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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26209

Senator RIDGEWAY (6:18 PM) —I just want to flag very quickly that the Australian Democrats will be supporting this amendment and what the Australian Greens are proposing with this reservation to agreement. I think it makes complete sense. As I understand it, it will ensure that the parliament has a role in relation to the laws, regulations and policies that are dealt with in Australia, particularly in terms of our capacity to regulate into the future. Whilst the ALP have indicated they understand the sense and the issues that are being raised, they ought to be taking this issue on board, particularly given that what we are talking about under the free trade agreement is, if you like, a derogation of responsibility in terms of the government not allowing the parliament to not only scrutinise but also deal with public policy as it affects issues, from the environment and health laws through to local content, quarantine and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which have been named in the amendment put forward by the Greens.

We will support the amendment because the parliament must have a role in dealing with these particular issues. During the debate earlier today I think there was a part admission by the government that the existing laws, regulations and policies—particularly social and health policies, and policy concerning the environment and culture—are pretty much at a standstill as a result of the text of the free trade agreement. I would hope that there is an opportunity for that to change at some time in the future but, quite frankly, that hope is really just a random possibility that some dispute or issue may arise in the future that causes us to want to deal with domestic law and policy in a way that reflects the national interest. It may well be impeded by the text of the free trade agreement with the United States.

The amendment makes complete sense. It really is an affirmation that the way in which the free trade agreement is applied in domestic law is not about having an overarching superiority, if you like, in relation to how the parliament deals with laws that affect the Australian people. It guarantees that, as it is currently seen, the laws are not interfered with to the exclusion of the Australian people, and particularly not within reach of the Australian parliament. That has to be paramount in any consideration. As a result, the Australian Democrats will be supporting this amendment.