Senate debates

Monday, 12 November 2018


A Fair Go for Australians in Trade Bill 2018 [No. 2]; Second Reading

11:15 am

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

For Australia, being a trade-dependent nation, it is very important that we understand just how significant the trading relationships that we have are to the prosperity of this nation. It's said that one in five Australian jobs are linked to trade and it's said that this is a method by which we can ensure we have better paid jobs. But trade, like any other aspect of the economy, is not about just letting the market rip, nor does it guarantee prosperity in itself. The truth is that there really is no such thing as free trade, because the market sets the rules. Therefore, it's important that this parliament has a view about what those rules are and how they apply. It is important, when we negotiate trade agreements, to ensure that the rules that are put in place do ensure fairness.

The A Fair Go for Australians in Trade Bill 2018 that the Labor Party has brought forward is aimed at ensuring that Australians are not disadvantaged by trade agreements with other nations, that we do ensure we are able to maintain access to engagement in the international trading system without losing sovereignty for this nation and undermining the living conditions of our own people. It is important that we are able to contrast the situation of what should be with what actually happens now, because trade agreements are negotiated in secret and have been done so for years. We know that they have been generally put in the context where economic modelling is presented prior to a trade agreement being entered into which is not delivered in practice.

There have been many occasions that modelling has been put to us. I'm going to quote from those who study these things a position put forward by Martin Feil, who studied the failure of free market economics, outlined in a book that is well worth reading. He highlights the point, which he has argued in various journals around the country, that we have known for some time that the agreements that have been modelled have always been modelled in such a way as to suggest the returns to Australia are very optimistic. He said:

In every agreement the results have been dismal. A background note by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library (December 8, 2008) provides data for each agreement up until 2006/07 and states: ''Research suggests that FTAs offer little in the way of trade liberalisation and a shift to more liberal trade policies particularly in agricultural trade. Rather FTAs are used more often to promote other non-economic, diplomatic and regional interests.

It is a point I made when we were discussing other trade matters recently. When you look at the detail of what's actually being proposed, the benefits, one presumes, are in the strategic area rather than in the economic area, because the modelling, even in recent times, has been able to demonstrate that the case is not to be made in terms of direct benefit. Of course, we see this point in regard to the United States free trade agreement. At the time that the US free trade agreement was negotiated, which was established on 1 January 2005, it was promoted by the Deputy Prime Minister and trade minister, Mark Vaile. It was said to be the most significant free trade agreement in Australia's history. He said the FTAs were worth billions of dollars and would create thousands of jobs. On that occasion, a study was commissioned by the Centre for International Economics, a private economic consultancy. It was undertaken by way of commission for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The study that was promoted widely in Australia said:

… over the first 20 years … the present values of the benefits to the Australian economy exceeds $57 billion, over 30,000 jobs will be created and real wages will rise, and all states and territories will be better off.

Of course, when we look at the economic statistics, we find that that economic modelling was very optimistic.

Because I don't just read the critics of free market economics, I might also take this opportunity to quote the Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission, in their recent review, which was published just this year with regard to the 2016-17 trade review, cited their earlier assessments. They've made this point on other occasions. They said:

… the economic benefits of bilateral trade agreements have generally been oversold and the risks have been understated. The Commission recommended that agreements should be reached only when they provide outcomes that are in Australia’s interest and they are the most cost-effective way of achieving those outcomes. The Commission further recommended that there should be more transparent and rigorous assessments of such agreements. This should encompass two elements. To ensure agreements are in the Australia’s interest, before negotiations commence, modelling should include realistic—

I underline that point, 'realistic'—

scenarios and be overseen by an independent body. After negotiations have concluded and prior to signing of the agreement, a full and public assessment should be undertaken covering all of the actual negotiated provisions. As with all areas of policy, trade agreements need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, and the balance of benefits and costs for future agreements may be different, for example because they cover a smaller share of Australian trade.

Most of these agreements, we concede, have been negotiated by conservative governments and have not been put in place to actually protect Australia's national interest, particularly when it comes to Australia's workers' interests, because they've undermined fairness in the Australian workplaces. They have used labour market arrangements in such a way as to undermine the capacity of Australian workers to actually defend their living conditions.

