Senate debates

Monday, 25 November 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

5:44 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I want to start my contribution on this legislation by reflecting on the context of this debate. Firstly, we're having this debate in a situation where the nature of our planet and the ecosystems that ultimately support all life on this earth are being trashed. Our climate is breaking down and workers in this country are being exploited in an ongoing way. Wages are stagnant and too many people cannot find a job or cannot find enough work to allow them to pay their bills and have a good life. We have a situation where we're living in an unsustainable way environmentally and in an unsustainable way socially. The reasons for those circumstances include the ongoing influence of big corporates in our body politic—the ongoing influence of large corporate donations in our political system. It is in that context that we now approach debate on legislation that gives effect to parts of certain free trade agreements.

We should be debating how we are going to better look after nature, how we are going to better protect our climate, how we are going to better protect human rights in this country and overseas, and how we are going to better protect workers. Unfortunately, we're not having that debate; we are actually having a debate around legislation that gives effect to parts of various free trade agreements that will do just the opposite. Of course, we have opportunities to trade with other countries, but being a trading partner with other countries does not mean that we should simply lie down, roll over and let those other countries tickle our collective tummies. What we should be doing instead is using our trading opportunities with other countries to promote the values that we hold dear in this country and the values that we should be using our trading opportunities to promote, including the protection and enhancement of human rights. That includes rights for working people and the protection and enhancement of nature and this planet's climate. But, instead of using our trading opportunities to promote those values, the major parties in this place are—as is so often, tragically, the case—about to collude to pass legislation which will impact on working people and on the environment. The major parties are going to continue to sign and endorse dodgy trade deals that give more power to their big corporate mates to trash our planet and exploit and undermine Australian workers. In some circumstances, they even sue our governments here in Australia in order to protect corporate profits.

We've already seen trade deals that have significant negative impacts here in Australia. We've already seen them lead to the downturn in certain Australian industries, we've already seen them contribute to the destruction of our precious places, we've already seen them drive down wages and we've already seen them threatening to stop our governments from properly regulating reckless corporate behaviour. So what should we do? Well, there's quite a lot we actually can do, but I have no confidence in either of the major parties in this place that they understand the challenges well enough, let alone understand what some of the solutions might be. What we need to do is place human rights—including, obviously, the rights of people to a safe workplace and a fair day's pay for a fair day's work—and environmental protection and climate protection at the centre of how we trade with other countries, and we need to ensure that the Australian people are able to scrutinise free trade agreements and understand their potential impact before they are signed into law.

That's the view of the Greens in regard to these free trade agreements. We care about human rights. We care about workers' rights. We care about nature. We care about the climate of this planet and, unlike the majors, we don't take dirty corporate donations and we will never sell out the rights that we care about. Yet here we are debating legislation that does just that. It sells out the rights that we in the Australian Greens really care about.

I'm not surprised that an L-NP government, recently re-elected, is wandering haphazardly down this path. It's what they do. Their icons are the markets. Their gods are values like greed. But, despite bitter experience, I do often wish and hope for better from the Australian Labor Party. But that's not what we're going to get from the Australian Labor Party in regard to this legislation, because the Australian Labor Party, as they so often do, are about to collude with the government to pass this legislation. Labor are going to do that because they've done a deal which boils down to a series of unenforceable and intangible assurances from the government, in exchange for Labor's support for the implementing legislation. Now, we've reviewed the deal, we've done extensive analysis on what this deal actually does, and we are very confident in saying that this deal does not improve the legislation or the free trade agreements in any meaningful way.

It's important that people understand the context of Labor's deal with the L-NP. Firstly, this deal has been done in the face of—and it's a departure from—the policy platform that Labor took to the recent federal election. Secondly, it has been done in the face of significant opposition from the union movement in this country. We've seen the Electrical Trades Union resolve that it is appalled by the actions of the Labor shadow cabinet in supporting recent trade deals. We've seen the ETU say that the lack of leadership shown by Mr Albanese and the lack of direct communication by caucus members is 'a disgrace'. We've seen the ETU make it clear that they intend to no longer provide donations or logistical support to the federal Labor Party and we've seen them criticise the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Albanese, for a lack of leadership. We've seen ETU National Secretary Mr Alan Hicks say the Labor Party has completely sold out working people on trade policy.

