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)
On the issue of sovereignty, I remember raising it when I was in the party room on the conservative side of the parliament, and the then leader, from the electorate of Mayo, said, 'There is an issue of sovereignty,' and the member for Melbourne is quite right in raising that issue. Time has moved on very dramatically from then. There might have been two blackfellas here in Canberra, 250 years ago, saying, 'These whitefellas are real good. I get blankets off them and I get trinkets off them and I get mirrors off them. They're really good blokes. I'm right in with these whitefellas.' Well, that may not have been a really good idea for the Australians who were here then. Is there any difference to the people here in Canberra today saying, 'Oh, yes; this is great for us. This foreign investment is just marvellous. We're getting so much out of it.' I don't know what we're getting out of it. In Queensland, we provided the money to build the railway lines into the mines. We provided the money to build the ports, and the people of Queensland owned the railway lines and the ports and benefited from it. With the federal government under Doug Anthony during that period, we maintained ownership of all of our airports. We don't now. It's very hard to find what exactly we as Australians do own.
The member for Melbourne is quite right in his comments that you are giving away your sovereignty and making the same mistakes that we as Australians made 250 years ago. People will curse your name. The history books will curse your name. They'll say, 'Who gave this country away?' Already people cannot believe that the two sides of this parliament sold all of our gas reserves for six cents and we're now buying the gas back for $16. We can't afford to buy it, so industries are closing throughout Australia. Many of the great industries of my electorate are under very serious threat because of the price of gas. The state member, Shane Knuth, a member of our party, says it constantly. Mr Beattie got up and told us that, if we opened the door to competition in the electricity industry, prices would go down. Competition would drive the prices down. Well, we went from $670 to $2,400 a household on the free market. To me it is extraordinary. We had the free market agreement with the United States. They wanted quarantine laws emasculated, and they got exactly what they wanted. It's oversighted now by a body which is half American and half Australian. That's exactly what they wanted and they got it. They wanted pharmaceuticals—virtually an open-door policy—and they got it.
There are three things we wanted, according to the Financial Review and The Australian: dairy access, beef access and sugar access. As you're well aware, I represent a major part of the Australian beef industry. We always got a fair go from America. I really can't complain. As to why we needed some extra access, I don't really know, because I've never received a complaint about access into the United States. I've represented probably the biggest beef area in Australia for almost 50 years and I've never received a single complaint. So forget about beef. The benefit to the Australian dairy industry was one ice cream per week for every dairy farmer. That was the benefit they got out of it. Nothing! And the sugar industry was wiped completely. So we got nothing out of it; they got everything they wanted.
This is the manifestation of the sycophantic nature of this place. They we there grovelling to the white fellas 250 years ago. Now they're grovelling to the big corporates. You're watching the corporate colonisation of our country. I applaud the member. We may disagree violently on many things, but I applaud him and the member for Hobart for their strong stand and consistent stand. History will vindicate us and history will condemn the rest of you.
I don't know whether government or Labor are going to rise to speak on this, but I do have a question for the minister about ISDS clauses. I made a comment during my contribution in the substantive debate which goes to the ISDS clauses which wasn't rebutted by the minister, so I'm going to ask again if it's true. In our reading of these ISDS clauses that the Liberals and Labor are about to tick off on, the Peru one contains a specific mention of tobacco, the Hong Kong one contains a specific mention of tobacco, but there's nothing about tobacco in the Indonesia agreement. Is that right?
I think that has belled the cat, because in the Hong Kong agreement and in the Peru agreement there is mention of both health and tobacco but in the Indonesia agreement there is only mention of health, not of tobacco. If and when the first suit hits Australia—you have been put on notice, Labor and Liberal; you have been put on notice about the deficiency of these ISDS clauses.