Labor acknowledges that, while foreign workers do play an important part in our economic development, there's the fundamental principle of fairness to ensure that Australian workers ought to be offered work first when it comes to ensuring the opportunities for prosperity in this nation. Foreign workers shouldn't be brought into Australia to undermine wages and conditions for Australian workers. The temporary migration system is intended to supplement skills and to make up for labour market shortages in the country, not to undermine the wages and conditions of Australian working people. They shouldn't be used to remove the ability of Australians to actually get jobs. That process couldn't be more simple. What we've seen, however, under these trade agreements is that capacity, that basic right, being undermined. Several of the agreements the current government has seen have been waved through. The exceptions in the trade agreements undermine the fundamental principles of social democracy in this country. I think this is why it's so important that we stand firm on those questions and why a Labor government will move to preserve that fundamental democratic right.

The provision of investor-state dispute settlements is another area. This bill seeks to prohibit future Australian governments from signing agreements that include these ISDS clauses, the provision to allow for foreign companies to sue national governments. The provisions undermine our national sovereignty by limiting the ability of Australian governments to act in the national interest. This argument is often heard from those who defend these arrangements embedded in a number of agreements. The TPP, for instance, is a case where the capacity to sue the Australian government—for protection of Australian health matters, for instance. It's claimed these agreements haven't worked, because the tobacco companies have not been successful to date. I don't hold to that view, because we just don't know what the circumstances will be in the future. We shouldn't provide opportunities for people to find other jurisdictions to undermine our sovereignty. Defending the interests of Australian people, for instance, on health matters has been an area of interest. I don't quote just critics of the free market. The Productivity Commission has made this point:

… seek to avoid accepting provisions in trade agreements that confer additional substantive or procedural rights on foreign investors over and above those already provided by the Australian legal system.

That's, clearly, what this bill seeks to do.

The bill also prohibits the signing of agreements that do not protect Australians' skills, in regard to future matters. It will also prohibit governments signing agreements that would undermine arrangements under the PBS. It will protect our universal health care. We could extend that to protecting such breakthrough provisions of social contract in this country as Medicare, which is a world-leading initiative. It is constantly under attack by international interests that are seeking to undermine the capacity for a universal healthcare program, such as Medicare has provided.

We also have measures such as the antidumping regime, which is consistent with our international trade obligations. But there are those who would seek to undermine this parliament's capacity to ensure Australian industry is not subject to unfair and unreasonable anticompetitive actions by foreign governments and foreign corporations and cartels seeking to attack Australian industry. We've seen so many circumstances where the Australian Anti-Dumping Commission has been obliged to act. We've seen it in steel and aluminium. We've seen it in glass. We've seen actions taken on tomatoes and a range of other products, where Australian economic interests have been directly under assault as a result of quite unfair and unreasonable actions taken in the international trading system. This should be prevented, and any government that was genuinely interested in preserving our domestic interest would ensure that it was. It is the entire global trading system. We see President Trump prosecuting his trade war with China. This has made circumstances even more volatile. The US has sought to protect its domestic interest at the expense of so many other countries, and even at the expense of Australia, with the question of trade diversion now becoming a real issue for the Anti-Dumping Commission, as we saw at the last Senate estimates.

There are issues around unsafe products. This bill prohibits governments from signing agreements which restrict the powers of the Australian government to regulate public safety with regard to the banning of importation of unsafe products, such as the flammable aluminium cladding which the Australian Labor Party has already indicated we will ban from being imported to the country following the Senate inquiry that we pursued through this parliament. It demonstrated examples of non-conforming building products. Senator Ketter chaired the inquiry, which made the point about widespread corruption in the international trading system—systematic fraud and cases where people were transferring documentation in such a way which left it wide open to abuse. And trade restrictions were not being enforced through the international trading system at the time. This left no choice for the Australian government to demonstrate—as it did with asbestos—its commitment to protect the Australian people. And, of course, the provisions contained in this bill would allow the Australian government to maintain those pressures.

I have already indicated that on labour rights we will emphasise how important it is that with all trade agreements—no matter what they're about or whether they're bilateral, regional or multilateral—the Australian Commonwealth government has an obligation to protect the human rights of Australians when it comes to the issue of defending their economic rights in terms of their rights at work.

