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

12:36 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy) Share this | Hansard source

It's often accepted as a statement of fact in the world of politics and the media that trade is undeniably a good thing. People will say that it's very important that we embrace freer and more open trade, and they'll tell us how important it is. But it's one thing to say something's important and another thing to actually prove it, because people feel the impact of this debate in different ways in the community. People aren't necessarily accepting that freer trade of itself is just something that is undeniably good for them. They experience it in different ways and have for many years.

At any rate, in some parts of the country—and having grown up in a working-class family, especially as the son of a metalworker—the whole issue of freer trade has been one that's been pretty contentious. People have had to, over the course of the eighties and the seventies, I think it's fair to say, go through the booms and busts. We used to have situations where there were periods of time where people were out of work for long stints, digging into their own family savings and probably only having one breadwinner in the place bringing in the income. Then they saw the economy take off again, got the jobs and travelled far to conduct that or do those jobs themselves, only to wait for another 18 months, two years or maybe three years before things went back to the usual cycle of a bust. We've seen that happen.

As a teenager, I saw what Prime Minister Hawke and Treasurer Keating were doing in trying to change the way that we undertook trade in this country. They said that trade liberalisation and opening up the country would be important, and it is. It is important in a market where we've now got 25 million people being able to find more people interested in our goods and services, which is an economic priority. Being able to make that happen is important. But, having said that, as people were going through the process of opening up our economy to provide for freer trade, they were understandably concerned, and you certainly saw that there were people—again, I'll come back to the case of metalworkers—who would wonder whether they were competing against others who were doing the same job for less. That is a big concern to people. They wonder: 'Is this sustainable? Will I lose pay because I'm competing against someone who's working at half my rate and doing the same sort of work that may not necessarily'—in their minds—'be the same quality?' These are the types of arguments you have to confront when it comes to the whole issue of trade.

But you'd also see, as that process opened up, Australians here working through their companies with other companies in other parts of the world on joint ventures. People would be performing jobs or parts of work where they would contribute their part in a joint venture to team up with another company operating in our region. You'd see them being able to do that work, and you'd see the economic value reach out across borders. We've seen export markets open up where local firms employing local people have been able to supply products internationally, and that has seen those firms sustain those jobs a lot longer.

I guess the question is: when you look back at over 25 years of constant economic growth in this country, has it been a fluke? No. There were a lot of changes that had to be made, and one of the ingredients of that was trade. It is no accident that we've had the stretch of economic success that we've had. Some big decisions have had to be made, decisions that people have questioned and wondered about: 'Are they worth it?' But the reality is that those decisions have seen things change, and for the better. Trade reform has been a big part of that.

While I myself am pro-trade, I'm not necessarily pro the way that these agreements have been done in the past and even up to the point of this agreement. The types of ideas that the shadow trade minister spelled out to this chamber earlier today, captured in the second reading amendment that he's put forward, are really important. As I said, you might think it's important that we, as a nation of 25 million people, have a way to trade our products on the international stage in a much freer way. But the way that those things are underpinned through these agreements and the way those agreements get reached—that system has got to change, and we've been saying that a number of things need to happen.

A lot of these agreements land in this place, and there is very little chance to change the outcome. The negotiation has gone on for a considerable period of time. No-one knows the framework in which the negotiations took place. No-one knows what priorities were placed within the negotiations. No-one knows what we said we would stand by no matter what and what we would be prepared to negotiate on. And, by the time the agreement gets to this chamber, it is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition with little room to move.

In this agreement that we're talking about today, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, there are a number of things that people would have deep concerns about—for example, the ability for firms from Canada to use investor-state dispute settlement provisions to extract an outcome against Australian firms. That would concern a lot of people. A lot of people on the Labor side of politics are completely opposed to ISDS provisions and have been saying that these should be weeded out. In this agreement, those provisions have been opened up to Canada.

The other element of this that we've got deep concerns about is in relation to labour market testing. The ability of six countries now to send in workers to—

Mr Katter interjecting

You're big on freedom of speech except when someone else has a different view.


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