Monday, 25 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; Second Reading
I want to start my contribution on this legislation by reflecting on the context of this debate. Firstly, we're having this debate in a situation where the nature of our planet and the ecosystems that ultimately support all life on this earth are being trashed. Our climate is breaking down and workers in this country are being exploited in an ongoing way. Wages are stagnant and too many people cannot find a job or cannot find enough work to allow them to pay their bills and have a good life. We have a situation where we're living in an unsustainable way environmentally and in an unsustainable way socially. The reasons for those circumstances include the ongoing influence of big corporates in our body politic—the ongoing influence of large corporate donations in our political system. It is in that context that we now approach debate on legislation that gives effect to parts of certain free trade agreements.
We should be debating how we are going to better look after nature, how we are going to better protect our climate, how we are going to better protect human rights in this country and overseas, and how we are going to better protect workers. Unfortunately, we're not having that debate; we are actually having a debate around legislation that gives effect to parts of various free trade agreements that will do just the opposite. Of course, we have opportunities to trade with other countries, but being a trading partner with other countries does not mean that we should simply lie down, roll over and let those other countries tickle our collective tummies. What we should be doing instead is using our trading opportunities with other countries to promote the values that we hold dear in this country and the values that we should be using our trading opportunities to promote, including the protection and enhancement of human rights. That includes rights for working people and the protection and enhancement of nature and this planet's climate. But, instead of using our trading opportunities to promote those values, the major parties in this place are—as is so often, tragically, the case—about to collude to pass legislation which will impact on working people and on the environment. The major parties are going to continue to sign and endorse dodgy trade deals that give more power to their big corporate mates to trash our planet and exploit and undermine Australian workers. In some circumstances, they even sue our governments here in Australia in order to protect corporate profits.
We've already seen trade deals that have significant negative impacts here in Australia. We've already seen them lead to the downturn in certain Australian industries, we've already seen them contribute to the destruction of our precious places, we've already seen them drive down wages and we've already seen them threatening to stop our governments from properly regulating reckless corporate behaviour. So what should we do? Well, there's quite a lot we actually can do, but I have no confidence in either of the major parties in this place that they understand the challenges well enough, let alone understand what some of the solutions might be. What we need to do is place human rights—including, obviously, the rights of people to a safe workplace and a fair day's pay for a fair day's work—and environmental protection and climate protection at the centre of how we trade with other countries, and we need to ensure that the Australian people are able to scrutinise free trade agreements and understand their potential impact before they are signed into law.
That's the view of the Greens in regard to these free trade agreements. We care about human rights. We care about workers' rights. We care about nature. We care about the climate of this planet and, unlike the majors, we don't take dirty corporate donations and we will never sell out the rights that we care about. Yet here we are debating legislation that does just that. It sells out the rights that we in the Australian Greens really care about.
I'm not surprised that an L-NP government, recently re-elected, is wandering haphazardly down this path. It's what they do. Their icons are the markets. Their gods are values like greed. But, despite bitter experience, I do often wish and hope for better from the Australian Labor Party. But that's not what we're going to get from the Australian Labor Party in regard to this legislation, because the Australian Labor Party, as they so often do, are about to collude with the government to pass this legislation. Labor are going to do that because they've done a deal which boils down to a series of unenforceable and intangible assurances from the government, in exchange for Labor's support for the implementing legislation. Now, we've reviewed the deal, we've done extensive analysis on what this deal actually does, and we are very confident in saying that this deal does not improve the legislation or the free trade agreements in any meaningful way.
It's important that people understand the context of Labor's deal with the L-NP. Firstly, this deal has been done in the face of—and it's a departure from—the policy platform that Labor took to the recent federal election. Secondly, it has been done in the face of significant opposition from the union movement in this country. We've seen the Electrical Trades Union resolve that it is appalled by the actions of the Labor shadow cabinet in supporting recent trade deals. We've seen the ETU say that the lack of leadership shown by Mr Albanese and the lack of direct communication by caucus members is 'a disgrace'. We've seen the ETU make it clear that they intend to no longer provide donations or logistical support to the federal Labor Party and we've seen them criticise the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Albanese, for a lack of leadership. We've seen ETU National Secretary Mr Alan Hicks say the Labor Party has completely sold out working people on trade policy.
Now, you've got to ask yourself from time to time, and, unfortunately, on an ever more regular basis in this place: what is the point of the Australian Labor Party? If they're just going to do over their mates in the unions; if they're going to abandon the workers that they claim to represent in this place; if they're going to continue to run a corporatist, anti-worker, anti-environment agenda, what actually is the point of the Australian Labor Party? The one thing I can offer workers is that you do have a voice in this place, and that voice—your voice—is the Australian Greens. We won't be supporting this legislation. We're not backing in the dirty deal done between the L-NP and ALP to do over workers, trash nature, destroy our climate and run the agenda of their big corporate donors. No, we're going to stand up and we're going to fight for working people in this place. We're going to fight to protect nature. We're going to fight against those policies which are causing the breakdown of our climate, which is leading us and has led us into a climate crisis and a climate emergency.
Mr Hicks, the ETU national secretary, said this:
We worked hard and in good faith to give Labor a decent policy which was passed at the national conference—yet it's all been swept aside.
Working people rightly expect the party they founded to represent their economic interests. It's unfathomable that Labor would expose them to low-wage competition at a time when incomes are already flatlining.
He concluded by saying:
Labor's support for these free-trade deals is more than a betrayal of its own platform; it's a betrayal of hardworking men and women, their safety, job security and our national sovereignty.
Hear, hear, Mr Hicks! I just wish there were some in the Labor Party in this place who were listening more closely to you. But it's not just the Electrical Trades Union from the union movement that's been critical of the Australian Labor Party. We've seen the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Ms Michele O'Neil, say this:
The decision by the ALP to side with the government is an abandonment both of their own platform, and of their responsibility to stand up for fair trade deals which deliver jobs for local workers, that protect Australia's public services, sovereignty and visa workers from exploitation and that ensure international labor standards in the countries we trade with … They've made a mistake that will not be forgotten by Australian workers.
That's the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Ms O'Neil. Now, that's robust criticism of the Labor Party, to say the very least, but it is extremely well deserved criticism.