There is the fundamental issue of ending the regime of secrecy, whereby governments negotiate these agreements in secret and without the effective engagement of the parliament in the process of agreement setting. Australian companies, the unions, NGOs, community organisations and the wider public are effectively kept in the dark. What we've seen is agreement after agreement being entered into in such a way as we're not given any real choice about ratification. Bills are put to the parliament and we really only have the choice of altering the tariff regime, not the substantive issues in the agreement itself. That's what we complained about in the previous legislation on this matter.

We make the point that it's critical in any government arrangements that we have a national interest assessment and that it be kept separate from proper and independent modelling so that the people who negotiate these agreements don't actually get to mark their own homework. We're getting the same people to assess what they've done; it's like having the auditors in your pocket when we put together any other arrangements in any other part of the economy. It's just a ludicrous proposition, what's actually going on at the moment.

With an election looming, what we do know is that these are issues we need to deal with. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties needs to be given a proper engagement. We've made it very clear that we need to ensure that the parliament has a proper role to play in the setting of agreements of this type. This bill hasn't been conjured up out of thin air; the Labor Party and Jason Clare, the shadow minister for trade, have ensured that there has been widespread consultation on these matters. We've brought it to the parliament in response to real concerns in the community about the way these trade agreements are being conducted. The government benches understand how widespread the concerns are on these matters—that the existing trade agreement arrangements don't ensure fairness and don't ensure that we get a good deal for Australia. They're presented, effectively, as a fait accompli and they don't have proper accountability mechanisms built into them. So to ensure that we have a proposition where we can protect the public and the national interest, we have engaged widely with the unions—both at the ACTU level and individually—with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; with the National Farmers' Federation; with the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network; and with the Export Council of Australia.

This bill, of course, is only the beginning of that work, and a lot more needs to be done to ensure transparency and fairness in the negotiation of trade agreements. Labor will make announcements on further issues that we will take forward. These measures are about protecting Australian jobs, genuinely protecting the national interest and making sure that unfair trade agreements that have been negotiated by the coalition are corrected. It will promote the defence of Australian industry and Australian workers, and we'll make sure that this is done in a way that is consistent with our international treaty obligations. We'll make sure fairness is put at the centre of these arrangements. We will not rely on the invisible hand, some magical force, to ensure that the national interest is protected. When it comes down to it, it is about what we do in this parliament. It is about what we, as the government of Australia, do to ensure the Australian people get a fair go in the international trading system. This bill will allow the beginning of that work to be undertaken. I trust that this chamber is able to give it the consideration it deserves and vote accordingly.

11:35 am

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I agree with the last statement Senator Carr made: I hope this chamber does give this particular piece of legislation the treatment it deserves. I think my vision of that treatment would be slightly different from Senator Carr's. I think it is actually very sad—I've risen in this place on a number of times to talk about this; and it wasn't in the context of those directly opposite, it was in the context of other members of this chamber talking about it—that as a chamber, as a parliament and as a society we are at risk of going down the populist rabbit hole of an antitrade agenda. We've seen it in other countries. I do find it slightly ironic that Senator Carr—and the Greens for that matter—is on the same page as President Trump when it comes to ISDS, which, as I understand it, President Trump has recently negotiated out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

We've seen across the political spectrum an abandonment of a long-held consensus that trade is good for societies that embark on it. It is good for many reasons. It is good because it boosts the wealth of all societies. This is not a zero-sum game; you do not have winners and losers. If you trade, everyone has the potential to get wealthier. That is not a pollyannaish view of economics. There are people who can suffer in the structural adjustment—and it is part of the role of government to smooth out some of those bumps. But this cannot be done by returning to policies of the past that we all know have failed.

Senator Carr quoted some economist that he described as 'right wing'. I will paraphrase Keynes. Keynes knew that, following World War II, the Treaty of Versailles, and the reparation conditions it put on Germany, was a massive risk to the world. It was a massive risk because it put a cost on the German economy that was going to lead to resentment, economic underperformance and Germany being isolated from the rest of Western Europe. He knew that, in time, that would lead the world down a very negative path. He was right about that. It led, I think in the view of most historians, directly to the Second World War and the rise of Nazism in Germany.