We have the opportunity to do something about it right here—not just about tobacco but about the agreements in general. We can say, 'Go back and renegotiate.' I understand that people are hanging their hats a lot on the letter from the minister saying he is going to ask for the old Indonesian agreement to be terminated. But what if Indonesia say no? What if they never get around to it? What if the first action is taken before they get around to it? We have the capacity here to do something about it. We don't have to wait for a change of government or another election. We can do something here and now to say that big corporates should not be allowed to sue the Australian government about the things that matter to us.
So let's just pass this very simple amendment. It allows Labor and the Liberals to have their trade deals that they are both wedded to. They can still have them and still get their corporate donations from the same corporations that are going to benefit from them. They can still go and suck at their teat, if that's what they want to do. But at least pass an amendment here and now that says big corporations cannot sue the Australian government, like we've seen with governments around the world, because we take action around minimum wage, around tobacco, around protecting Indigenous Australians and around the environment.
I'll only take a couple of minutes of the chamber's time. Centre Alliance, formerly the Nick Xenophon Team, has had a very longstanding concern with ISDS provisions. We should not give multinationals the green light to sue our nation over our laws that we make in the best interests of Australians.
I will briefly touch upon the Philip Morris v Australia case from 2011. That took four years to resolve. That cost taxpayers time and money. The reason for that is Philip Morris thought they could use ISDS provisions to sue Australia for its plain packaging of cigarettes. Many countries are now looking at ISDS provisions and realising that they are not in their nations' interests, and I would urge the government to very strongly consider removing any ISDS provisions from any free trade agreement that we are about to decide and sign as a nation. We should never allow multinationals to have rule and control over what happens in this parliament. This parliament should only be for the benefit of Australians, for laws for Australians, and we should not allow multinationals to get in between.
I will take even less time than the member for Mayo. It would be wrong of me to not take this opportunity to point out that the whole issue of ISDS is particularly relevant to my home state of Tasmania. We're obviously a small state with a small economy—a state government with a small budget and small financial resources—but we are one of the six states of the Commonwealth, and we should have equal standing with the other states. But in this regard, when it comes to investor-state disputes, we are particularly disadvantaged. What would happen if a large foreign company was to try and sue the Tasmanian government for its GM-free status. There is every chance that that foreign company would have the resources of, or more resources than, the Tasmanian state government. What would happen if a foreign company wanted to sue the Tasmanian government because of its extra-tough quarantine requirements on its aquaculture? Chances are that that foreign company would have every advantage over the Tasmanian government; it could, in fact, have more financial resources than the Tasmanian government.
What I am saying is that the ability for an Australian government to defend itself is even more pronounced when it comes to my home state of Tasmania, because it would be so much easier for enormously wealthy foreign companies, armed to the eyeballs with a legion of lawyers, to take us on. It would obviously put the Tasmanian government at a significant disadvantage if those companies were to take us on. So, if only for Tasmania, and things like our GM-free status and our extra tough quarantine safeguards, this amendment from the member for Melbourne must be embraced.
I don't see why a federal government can't, for once in its life, instead of being hostile to improvements from the crossbench, think, 'You characters on the crossbench have a good idea there; we'll take that on board and we'll actually support that amendment.' That would be in the public interest nationally—for all of the states that are represented here on the crossbench; that is, Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania. It would be in all of our interests—it would be in the public interest—if the federal government would swallow their pride and say, 'Good idea; we'll take that on board and we'll support the excellent amendment moved by the member for Melbourne.'
I move amendment (2) as circulated in my name:
(2) Clause 2, pages 2 and 3, table items 2 to 4, omit the table items, substitute:
As we've seen, there's been a vote in this House that says Labor and Liberal want the deals to go ahead. Okay; we voted against that, but we are now in a situation where it is going ahead. Because these deals don't allow you to go back and renegotiate individual terms—which is a flaw in the process, but that's where we're at—we now have to take the agreement, as it seems, on its face. One of the things we can do, though, is say, 'Some problems with it have been raised, including around what's called labour market testing, which means advertising for jobs locally before allowing the use of classes of visas or provisions under this agreement; we want you to go back and negotiate something else before we enter into this.' That's what we should do.