Just as we've seen in the bipartisanship on national security matters the ongoing erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms in this country—more than 200 pieces of legislation passed in the last two decades that take away the rights and freedoms that our fathers and grandfathers used to go to war to fight to defend and enhance—and just as we've seen in the bipartisanship on offshore detention and the torturing of innocent refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, many of whom, I might add, have now been there for nearly seven years—innocent people detained indefinitely for nearly seven years under the banner of bipartisanship—here we see again, under the banner of bipartisanship, the Labor and Liberal parties charging off down a pathway to environmental destruction, down a pathway to corporatism and down a pathway to the exploitation of workers. I say to Australian workers: next time you hear the Labor Party having a good old whinge—as they should, I might add—about stagnating wages in this country, think back to this day. Labor, think back to this day when you actually lost an opportunity to do something about the stagnation of wages in this country. There are many Australian workers who, as Ms O'Neil said, will not forget the mistake that the Labor Party is making today.
We need to get the corporate money out of politics. That wouldn't fix every problem that exists in our political conversation in this country, but, my goodness, it would be a fair old start, getting that dirty corporate money out of the extremely deep, extremely full pockets of the major parties. Get that out, and end the revolving door that sees major party MPs and senators—far too many of them—rolling straight out of a job in this place and straight into the boardrooms of the corporate polluters, straight into the boardrooms of the big corporate exploiters of workers and straight into the lobbying firms that represent those big corporations. End the revolving door between this place and the corporates and end corporate political donations in this country, and you would see a cleaning up of politics and, as a result, significantly better outcomes for our environment and for working people in this country.
So I'm proud to be a representative of the Australian Greens, a party that won't compromise on these matters in the same way that the Australian Labor Party and the LNP are doing—a party that refuses to have any truck whatsoever with the dirty deals and this banner of bipartisanship that has led Australia down a dark and dangerous path. It's that banner of bipartisanship and the corporatisation of our politics that are cruelling action on climate change in this country. It is that banner of bipartisanship and the corporatisation of politics that are cruelling decent outcomes for working people and unemployed people in this country. And these free trade agreements that this legislation is in part giving effect to are another living, breathing example of the influence of corporates in this place, the influence of corporate donations on the major parties in this place, and the influence that future career prospects have on far too many senators and MPs in this building.
So I urge the Senate to stand up against these kinds of free trade agreements—which cede our sovereignty, fail to respect our planet, our climate and the beautiful nature that so many of us claim to love, and fail to respect working people—and actually stand up for a trading system in this world that respects human rights, that respects workers' rights, that respects nature and that respects the climate, which is breaking down around us as we speak.
I rise to speak on these two bills, the Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019, and I do so with a particular interest, given my role on both the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth. These bills implement tariff cuts agreed to by the government as a signatory to the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement. I note that this enabling legislation is only able to deal with tariffs; it has no impact on the terms of the treaty signed by the government, because, as we know, only the government can enter into or alter all other terms on an international treaty.
We, in this place, all know that the international trading system is currently in a period of extraordinary instability. China and the US are engaged in retaliatory trade actions which have become nothing short of a trade war. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea are also openly engaging in trade disputes. Now, more than ever, it is important that Australia affirms its commitment to free trade, and I am proud of the role Labor has played and will continue to play in supporting free trade, because trade ultimately benefits working people. It does so through its positive impacts on growth, on productivity and on jobs. As my colleague Senator Wong outlined in her contribution to this debate, from Chifley to today, Labor has been on the side of free trade. Opening our markets has been supported, in some form or another, by Whitlam, by Hawke, by Keating, by Rudd and by Gillard. Labor governments have supported opening our markets because they understood that, fundamentally, in trade there are economic opportunities for working people, and Labor always has been and always will be on the side of working people. It was Hawke and Keating who broke down Australia's tariff wall and brought Australia closer to the Asia-Pacific through the establishment of APEC. Given Australia's small population by global standards, it is important that we continue to push for greater access for our exporters into the world's growing markets.
It was the former Rudd Labor government that began negotiations for IA-CEPA back in 2013 after Prime Minister Rudd initiated a joint feasibility study with Indonesia in 2007. The treaty action was signed in Jakarta on 4 March 2019 and tabled in the parliament on 21 March 2019. These negotiations commenced under Labor because Labor understands and values the importance of our relationship with Indonesia. Indonesia is the world's third-largest democracy, with the world's largest Muslim population, and it's also our closest neighbour. Fostering this relationship is of significant importance to our future prosperity as a nation. Indonesia is a powerhouse developing economy in our region, with gross domestic product of US$1.02 trillion as of 2018. The nation continues to grow at a rate of over five per cent. In 2018 total two-way trade in goods and services with Indonesia was worth $17.6 billion, making Indonesia our 14th-largest trading partner. Based on current trends, Indonesia will move from the 16th-largest economy in the world to the ninth largest by 2030 and the fourth largest by 2050. Crucially, given how the growth in Chinese middle-class consumption has fuelled Australia's recent export success, Indonesia will have a consumer class of 135 million people by 2030. This domestic consumption rate represents the largest growth in consumers aside from China and India in recent times.
IA-CEPA aims to consolidate the economic partnership between our two nations. Currently Indonesia represents just two per cent of Australia's trade, with no growth trends over the past 10 years. There is clearly a need for improvement in this area. I am particularly focused on seeing the benefits realised by South Australian exporters in education, agriculture and resources. All of these industries will be granted greater access through this negotiated agreement. In education, IA-CEPA guarantees that Australian suppliers of certain technical and vocational education and training can provide services through majority Australian owned businesses in Indonesia. Australian VET providers can establish ventures in Indonesia with up to 67 per cent Australian ownership; previously the rate was 49 per cent. Australian universities will also be allowed to open campuses in Indonesia.
Other than the opportunities this provides for our educational exporters, these developments have the potential to assist Indonesia to meet its own workforce skilling as well as deepening broader ties between our two countries. Deepening people-to-people ties through education exchanges also presents opportunities to market Australia as a destination for Indonesian students, particularly in my home state of South Australia. In 2018 Australia received more students from Malaysia than from Indonesia, despite Indonesia's population being nearly 10 times larger. If Australia were to receive the same proportion of students from Indonesia as from Malaysia, this would add around 150,000 students to our national intake. Education is South Australia's largest service export. Through this agreement there'll be significant opportunities in this sector for my state.
There are also opportunities in agriculture. A significant proportion of Australian grain is exported to Indonesia but is currently uncompetitive, due to the high grain prices in Australia caused by drought conditions on the east coast. IA-CEPA seeks to cement the relationship in grain trade so that, despite current conditions, Australian farmers will be in a position to export to Indonesia when prices again become competitive. The Australian grain industry expects Australian wheat exports to be up to 25 per cent lower this year. It has stressed the need to be in a position to recover market share in Indonesia quickly when Australia's stocks improve and believes IA-CEPA will be crucial in this regard. Indonesia has no other bilateral agreement with a major agricultural exporter capable of providing the same quantities as Australia. South Australian grain growers already export around $200 million of wheat to Indonesia each year, and I am hopeful that these numbers will skyrocket with the guaranteed access built into this agreement.