Economic integration of our communities—economic integration at the level of governments, at the level of business-to-business contacts and at the level of individuals being able to travel and work overseas—is good for all societies. It brings societies closer together. It generates the wealth that societies like ours can use to fund things like the NDIS. Senator Carr said we should be modelling these exercises. But who could have said 50 years ago what our economic ties to Singapore, an underdeveloped Asian economy at that point in time, would have been 50 years later? It was completely unknown, and unknowable. Trade is not something that is governed from above. Trade depends on business-to-business links. It depends on innovation. It depends on the ability of people to talk across borders, to make arrangements and to come to economic conclusions that are of betterment to all parties.

Again, I'll go back to the word 'consensus'. There used to be a consensus on trade, which does seem to be breaking down in our current world. I use the word 'consensus' very advisedly. I hark back to the Hawke and Keating governments, which I think you would expect I'm no great fan of. But, at the level of their ministries, they understood the importance of trade, not just to Australia but as a path to linking economies more closely together, linking individual businesses more closely together, bringing prosperity and bringing peace. I think a genuine outcome of trade is that the world is a more peaceful, more integrated place. We understand each other better if we trade. The Trojan Horses that are being put forward at the moment—the ISDS clauses, labour market testing—and the fig leaves that Labor is using to walk away from the previously bipartisan commitment to the benefits of trade to both Australia and the world are just that—they are fig leaves. They are Trojan Horses. They are commands from the union movement. They are not anything that, in reality, the people of Australia in particular but also the people of the other countries we trade with need be concerned about.

I'll use an example. I was at the JSCOT hearing into the Peru free trade agreement last Thursday where we directly saw the Labor members of that committee walking away from a commitment to free and open trading policies. Again, it greatly saddened me that we saw that. We heard that in fact the ISDS clause in the Peru free trade agreement was one of the strongest ISDS clauses we had ever seen in protecting things like Australia's public health system, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the right to legislate on things such as tobacco. We heard it was one of the strongest. We also heard—and this doesn't need to be heard, because everyone knows it is a fact—that ISDS clauses have been used against Australia only once, unsuccessfully, in 30 years of existence. This is the big threat to Australian sovereignty: something that has been used once in 30 years in a tribunal case that was lost.

These ISDS clauses are wanted by our trading partners. Peru wants the ISDS clause in the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement because they see it as a pathway to giving businesses who want to invest in Peru confidence that the government is not going to step in and appropriate their property. It gives large organisations the confidence of investing in an economically underdeveloped and also, potentially—and I'm not making any comments on Peru—politically underdeveloped country. There are many countries around the world that don't have the strong institutions and the strong institutional history of good institutional governance that places like Australia, Western Europe and North America have.

There are many places around the world that are desperate for companies to come and invest and grow their economy to give their people the opportunity that those in the West have had for generations, and ISDS clauses are a way for those countries to give confidence to the investment community. They know it's important that people can come and invest without fear that the government is going to step in and take over that property at a future point in time or make some change in the law that makes that property valueless. These are not radical clauses. As I said, they've been around for 30 years. They give protection to Australia's sovereignty, but at the same time they give certainty to exporters. In fact, Australian exporters have used ISDS clauses in their dealings overseas to protect their own economic position in other countries, which, as I said, perhaps don't have the strength of commitment to the rule of law that Australia does and the strong institutions and the desire not to do negative things towards the people who wish to invest and grow our economy.

I think it's really important when we are considering these types of bills that we do not fall into the trap of believing the rhetoric that in some way these are removing Australian sovereignty, are weakening our ability to govern ourselves and have our own law. In actual fact these agreements increase the level of engagement of Australian businesses with overseas countries. As I said, this is an unalloyed good. It is good for Australia. It gives us new opportunities to grow the wealth of our companies. It also gives other countries—because this is a two-way street—the opportunity to sell their goods and services in Australia. This obviously is of benefit to the Australian people, who get access to new, potentially cheaper and different services and products that they haven't had access to before.

