House debates

Thursday, 13 September 2018


Customs Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018, Customs Tariff Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:27 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Batman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Labor supports the Customs Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018 and the amendment. The reasons have been ably expressed by my colleagues in this House this morning. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Jason Clare, the member for Blaxland, for the work that he has done in the consideration and consultation involved in dealing with this very important issue. Serious issues still exist with the CPTPP. Labor have committed to dealing with these issues should we have the privilege of forming government.

Trade agreements these days have become far more complicated than early agreements that focused on tariffs as the main trade barriers. They are now complex, deeply detailed documents that have become more about the rules of trade and have created more barriers, in some ways, to trade than merely breaking down tariffs. Whilst I recognise the need to engage with global markets on trade and that international trade is vital to our future and economy, there needs to be very deep vigilance in a transparent and accountable way about what these trade agreements actually contain. They need to be accountable to those in this country who stand to be affected, either positively or negatively. We all seem to understand that there are winners and losers in these processes. They need to be accountable in a way that allows all stakeholders—businesses, farmers, workers and their unions, public service providers and civil society—to be consulted. Trade agreements should have, at the heart of their intent, not only the intent to protect profits and business interests but the intent to raise living standards for all people of all the nations involved in these agreements.

I note that the CPTPP has a labour clause. This has been hailed as a great advancement in these agreements. Whilst, yes, it is good to have a labour chapter, the labour chapter that is in this agreement has very few teeth. It does not refer to any of the ILO conventions. There are very few enforcements for violations of any of these clauses and these things that are necessary, supposedly, to support and protect workers' rights. For example, there are no enforceable penalties for violations of enforced labour or child labour; it merely recognises the goal of eliminating forced labour. We can use these agreements to improve the lot of everybody involved, of all citizens, if we are prepared to negotiate openly and transparently and give such things as labour chapters real teeth.

Closer to home, it should mean that these agreements should show that they do not encroach on the aspects of society that are dearly held and valued by our communities. Many trade agreements have come to do just that. They encroach on parts of the economy that are vital to our wellbeing. They have come to encroach on the realm of governments in making their own laws and decisions in the best interests of their citizens, giving special rights to corporations through ISDS clauses. They encroach on the rights to access and deliver state-run essential services like health care, education and water. They encroach on the delicate and important management by governments of national immigration policy. They encroach on the ability of governments to properly and carefully regulate their labour markets and the skill standards of our professional workers. They encroach on our sovereign rights to determine how we protect our environment. They encroach on the need to determine Indigenous rights in things like land rights for First Nations peoples. These things should not happen. Our concerns with the CPTPP go to many of these issues.

I'm pleased that a Labor government will address the harmful aspects of trade negotiations by introducing new rules for trade negotiations generally and by dealing with some of the more harmful aspects of this particular agreement. Let's take the ISDS as an example. This agreement includes an investor-state dispute settlement provision which gives foreign corporations the ability to sue the Australian government. These provisions have been wound back from those in the original TPP, but they are still there. Australia has been sued under one of these agreements, the previous trade agreement, over our plain packaging on cigarettes. In very poor countries like El Salvador, those governments have been sued by corporations over mining interests. These are countries that can ill-afford the long, tedious and expensive court cases that unfold—court cases that are held in courts that are not necessarily run by the rule of law.

Labor and the broader labour movement will oppose the inclusion of ISDS provisions in trade agreements. A Shorten Labor government will not sign agreements that include these provisions, and will negotiate to remove these provisions from agreements where they have been included by the Liberals. We know we can do this because a precedent has been set by the New Zealand government under Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Labour market testing is another area of contention and concern with this agreement. It waives labour market testing for contractual service suppliers for six countries: Canada, Peru, Mexico, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. Labour market testing is incredibly important. It means that local workers can have access to jobs before overseas workers, who, we know, are unfortunately relentlessly treated with fewer rights and have concerning conditions of employment. Their local conditions are undermined because they are exploited. As we have heard so often in the media, they're exploited right around this country through being underpaid and through what can often be termed 'modern slavery' conditions. A Shorten Labor government will not sign trade agreements that waive labour market testing for contractual service providers. We are committed to negotiating to reinstate labour market testing for contractual service providers with all countries where the Liberal government has agreed to waive it.

Independent economic modelling is another issue that is incredibly important. I note the member for Macquarie focused on this in her contribution. Despite calls from business and recommendations from the Productivity Commission and various parliamentary inquiries, like the Harper review, the government has refused to commission independent economic modelling for this agreement. We know broadly, from the Productivity Commission, that these sorts of agreements at best have very modest or small benefits to Australia and at worst have negative effects. A Shorten Labor government will commit to conducting independent economic modelling for all trade agreements before they are signed.

Some members of the Labor movement have raised serious concerns that the agreement will waive the skills assessment requirement of Australia's immigration system. A Shorten Labor government will enforce mandatory skills-testing requirements in this agreement and not waive them in future agreements it signs. Mandatory skills testing is important to maintain the standards and safety of Australian citizens, and trade agreements should not trade things like this away.

Lastly, on the issue of accountability and transparency, it is important that all stakeholders know what is being negotiated. As I said earlier, we have a right to know where we fit into a category. Are we a winner or are we a loser? Is there any way that we can consult and improve the outcome for many of us in this country when it comes to negotiating these agreements?

I'm pleased to say that a Labor government will legislate to create an accredited trade advisers program where industry, union and civil society groups can provide real-time feedback on the draft trade agreements during negotiations, and a Labor government will strengthen the role of the parliament in trade negotiations by increasing the participation of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, or JSCOT, by providing the government's statement of objectives for negotiation for consideration and feedback and giving JSCOT briefings at the end of each round of negotiations. I am pleased that a Labor government will change the rules of trade negotiation. These new rules will actually mean, I believe, that Australia will have better benefits from international global agreements, which, as I said, should benefit everybody and should raise the living standards of all concerned.


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