House debates

Wednesday, 22 August 2018


Customs Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018, Customs Tariff Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018; Second Reading

5:02 pm

Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

The Customs Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus Implementation) Bill 2018 implement Australia's obligations under the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus, otherwise known as PACER Plus. I note that the minister in the chair was responsible for signing the agreement. It is good to have him here as part of this debate. Australia's relationship with the Pacific island nations is a very important one. The nations of the Pacific are our neighbours and also our friends. This agreement helps to build on this, helping to tie our economies closer together. There are currently 11 signatories to this agreement: Australia, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. As the member for Kingsford Smith just said, hopefully more countries will join this agreement in years ahead—in particular, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

This agreement will mean tariffs will be cut on 88.5 per cent of Australian exports to signatory countries, apart from New Zealand, and it will also mean that there will be no tariffs on goods imported to Australia from countries that have signed this agreement, apart from New Zealand. These bills implement that commitment. Under the agreement, we will also provide $4 million to assist Pacific island countries to prepare to ratify this agreement and $19 million to update their customs processes. I should note, though, that this doesn't make up for the more than $11 billion that this government has cut from the aid budget. As the Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map that was released earlier this month shows, aid to Pacific island nations has been cut by a number of countries over the last four years, and other countries and organisations like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are moving to fill that gap.

It's also worthy of note that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties gave a report to the House on this agreement. In recommending support for it, they also recommended that this agreement include—or that future trade agreements include—independent economic analysis of the merits of these agreements. This is the third time that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties have recommended that the government conduct independent economic modelling for trade agreements. I note they did that again for a fourth time today. The committee reported today on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and recommendation 3 of their report is identical to the recommendation they gave in relevance to PACER Plus. I can read that for the House:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider implementing a process through which independent modelling and analysis of a proposed trade agreement is undertaken by the Productivity Commission, or equivalent organisation, and provided to the Committee alongside the National Interest Assessment (NIA) to improve assessment of the agreement.

That was a unanimous recommendation of the committee, led by the Hon. Stuart Robert, who I know the minister holds in high regard. His recommendation, and the recommendation of all of the members of that committee, is worthy of serious consideration by this parliament and by this government.

It has also been recommended by other parliamentary committees. It has been recommended by the Harper review, by the Productivity Commission and by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. However, unfortunately, so far it has fallen on deaf ears. I think that is a mistake, because this sort of independent analysis helps to respond to community concerns about agreements like this and whether they are in the national interest. At the moment, what the parliament relies upon and what the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties relies upon is that national interest analysis, a report done by DFAT, a report done by serious and capable professionals, but by individuals who are responsible for negotiating the deal, saying that it's a good deal. I think it would be a worthy addition to public debate and consideration of these agreements for the parliament to have available to it an independent economic analysis of that agreement struck by the government. That's why, if we win the next election, I and other members of the Labor Party team have said we'll fix that and ensure that all future trade agreements are subject to independent economic analysis. With that, I commend the bill to the House.


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