IA-CEPA eliminates and reduces tariffs and locks in progressive tariff rate quota increases for major Australian exports into Indonesia. Indonesia will progressively eliminate tariffs on products including frozen beef and sheepmeat. South Australian exports in frozen meat products total $4.3 million. Whilst this number is modest, I'm hopeful that the greater opportunities provided in this agreement will see the number grow exponentially. The same goes for dairy, where tariffs will be progressively removed by Indonesia. In South Australia, dairy exports into Asia, particularly China, have been highly sought after. South Australian dairy companies will now have greater opportunities to export into an Indonesian market where dairy products are forming a greater part of the average Indonesian's diet. With respect to steel, Indonesia has agreed to reduce its existing tariff of 15 per cent to zero. Indonesia will also guarantee import permits for 250,000 tonnes of Australian steel per year.
Australia's agreement with Hong Kong is slightly different in nature, given that the two nations have been established trading partners for a number of years. In 2018 Australia's total goods and services exports to Hong Kong were valued at $13.4 billion. Australia's largest commercial presence in Asia is in Hong Kong across a wide range of industry sectors, including banking and finance, construction and engineering, food and beverage, education, consumer and retail, transport and professional services. Australian exporters have enjoyed tariff-free access into Hong Kong for a number of years. However, the government has advised that the Hong Kong agreement is necessary to ensure that these rates are locked in and legally enforceable.
Peru is also a growing market for Australian goods and services, with a gross domestic product around US$215 million. It has been one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America and the world over the last 10 years. As of 2017, Australia's trade with Peru was worth $640 million. A number of Australia's competitors, including the US, Canada, the EU and Singapore, have FTAs with Peru. Australia's Peru agreement has been negotiated to ensure the elimination of tariffs on beef within five years; increased sugar market access; immediate duty-free access for Australian exports, such as wine, sheepmeat, horticultural products and wheat; and elimination of tariffs on iron ore, copper, nickel and coal. There will now also be the recognition of Australian degrees by Peru and the removal of barriers in services and trade for mining and the financial and telecommunications industries.
The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties tabled its final report on the Peru agreement in November 2018 and the Hong Kong agreement and the IA-CEPA report on 9 October 2019. JSCOT has reviewed the agreements and has ultimately recommended that the government ratify all three agreements. I want to make it clear that we did so following rigorous debate. Together with Labor's shadow minister for trade, Ms Madeleine King, my Labor colleagues and I sought various assurances through JSCOT's report on Indonesia and Hong Kong, which were reflected in its recommendations and general commentary. The issues raised included the termination of the existing Indonesia-Australia bilateral investment treaty, or BIT; the implementation of a process of economic modelling for future agreements; the need to ensure that the requirement for labour market testing is included in all trade agreements; and recognition of the very troubling political situation in Hong Kong.
The Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru agreements all include modernised and improved ISDS provisions compared to the existing BITs. The modernised ISDS clauses in these agreements include safeguards on public health, environment and prudential regulations. It is therefore assumed that Australia will be protected from action against important policy reforms we may undertake in areas such as public health. These are protections that history tells us we most definitely need—protections that would protect our policy measures from companies like Philip Morris, who sought to sue the Australian government for Labor's plain packaging legislation.
Honourable senators interjecting—
While the proposed ISDS provisions may not be perfect, if these agreements are not ratified, Australia will be objectively worse off with regard to ISDS given the status of the current BITs. Upon entering into the Peru and Hong Kong agreements, the outdated BITs with those countries will be terminated. However, IA-CEPA has no such clause. This means that the IA-CEPA will initially co-exist alongside the BIT for the two sets of investment and ISDS provisions in force.
Why the BIT with Indonesia was not negotiated out is unknown, as negotiations remain confidential. But I am hopeful that further agreement can be found by Australia and Indonesia to terminate the existing BIT, and I expect that this will be advanced by the government as a priority. Labor's shadow minister has recently written to the minister, requesting the cancellation of the existing BIT upon entry into force of IA-CEPA.
The government is yet to produce economic modelling for free trade agreements considered by the parliament. Following the efforts of Labor members, JSCOT has also recommended the use of independent economic modelling to inform the drafting, negotiation and consultation processes for future FTAs. We'll continue to pressure the government to produce this economic modelling for future FTAs, because we know how important it is and how long it has been called for. While successive coalition governments have ignored previous recommendations of this nature, it is in good faith that we accept that this will change and that this issue will now have ongoing bipartisan support.
On an issue that was of significant concern to the trade union movement, IA-CEPA foreshadows a future resolution within three years of an agreement with Indonesia on the movement of natural persons, including contractual services supplies. I want to acknowledge the genuine concerns raised during JSCOT hearings by the union movement and put on the record that Labor members of JSCOT did try to amend the additional comments of the report in acknowledgement of these issues. Regrettably, this didn't get the committee's support. But I assure those concerned that Labor will continue to maintain pressure on the government to ensure that future agreements meet these requirements.
On the issue of market testing, Labor asserts that labour market testing should be applied within all trade agreements negotiated by Australia. Currently, IA-CEPA only waives labour market testing for intracorporate transferees. This is already an obligation under WTO rules, of which both Indonesia and Australia are signatories. There has been a lack of clarity provided in the IA-CEPA text about future agreements on the movement of people for work related reasons in other industries, and we believe that it is necessary that further clarity is provided in this regard, as it has been a key concern raised by the trade union movement and other elements of civil society. The government must ensure now that it will not undermine labour market testing and skills assessments by making side agreements with Indonesia that would not need to be formalised through the treaty-making process.
Another matter raised during JSCOT's consideration of the Hong Kong agreement was the continuing political uncertainty and instability in Hong Kong. This instability is, of course, of great concern to me and to many in this chamber because we agree that people have a right to protest peacefully. Labor has urged all parties to find a peaceful resolution that is consistent with the 'one country, two systems' arrangement currently in place with the People's Republic of China. My Labor colleagues and I ensured that JSCOT's report acknowledged concerns about the political situation in Hong Kong, and that was the right thing to do. The concerns raised throughout JSCOT's consideration of these agreements and the concerns raised by the union movement and some of my Labor colleagues are genuine. I acknowledge them in my remarks today, and I acknowledge that they come from a position of putting the interests of working people first.