It is sad that Labor is walking away from a legacy of support for agreements and the benefits that trade does deliver. It's sad to see that, particularly in the case of the Peru free trade agreement, which is good for Australia and particularly good for Australian manufacturing ironically. I find it a little odd that Senator Carr is not aware of the fact that the Peru free trade agreement offers some real benefits to Australian manufacturing. Labor is walking away from that support, seemingly at the insistence of the union movement.

Labor is undermining the process that enables Australian producers to export to the world more of what we produce here. It is undermining the means by which farmers, miners, manufacturers and hundreds of smaller businesses can grow their supply chains, can create more jobs in Australia and can export more. It is undermining the process that supports thousands of Australians to stay and work in and to grow rural and regional communities across the country.

What does this bill propose to do? It is going to open up each and every free trade agreement potentially for renegotiation. This potentially would have a massive cost in terms of uncertainty to the business community and a massive cost in terms of the sheer amount of work involved, particularly for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I notice Minister Payne is here today. I know Minister Payne knows the sheer amount of work that goes into negotiating these trade agreements and the level of uncertainty that would flow if we opened up every one of our trade agreements to renegotiation.

Labor have said that they're going to establish a new team of negotiators within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and charge them with renegotiating agreements previously finalised. That means that a Labor government would ask the very team that negotiated the original agreements to go back, undo all their hard work and open up every aspect that has been negotiated. These are always done by negotiation—there is give and take. We can't order or require foreign countries to behave in a certain way. It is a two-way street, and we need to negotiate with them. They will go back and undermine all the hard work that has previously been done.

How much would that cost? How much would that cost Australian businesses? How much would that cost in terms of uncertainty if you do not know if a current tariff rate reduction is going to flow through in a particular time frame? It would certainly undermine business to an extraordinary degree and it would cost the Australian economy an extraordinary amount. Not only does this threaten the established free trade agreements that this government in particular has been so successful in negotiating but it also creates enormous uncertainty for the businesses which are already trading based on those agreements.

What does Labor expect our trading partners to do: to cop it? to not expect anything in return? to not see it as a fundamental abrogation of the negotiation in good faith that has already occurred? Would a Labor government capitulate if our trading partners wanted to do this to us? It's a question that needs to be answered. It's a very troubling approach—it's a very naive approach—from the opposition, and I certainly hope it never comes to fruition.

Let's look at what some of the industry stakeholders have said. GrainGrowers, the national grain farmer representative organisation, said:

Bilateral and regional preferential trade agreements such as the TPP-11 are critical in improving export opportunities and prices for the Australian grain sector.

Red Meat Advisory Council chairman Don Mackay said, on the TPP-11:

It is a significant and exciting agreement for Australia’s 82,500 red meat businesses and the 438,000 Australian jobs our industry supports, many of whom are completely export reliant.

Fiona Simson, NFF President, said that the CEPA 'locks in important new trade opportunities for our meat, grain, sugar, dairy and horticultural producers'.

This is a government that is committed to trade, and that's not an accident—and 27 years of continuous economic growth is not an accident. Trade is fundamental to that growth. Trade is critical to the Australian economy. We have always been a trading nation. We are at the end of the trading line, as it were. If we don't trade, we are not in a geographically advantageous position from the rest of the world's point of view. We are at the end of the line. In Western Australia in particular, my home state—the grain industry, for example—90-plus per cent of Western Australia's grain is exported. The vast majority of our agricultural produce as a whole is exported. Obviously large amounts of minerals are exported. Trade is the lifeblood of Western Australia. It is what grows our economy. It's what creates the jobs of today and jobs into the future.

I note in passing—and hopefully I'll have time to go to this again later—some of the benefits from the Peru free trade agreement, which is currently being considered and where some of the jobs that are being created potentially lie. One of the big winners out of the Peru free trade agreement is machinery sales; 95 per cent of tariffs, which are currently up to 17 per cent, will be eliminated on entry into force of the Peru free trade agreement. This represents agricultural machinery, which is manufactured in Australia. It also represents mining equipment, which is manufactured in Australia. I note in passing that recent ABS statistics showed that, for the first time in a long time, manufacturing jobs in Australia are on the uptick; they're actually increasing. We've seen a long structural decline in manufacturing jobs in Australia under all governments—this is undisputed—but recently we've actually been turning a corner. That's because what Australia does very well is high-tech manufacturing in areas like agriculture and mining as well as some aspects of high-tech shipbuilding and other military asset production, and we have opportunities to supply, into markets like Peru, the mining and agricultural machinery that we produce in Australia. Others that would benefit include paper and paperboard manufacturers: 86 per cent of tariffs, which are currently up to nine per cent, eliminated on entry into force of the Peru free trade agreement. This would cover 95 per cent of Australia's current exports of these products.