Many, many people have raised the very legitimate point that, under these agreements, what you do is open up whole new categories of people who are able to be brought here through the loopholes without there having to be local advertising first. I want to be clear: there is nothing inherently wrong with saying, 'Let's have people who live overseas come here and have a chance to work.' Of course that can happen. But most people in this country would think, as a basic matter of principle, that you advertise locally first to check there's no-one available who wants the job or who could do the job with a reasonable amount of training. But what we've found under these agreements that have happened so far is that once you start opening up categories of people like contractual service suppliers, as are referred to in previous agreements like ChAFTA and are referred to in this as well, and give them the fast track around all of Australia's labour laws, they end up coming here and working in exploitative below local wages and conditions. That is terrible for them. That is terrible for those people. I've even seen it in my electorate. They get brought here under a visa where the employer is able to say: 'You've got to do what we say because your ability to stay in this country depends on me. If you don't do what I say then I, as the employer, will deport you. We'll organise for you to be deported by revoking your visa.'
So what has happened? In Victoria, for example, on our power networks—the poles and wires that bring electricity to people—it cannot be said that there is a shortage of local workers available to do that kind of work, but we have seen instances of the big corporations bringing in people to do things like line maintenance at below local wages and conditions. These poor workers are told, 'If you speak up about it, we'll deport you.' In Richmond, in my electorate, they were building apartment blocks where they had people installing lift stackers—as if you can't find someone here to do it. People are working on construction projects more broadly across Australia, and they're getting paid about half of what people locally would get paid, and they're being forced to sleep in places where there are many to a room. None of us would put up with that.
Why are they doing it? They're doing it because they're brought out here on these promises of great deals, and then they're told, 'If you speak up, if you go to a union, if you speak to anyone else, you're on the next plane back.' Why does that happen? It happens because there are not provisions in place that require proper testing of the labour market here—proper, decent advertising of local jobs. After you've been through that process, if you still can't find someone, there's probably no-one in this country who would object to you saying, 'We'll bring in someone else if no-one here is willing to do it.' But the point is that these agreements circumvent all of that. They now put in place new categories where it is clear the labour market testing does not apply with the kind of rigour it should.
The government will say: 'It's okay. We've got safeguards in place and we've just written a letter to the Labor Party'—which they've been foolish enough to accept as being worth something, even though it's just a letter that doesn't actually mean anything—'that says, "It's okay; existing provisions will continue to apply."' (Time expired)
I very strongly back the member for Melbourne. I regret to say this because some of these farmers are my friends, but I've been into the accommodation. There are three beds on that side, one on top of the other, and there are three beds on that side, and I could not put both my elbows up. There was no space between the beds; just enough space to walk. Their clothing was stacked on sticks. They'd broken off branches of trees or they had some broom handles or something, and they just had their clothes on them. There was nowhere for them to hang their clothes. It was about a 25-metre walk to the toilets. They're probably paying $100, I thought. The bloke who was showing me around said, 'It's $150 a week they're paying in rent.' That's $150 a week to share a little room that's 10 feet wide and with six beds in it. Are they paying the industrial award rate? Yes, they are, but there's a little round robin taking place here—that is, they've got to pay the labour hire company back for getting them the job in Australia. Then the labour hire company pays the employer because the employer's getting a beaut deal. So there are lovely little round robins taking place everywhere, and they're quite legal. There's nothing illegal about them. When Keating said he was going to free up the market, I threw a boot at the wall because I thought: 'Is this bloke completely mad? Are we going to go down to Asian slave labour wage levels or are we going to close every industry in Australia?' There are only two possibilities. Our industries can't possibly survive competing against people that pay their workers—the last time I looked, and this is a few years ago, in the United States, farm labour cost was $5 an hour, mostly to Mexicans, wetback labour, in agriculture, and over here it was $15 an hour. How can we possibly compete against this? We can't. There's no doubt that our wages are tumbling in Australia.