Yet ultimately, on the whole, these agreements provide opportunities for Australia. They provide opportunities for growth, for productivity and for jobs. These are opportunities that are so greatly needed in my home state of South Australia, and they are opportunities that I support. Australia is an export nation. On average, Australian businesses that export hire 23 per cent more staff, pay 11 per cent higher wages and have labour productivity 13 per cent higher than nonexporters. One in five Australians is employed in trade related employment. Australian household incomes are estimated to be on average around $8,500 higher as a result of opening up new markets through trade. China is our largest economic partner, with trade worth $183 billion, including a third of Australia's total exports. However, we cannot rely on this market alone. It is imperative that we start to diversify towards other growing Asian markets.
This is particularly crucial from a South Australian perspective with regard to our education and goods exports. The three agreements that are the subject of these bills present particular opportunities for South Australia, and they come at a most critical time. According to a Business SA William Buck survey of business expectations, business confidence hit record lows in South Australia in the three months to the end of September. Business SA chief executive Martin Haese blames South Australia's high unemployment, interest rate cuts, land tax uncertainty, geopolitical tensions and ongoing high utility costs for the fall. Mr Haese has called on the state government to double down on exports growth to negate the current trend South Australia finds itself in. South Australian exports have declined 18 per cent over the last 12 months. With our population continuing to decline by national standards, greater access to international markets will be needed to ensure my state's continued prosperity. SA's exports to Indonesia are forecast to skyrocket to more than $1 billion as a result of IA-CEPA. South Australians here in this chamber will know that exports had crashed to just $290 million in 2018, down from $718 million in 2011. As I have already canvassed in my remarks, wheat, beef, sheep and citrus farmers will benefit, along with dairy producers.
More than anything, the opportunities provided by IA-CEPA in education will simply build on the great work South Australian universities are already undertaking in Indonesia. For example, the University of South Australia has already developed collaborative partnerships with a number of their Indonesian counterparts. In 2015-16, UniSA's School of Information Technology and Mathematical Sciences delivered a customised version of the Graduate Certificate in Data Science to senior public servants from Indonesia as part of the Australian government's international development program. UniSA, along with the University of Adelaide and Flinders University, as well as South Australian VET providers, will now be provided with greater opportunities to own and to operate educational facilities in Indonesia. The economic and social benefits of this to South Australia cannot be overstated. As I have already said today, education is South Australia's greatest service export. I want to see my state continue to reap the economic benefits of its growth.
I will be supporting this bill. I'm supporting it, because I'm on the side of jobs. I'm on the side of greater opportunities for working people. I am on the side of economic growth and opportunity for my home state of South Australia. There are jobs across our wine, transport, education, agriculture and service industries in trade. Trade agreements open up markets. They open up opportunities—opportunities that wouldn't and couldn't exist under protectionism and that wouldn't exist if we stood by and let other countries benefit from trade agreements whilst we stood on the sidelines and watched opportunity go by. Yes, there is room for improvement, certainly, in how these agreements are drafted and consulted upon, and there have been genuine concerns raised about some of the content of these agreements. But ultimately what is within these agreements stands to benefit working people. These agreements stand to benefit South Australia, and my state cannot afford to sit on the sidelines. We cannot afford to sit idle. We can never let opportunities for growth and for jobs to pass us by. All three of these agreements present significant opportunities—significant jobs—to my state. These are opportunities which I thoroughly and wholly support.
This chamber has seen some debates over the last 10 years—especially in the last seven years—on free-trade deals. After Mr Tony Abbott got elected as Prime Minister, we had a flurry of free-trade deals at the same time that his government started their austerity, zombie budget cuts. While we've had some pretty big biffos over the years with the Labor Party, and big differences on free trade, I never in all my years thought I'd hear a Labor senator get up and give a speech on jobs and growth in this chamber without any consideration for Labor's previous policies—not, for example, including ISDS in their free trade negotiations. I'll come back to that a little later, but I want to read a quote from Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman. He summed up a lot of my concerns around today's legislation. He said:
The first thing you need to know about trade deals ... is that they aren't what they used to be.
Rather than old fashioned trade in goods and services—listening to Senator Smith's contribution, that's absolutely what you might think they are—current negotiations in trade deals are aimed at standardising domestic regulations between countries, through investments and other chapters that have ramifications for important aspects of economy and society that go way beyond international trade. These free trade deals are negotiated entirely in secret, outside the remit of parliaments. We don't get to see the scripts of these trade deals until they come to the JSCOT and we're told to rubberstamp them. We, as elected representatives in this country, have absolutely no democratic input to the contents of these trade deals. Considering that they touch nearly every aspect of our society, why is that and how is that acceptable in this day and age?
The Greens initiated a large inquiry into the treaty-making process. While everybody agreed—and I heard this in Senator Smith's contribution—that they are deficient and they are not acceptable, nothing has changed. I urge senators to go read that Senate inquiry report into the treaty-making process and how the process has failed us—how it was written for an 18th century government in England who was conducting treaties around war and the conquest of countries. Here it is well over a century later and we have this same division in power between the executive and the parliament, where the executive get to negotiate free trade deals under the treaty-making process with no input from the Australian parliament, no input from elected representatives and no input from the Australian people. These deals are negotiated behind closed doors, and the majority of the content that is negotiated—and we have seen this in all previous trade deals in the last seven years, particularly the large multilateral trade deals like the TPP and the IA-CEPA, which is currently being negotiated—is being driven mostly by big transnational corporations. It is no coincidence that they happen to have operations in all these countries around the world that are suddenly adopting all these new trade deals, because they are trying to standardise laws and regulations between countries. Issues of significant matters of public interest, like the role of government in our lives and like government procurement, are out the door. That has been totally ripped to shreds by this decade of free trade deals.
I have often commented to people when I see the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on our defence industry: why is it that the government is so active in spending money on defence procurement? It is probably the last area that has not been carved out by free trade deals. It is signed on by the Labor Party, joining the Liberal Party on a unity ticket, and reducing the role of government in our lives. What we have left is a military industrial complex and the government in bed together. It is the only area where we can actually have government procurement, because it has been precluded in just about every deal that we have signed in this place. From local government level all the way to federal government, we have sold out our role. The idea that the executive government can exclude parliament from the trade and treaty negotiation process is undemocratic and totally unacceptable.
Unlike some other senators in this chamber, I have sat on numerous JSCOT inquiries over the years. We initiated the world's first inquiry into investor-state dispute settlement clauses. This was at the same time as the European Commission was looking into the issue of ISDS. It is interesting how we are talking about having a free trade deal with Europe but they do not want an ISDS. Why is that? Why is it that the Europeans are not too keen on ISDS? It is because at least they are progressive and they understand that it has eroded our democracy. Why are we giving corporations a right to second-guess decisions made by parliament that are in the public interest simply because it may not be in their self-interest, in the interest of their profits and their shareholders? You can forget all this rubbish about carve-outs and exceptions. They have been thoroughly debunked. They were written entirely for corporations.
