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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26027

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (4:28 PM) —I thank Senator Nettle for having outlined what she sees as a conflict in some information that has been talked about in this debate relating to the requirement of an environmental assessment, as I understand it, and a perceived conflict between the minister, Senator Hill, and some views of the Senate committee. Senator Hill ought to be able to provide clarity on that matter.

I do have some information that I can provide to the chamber that may deal with Senator Nettle's question relating to the government's plans in respect of an environmental impact analysis of the free trade agreement. The government commissioned an analysis of the environmental impact of the Australia-US free trade agreement as part of the economic analysis of the FTA by the Centre for International Economics that Senator Nettle referred to. On my advice, there is no legal requirement for Australia to undertake such a study before concluding a treaty such as the FTA.

The review of the Centre for International Economics confirmed the government's assessment that nothing in the environment chapter or other chapters of the free trade agreement would impact on the ability of the government to set our own environment standards and laws. The CIE study also looked at the economic impact of the FTA on the environment, and the finding was that only a modest impact was likely.

Australia will continue to regulate and to impose high standards as it needs to. Nothing in the free trade agreement stops us from doing that. The parliamentary inquiries—that is, the JSCOT inquiry and the Senate select committee—took evidence from the community, including from those with an interest in the environment, before coming to any judgment about whether additional environmental assessment is appropriate. So, of course, the government did consider that. That is the information available to me in relation to the issues raised by Senator Nettle. If there is anything that I can add that would assist to meet that query, I will obviously get that information and provide it.