Monday, 21 October 2019
Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019, Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019; Second Reading
We have heard interjections that this is rubbish. Obviously no-one has sat down and actually looked at some of the cases of systematic exploitation that have been unearthed by the use of contractual service suppliers or people on section 400 agreements. We see, time and again, people being put in the most exploitative conditions to build our buildings, service our industries and do work under these agreements, because, once someone comes here, they are under the thumb of the employer who says, 'If you don't accept these lower wages and conditions, I'll revoke your permission on the visa and you are on the next plane back.' That is what allows for exploitation, which has been uncovered time and again.
We also have clauses in here that allow corporations to sue governments if those governments dare to do something in the interests of their own people which somehow impinges on the profitability of those corporations. Peru is one of the countries being talked about. A company took Peru to court—it is not even a court; they are these secret tribunals where you don't have to have judicial qualifications. It is why the former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia has said, 'Hey, watch out; Australia is trading away its judicial sovereignty to these secret tribunals as part of these so-called ISDS clauses.' You allow two or three people sitting in a room, secret panel, to decide whether or not a corporation can sue the Australian government. When I say 'sue', it's not just for money; they can actually require that we change the laws. Peru got sued through one of these tribunals, because it deigned to pass laws that benefited its Indigenous population. A French company sued the Egyptian government because that government passed laws with respect to lifting the minimum wage. That is why people do not like these.
Let's get to the specifics of some of these. We know there is a problem, because the Labor Party has identified that there is a problem, but they've wriggled out of it and said, 'It's okay; we'll sign up to the one the Liberals have negotiated.' As I read the agreements, to give an example of this, previously governments have been taken to court when they tried to restrict tobacco by plain-packaging laws. In the Hong Kong agreement, as I understand it, there is mention of tobacco; in the Peru agreement there is mention of tobacco—but not in the Indonesian agreement. Why is there no mention of tobacco in the Indonesian agreement? I'd be happily told that I'm wrong. Why are there specific mentions in the other agreements and not the Indonesian one? Is it just coincidence that that happens to be a country where the tobacco industry has a significant stake? Are we opening the door to more litigation against Australia on the tobacco front? You can sure as hell bet we are on the aged-care front and in a bunch of other service industries. Where we in this parliament think we are democratically elected to pass laws, we will find we no longer have the capacity to legislate, because someone will come along and say, 'Hang on, you can't pass that, because that might affect the profitability of corporation X over here; we're going to wind it back.'
The situation in Hong Kong is especially concerning if you are concerned about democracy. What we have seen recently in Hong Kong is continued brutal repression of democracy activists and leaders. One of the things that those democracy leaders have asked us is to defer any agreements that apply to Hong Kong until the situation there is resolved. We have had members of the Liberal Party, of the government in this place, get themselves photographed with the Hong Kong demonstrators to say, 'Yes, we stand with you in support of democracy.' Well, those very same activists are saying, 'Please do not give legitimacy to the other side by proceeding with a deal at a very time when we are being attacked and our lives are under threat.' That is a very sensible call that no-one should be able to refuse. So when we come to the consideration in detail stage we will be moving an amendment to delay, should, as I expect, Labor go over and sit with the government to support something their corporate masters have negotiated.
If the bills are going to go ahead, then, at the least, we should do three things. First, we should not proceed with the agreement with Hong Kong until the situation there is resolved; we are proposing at least a year's breathing space. Second, we should not allow this legislation that is being debated here to give corporations the right to sue our government and get us to change our laws just because our government does something that is for the benefit of the Australian people. We have the capacity to pass amendments to say, 'No, these deals don't come into effect until you go back and negotiate something better.'
As I said before, we are presented with a 'take it or leave it', which means we can't get into the specifics of any individual agreement and take this bit out or that bit out. In that context, that's why we are going to oppose them. But if the parliament is going to approve them, then enough of this, 'Oh, we'll do something different if we are in government' from the opposition. No; we've got the capacity to put changes through now and to say to the government: 'If you are so desperate to pass this deal, go back and negotiate something that the parliament wants. If this deal has to be done, if it's really that desperate, go back and negotiate something that takes out those provisions that allow corporations to sue government and to get us to change our laws. Also, go and do something else.' Again, we don't need to have, 'If only we'd had a change of government at the election'; we can fix this here and now. We can say, 'Go back and renegotiate the agreements to make it explicit that you advertise locally first.'
To all those people who are loudly yapping away from the government backbenches, who have never even read the text of the agreement, saying, 'It's okay, it's all rubbish; you can be assured of our protections': if we can be assured of the protections, then you won't have any problem with supporting an amendment that says that we are going to renegotiate some side deals that make it crystal clear that you will advertise locally first. What would be the objection to that?
An honourable member interjecting—
It would take too much time, they say. There you hear it. The corporate masters have said, 'Get this legislation through now, even if workers have to go hang,' and Labor and the Liberals are shamefully agreeing to it. (Time expired)