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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26214

Senator BROWN (7:46 PM) —This is Labor at its dodgy and bodgie worst. Here is a Labor Party which is full of weasel words, future commitments and statements of processes which have built-in failure mechanisms. And, after all that, as far as this free trade agreement is concerned, all it says is, `In future free trade agreements we will put a document on the table. We will let parliament know that we are going to do it and what the terms are.' Is that going to be a disallowable instrument? I asked Labor to say that future trade agreements will be disallowable in the parliament. Let us hear it. Let us hear that there is better democracy from Labor than there is from the Howard government. We will not, because there is no difference when it comes to the approach on these free trade agreements and the selling out of Australia's interests and its power to be able to ensure that its parliament can legislate in its own interests.

We have before the committee an extremely important Greens' amendment which, as Senator Ridgeway said, reflects the amendments that the Democrats have been making. It is a here and now amendment which covers the multitude of things that Senator Conroy was just saying that Labor `might', `will', `could perhaps' fix up—`Trust us'—somewhere down the line.

Senator Conroy —You are seriously verballing me here, Senator Brown, and I think you are better than that.

Senator BROWN —I am good at it, but I am no match for you, Senator Conroy. Let me take bit by bit some of the things that you were just committing—

Senator Conroy —Yes, committing. Thank you.

Senator BROWN —Yes, making commitments which are hollow because they do not have any power or they are too late. If Labor was committed here, it would be—

Senator Conroy —Some of that is in your hands, Senator Brown.

Senator BROWN —I do not know. I think it is in your hands. If you want it to be in our hands, vote for this amendment, Senator Conroy. I will put it back to you. It is right in your hands. When it comes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, what is Labor going to do? Our amendment would protect the Phar-maceutical Benefits Scheme totally. This parliament would protect our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme totally—not in one `perhaps', `maybe' evergreen opportunity provided the Howard government agrees with it. That is the Labor amendment which we have not even seen finalised in the parliament, which—according to the wires as of half an hour ago—is still being negotiated between Mr Latham and Mr Howard, and which then will not do the job if it is accepted. The Greens' amendment does the job, but Labor is going to oppose it.

Labor is going to ensure that all documentation that comes from the overseeing group will be published on the Internet. Isn't that great? We get to see what the outcome of the group looking into the impact on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will be. Labor is going to get the Productivity Commission to report annually. Isn't that fantastic? We get a report. We cannot do anything about it but we get a report—at taxpayers' expense, by the way; it is another of the many hidden expenses for taxpayers in the free trade agreement. The advantage is there for the corporate sector, but the taxpayers are going to pay for whatever assessment process—and it is minimal—is done.

There will be an independent review mechanism to report to parliament. Problem: when it reports to parliament, parliament cannot do anything about it. Its hands are tied. Why are the hands tied? Because Labor is going to vote down this amendment. Here is the power. There is the disempowerment. If parliament is not satisfied, it might do something about it. Problem: by the time this process has occurred, the free trade agreement is implemented and the sort of amendment that the Greens have here tonight can no longer be brought in and have effect. That would be outside the norms of finalising and bedding down free trade agreements. We have amendments here so that reservations and interpreted declarations are made and everything is clear: whether it is in the field of pharmaceuticals, local content, health, safety or the environment, the national interest comes first. Labor is going to vote that down.

When it comes to local content, Labor will legislate to cover 14 modes of broadcasting—everything they can think of at the moment. What about the things they do not think of? It was interesting to hear Senator Conroy talking about mobile communications. I would like to ask him whether he had ever heard of that word 20 years ago. I had not. Do we know what technology is going to be the burgeoning mode of mass communication in 20 years? Of course we do not. How are Labor retrospectively going to apply rules when the horses have bolted? The Greens say it does not matter what the mode of communication is, through this amendment this parliament's right to insist that local content be protected, and increased if necessary in the future, cannot be infringed upon.

