Thursday, 5 March 2015
Questions without Notice
Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
My question is to Senator Payne, Minister representing the Minister for Trade. This week five health experts from the Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation at the University of New South Wales published a report on the impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on medicine prices. Their expert analysis of a leaked chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement says the TPP will lead to a rise in medicine prices in Australia. Minister, will you specifically rule out that Australia is prepared, as part of the TPP negotiations, to extend the time taken for medicines to become generics, or that cutting edge medicines like biologics will have their data and market exclusivity period extended?
The Minister for Trade has made it quite clear what his view is of the supposed leaked documents, and has said they are basically just 'another beat-up'. The minister has said:
As I have made clear repeatedly, the government will not support outcomes that would increase the prices of medicines for Australians or adversely affect our health system more generally; end of story.
Nor would we accept outcomes that undermine our ability to regulate or legislate in the public interest in areas such as health.
What the minister has indicated—and what has been the subject of, as I understand it, over 1,000 public consultations held by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the development of the TPP—is:
The TPP has transformational promise with the potential to help drive growth, jobs and higher living standards. The key focus of our involvement is to materially advance—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. I very specifically asked the minister: 'Is Australia prepared to extend the time taken for medicines to become generics or that medicines like biologics will have their data and market exclusivity period extended?'
Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. You did preface your question, and the question related to a leaked document. The minister answered that very directly up front, then she also categorically ruled out some of the issues concerning the prices. The minister still has a minute left to answer her question, but I think she has been directly relevant.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Last week in estimates, Treasury said they did not model the impact of your government's trade deals on GDP. When I asked DFAT about this, also at estimates, they said: 'From an economy-wide GDP modelling perspective, the parameters would not be significant enough to alter Treasury forecasting.' Last year the US department of agriculture released a study of the TPP and said that the total benefit to Australian GDP from the TPP is zero. Why are we pursuing these trade deals if the overall economic benefit is zero, zilch, none? (Time expired)
Let me repeat what I said in my first answer—that is, the minister for trade has made it quite clear:
The TPP has transformational promise with the potential to help drive growth, jobs and higher living standards. The key focus of our involvement is to materially advance Australia’s interests in a negotiation involving 12 countries which represent 40 per cent of global GDP.
That is the important thing that the Australian government is pursuing.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. It was reported this week that the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry submitted the government 'stop the secrecy around trade deals like the TPP'. They wanted negotiations to be monitored in real time by the Productivity Commission and wanted draft text disclosed to registered community and business organisations, such as happens in the US. If even business in Australia wants to end the secrecy around the TPP, why will you not release the text? Do you have something to hide?
I can understand that Senator Whish-Wilson might not be particularly familiar with the standard practice of negotiations of international treaties. But, as is standard practice, the draft negotiating texts of the TPP—which involved 12 countries—are not in fact public documents. Once the TPP text is agreed between the parties it will be made public. It will be subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny through a review by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. In accordance with the government's treaty-making process, the TPP will be tabled in parliament for 20 joint sitting days to facilitate public consultations and scrutiny by the JSCOT. The agreement will not be ratified by the Australian government until this has taken place; and, as part of JSCOT's review of the proposed agreement, the committee invites public submissions and it takes evidence at public hearings. The government continues to take all available opportunities to engage with stakeholders and to meet with interested groups. (Time expired)