Senate debates

Monday, 12 November 2018


A Fair Go for Australians in Trade Bill 2018 [No. 2]; Second Reading

11:55 am

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in favour of the A Fair Go for Australians in Trade Bill 2018 [No. 2], which was put forward by the opposition. It deals with a number of key elements of concern that were included in the TPP arrangements, but also across the board, as to how our trade negotiations are undertaken and the impact that these deals have on Australian workers, on the Australian community and on our democracy. One of the major concerns that the Greens had in relation to the implementing legislation that passed this parliament only a number of weeks ago was that some of the worst elements that are being addressed in this bill remained in the TPP arrangement, which was signed off and ratified as a result of that implementing legislation passing.

I might say at the outset that, while this is a good step forward, it is disappointing and slightly cynical to see the Labor opposition putting this up now rather than fixing the elements in the TPP when they actually had an opportunity, because what we know is that the TPP has now been ratified with things like the insidious ISDS clauses. They are the provisions that allow big multinational companies to sue the Australian people if the government were to change the laws that these companies don't like—laws that might affect their profits, such as a moratorium on coal exports or other health provisions. We know they tried in relation to tobacco advertising. What if we started to insist on a rise in the minimum wage? Would we have multinational companies from overseas deciding that this would be an opportunity to sue the Australian people and have a chilling effect on progressive policy passing this parliament? We could have fixed all this by not ticking off on the TPP. Sadly, we saw the Labor Party cuddle up to the government at that time, and now we're in a situation where one of the biggest trade deals ever done in Australian history has been signed off with the terrible ISDS provisions, which allow multinational companies to have more rights and more power than the Australian people. That is there, written in black and white.

The TPP also included some terrible provisions when it comes to labour market testing, or a lack thereof. Six countries within the TPP can bring unlimited numbers of workers to Australia without working out whether there are locals who can do those jobs. We're worried that this is going to drive down working conditions. We're worried that this sets a very bad precedent for trade deals going forward. We know that, overall, the workers who have been brought to Australia already face conditions which are undermining other workers' conditions. It allows them to be open to exploitation. No worker, whether they are an Australian citizen, whether they are a permanent resident or whether they are a visiting temporary worker, deserves to be exploited simply for doing their job. All workers in Australia deserve the protection of proper conditions: a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. And we also, of course, know that, if we are to lift the conditions of workers across our region and across the globe, we have to start here at home. We don't want a race to the bottom when it comes to wages, conditions and the loopholes that big multinational companies use to exploit workers in order to maximise their own profits.

All of these things should have been fixed in the TPP negotiations and in that deal. It should not have been ratified or given implementation by this chamber, as it was only a number of weeks ago. We are incredibly disappointed that the Labor Party and the Liberal Party worked together to put through the TPP, which allowed these terrible things to remain in place. We could have fixed it, and we didn't, because Labor decided to vote with the government of the time. However, fast-forward to today and we now see legislation before us which would improve things considerably for new trade deals done from today onwards. That has to be acknowledged as a positive step forward. We know that we should have much better transparency when it comes to negotiating trade deals. At the moment, effectively, the Australian community and civil society are locked out of the process. Big business and their big lobbyists are invited in, and they've often got government doing their bidding for them, but the community, the experts, civil society and the NGOs are locked out. These negotiations are done in secret. These negotiations consist of pages and pages—reams of paper—and nothing is seen until right at the end, after the negotiations have concluded. We need to change that, and we need to change it before any new trade deals are done by Australia.

The European Union have implemented, through their commission, a new process which allows for much better transparency. The community is brought in and involved right from the beginning. There are regular updates. There are regular briefings. There is a general public interest conversation about trade deals and negotiations as they are on foot, not after the fact, when it's too late to change any of the detail. The other thing that the European Union have implemented is a ban on ISDS provisions. They have heard loud and clear from their citizens and from their representative governments that giving big multinational companies more power than the people who elect governments and the governments themselves just isn't right. So, in their negotiations with Australia on the new EU-Australia free trade agreement, the EU negotiators have been absolutely crystal clear that ISDS provisions cannot be included. Good. And Australia should be doing the same. We should be insisting on the same for every trade arrangement we enter into, including the arrangements that we're currently negotiating with Indonesia. We need to make sure up-front that things like ISDS provisions are not included and that they're not even on the table for discussion.

We've had it with the excuses from this government, the Liberal-National Party, as to why big corporations should get more power than the people. The more they carry on with these excuses, the older and more tired they become. The community is sick of it. The Australian Greens are sick of it. And now we see, with this bill being brought forward by the Labor Party, that even the Labor Party seems to be tired of the rhetoric that these big corporations should be trusted to do the right thing. No, all these corporations want to do is maximise their own profits, and, under the ISDS provisions, it comes at the expense of the rights, the will and the desire of the community—of the voting public. Of course we know that, if an ISDS provision is in place that allows a big multinational company to sue a government for changing conditions or implementing new policy, that, of course, has a chilling effect on the ability of governments to get on and do their job. That is why they're there. If they weren't there to provide a chilling effect on governments implementing laws then they wouldn't exist. It's about giving assurance to big corporations, not assurance to the community and the democratic institutions that they should be able to act in the best interests of the people. What if we had a new government—a government that was willing to take climate change seriously and that understood we need to phase-out fossil fuels? The international scientific community is telling us loud and clear that we've got to get on with it.

If we want to implement laws that drive the needed transition away from fossil fuels and the polluting economy towards a renewable-powered economy that's going to be clean, green, affordable and able to drive down pollution—because we have to get serious about climate change—then we need to know we can do that safely and without the threat of being sued for hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly billions of dollars, by big multinational companies that are making massive profits from the fact that they can extract fossil fuels, burn them and keep polluting the atmosphere. If we want to get serious about climate change, we can't have the chilling effects of ISDS provisions in any of our trade arrangements. We shouldn't have them in the TPP. We should have stopped the TPP. Now, we need to make sure, going forward, that we don't allow Australia to sign up to any new trade arrangements that include these provisions.

I have already mentioned that labour market testing is important as well. Australians know we are a trading nation. We import a lot of goods and services and we export a lot. We are an island nation and we've always traded. Let's make sure those rules are fair for the community and fair for the people who are working to power our economy into the future. We need to make sure, if there are Australians who are able to do the job, that they get a look-in and that they're protected. We also need to make sure that Australians doing the job know their conditions are protected and are not going to be driven down or undermined because a multinational company or a foreign government want to import their own workers to Australia to drive down conditions to maximise profits. In order to fix that, the provisions, as outlined in this bill, would be a welcome step forward.

This doesn't deal with all of the things that the Greens would do if we were debating our own legislation to clean up the practice but it is a positive step forward. As I said at the outset, it's cynical to see the Labor Party put this on the table now because they should have worked with the Greens only three or four weeks ago, stopped the TPP and fixed all of this before giving it any form of ratification. They didn't. They bent over. They cuddled up to the government. Now we've got the worst trade deal Australia's ever seen signed and delivered. Going forward, let's clean this up and have a positive mechanism which allows us to sign up to trade deals and negotiate fairly for a fair deal for workers and for the community.


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