Now, you've got to ask yourself from time to time, and, unfortunately, on an ever more regular basis in this place: what is the point of the Australian Labor Party? If they're just going to do over their mates in the unions; if they're going to abandon the workers that they claim to represent in this place; if they're going to continue to run a corporatist, anti-worker, anti-environment agenda, what actually is the point of the Australian Labor Party? The one thing I can offer workers is that you do have a voice in this place, and that voice—your voice—is the Australian Greens. We won't be supporting this legislation. We're not backing in the dirty deal done between the L-NP and ALP to do over workers, trash nature, destroy our climate and run the agenda of their big corporate donors. No, we're going to stand up and we're going to fight for working people in this place. We're going to fight to protect nature. We're going to fight against those policies which are causing the breakdown of our climate, which is leading us and has led us into a climate crisis and a climate emergency.

Mr Hicks, the ETU national secretary, said this:

We worked hard and in good faith to give Labor a decent policy which was passed at the national conference—yet it's all been swept aside.

Working people rightly expect the party they founded to represent their economic interests. It's unfathomable that Labor would expose them to low-wage competition at a time when incomes are already flatlining.

He concluded by saying:

Labor's support for these free-trade deals is more than a betrayal of its own platform; it's a betrayal of hardworking men and women, their safety, job security and our national sovereignty.

Hear, hear, Mr Hicks! I just wish there were some in the Labor Party in this place who were listening more closely to you. But it's not just the Electrical Trades Union from the union movement that's been critical of the Australian Labor Party. We've seen the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Ms Michele O'Neil, say this:

The decision by the ALP to side with the government is an abandonment both of their own platform, and of their responsibility to stand up for fair trade deals which deliver jobs for local workers, that protect Australia's public services, sovereignty and visa workers from exploitation and that ensure international labor standards in the countries we trade with … They've made a mistake that will not be forgotten by Australian workers.

That's the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Ms O'Neil. Now, that's robust criticism of the Labor Party, to say the very least, but it is extremely well deserved criticism.

Just as we've seen in the bipartisanship on national security matters the ongoing erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms in this country—more than 200 pieces of legislation passed in the last two decades that take away the rights and freedoms that our fathers and grandfathers used to go to war to fight to defend and enhance—and just as we've seen in the bipartisanship on offshore detention and the torturing of innocent refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, many of whom, I might add, have now been there for nearly seven years—innocent people detained indefinitely for nearly seven years under the banner of bipartisanship—here we see again, under the banner of bipartisanship, the Labor and Liberal parties charging off down a pathway to environmental destruction, down a pathway to corporatism and down a pathway to the exploitation of workers. I say to Australian workers: next time you hear the Labor Party having a good old whinge—as they should, I might add—about stagnating wages in this country, think back to this day. Labor, think back to this day when you actually lost an opportunity to do something about the stagnation of wages in this country. There are many Australian workers who, as Ms O'Neil said, will not forget the mistake that the Labor Party is making today.

We need to get the corporate money out of politics. That wouldn't fix every problem that exists in our political conversation in this country, but, my goodness, it would be a fair old start, getting that dirty corporate money out of the extremely deep, extremely full pockets of the major parties. Get that out, and end the revolving door that sees major party MPs and senators—far too many of them—rolling straight out of a job in this place and straight into the boardrooms of the corporate polluters, straight into the boardrooms of the big corporate exploiters of workers and straight into the lobbying firms that represent those big corporations. End the revolving door between this place and the corporates and end corporate political donations in this country, and you would see a cleaning up of politics and, as a result, significantly better outcomes for our environment and for working people in this country.

So I'm proud to be a representative of the Australian Greens, a party that won't compromise on these matters in the same way that the Australian Labor Party and the LNP are doing—a party that refuses to have any truck whatsoever with the dirty deals and this banner of bipartisanship that has led Australia down a dark and dangerous path. It's that banner of bipartisanship and the corporatisation of our politics that are cruelling action on climate change in this country. It is that banner of bipartisanship and the corporatisation of politics that are cruelling decent outcomes for working people and unemployed people in this country. And these free trade agreements that this legislation is in part giving effect to are another living, breathing example of the influence of corporates in this place, the influence of corporate donations on the major parties in this place, and the influence that future career prospects have on far too many senators and MPs in this building.

So I urge the Senate to stand up against these kinds of free trade agreements—which cede our sovereignty, fail to respect our planet, our climate and the beautiful nature that so many of us claim to love, and fail to respect working people—and actually stand up for a trading system in this world that respects human rights, that respects workers' rights, that respects nature and that respects the climate, which is breaking down around us as we speak.


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