We also see increased access for beef, which is obviously pretty significant for the Australian agricultural sector, and wine—again, the Peru free trade agreement would see elimination of tariffs of up to nine per cent across products upon entry into force, with some others being phased out over a five-year period, which is quicker than the TPP-11. In retail medicine, tariffs would be eliminated on entry into force. In plastics, tariffs on many products would be eliminated either immediately or within five years. This was negotiated at 11 years under the TPP.

One of the things that came up at the hearing last week was: why have a TPP and a Peru free trade agreement? Well, the simple answer is that the Peru free trade agreement, because it's a bilateral agreement, doesn't have to cover all the competing interests of 11 countries. It's an agreement between Peru and Australia, so it can be a lot narrower in focus and it gives a lot more preferential access to a large number of products. Trade is a good thing and I think those opposite should remember that.

11:55 am

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in favour of the A Fair Go for Australians in Trade Bill 2018 [No. 2], which was put forward by the opposition. It deals with a number of key elements of concern that were included in the TPP arrangements, but also across the board, as to how our trade negotiations are undertaken and the impact that these deals have on Australian workers, on the Australian community and on our democracy. One of the major concerns that the Greens had in relation to the implementing legislation that passed this parliament only a number of weeks ago was that some of the worst elements that are being addressed in this bill remained in the TPP arrangement, which was signed off and ratified as a result of that implementing legislation passing.

I might say at the outset that, while this is a good step forward, it is disappointing and slightly cynical to see the Labor opposition putting this up now rather than fixing the elements in the TPP when they actually had an opportunity, because what we know is that the TPP has now been ratified with things like the insidious ISDS clauses. They are the provisions that allow big multinational companies to sue the Australian people if the government were to change the laws that these companies don't like—laws that might affect their profits, such as a moratorium on coal exports or other health provisions. We know they tried in relation to tobacco advertising. What if we started to insist on a rise in the minimum wage? Would we have multinational companies from overseas deciding that this would be an opportunity to sue the Australian people and have a chilling effect on progressive policy passing this parliament? We could have fixed all this by not ticking off on the TPP. Sadly, we saw the Labor Party cuddle up to the government at that time, and now we're in a situation where one of the biggest trade deals ever done in Australian history has been signed off with the terrible ISDS provisions, which allow multinational companies to have more rights and more power than the Australian people. That is there, written in black and white.

The TPP also included some terrible provisions when it comes to labour market testing, or a lack thereof. Six countries within the TPP can bring unlimited numbers of workers to Australia without working out whether there are locals who can do those jobs. We're worried that this is going to drive down working conditions. We're worried that this sets a very bad precedent for trade deals going forward. We know that, overall, the workers who have been brought to Australia already face conditions which are undermining other workers' conditions. It allows them to be open to exploitation. No worker, whether they are an Australian citizen, whether they are a permanent resident or whether they are a visiting temporary worker, deserves to be exploited simply for doing their job. All workers in Australia deserve the protection of proper conditions: a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. And we also, of course, know that, if we are to lift the conditions of workers across our region and across the globe, we have to start here at home. We don't want a race to the bottom when it comes to wages, conditions and the loopholes that big multinational companies use to exploit workers in order to maximise their own profits.

All of these things should have been fixed in the TPP negotiations and in that deal. It should not have been ratified or given implementation by this chamber, as it was only a number of weeks ago. We are incredibly disappointed that the Labor Party and the Liberal Party worked together to put through the TPP, which allowed these terrible things to remain in place. We could have fixed it, and we didn't, because Labor decided to vote with the government of the time. However, fast-forward to today and we now see legislation before us which would improve things considerably for new trade deals done from today onwards. That has to be acknowledged as a positive step forward. We know that we should have much better transparency when it comes to negotiating trade deals. At the moment, effectively, the Australian community and civil society are locked out of the process. Big business and their big lobbyists are invited in, and they've often got government doing their bidding for them, but the community, the experts, civil society and the NGOs are locked out. These negotiations are done in secret. These negotiations consist of pages and pages—reams of paper—and nothing is seen until right at the end, after the negotiations have concluded. We need to change that, and we need to change it before any new trade deals are done by Australia.