Let us look at film and TV. By gee, Labor is going to get the Attorney-General to report annually to parliament on copyright. Wow! When the report hits the parliament and there is very negative feedback coming from, for example, tertiary institutions that want something done about it, how will we get something done about it? We will be unable to. The horses will have bolted. The opportunity we have tonight to ensure that copyright is maintained in this nation's interest will be gone. Why? Because Labor is going to vote the amendment down.

I am missing out a lot of Senator Conroy's points because I could not write as fast as he can talk. He mentioned Australian manufacturing. What are Labor going to do as the manufacturing jobs go west in their thousands? They are going to set up a $25 million centre of excellence. I ask Labor: are you going to set that up if there is no free trade agreement, or is it just part of your policy along with the other things that were announced? One cannot help believe that it is part of Labor policy anyway and not contingent on the free trade agreement—it is a standard announcement. There is nothing Labor can do to protect those jobs in manufacturing vehicle components, textiles and footwear once the horses have bolted.

We have the opportunity to stop that. We can take the interpretive clause the Greens have put before the parliament, which covers all the doubtful areas that can be manipulated by committees that are yet to be set up outside the reach of parliament and in the interests of the corporate sector, against the interests of the average Australian. We should not allow that to happen; we should set the rules here tonight. That is what the Greens' amendment is about. What is Labor going to do about that? Nothing. Well, worse than nothing—it is going to block the amendment.

What about the impact on jobs? What about the workers who have had the AMWU and the ACTU as their champions—although I notice the latter is accepting the inevitability of Labor caving in on this agreement—and who pretty much know they are not going to have a job 10 or 20 years down the line? Sure the government counter this by saying that there will be jobs created in other areas, although they cannot tell us where. That is great for those people who may get jobs, but it is very different for the people who have jobs now and know that because of this free trade agreement they are going to lose them in their thousands. What is Labor going to do because it is helping them lose their jobs and actually seeing them out the gate with this free trade agreement? It is going to establish a committee of inquiry to look at the impact on jobs. Isn't that great! It is going to set up a committee—the oldest, most hackneyed, most transparently bereft political manoeuvre in the book.

In effect, Labor is going to do nothing and will not be able to do anything about those jobs. I suppose inevitably it will help ameliorate any big collapses along the way with taxpayers' money and make some recompense to workers who would far sooner be in a job and have stability than have the rug pulled from under them and their families by this free trade agreement. One way or another every fix-it mechanism that Labor will be left with is going to cost Australians. It will not cost the American corporations; it will cost Australians as through government there will be an effort to undo the damage coming from this Latham-Howard free trade agreement, which is being shoved through the Senate in the next several hours.

Senator Conroy —Is that a promise?

Senator BROWN —That is an expansive use of the word `several', Senator Conroy. Do not forget that we cannot do anything unless you finish your negotiations with Prime Minister Howard on your evergreening clause. I have no doubt that Mr Howard and Mr Latham are somewhere talking about that at the moment, trying to sort it out. Talk about delay.

Then there is the most favoured nation clause which the Howard government `forgot' to put into the agreement—and I am being kind there. That means that despite Australia being short-changed as far as agricultural subsidies and tariffs are concerned—to name one, as the US put up a wall against sugar, beef, dairy and so on—there is the prospect of the US negotiating with Brazil, Argentina and other competitors to our agricultural and other sectors of the economy and giving them a better deal than us. They could become permanently advantaged against Australia, because the government forgot to put a most favoured nation clause in the agreement, which would have meant any advantage given to another nation in the future in a bilateral agreement with the US would be immediately given to Australia on the same terms.

Labor say, `We are going to ask George Bush whether we can negotiate one of those.' Really—they are totally disempowered to do that. Here in this debate is the opportunity. The Senate is the one mainstay against the draining of the democratic power of this country to defend its interests into the future against the terms and conditions which are so Americo-favourable in this free trade agreement. On blood supplies, Labor are going to legislate. The question is: why not legislate tonight? Why not simply extend this preventative clause, this catch-all, this safety mechanism that the Greens are moving by way of this amendment?