Senate debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022


Customs Amendment (India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022, Customs Tariff Amendment (India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022, Customs Amendment (Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022, Customs Tariff Amendment (Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022, Treasury Laws Amendment (Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022; Second Reading

12:17 pm

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the five bills relating to both the India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement and the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement: the Customs Amendment (India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022, the Customs Tariff Amendment (India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022, the Customs Amendment (Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022, the Customs Tariff Amendment (Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022 and the Treasury Laws Amendment (Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2022. Both of these agreements mark significant milestones in Australia's trade landscape. India has a unique approach to trade, one formed following decades of forced trade and colonial rule. As a First Nations woman whose land was colonised and subjected to forced rule and policy, I sympathise with this on a personal level and I understand why India is keen to protect its own after so many years of exploitation. On the other hand, the UK is finding its feet in trade, particularly post-Brexit.

A major highlight of both these agreements is a lack of investor-state dispute settlement clauses—or ISDSs, as they are called. These clauses allow companies to sue governments for changing their regulatory frameworks, which are more often than not in the public interest, to recoup the losses they claim occurred because of these changes. To put it in context, the only time such a clause has been used against Australia it was by a big tobacco company, Philip Morris, which attempted to sue the Australian government following the implementation of our plain packaging laws. The Greens welcome this change to the government's policy regarding ISDS clauses and look forward to the continuation of this policy in substantive agreements and the removal of existing ISDS clauses.

These trade agreements will bring benefits, but there are significant issues with both agreements that must be highlighted. Firstly, both agreements are bilateral. There is a growing trend of bilateral trade agreements, as opposed to plurilateral agreements, leading to an increasingly fragmented trade landscape. Big business may be able to navigate the complexity and the growing number of trade agreements, but many small and medium enterprises really struggle to do so, and most of them miss out on the benefits that these trade agreements bring. This means that big business and industry are often the ones benefiting from the international trade agreements.

The Indian interim agreement notably does not contain provisions relating to labour rights, environmental standards or, in fact, gender equality.

The UK trade agreement does include such provisions, but they are weak and less enforceable than other chapters and, in terms of gender equality provisions, remain merely aspirational. There are statements from all parties addressing forced labour and modern slavery, but, in fact, no real commitments. This agreement reaffirms mutual commitment to climate action and the Paris Agreement, but there are no specific emission reduction targets mentioned in this agreement.

The Greens are concerned about the removal of market testing requirements in the UK agreement that ensure temporary workers are filling genuine labour market shortages. This isn't the only issue relating to workers in the UK agreement. The agreement removes working holiday visa requirements which have previously required workers to undertake 88 days of farm work to extend their visas. Rural communities often rely on these workers to fill seasonal labour shortages. The removal of this provision has the potential to make an already stressed workforce worse.

Temporary workers are some of the most vulnerable to exploitation, and the Greens want to acknowledge this. But the solution is not to stop regional work incentives altogether. Workers' rights should be strengthened with greater enforcement provisions. Often the money that workers earn during their farm stay is spent in local communities—small regional communities that have been hard hit by COVID. Some members of the crossbench in the other place have raised this, which I also want to acknowledge here today.

In the India agreement, the lack of labour rights is a significant concern. The Greens recognise the benefits Australia has reaped from contributions made by temporary migrant workers. However, as I stated before, the temporary migrant worker visa system leaves workers extremely vulnerable to job insecurity and weaker workplace protections. These must be addressed in a comprehensive agreement.

Neither agreement contains an Indigenous inclusion chapter. In fact, there is no trade agreement that Australia has signed to date that contains an Indigenous inclusion chapter. An Indigenous inclusion chapter would enable First Nations businesses to access the benefits of these trade agreements. This is a choice made by our government to exclude First Nations people, whereas our friends across the ditch in New Zealand have negotiated multiple treaties with inclusion chapters. So we know it's possible to achieve this with our trade partners, if only our government would ask.

