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

1:22 pm

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

Thank you, Minister. In respect of the Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019, I move amendment (3) on sheet 8823:

(3) Clause 2, pages 2 and 3, table item 4, omit the table item, substitute:

The final amendment which we, as a party, will move this afternoon goes specifically to the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement. As I contribute my comments in relation to this amendment, it dawns upon me how incredibly privileged I am to do so. We are incredibly lucky to be able to debate these issues in this place. I have profound disagreements with many members of this chamber—on both sides of it. I personally take the view, and the Greens take the view, that these trade agreements constitute an unacceptable threat to Australian sovereignty via their inclusion of ISDS clauses; that they undermine labour standards; that they place at risk environmental protections; and that they will have the net effect of making corporations richer while making the rest of us a damn sight poorer.

I am very, very critical of the role the opposition have played in the scrutiny of this legislation, and I regard their legislative decisions in relation to this piece of legislation to be really quite disappointing. I have disagreements with strategy that's taken in this place; I have disagreements with the way that we talk about issues. I would much prefer the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, not to be the Prime Minister and would say so openly and to anybody who asked—and I can do all of these things free and safe in the knowledge that I will not, or my family will not, suffer negative consequences because of it.

We here can and are enabled to exchange free and fierce debate in relation to the direction of this country. We are able to disagree frankly with each other. Without fear or favour, we are enabled to put forward issues that the communities we have been sent here to represent believe to be important. Many of us in this place exercise the right to be extraordinarily critical of executive decisions. We do all of these things without ever once considering that, at some point in the night, somebody might come for us or our family members, or our friends. We undertake this participation in the rituals of democracy without ever considering that our lives might be destroyed.

We sit here beneath a Westminster system founded upon a constitutional democracy that is deeply flawed. There are many historical truths with which, still, we are yet to come to terms. We sit here on stolen land. We sit here under a constitution that doesn't recognise the existence of First Nations peoples. There is much truth and healing and justice yet to be done, and yet we do sit here in a democracy. As flagging as it may be, as under siege by corporate influence as it may be, as deeply unsatisfactory to many members of the Australian community as it may be, it is unquestionably a form of democracy, and we are unquestionably able to exchange our views in this place in full and frank terms.

Now, these are not privileges and opportunities that are extended to all people everywhere. These are not privileges and opportunities that were granted to any person anywhere without struggle. I sit here, a young disabled man, as a member of a legislative body that contains within it people of diverse racial backgrounds, that contains within it people of diverse gender and sexuality identity backgrounds. The presence of all of these members together is the result of struggle. And, God, there is a lot more struggle still to do before this place is fully representative of the community that it serves. All around the world, peoples are engaged in that broader struggle for democracy, in that broader struggle for freedom and human rights. To reference Senator Patrick's first speech and his quote from Theodore Roosevelt's speech in relation to the contest and continually fraught nature of public life, they are fully in the arena all around the world.

One of the most pressing global examples of this struggle for democracy, this struggle for freedom, is taking place right now in Hong Kong. Young people, workers, people who love their country, people who love their community are right now on the streets. For months and months they've been putting their lives on the line for democracy and freedom, for that opportunity to disagree openly without fear and for that opportunity to work together to build a nation where their children can breathe free. Those movements, those people, have said clearly to this parliament that, while they don't want to see agreements between their country and ours come to a halt, they do want us to work with them to give Hong Kong, its activists and its struggle for democracy and freedom breathing space to conclude it in their way, in their time and on their terms. That is their simple request to this chamber in relation to this agreement: 'Give us the breathing space to be able to conclude our movement for freedom and rights.'

This is not an unrealistic request. It is a request that is in fact in line with the sentiments that have come forth from this government and from the opposition in relation to this question, in relation to this movement. There has been many a strong word made for the support of this movement in Hong Kong and many a concern raised. The activists have told us clearly that this is an opportunity to put those words into action. So, I ask the minister: given the context of the struggle for democracy that is taking place in Hong Kong, why is it that the government has not taken the opportunity to place a pause upon this negotiation process, upon the implementation of this particular agreement, until such time as democracy has been achieved for Hong Kong and human rights can be assured for the people of Hong Kong?


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