Did you know, senators, that these shady ISDS tribunals that often occur in other countries and that involve issues in places like Australia—like we saw with the Philip Morris case—have absolutely no transparency around who is selected to be on these tribunals? There is absolutely no transparency! I am talking zero transparency around the decision-making process. And you cannot appeal the decisions, yet they are binding, which raises another significant moral dilemma with these trade deals. It is okay to have binding agreements in here for matters that affect businesses and their profits, but where are the binding agreements for human rights issues? Where are the binding agreements?
Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30
I accept that there are winners and losers in so-called free trade deals. There is absolutely no doubt that there will be businesses who either will start exporting or are currently exporting that are going to benefit from opening up markets internationally. Isn't it interesting that you never hear from this government any rhetoric around the flip side of this? That is that we open up our market to foreign businesses—that foreign businesses sell their products and their services into our markets. The input-output models that are an attempt to model the so-called benefits of free trade deals have been widely debunked as being inaccurate in the assumptions in their 15-, 20- or 30-year forecasts of the benefits that are going to be reaped for Australia's gross state product or gross domestic product. Most economists will tell you that this is a zero-sum game in terms of international trade. If you sign a bilateral deal with one country, you end up potentially excluding what your potential windfall gains could have been to another country.
As we get into multilateral trade deals, this kind of web becomes even more intricate, even more complex and even more difficult to understand. I have consistently raised in this chamber that this rush, this stampede, by the Liberal government starting in 2013—starting with the Korean free trade deal through to the Chinese free trade deal, the Japanese free trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and so on and so forth—was a really good distraction from the economic problems that we have in this country. They were used par excellence to sell the government's 'jobs and growth' message, which is exactly what we are hearing tonight. Sadly, it is also coming from the Labor Party.
This is serious stuff. This is the premier chamber of the land, where we get to interrogate legislation before it is passed into law. Why is it that we accept a process where we only get one decision? We vote either for or against the enabling legislation of a free trade deal, but we never get to amend it. There is no chance that I could amend this if I tried. If you amend a free trade deal which, let me remind senators, has already been signed by the countries under consideration—in this case, it may well be Hong Kong, Indonesia or Peru—it has already been signed! It has already been agreed to before parliament has even seen it, before civil society has even seen it and before unions and workers' groups have even seen it. However, I am sure businesses have seen it. In fact, we know with certainty that, in large deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, businesses have been in there negotiating when everyone else has been excluded. How can that possibly be?
Yet here we are, elected by the Australian people to legislate on their behalf, and we have no say in the construction of this trade deal. Sure, we can vote against it or we can vote for it, but how do we have a treaty-making process in this country after over 100 years that is so deficient?
The only attempt to amend the treaty-making process was the introduction of JSCOT, where at least parliament got to look at a trade deal. But JSCOT, as we all know, is chaired by the government, and anyone who's been on JSCOT—I've probably been on too many JSCOT committees in my time in this place—knows that it is a rubber stamp. It makes recommendations, but hands up anyone in here who can give one example of a JSCOT recommendation to any trade deal that has ever been implemented. Name just one recommendation from the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties that's ever been incorporated into a trade deal.
It's entirely undemocratic. It's not representative of our political parties and the people we represent. And these deals are becoming more and more sinister by the year, as we have pretty much traded away everything we've had, as we've opened up our economy. What is there left to trade in these deals? Well, we've got whole new areas being included in trade deals—temporary work visa programs, the right of government to regulate in the public interest, new rules around government procurement. I'm hoping that we can fix the recycling crisis in Australia by getting government to buy recycled content and to invest in solving this externality. Government used to be able to buy cardboard and paper, but it can't anymore, because of free trade deals. I want government to buy Australian recycled glass for the tens of billions of dollars worth of road projects around this country. Oh, that would be discriminating against a country we've signed a deal with. That would be giving preferential treatment to a 'foreign company'. We've sign these away, willy-nilly, and sadly I have been here to witness most of this. In the last seven years there have been a whole lot of deals.
I want to talk about that preferential treatment for a second, because I remember all the fanfare around signing the Chinese free trade deal. Senators may be aware that, in recent weeks, a Chinese company has bought a Tasmanian company a called Bellamy's. I've been very outspoken in my concerns about this takeover. This is a Chinese government partly owned subsidiary that was competing against Bellamy's. They came in and bought Bellamy's. Bellamy's was languishing on the share market. Its shares dropped from $24 back to $8 when it was announced they couldn't get market access to China to sell their milk powder. The Chinese government were issuing 300 new licences for milk powder after a contamination scare. That's absolutely fine—I accept why they would do that. But why was it that a company like Bellamy's, out of 300 licences, was one of the last 27 to receive their approval, when they had nothing to do with the contamination scare? That was just straight-up market manipulation, in my books. But how do you hold a foreign government to account if they manipulate an asset on the Australian stock market? They shouldn't have been able to buy one of their competitors. I don't think that's fair, and I'm going to continue to raise this issue.
But the reason I raise it in the context of what we're signing here today is that the Chinese free trade deal was signed with great fanfare. Chapter 2 of ChAFTA sets out the rules of the agreement for trading goods, and it's very similar for these free trade deals. Article 2.7 sets out the rules for non-tariff measures and clearly states:
… neither Party—
as in neither the Chinese government nor the Australian government—
shall adopt or maintain any prohibition or restriction or measure having equivalent effect, including quantitative restrictions, on the importation of a good originating in the territory of the other Party …
In other words, the whole reason we supposedly signed ChAFTA was to establish fair and equal market access unless otherwise agreed to. The Chinese government withheld import approvals for Bellamy's—as they did for other companies, by the way—and since then we've had translated Chinese government media statements saying, 'Bellamy's shareholders should take this; this is their last lifeline.' Another one said, 'As soon as the deal goes through, their approvals will come through for their licences to sell milk powder to China.' They're not trying to hide this. Indeed, they even had a government-driven policy recommending that Chinese government owned companies buy foreign milk powder operators. Today it was announced that the same Chinese government owned subsidiary is buying Lion Dairy & Drinks in Australia. They access about eight to nine per cent of the raw milk supply in Australia, and the Chinese company that bought them, Mengniu Dairy, said today in their media release that they want to develop value-added markets. They're going to take the raw supply that they're going to access now through this acquisition and they're going to open up new markets, including in their home market in China.