First Nations businesses are growing rapidly and are looking for new market opportunities. So it's a no-brainer to include them in these trade agreements, and this would be a game changer for First Nations businesses all over this country. Indigenous inclusion chapters have the potential to unlock significant capital, create jobs and offer careers on country.

The Indigenous Network for Investment, Trade and Export have been campaigning on this issue for some time, and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge their work, especially that of Darren Godwell, in this space. As they have stated, having an inclusive trade clause, or ITC, in the free trade agreement would be a step to ensuring all segments of society can access opportunities that flow from a free trade agreement.

First Nations businesses have been consistently left out of trade agreements for the last 230 years, to our detriment. The government must take a proactive approach to righting this wrong and ensuring that First Nations businesses have the same access and support for trade agreements.

The UK agreement does contain some provisions for First Nations businesses, which is a significant outcome. These include reciprocal arrangements which will ensure royalties are paid to Australian artists where their work is resold in the UK. The highest proportion of eligible resales occur among Indigenous art wholesalers.

The UK also commits to recognising the importance of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and cultural expression. This includes a commitment for both parties to make efforts to work with the World Intellectual Property Organization with respect to the protection of traditional knowledge. The Greens would like to note that, while these are all welcome additions, most of these provisions are limited to art only. First Nations people have far more to contribute to the GDP of Australia than just art.

The Greens strongly believe that any trade agreement that Australia agrees to participate in must contain enforceable and comprehensive provisions to protect economic, social and environmental rights, both within Australia but also within those countries we trade with, as well as support First Nations businesses, which have consistently been left out of our trade agreements.

Finally, the Greens continue to express deep concern about the lack of transparency and public scrutiny involved with the current procedure for making trade agreements. Negotiations are secretive, and the text of agreements is only released after it has been signed. There's no opportunity for trade unions and the broader civic society to have genuine input into these negotiations.

Ultimately, this was ratified with very little public scrutiny. The Greens are very disappointed that the text was not released to the community before it was finalised, because our communities in Australia deserve better. It is essential that proposed agreements be tabled in parliament and opened for wider public consultation prior to their signing in order to ensure consistency with domestic democratic policymaking principles and practice.

We maintain that the social, environmental and economic impacts of trade agreements must be independently examined and presented to the parliament prior to the commencement of these negotiations and also as part of the final agreement. One of the recommendations of the JSCOT report on this agreement was that:

… the Australian Government implements the recommendations of Report 193: Strengthening the Trade Agreement and Treaty Making Process in Australia, particularly in relation to greater consultation and transparency, and in providing independent modelling and analysis of trade agreements.

The Greens wish to strongly echo this and call on the government to amend this treaty-making process to allow for greater transparency and consultation to ensure that it does not just benefit specific sectors of the economy but in fact has input from civil society, unions, human rights groups, First Nations groups and environmental groups that is genuinely taken into account and reflected within our trade agreements. This government must ensure that trade agreements are inclusive and in fact not exclusive. They must benefit many, not just a few. The Greens will continue to fight for this.

The Greens have circulated a second reading amendment which relates to the three bills implementing the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement. This amendment is co-sponsored by my colleague Senator Steele-John and seeks to highlight the human rights abuses in India and the recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review. I, and also on behalf of Senator Steele-John, move:

At the end of the motion, add ", but, in respect of the India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement Implementation Bills, the Senate notes that:

(a) the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review process made recommendations on 10 November 2022 relating to human rights abuses in India including in relation to ending attacks against minority communities and vulnerable groups, tackling gender-based violence, upholding civil society freedoms, protecting human rights defenders and independent media, and ending torture in custody; and

(b) in negotiating trade relationships, Australia must ensure that human rights are upheld by negotiating parties".

I'll continue to advocate that human rights are non-negotiable and that, in negotiating trade agreements, Australia has a responsibility to ensure that human rights are upheld by all parties that we may trade with. We hope that this is a common-sense statement that the Senate agrees with and that all members of this place will vote to show their support for human rights and for the Australian government to ensure those we trade with also uphold these.


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