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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25987

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (1:52 PM) —I regret that Senator Brown did not listen to the previous answer that I gave, which was that investor action could only be brought with the agreement of the state. Therein lies a very significant distinction from NAFTA. It is a distinction that I would have thought Senator Brown would support. In relation to the dispute settlement resolution, yes, it does allow for the settlement of disputes under the agreement. That is what it is all about. Therefore, it is the mechanism that is implemented pursuant to the terms of an agreement between the governments of the two states. There is nothing extraordinary in that.

I assured this chamber last night and assured this chamber again today that the disputes mechanism is not going to change Australia's public health protection, environmental protection or quarantine protection, which we believe are critically important. It has not been established as some sort of shadow trade restriction. It has been set up for bona fide reasons to protect Australian national interests. That was never going to be compromised in a negotiation to which the government were a party. We were pleased with the outcome of the negotiation in that we have been able to get expanded access. It is not everything we wanted in terms of access but we have been able to get significantly expanded access into the United States market across a whole range of sectors, which could significantly contribute towards economic growth, the creation of wealth and the creation of jobs in this country—all benefits that most Australians wish to see.

I understand that there are some interest groups—Senator Brown, I think, falls within this category as well—that have a philosophical objection to freer trade. That is simply not the position of the Australian government. The Australian government's position is that freer trade brings economic benefits from which all Australians can gain. But we have to ensure that freer trade does not come at the price of sacrificing other important values. We have set out those values. Our assessment has been the subject of exhaustive parliamentary scrutiny. We are satisfied that the key areas that Senator Brown is referring to—public health, public safety and the environment—are more than adequately protected under the terms of this agreement.