Now, it might sound like that's an opportunity, and potentially it is if you're working in the milk powder industry, but if you're going to take, let's say, eight or nine per cent of all of Australia's raw milk supply and divert it to a new product in another country, where are the Australian producers, the manufacturers and the dairy operators making yoghurt and other products going to access their raw supply from? At the moment, most of the raw supply for milk powder comes from Europe and New Zealand—well, this Chinese company today said that they're going to now access that from Australia.
These kinds of things need to be considered, and I'm hoping that FIRB will have a good, hard look at any potential repercussions on competition, consumer and market prices, and, of course, market concentration. In terms of ChAFTA, where's this government's outrage? Where is this government's inquiry into whether these milk powder companies have been discriminated against under ChAFTA—under the deal that we signed with them? Well, there haven't been any. I've met with FIRB. I've met with the Treasurer's office. I've raised my concerns. I admit they've been taken seriously, but there's been no information put out into the public domain around this issue.
We need a proper inquiry into this. We need a proper inquiry into these kinds of investments and how FIRB interacts with our free trade deals and how the national interest test interacts with our free trade deals. What other kinds of manipulation are we seeing in markets by foreign governments? This is a whole new paradigm. But you'd expect from the rhetoric that I've heard from both the Labor Party tonight and from the government that everyone's a winner if we sign a free trade deal. Well, the Greens believe in fair trade, and that is the governments of any nation firmly setting criteria around fairness. It means we look at a whole range of issues around compliance with human rights, labour rights and environmental standards.
I can't say it in the language that's acceptable in this chamber, but it really annoys the hell out of me that we have these binding agreements on matters that relate to corporations and profits, like ISDS and shady international tribunals, but we don't have any binding agreements on the importation of foreign workers, labour rights in foreign countries or environmental standards. It's all lip-service; it's all greenwash in these deals. We need to rewrite the treaty process. We need to actually take back control of this from the executive as a parliament and have a treaty system for the 21st century. (Time expired)
I totally agree with Senator Whish-Wilson and his comments here. Thank you very much for expressing those in the chamber—I think it needs to be done. We talk about a free trade agreement. This is not about a free trade agreement; this is about doing over the Australian people with all these free trade agreements that have been agreed upon over the years.
The bill, the Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill, helps to give effect to three free trade agreements: the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement. Well, we've seen it in the past with America, and there's been free trade agreements with China, Japan and Korea—you name it. There are all these free trade agreements—nothing's free. Let's make that quite clear. These trade agreements have seen the demise of so many industries and so much manufacturing in Australia. If you actually think that we can maintain our standard of living, pay the wages that we do in this country and do deals with countries that only pay a few dollars a day, you're absolutely kidding yourself. That's what's happened with our industries and manufacturing in this country. That's why we don't have a car industry, a clothing and footwear industry or a whitegoods industry. It keeps going on and on and on. We've flooded our market with products from overseas countries that have destroyed our own industries here. Why? Because they can't afford to pay the wages. They can't afford to keep up with countries that only pay a few dollars a day in wages, and you keep opening up the floodgates for it to continue. Shame on you—both of you! Who are you protecting? Your mates in there? The multinationals? The United Nations? Who? Because it's not the Australian people. What you have done is disgraceful to this nation.
I go back to the American free trade agreement. Oh, you're great negotiators—absolutely fantastic! Let me draw you to the conclusion of 2004 and the American free trade agreement. You got rid of our tariffs from day one and you allowed America to keep the tariffs on our beef, horticulture, cotton, wine and steel—all this for 11 to 18 years. And then they said, 'Hey, listen: if you still do damage in our country, we want a quota system and we won't take your product any longer,' but we signed it away. I don't know why we're here in this parliament discussing this, because we have no say in it. We are representatives of the Australian people, yet we have never been given the opportunity to debate this. We're only here rubber-stamping this. We've got no say in this parliament. You've done your deals behind closed doors. Do the people have any say in this? None whatsoever. I think it's disgraceful that you haven't done that.
We did the TPP-11. It has worried me since 1998. At that time they called it the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. It was exactly the same as the ISDS—the investor-state dispute settlement. That means that, if we bring in laws in this nation which cause foreign companies to lose profits from their businesses, they can then sue us for the profits. During the TPP-11 debate, I asked Senator Reynolds about this. She said, 'That's hypothetical.' There have been two cases of it in the tobacco industry, so it's not hypothetical. I'm sick of whitewashing and not telling the Australian people exactly what can happen. New Zealand, under their free trade agreement, have side agreements with the countries that they would not be involved in the ISDS, so they're protecting themselves. What have our representatives done? Nothing—absolutely nothing to protect us. I wonder: how many more of our ministers, once they leave this place, will get jobs along the way? I raise this because it needs to be raised. Too many times I've seen ministers who have done deals in this parliament and then ended up in jobs with high wages once they're out of here.
There is often very little opportunity for politicians, industry leaders and other Australians to examine the agreements before they are introduced. Free trade agreements sound good in practice but often have problems in hindsight. It's smoke and mirrors. They are feel-good agreements but are potentially damaging to Australia. Some countries' agreements say they're going to get rid of half of the tariffs on fruit and exports, but it really is about jobs. All these free trade agreements are opening up the floodgates for them to bring workers into this nation.
That's why the workers of Australia are fed up with the Labor Party, who are supposed to protect their jobs and who are agreeing to this free trade agreement—as they have with all the other free trade agreements that we have signed with all the other countries. They are not protecting Australian jobs. We have the people here in Australia. They want work and they want training. They want the jobs. Why do we have to open up the floodgates for other nations to bring their workers into Australia? Can anyone answer me? Why?
Then we come to agriculture. We've lost our orange industry. We bring in fruit from overseas—for example, mangoes. Now we are looking at bringing in bananas and apples from overseas. And what about our sugar industry? So here we are, a country that produces so much produce here, opening up the floodgates for this free trade agreement to bring produce here, which could eventually, through biosecurity or another reason, damage our industries here.
It beggars belief why there is no resistance in this parliament and very few people standing up for the people of Australia. I shake my head when I see members of this parliament going along like sheep to the slaughter. You have sold us out—you really have. There are very few people in this parliament who are fighting for the Australian people. Do you really understand what is happening to our country? We hear today about Bellamy's being sold, and now the same company, the Chinese company, is wanting to buy up Lion's, which is a multinational. It will probably be rubberstamped because that's what FIRB does. FIRB rubberstamps everything. It doesn't knock anything back, because the government thinks, 'Oh, well, it's money coming into the country; they can't take it with them.' The attitude here stinks. You are all saying, 'Oh, well, they can't take it with them,' but you don't get it—you really don't get it. You don't understand that you are destroying industries and jobs here in Australia.