The European Union have implemented, through their commission, a new process which allows for much better transparency. The community is brought in and involved right from the beginning. There are regular updates. There are regular briefings. There is a general public interest conversation about trade deals and negotiations as they are on foot, not after the fact, when it's too late to change any of the detail. The other thing that the European Union have implemented is a ban on ISDS provisions. They have heard loud and clear from their citizens and from their representative governments that giving big multinational companies more power than the people who elect governments and the governments themselves just isn't right. So, in their negotiations with Australia on the new EU-Australia free trade agreement, the EU negotiators have been absolutely crystal clear that ISDS provisions cannot be included. Good. And Australia should be doing the same. We should be insisting on the same for every trade arrangement we enter into, including the arrangements that we're currently negotiating with Indonesia. We need to make sure up-front that things like ISDS provisions are not included and that they're not even on the table for discussion.

We've had it with the excuses from this government, the Liberal-National Party, as to why big corporations should get more power than the people. The more they carry on with these excuses, the older and more tired they become. The community is sick of it. The Australian Greens are sick of it. And now we see, with this bill being brought forward by the Labor Party, that even the Labor Party seems to be tired of the rhetoric that these big corporations should be trusted to do the right thing. No, all these corporations want to do is maximise their own profits, and, under the ISDS provisions, it comes at the expense of the rights, the will and the desire of the community—of the voting public. Of course we know that, if an ISDS provision is in place that allows a big multinational company to sue a government for changing conditions or implementing new policy, that, of course, has a chilling effect on the ability of governments to get on and do their job. That is why they're there. If they weren't there to provide a chilling effect on governments implementing laws then they wouldn't exist. It's about giving assurance to big corporations, not assurance to the community and the democratic institutions that they should be able to act in the best interests of the people. What if we had a new government—a government that was willing to take climate change seriously and that understood we need to phase-out fossil fuels? The international scientific community is telling us loud and clear that we've got to get on with it.

If we want to implement laws that drive the needed transition away from fossil fuels and the polluting economy towards a renewable-powered economy that's going to be clean, green, affordable and able to drive down pollution—because we have to get serious about climate change—then we need to know we can do that safely and without the threat of being sued for hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly billions of dollars, by big multinational companies that are making massive profits from the fact that they can extract fossil fuels, burn them and keep polluting the atmosphere. If we want to get serious about climate change, we can't have the chilling effects of ISDS provisions in any of our trade arrangements. We shouldn't have them in the TPP. We should have stopped the TPP. Now, we need to make sure, going forward, that we don't allow Australia to sign up to any new trade arrangements that include these provisions.

I have already mentioned that labour market testing is important as well. Australians know we are a trading nation. We import a lot of goods and services and we export a lot. We are an island nation and we've always traded. Let's make sure those rules are fair for the community and fair for the people who are working to power our economy into the future. We need to make sure, if there are Australians who are able to do the job, that they get a look-in and that they're protected. We also need to make sure that Australians doing the job know their conditions are protected and are not going to be driven down or undermined because a multinational company or a foreign government want to import their own workers to Australia to drive down conditions to maximise profits. In order to fix that, the provisions, as outlined in this bill, would be a welcome step forward.

This doesn't deal with all of the things that the Greens would do if we were debating our own legislation to clean up the practice but it is a positive step forward. As I said at the outset, it's cynical to see the Labor Party put this on the table now because they should have worked with the Greens only three or four weeks ago, stopped the TPP and fixed all of this before giving it any form of ratification. They didn't. They bent over. They cuddled up to the government. Now we've got the worst trade deal Australia's ever seen signed and delivered. Going forward, let's clean this up and have a positive mechanism which allows us to sign up to trade deals and negotiate fairly for a fair deal for workers and for the community.

12:09 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the question now be put.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the question be put.

12:17 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be read a second time.

Debate interrupted.