Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 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; In Committee

12:02 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

In respect of the Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019, I move amendment (1) on sheet 8823:

(1) Clause 2, pages 2 and 3, table items 2 to 4, omit the table items, substitute:

This amendment deals with the very pernicious clauses within these agreements that give corporations the right to sue governments. People might not be aware—although we've previously covered it pretty comprehensively in the debate—so I'll make it very clear: this deals with the inclusion of ISDS clauses, so the pathways through which corporations are able to sue governments for taking action in relation to regulating in the public interest. Australia has had more experience than many nations of the potential impact of these clauses. We have had the experience very close to hand of the way in which Philip Morris utilised an ISDS clause in a previous agreement with Hong Kong to pursue the Australian government in relation to plain-packaging laws after we had had that legislative decision upheld by the highest court in our land.

There are arguments made by the major parties in this place that the Hong Kong free trade agreement, which we are partially facilitating the implementation of today, includes a revamped ISDS clause, with many wonderful protections against the occurrence of these particular situations. Once again, however, as my colleague Senator Whish-Wilson so clearly put to the chamber yesterday, there is, in fact, no such thing as a properly revamped ISDS clause. It is one of those great legal fictions that continues to pervade us. These mechanisms were created and are always inserted within these agreements for the sole purpose of enabling corporations to get away with the pollution of our environment, the undermining of our labour standards and the violation of our human rights, and it is continually the case that they have the practical effect of a legislative chill upon our government.

This amendment does something very simple. I would hope, given the contributions of so many members to these debates yesterday, that some of it has sunk in, particularly to the Labor Party's mind, in relation to this amendment. There are very clear statements that have been made by the ACTU, by the electrical trade unions, flagging the concerns over these clauses, and our amendment seeks to simply make the implementation of these agreements contingent upon the removal of these clauses. Highly practical, it should be a rather non-controversial move that the chamber could make. I remind the chamber that the EU and the US are, at the moment, in the business of excluding ISDS clauses from many of their agreements, precisely because of the danger that they pose to national sovereignty, and are working their way out of these agreements. I commend this amendment to the chamber and would ask all parties to consider, deeply, supporting it.


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