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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26051

Senator BROWN (6:42 PM) —Our problem is that we live in the age of children overboard, weapons of mass destruction and `Australia is a safer place after the Iraq invasion'. Along comes a minister who was involved directly or indirectly in all those things and says, `You can be assured that this government would never allow an arbitration process that wasn't in the nation's interests.' I care to think that the corporate sector in the United States has a clout way beyond that of many Australian interests in this agreement. Just look at the farmers. Where is the free trade as far as agricultural produce in this country is concerned? It is sold down the drain.

Taxpayers are paying over $400 million to make up for sugar being sold out. Beef has been sold out—it is not going to be free trade ever. After 20 years it is, if the American market is doing okay. There are difficulties with pork. Lamb might, one of these days, get there. There are restrictions on avocados, citrus fruit and stone fruit. You cannot sell that if it is in a competitive period with the American producers. In the manufacturing section, we look at fast ferries from Tasmania or Western Australia—wherever they might be—and barriers stay total. It is an embargo, effectively. Insofar as this being a free trade agreement, tell somebody else. Then the government which brokered such a free trade agreement—which is not free, because it is loaded so much against Australia—says: `Trust us. Yes, sitting in here is a little time bomb called article 11.16, which says if the governments get together they can allow arbitration on some matter that is worrying a American mega-corporation, but this government would not depart from the Australian interest.' Tell somebody else; do not tell me that.

But, even if you did, Minister Hill has been around for long enough to know that governments come in great varieties and you cannot bind future governments. What he says here is not binding. The Greens' amendment is. The Greens' amendment is to an act of parliament, and a future government is not easily going to get that undone through the Senate. The Greens' amendment says that there will not be arbitration in these matters. We are not going to expose taxpayers or Australian interests to the full weight of corporate America, with its enormous powers not just in law but of political persuasion. Whatever the future government is going to be, I think this government would be amply able to cave in to the influence that the United States can bring to bear—after all, we went to war in Iraq because the Prime Minister felt that that was a requirement for the best future outcome for the country, including the agreement we are dealing with now.

So I do not accept the bland assurances coming from the government. What I do accept is that the Greens' amendment takes the matter beyond doubt. But we are again in this situation where we know that arbitration will be entered into; that is why article 11.16 is there. The Greens' amendment says no, that cannot happen; it is up to this parliament. Tonight we have the power to prevent that happening, and the government says nothing—except `trust us', effectively. I do not. This amendment ought to be passed. If the opposition wants to protect Australia's interests from the full and unequal force of American pressure to get an investor-state dispute settlement going to arbitration, with potentially billions of dollars in payouts involved, it should be supporting this amendment.