Mining is probably the biggest employer in this country; the honourable member here for Western Australia would back me up on that. In mining, an experienced miner earned $200,000 some seven, eight, nine years ago. He's now lucky if he's on $100,000, and he has no permanent job. There's contractual work that might last one or two years, and he's living away from home. This is all as a result of your free trade, and it will just go down and down until we have the same labour conditions that they enjoy in Third World countries. The men that fought to bring these laws in—as I mentioned before, every time I walk out past, I salute Charlie McDonald, the first member for Kennedy because he was fighting the same battles that the member for Kennedy is fighting 110 years later. Winston Churchill said that those who cannot learn from history will be forced to re-suffer it. That is what is happening here. Our wage structures are collapsing through the floor.
The member for Melbourne is absolutely 100 per cent right. I've seen the accommodation with my own eyes. I've been told—admittedly, I haven't got any documentary proof. That would be very hard to get. I'm not holding it against the employers. What are they supposed to do? It's a free market now, so they're competing against slave labour produced products from overseas. What should they do—close their doors? You can't blame them for going down this pathway. And that is why some of us consistently and continuously oppose what has been disastrous for this country.
I repeat: we have no motor vehicle industry. We have very little textile, footwear and clothing industry left. We've even managed to export a quarter of our electricity industry. Instead of having coal-fired power stations in Australia, we now have solar panel factories in China. We figured out how to do that. We were 90 per cent self-sufficient in petrol before this free trade agreement rubbish started off. Now we're three per cent self-sufficient in petrol. The last whitegoods factory closed in Orange, New South Wales, three years ago, so we've got no whitegoods. What exactly do we produce? We're down to two quarries. That's all. We're not a mining country. I'm a mining man. I've lived all of my life in and out of mining, and mining is when you dig it out and sell the metal. We dig it out of the ground— (Time expired)
Can I take this opportunity to back the member for Kennedy on a couple of really important points he made. One was this practice with foreign workers who appear to be being paid Australian wages but are not. I have heard stories in Hobart from a number of sources that this is exactly what happens. A foreign worker on some sort of temporary work visa will get the Australian wage, but when he walks out the door he's expected to hand a portion of it back to his employer. The result being that those people are being paid substantially less than their Australian counterparts. That's why these foreign workers are so desirable in Australia, that's why so many of them are being brought in—because they get paid less than their Australian counterparts. That has a number of effects. It means that there are Australian workers who are not being paid instead and it means that those Australian workers who are being employed are suffering downward pressure on their wages and conditions.
The government can't claim that this isn't happening. For years I have been hearing stories around Hobart. We've been very lucky to have a commercial construction boom in recent years, but at just about every big construction site in Hobart you will see foreign workers. You will see foreign plasterers, foreign tilers and foreign glaziers. You can't tell me that we don’t have plasterers and tilers in Australia who aren't looking for work. Of course we do. Sure, they may be in short supply in Hobart, because we've got a construction boom in Hobart, but you can't tell me that there aren't tilers and plasterers, among other trades, in Melbourne, in Sydney and, in particular, in regional mainland cities, who aren't looking for work. Of course, they are out there looking for work.
The system is not working, and the simple and undeniable fact is that these free trade agreements are costing Australian jobs and creating downward pressure on wages and conditions for Australian workers. This nonsense from the government and, I suspect, from the opposition—in fact, I know that it is from the opposition, because during the 43rd Parliament there was a real surge in the number of foreign workers coming into this country—that these foreign workers are not costing Australian jobs and that these foreign workers are being paid Australian wages and enjoying Australian conditions is just not true. The government and the opposition know that. Either they know it and they are wilfully ignorant or they are clueless. If people like me walking the streets and talking to construction workers in Hobart can see it, surely the government and the opposition should be able to see. The member for Kennedy—way up there in North Queensland—is aware of it. So we can only assume that the government and the opposition are either wilfully ignorant or are well aware of it and they are misleading this place.
