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; Consideration in Detail
by leave—I move amendment (1) as circulated in my name:
(1) Clause 2, pages 2 and 3, table items 2 to 4, omit the table items, substitute:
(2) Clause 2, pages 2 and 3, table items 2 to 4, omit the table items, substitute:
(3) Clause 2, pages 2 and 3, table item 4, omit the table item, substitute:
This amendment deals with the very pernicious clauses that are in these agreements that give corporations the right to sue governments. People may not be aware of what is in these clauses. They sometimes go by the technical name of 'ISDS clauses' but they have very, very real impacts. Because these so-called free trade agreements have effectively been written by big corporations with their representatives in the Liberal Party and endorsed by the Labor Party, these agreements give corporations the right to prosecute and sue governments when governments have the temerity to pass laws that are in the interests of the wellbeing of their own citizens.
To give you an idea of how these clauses have operated in the past—this is not a fanciful issue; this is a very, very real issue—they have been used to sue governments who try to take action with respect to plain packaging for tobacco. Peru, who is one of the signatories to one of the agreements we're talking about, was on the receiving end of an action when it passed laws that protected the rights of its indigenous people. Egypt, as I understand it, got sued by a French company because they had the temerity to pass legislation that lifted or addressed the minimum wage. So these clauses can have very real impact. And you don't go to a court to have these things heard. You don't go to some big court where the rules of procedural fairness apply. You have two or three people behind closed doors, using secret rules—they don't even need to be judges—and interpreting the agreements, and then they come up with decisions that say, 'Yes, you're right, Big Corporation, that country is trying to do things that benefit the environment,' or its workers or its first inhabitants. 'That country now has to change its laws.' We're not even talking about compensation here; you can be forced to change your laws as a result of this, because all of a sudden you're found to be noncompliant.
That is why so many people have objected to these agreements. If they were just free trade agreements between two countries, that would be one thing. But, when big corporations from another country are able to tell our government what to do, that is a problem. It's why the former Chief Justice of Australia rang the alarm bells and said just in the last couple of years, 'We are at risk of trading away Australia's judicial sovereignty,' and he is right. He is right. If you don't want to believe the Greens, if you don't want to believe the unions who have pored over every detail of these agreements, if you don't want to believe people in civil society, if you don't want to believe the Labor Party members who voted against it at their own conference—but are now going back on that—then listen to the former Chief Justice.
But there's something we can do about it. We don't have to accept the hand-wringing of unenforceable side letters from the trade minister, from the very same government we've been told for the last couple of weeks by the Labor opposition that we shouldn't trust because they're loose with the truth. Well, if they're loose with the truth, which I agree with, you shouldn't believe something they've written in a side letter! We can actually do something here. We don't need to wait for a change of government—and I for one hope a change of government comes very soon, and it can if we start standing up to them instead of agreeing and rolling over and letting them tickle our tummies all the time, which is what's happening at the moment. We could pass this amendment and do something substantial.
This amendment is saying to the government, 'We've just had the second reading vote. We didn't get our way. I opposed it. A number of others did as well. Fine, you're going to go ahead with it—but, if you're going to go ahead with it, then park it until you've gone back and taken these terrible clauses out of the agreement.' A lot of people in this place think these clauses are wrong, so we're saying to you: if you want to have your agreements, then, fine, have your agreements, but go back and renegotiate to strip out these terrible clauses out. If you want them that much, go back and take these clauses out, because we know that these clauses do harm. These clauses prevent governments from doing things that their people have elected them to do. There is no reason not to support this amendment, because if everyone, whether part of a party or an independent, sitting here says, 'We don't like these,' then we can take them out— (Time expired)