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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8298

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (15:31): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Cabinet Secretary (Senator Sinodinos) to a question without notice asked by Senator Whish-Wilson today relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The first question that I really wanted to ask today regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was why we have seen no dorothy dixers on the deal that was signed last week while we were out of parliament. Remember when the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was signed, we had three weeks of nauseating dixer after dixer—three weeks of it and no other questions were asked. Yet we have not seen a single question on the TPP that took five years to negotiate. I think I know why. Another person who probably knows why is Senator Sinodinos. Senator Sinodinos was in the unusual position of being Prime Minister John Howard's chief of staff at the time of the US Free Trade Agreement, when the Howard government—and I am very glad that they did—cleverly avoided including an investor-state dispute settlement clause in that free trade deal. We avoided having a situation where US corporations could sue us here in Australia. Unfortunately, they have anyway, through an obscure deal in Hong Kong. Philip Morris has found a way to sue us over public health policy. Senator Sinodinos did the right thing back then, as did Prime Minister John Howard.

But now we have signed up to a deal with 12 countries, which includes an investor-state dispute settlement clause. The key question I get from people is: why would we give special rights to corporations, in this day and age, to sue our government for simply legislating in the public interest, whether it is health, whether it is environment or whether it is workers' rights and labour standards? Why would we give corporations special rights to sue us and put pressure on us as legislators? That is why they do it: they do it to chill out regulation; they do it to chill out legislation and get what they want. We have seen this all around the world. Incidentally, before the US-Australia free trade deal, Canada signed a deal with the US—the North American free trade deal—and guess what? They have been sued 36 times by US corporations since they signed that deal. Sadly, most of it has been around environmental regulation that the Canadian government has tried to enact.

As Senator Sinodinos clearly pointed out to me today, the issue is lawyers. These things are subject to legal interpretations. One of the world's experts, who has worked more on ISDS than anyone, said on radio this morning that the exceptions and carve-outs, the so-called safeguards, in a TPP will not work. We knew this anyway from the Greens bill to ban ISDS and the evidence we heard that the safeguards do not work. Senator Sinodinos today said that he had different legal advice. This is the problem: it is subject to interpretation. That gives big corporations with deep pockets the ability to take strategic litigation against governments when they disagree with government policies because it may potentially harm their profits or their investments.

I want to finish off by saying that I think this issue perhaps is not highly political yet, even though it has been signed, because it is not going to come to parliament for some months. No doubt we are going to hear a lot more about it. But we need to have a look at the detail now. We need to actually have this debate as soon as possible so that this parliament can vote against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement when it comes before it. I think it is appropriate to finish on a quote, because this agreement was written by Wall Street on behalf of large corporations. The quote from Gordon Gekko is that this agreement is 'a dog with fleas'. It is a dangerous dog and I think it is going to come back to bite us on the arse if we do not remove investor-state dispute clauses from this deal—and we need to vote the whole deal down if that is not possible.

Question agreed to.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Day, we have about 40 seconds left.