I thought that Labor or Liberal might rise to talk and say, 'No; it's okay; we don't need these amendments because we've got these great side letters that we've just exchanged. So don't you worry about that; it'll all be fine.' The fact that neither of them are prepared to get up and defend these agreements and rebut the points that I'm making tells you everything that you need to know—that they know that the points I am making are true. They know that, in these agreements, you will be able to bypass Australian labour law.
We were here on this issue with ChAFTA, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, where we tried to get some protections to stop the circumventing of Australian labour law. And what happened? Well, Labor sold out the electricians on that one. With that agreement, we ended up with classes of workers, contractual service suppliers and other independent contract people who were able to come in and bypass the existing labour laws and any other agreements that might have been put around the side to give the fiction that there was going to be some proper labour market testing—and we have seen it come to pass. Now, we are back here again with the same provisions about introducing whole new swathes of workers that allow you to bypass Australian labour law—and they can't even be bothered to get up and say, 'No, it's all right; we fixed that this time,' because they know that they haven't.
That is why so many working people and their representatives have worked so hard to get a change of position from at least one of the parties in this place and for them to say, 'We've got to start saying no to these labour market testing provisions and to allowing Australian labour law to be circumvented. We've got to start putting in a hard floor in this country so that, no matter where you come from, you get Australian wages and conditions when you work here, and that involves some rigorous labour marketing testing and rigorous checking to make sure that there aren't some locals who can do the job first.'
We've been debating this for many, many years—and we've certainly been debating it since the China free trade agreement. I note that one contributor from the opposition said that someone will come in here and start trying to make some cheap political points. Well, no, we have been raising this year after year because there is a problem, and you know there is a problem! You don't even have the courage to get up and speak to these amendments, because you know that you are about to vote to create huge loopholes that will allow plane-loads of exploited overseas workers to fly through. That will be bad for them and it will be bad for local wages and conditions as well. You know it!
This government has a one-seat majority and if we worked together and took the fight up to this government, come the next by-election they could be out on their ear—and there will be a by-election during this parliament, because there always is. But if Labor keeps going over to the government and saying, 'Oh, yep, we'll side with you on that,' every time the government wants tax cuts for the rich, and says 'Yep, we'll vote with you for that, like we did last week,' every time the government wants to rip $4 billion out of education, then you are just giving this government kudos it doesn't deserve. You are facilitating their agenda, Labor! We should be standing up to them and presenting an alternative, rather than doing exactly what they want. I accept that maybe Labor wants to vote with the Liberals to give tax cuts to the rich, instead of voting with the Greens, and maybe Labor wants to vote with the Liberals to rip $4 billion out of education, instead of voting with the Greens, but I would have thought Labor might vote with us to protect workers' rights. But it is left to the Greens and the crossbench to say, 'Let's address these problems.' Do you know why? It is because we are not on the payroll of the big corporations, but Labor and the Liberals are. Every time the big corporations say that they want the right to do whatever they like to undermine your hard-won and hard-fought-for local labour laws that have taken you over a century to build up, Liberal and Labor ask, 'How high do you want us to jump? How much do you want us to trade off?'
