcomes for that arbitration? Who may join in the arbitration process?