Why can't we be smart and actually produce the goods here and sell those goods overseas? They will buy the product, because we have quality. But, when they come here and they buy up our land, our farms and our industries, they are actually using our land, our resources and our water to produce the goods that they send back to their own countries—right from paddock to plate, decimating our industries. Then they write off everything in their taxes—and a lot of these companies don't even pay taxes here. It is a short-term sugar hit. That's exactly what we have done. It's short-term sugar hit. For what? It's because you only see yourselves here for the short term. I don't see any long-term vision for this country coming from our current politicians. You are too gutless to understand. All you are concerned about are your own positions and making sure that you get endorsed at the next election, so you go along like sheep and agree with who is telling you what to say and do.
The people will judge me and what I say. I am prepared to stand up and be accountable to the people who elected me to this place. They will judge me at the next election. At the end of the day, when I am finished in this place, I will sit back and know that I can judge myself honourably and know that I have stood up for what I believed in, said what needed to be said and was out there fighting for the Australian people and this country. There are probably a lot of people in here who truly want to but haven't got the guts to stand up and vote against it or to say what is wrong. Until we get people with intestinal fortitude in this place, nothing will change.
There are some positives here with these free trade agreements, as Senator Whish-Wilson said. Yes, there are positives, but, overall, do I support this? No, I don't. I don't support it, and do you know why? I don't support it because we haven't been given the opportunity to really debate this. You have brought this legislation here to be rubberstamped. It was the same with the TPP-11. It was ratified here in the parliament, but you haven't got any say in it. The Liberal-National government and the Labor Party have agreed to allow this deal to happen, but they have never given the people of Australia a voice. That's because they are not interested in the people of Australia having a say. Maybe I haven't always got it right, but at least I do believe in what the people have to say.
Free trade agreements can result in the import of cheap items that are manufactured in conditions that are much worse than the workplace conditions of Australia; therefore Australian manufacturers struggle to compete. They can include import into Australia of substandard fruits, potentially impacting on biosecurity. They increase threats from imports. It is already difficult to check containers coming into Australia. Some of the regulations they've put in here are going to call on the country to make a list of who imports and exports to and from their country. We can't even check our own imports into Australia with the containers that come in. We are lucky to check one in 100 containers. How will we police, if we buy from Peru or Indonesia, that the product is actually from that country? How do we know that it's not coming from somewhere else? We don't. Free trade has destroyed our clothing, car manufacturing, pork and fruit industries. As I said, the US free trade agreement is very one-sided.
Let's go to Indonesia. That's part of it as well. The Australian government is focusing its Indonesian aid to unaccountable bodies. The benefits to Australia from the Indonesian agreement will not pay back the considerable foreign aid paid to Indonesia. In 2019-20 Indonesia will receive $255.7 million for education, infrastructure, agriculture and governance programs. That's what we're paying to Indonesia. Australia is the fourth-largest aid donor to Indonesia. The Department of Foreign Affairs said that Indonesia has been a top recipient of Australian aid, receiving $359 million in 2017-18 and $540.1 million in 2012-13. This is what the taxpayers are giving to Indonesia and to other countries in that whole area. That is what frustrates me. Here we have Australian farmers, families and communities struggling, crying out for help from our Australian government. They're going through drought, floods, fire or whatever, and we give them an absolute pittance. Yet we give hundreds of millions of dollars to other countries surrounding us. How do you think taxpayers feel about that? It's their taxes.
I have never seen so much wasted money, from this government, business organisations and departments, as I have since I've been back in this parliament. The waste of money is disgraceful. You're buying your way into these other countries. The Prime Minister is hardly ever in the country addressing the real concerns of the Australian people; he's always overseas. He doesn't get it. The government doesn't get the struggles of people out there at all, and it gives them a pittance compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars given to other countries.
I've spoken about this many times before. I just feel devastated by what the government has done. I think they are pathetic in how they have governed. The people expected more from the coalition government after the election, and a lot of Australians are starting to wake up to the fact that they are not really addressing the concerns and needs of the Australian people. The drought that has hit Australia has been a test for them. People will wake up to the fact that these free trade agreements we are continually signing are not in our best interest. We are a small fish in a big pond and we seem to be swinging to the tune of these other countries around the world. We are not looking after our own, first and foremost, and that's what we're here for. We were elected members of parliament to represent the people of Australia, and that's what we should be doing. Our concern should be about them, and I just don't see it. I feel very sorry for the people out there who are crying out for that helping hand—someone to understand and listen to them.
I'm sure the members of this parliament will not cross the floor, will not follow their conscience and will not stand up for what they truly believe in. They'll think: 'Let's follow the party line. Let's vote the way the party tells us to vote, and we'll keep going along those lines.' If you don't, you won't get pre-selected next time around. You look after your jobs, you look after your futures, because you're not doing it for the people out there who are relying on you to look after their lives, their futures and, most importantly, future generations.
I rise to speak on both the Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019 and the accompanying Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019. This legislation gives effect to a number of free trade agreements, including the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and Hong Kong, China. Specifically, the bills amend the Customs Act 1901 to introduce new rules of origin to determine preferential rates of duty for certain goods originating from Peru, Indonesia and Hong Kong in accordance with the applicable agreement.
From the outset, I want to say that free trade should be fair trade. The Labor Party always has been and always will be the party that is about secure jobs, good wages and a fair opportunity for Australians. The reduction of barriers to trade, such as preferential tariff rates, will level the playing field for Australian businesses, enabling Australian exporters to compete on an equal level with exporters from other countries. Given global instability in the international trading system, it is in Australia's best interest to seek to diversify the access it has to markets around the world. By implementing trade agreements, Australia can generate jobs, boost economic growth and improve living standards both at home and in our region. Ensuring the economic productivity and social progress of the Asia-Pacific region is good for Australia's economic interests and our national security.
One in five Australians have a job in trade related employment. As such, the livelihoods of 2.5 million Australian workers depend on open trade. They are our farmers, our miners and our small business owners. Australian businesses that export their goods on average hire 23 per cent more staff, pay 11 per cent higher wages and have 13 per cent higher labour productivity than non-exporters. These advantages are beneficial to families across Australia and our broader economy. Household incomes are around $8,500 higher as a result of opening up new markets through trade reform, much of it thanks to the legacy of the Hawke and Keating governments.
We should always remember the positives that trade provides for the wider Australian population. But these benefits do not give the government of the day a blank cheque when signing free trade agreements. At every turn, this parliament should be working in Australia's best interests when it comes to free trade agreements. Only the executive of government can enter into or alter the terms of an international treaty. As such, this legislation before the Senate has no impact on the terms of the treaties already signed by the government.
