Thursday, 11 February 2016
Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
I welcome the support for the TPP from the member for Calwell and also would like to add to her comments wishing the member for Wills all the best in his future.
Today I rise to speak on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to commend Minister Robb and his negotiating team for delivering yet another outstanding outcome for the nation in trade negotiations. The negotiation of the TPP commenced in 2008 and also includes Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. These 12 countries represent about 40 per cent of the global economy and a quarter of world trade. Five of these countries are in the top 10 of Australia's export markets by value, and in 2014-15 they took over $99 billion of Australian exports. This is an important outcome for many export industries right across Australia and, more specifically, in my electorate of O'Connor.
Many of the reforms under the TPP are in the form of removal and reduction of tariff barriers or non-tariff barriers such as quotas and regulatory compliance on business. The industries across O'Connor and the entrepreneurs and their employees who make them successful are heavily reliant on timely and reliable access to export markets. Some of the well-known industries in the electorate include aquaculture, forestry, agriculture and horticulture. With reduced tariff and non-tariff barriers to a number of key markets, I look forward to more prime lamb, beef and pork from the Great Southern finding its way into export markets. Cereals and oilseeds from the Wheatbelt and seafood from the south and south-east coast around Albany and Esperance will also benefit from improved market access. There are a number of exporters of fine wines from Mount Barker, Cranbrook and Denmark that will be able to take advantage of the improved access to overseas markets. The members of the Southern Forest Food Council, which is based in the south-west of my electorate around Northcliffe, Manjimup, Pemberton and Bridgetown produce a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, gourmet specialty foods and value-added dairy products. Many of them are focused on supplying domestic markets, but, as the Asian middle class continues to grow, export opportunities will emerge.
The mineral extraction industries in the Goldfields have been hugely important for O'Connor over many years, with gold and nickel featuring prominently. The remaining tariffs on Australian minerals, petroleum and LNG exports to signatory countries will be eliminated under the TPP. The energy and resources sector will see significant new opportunities for oil and gas exploration and the export of associated technology. Increasingly we see that mining and resources technology and associated software and equipment that is developed in the electorate by mining companies and mining contractors is being exported. Harlsan Industries Australia, based in Kalgoorlie, exports specialised drilling equipment around the world. They work with their clients to select and supply the right equipment and technical support for the task, drawing on the expertise they have developed from years of supporting the domestic drilling industry in Australia. Hahn Electrical Contracting commenced operations in Kalgoorlie in 1990, providing services to the mining sector. It has subsequently grown to become one of Australia's largest providers of electrical products and services to the mining and industrial markets.
I expect there will be opportunities for companies such as Harlsan Industries under the TPP with a reduction of tariffs on manufactured goods. Hahn Electrical Contracting already operates overseas. They and other service companies may take advantage of the new investment opportunities under the TPP that will provide a more predictable and transparent regulatory environment for investment. There are also reforms to the regulation of transport services and Australian freight, and logistics companies stand to benefit. As a farmer I know how important an efficient logistics chain is to deliver our products to the world at competitive prices. I welcome any improvements to the regulatory regime that will cut the costs of logistics chains for our exporters.
I want to address some of the concerns that constituents have raised and to assure them that there are a number of safeguards around the implementation of the TPP. A coalition government would never be foolhardy about the important matters that we have been in entrusted with. A common misperception is that the signing of the TPP means that the agreement immediately comes into effect in Australia. That is not correct, as any required changes must be codified into Australian law, and that requires scrutiny by the Australian parliament. Before any binding treaty action is effected in Australian law, the TPP text and a national interest analysis will be tabled in the parliament for 20 joint sitting days. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will conduct an inquiry into the TPP and report back to the parliament. The parliament must consider any legislation or amendments to existing legislation that may be necessary to implement the agreement.
A number of constituents who have contacted my office were under the impression that the TPP was somehow being negotiated in private. That is not correct. The 12 countries involved in negotiating the TPP agreed to keep the treaty text confidential, as well as other relevant documents exchanged during the negotiation process. This was to facilitate a candid and productive negotiation. This, however, did not impede the Australian government or prevent it from consulting widely with relevant stakeholders. State and territory governments were consulted, as were peak industry bodies, individual companies, unions, consumer groups and other non-government organisations.
A common claim has been that medicines and other medical supplies will somehow be subject to the whims of big business and consumers will face hefty price hikes for prescription medicines. That is simply not true. The TPP requires no changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The coalition would not agree to such a provision, and it is time for whoever is responsible for this scaremongering to stop peddling such misinformation.
Food standards and biosecurity regulations will not be changed under the TPP. Australia will maintain control over the standards we have set to prevent the possible incursion of pests or diseases across our borders.
Another false claim that has been propagated is that foreign companies will in some form be granted legal capacity to sue the Australian government if their business interests are somehow impinged on. That is a crude misrepresentation of what is known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS. The ISDS is a mechanism that is included in all free trade agreements or other investment agreements. It provides foreign investors with the right to seek redress from an international tribunal if they believe action taken by a host government breaches investment obligations. In other words, it is a mechanism that provides an opportunity for investors, including Australian companies, to protect their investments overseas. For example, if an investor believes that a government in another country is applying domestic law in a discriminatory manner, the investor can have their claim determined by an independent tribunal. ISDS cases are usually decided by three arbitrators who are independent of both government and the investor.
Australian companies have previously used ISDS to protect their investments in foreign jurisdictions. It is nonsensical to argue that such a provision should not be included as part of the TPP. Perhaps critics of the agreement would have Australian companies taking a chance in investing overseas with no such protection.
The signing of the TPP follows on from the good work done by Andrew Robb in negotiating the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement and the Japan-Australia Free Trade Agreement. These high-quality trade agreements will deliver billions of dollars of additional export income to Australia in the years ahead.
I will continue to communicate as widely as possible across my electorate the importance of Australia continuing to pursue trade liberalisation and the benefits that flow to the Australian community and our citizens. I commend the agreement and I acknowledge the work done by the negotiating team and Minister Robb, as well as Minister Robb's predecessors in the role of trade minister.