If there were any time to stand up to the government, it is now. I am deeply sorry that there wasn't a change of government at the last election. There wasn't, but now we have the chance to do something about it by standing up and presenting an alternative. So, I say to Labor: Look at it. You are the opposition—the clue is in the title. (Time expired)
Let's just talk about the politics of the people of Australia. I'm a very humble man, Deputy Speaker McVeigh. I have much to be humble about. I wrote a book and it was the best-selling history book in the year it came out. Murdoch Books used Kevin Rudd to launch it in Sydney, to over 1,000 people, and Barrie Cassidy to launch it in Melbourne, to over 1,000 people. I have great faith in the Australian people. If I do, then I believe they're going to slaughter these two parties. There was a little group called the Labor Party—my family are very wealthy and very powerful but they backed the labour movement with every ounce of energy that they had. We had seven seats in Queensland and eight seats in New South Wales. Within 15 years we controlled the parliaments of Australia and ran Queensland for the next 50 years straight. We won every seat outside of the south-east corner and every election for 50 years. But what you don't see is happening. Tony Abbott stood up in this place and led the clapping to congratulate the then trade minister on the free trade deal. The minister sold the Port of Darwin and then went on $880,000 a year from the Port of Darwin owners the next year. Tony Abbott stood up and clapped, as did all of the Liberal Party, all the little sycophants that are in this place. I said to the honourable member for Clark, 'He's finished. He will never survive this.' Within three months he was destroyed—completely. Now, if you think you're going to get away with continuing down this free trade path—people wonder why we're associated with it—I was there in the room when Michael O'Connor tore into the Labor Party, like I'd never before heard anyone at a public meeting rip into a Prime Minister, over the section 457 workers. These people actually didn't do that; it was the Labor Party that did it. They were bringing in about 30,000 and then Labor came in and they brought in 165,000. O'Connor was quite right. He's providing the money for the ALP and he's getting a big kick in the backside and a kick in the head from them in this place with their free trade deals. There is not the slightest doubt that the member for Melbourne and the member for Clark are dead right. If you're seriously going to say to the Australian people that it is not going to undermine their pay and conditions, you have to assume every Australian is a drongo and a mug. We've got it terribly wrong many times in our history, but the Australian people always get it right in the end. That's the problem for you mainstream parties. You won't keep getting away with it.
Just regarding labour market testing, there are no new waivers of labour market testing under these three free trade agreements. Nothing in the agreements changes Australia's workplace laws, nor do the agreements allow for the exploitation of working holidaymakers. All workers in Australia, be they Australian nationals or foreign workers, are treated equally under Australian workplace law. Nothing in the agreement allows foreign workers to work without the necessary licensing or registrations. The government will continue to take steps to ensure working holidaymakers are not exploited and, if required, are qualified for any work that they undertake.
The question is that the amendment be agreed to.
A division having been called and the bells having been rung—
As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes in this division, I declare the question resolved in the negative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question negatived, Mr Bandt, Mr Katter and Mr Wilkie voting aye.
The question now is that this bill be agreed to.
I move amendment (3) as circulated in my name:
(3) Clause 2, pages 2 and 3, table item 4, omit the table item, substitute:
We have a chance now to make it clear that we are not going to proceed with the agreement with respect to Hong Kong until the situation there is resolved.
We've heard a lot from members of this place about how they support the democracy activists. Some even had pictures of them joining them. Those democracy leaders are now asking us to do something very straightforward. Those democracy leaders said, 'Don't proceed with this agreement because of the pressure that we are under, because of the assaults that we are under, because it will strengthen the case against us.' On this issue, Labor and the Liberals supped together, but you'd also find the Productivity Commission saying, as with the Greens, that we should have independent analyses into all of this. This is a day when a number of right-thinking people across the spectrum, no matter which political position you come from, are saying, 'Hang on, we should not be proceeding with this.'
I want to do another first and read an article from The Australian. I don't think I've ever done this before, but it's worth doing because they report that Hong Kong pro-democracy leader, Bonnie Leung, has urged Australian MPs not to ratify a new trade deal with the Chinese territory unless human rights guarantees are inserted into the agreement. Ms Leung issued the plea to members of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on Thursday, saying Hong Kong had become a police state without accountability for those attacking the protesters. Ms Leung said Australia should use the deal to 'put some pressure' on the administration of Hong Kong chief Executive, Carrie Lam. These quotes from her are important. She said:
They should pause the trade deal and put in some guarantees on human rights and an independent investigation on police brutality.
I’m not asking them to scrap this deal. I’m sure it will be beneficial to both sides. But more importantly if we are facing imminent danger, if we are about to be killed, what good is the trade deal for us?
Let's put aside whether you think these agreements are good or bad. There's clearly a majority in this place that wants to proceed with them. Let's put aside all the other issues about labour market testing and corporations being able to sue individual governments and the loss of sovereignty. Let's just focus specifically on the one agreement and the one request that is being made of us at the moment. The democracy leaders in Hong Kong are putting their lives on the line. They told us to not rip up the agreement. They told us to not refuse to go ahead with it. They just said, 'Please give us some breathing space and send a message that what is happening now is not right.'
This amendment does a very simple thing. It buys a year's breathing space for the situation there to unfold and hopefully resolve itself peacefully and hopefully resolve itself in the interest of democracy. We're saying that you can have the agreement. This amendment doesn't even seek to alter any of the terms of it, in effect. It does not seek side agreements. It just says, 'Have the agreement as negotiated, but send a message that we have heard the Hong Kong democracy leaders.' This agreement will not come into effect, to allow time for those human rights safeguards to be negotiated.
The Australian government, people sitting on the backbenches of the Liberal Party, are out there at the moment, flaunting their colours and saying, 'We stand with the democracy leaders.' Well, show it. Show it by doing it really simply and really straightforwardly. Send a message back to the Chinese government saying: 'No, you have to do better than what is happening at the moment. You have to come up with a peaceful solution that respects democracy and that listens to democracy leaders. We are not going to put trade and money over democracy and lives.' That is what is happening here. Democracy leaders are pleading with us and saying that their lives are on the line—'Do not put money ahead of human life. Do not put what corporations want ahead of democracy.' That's what they're asking. This amendment would give effect to that, and I hope all of those people who have spoken out so strongly in the last little while will see their way clear to supporting this sensible amendment.
I come from North Queensland. About quarter of our population have Chinese somewhere in their family tree. Our KAP member of parliament, Nick Dametto, in Townsville in fact falls into that category. The wife of my best friend Robbie Gough, a famous country music singer, is similar. I could go on. We are not anti-China, but we don't grovel or bend the knee.
For those who read history books, the Order of the Knights of St John on Malta said, 'We're going to stop the Ottoman Empire.' Seven hundred knights are going to stop the Ottoman Empire, which had 245,000 of the best armed troops the world has ever seen! They dragged in 8,000 Maltese, gave them a sword and tried to teach them how to do something with a sword. The history books read that the Knights of St John won. They beat those 245,000. Little England faced off against the combined might of Italy and effectively Spain and most certainly France, Germany and Russia. Were they going to bend the knee? No. They said, 'We're going to stand up strong, and we will defend our island.' We all know who won that one. There is also a little country called Israel. You don't have to grovel if you stand strong. If you stand strong, then you will be respected and you will help those people in China get a better deal than they are getting at the moment.
The member for Melbourne is dead right on this. Do we have any moral principles in this place? Clearly there are people being persecuted by a country who has, for the first time in recent history, a leader for life. The boss of the Chinese government has declared himself leader forever, for life. Do we applaud this? Do we stand aside and say, 'We're not going to make a moral stand here'? If you're standing up strong, then what about the VIP countries? We keep forgetting about them—Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. They're going to stand up strong if they know some other people are going to stand up strong. We're not being aggressive, but we want the people of China to get a fair go and to be progressive and get the right to be progressive. I applaud the stand taken by the member for Melbourne.
The government opposes this amendment. The Hong Kong government has signed and ratified the agreement in good faith, and it's in our interest to do the same. Hong Kong is our eighth-largest export market for goods and services. Given that we have FTAs with seven of our top 10 export markets for goods and services, ratifying the HKFTA is a top priority and makes sense. Having FTAs in place with both Hong Kong and China allows Australia to advance economic and trade interests in both jurisdictions and supports the 'one country; two systems' framework which has underpinned Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and business confidence.
The question is that the amendment be agreed to.
A division having been called and the bells having been rung—
As there are fewer than five members on the side of the ayes in this division I declare the question negatived in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question negatived, Mr Bandt, Mr Katter and Mr Wilkie voting aye.
Bill agreed to.