Each of the agreements that this enabling legislation implements has already been scrutinised by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, also known as JSCOT, which recommended that the government ratify all three agreements. I will, however, make clear that these agreements are not the deals Labor would have done if we were in government. JSCOT also raised a number of concerns with these agreements and proposed a series of recommendations to improve them. I will shortly address Labor's concerns and the steps that we have taken through negotiation with the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment to ensure these deals can and do protect Australian jobs.
I'll begin with the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. For one of our closest neighbours, and a country with a population of 260 million people, Indonesia only accounts for around two per cent of Australia's exports. To put it frankly, Australia's economic relationship with Indonesia is underdone. By 2030, Indonesia will move from being the 16th-largest economy in the world into the top 10. Seventy per cent of the population will be working age and there will be a consuming class of around 135 million people. By 2050, Indonesia will be the fourth-largest economy in the world. Based on these statistics alone, this is an opportunity for growth with an economic giant in our region, and one we must capitalise upon. The economic partnership agreement between Australia and Indonesia will help us do this. This is why the former Labor government began negotiations in 2013, following a joint feasibility study with Indonesia in 2007. Some six years later, following long negotiations, coupled with stalling by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, the treaty action was signed in Jakarta on 4 March 2019.
This agreement builds on Australia and Indonesia's pre-existing shared interests, which include safeguarding our open sea lanes; cooperating to fight terrorism and deter transnational crime, particularly when it comes to people smuggling; and deep cultural ties between the two countries including growing tourism. This relationship is set to be strengthened with this trade agreement. Under this agreement, international education opportunities between the two countries will be expanded. It guarantees that Australian suppliers of certain technical and vocational education and training can provide services through majority-Australian-owned businesses in Indonesia. Under the agreement, Australian companies will now be able to own up to 67 per cent of mining services companies based in Indonesia, up from 49 per cent. Indonesia has agreed to reduce its existing tariff for Australian steel of 15 per cent to zero. I should note this will be a great benefit to steelworkers in my state of New South Wales. Indonesia will also guarantee import permits for 250,000 tonnes of Australian steel per year. That is the equivalent of five Sydney Harbour Bridges. This will begin to balance the scales between our two countries when it comes to this essential metal used in roads, railways and other nation-building infrastructure.
Australian farmers are also set to benefit from the agreement. Indonesia has no other bilateral agreement with a major agricultural exporter capable of supplying the same quantities as Australia. However, with the devastating drought throughout New South Wales, Queensland and the rest of the country, Australian grain prices have become uncompetitive for Indonesia to import. This agreement will ensure that Australian farmers will be in a position to export to Indonesia competitively, once Australia's grain stocks improve. I stress that these are just the beginnings of the benefits when it comes to Australia's agreement with Indonesia. As Indonesia grows over the next 10, 20 and 30 years, the benefits of this agreement will continue to drive our own economic development in a wide range of sectors and industries.
I now turn to Hong Kong. You only have to look to Hong Kong to see how Australia's relationships in our region can develop rapidly over short periods of time. It was a little over 22 years ago that the handover of Hong Kong occurred, on 1 July 1997, and since then Hong Kong has become Australia's leading business base in Asia. It is a gateway to Asia and, indeed, the world. Our involvement in Hong Kong is a showcase for the very best that Australian businesses and exports can offer. Hong Kong is Australia's fifth-largest source of inward investment, totalling close to $120 billion. In 2017-18, our total of goods and services exported to Hong Kong was $14.5 billion, close to 3.6 per cent of Australia's total goods and services exports. The agreement with Hong Kong will ensure that Australian exporters will continue to receive zero-tariff treatment for their goods, ensuring our country's competitiveness in Hong Kong in its own right, as well as its role as a gateway for mainland China.
Now to Peru: across the Pacific, the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement will allow for better relationships with one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America. A number of our competitors, including the United States, Canada, the European Union and Singapore, already have free trade agreements with Peru. Any additional barriers, including tariffs and restrictions on the sale of Australian goods and services, is a significant disadvantage to us, and this agreement will bring us into line with our competitors. Currently our trade with Peru is valued at $640 million annually, and it has the potential to grow, delivering for Australian workers, families and businesses. The measures being implemented by this agreement include: the elimination of tariffs on beef within five years; increased sugar market access; immediate duty-free access for Australian exports such as wine, sheepmeat, horticultural products and wheat; and the immediate elimination of tariffs on base metals, including iron ore, copper and nickel, mineral fuels and oils.
As I said earlier, the benefits of these agreements should not come without scrutiny, and that's where the Labor opposition has played an integral role. The Morrison government likes to talk in binary terms when it comes to free trade agreements. You're either for trade or you're against trade. It's black and white. It's yes or no. Just like the Prime Minister's inability to answer simple questions, dismissing them as gossip or 'in the Canberra bubble', this third-term Liberal-National government avoids scrutiny at every turn, and this is simply not the case for free trade agreements or for any legislation. We, here in the Senate, and particularly in the opposition and on the crossbench, serve this specific purpose in this place: to scrutinise government legislation. And the Prime Minister and the executive are foolish to think that they can sign agreements and the parliament will just wave them through without any oversight.
I want to thank the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, particularly its Labor members, for their work in applying appropriate scrutiny to these three agreements. The committee recommended that the government:
… pursue the termination of the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Republic of Indonesia concerning the Promotion and Protection of Investments, and seeks to terminate the 'survival clause' in this agreement.
This is essential because, without termination, two sets of investment or ISDS provisions would be in force.
As the party of working people, Labor understands the concerns raised by the trade union movement, and, as the shadow minister for home affairs, I understand these concerns are inherently tied to Australia's visa system. It is a system which, under this Liberal-National government, is under significant pressure primarily because of maladministration and mismanagement by the Minister for Home Affairs. Previous agreements signed by the government have raised concerns about waiving labour market testing when employers bring temporary skilled migrants to Australia. Labour market testing ensures there are no qualified local workers who could benefit from this employment first. There are no new labour market testing waivers in any of these three agreements that go beyond the commitments Australia has already made to those countries.
There have been concerns raised about the increase in the number of working holiday-maker visas, or backpacker visas, under the agreements with Indonesia and Peru. The agreement with Indonesia will increase the number of visas available annually from 1,000 to 4,100 in the first year, and this will eventually grow to 5,000 annually over six years. It is worth noting that, if all 5,000 working holiday-maker visas are taken up by Indonesians, that will only equate to 2.3 per cent of all backpacker visas. Meanwhile, the number of backpacker visas available for Peru will increase from 100 annually to 1,500 annually. These visas are short-stay visas for one year and allow people aged 18 to 30 to have a cultural experience in Australia while having the option of working. While I can understand some of the concerns about the increase in the number of visas available, I note these new numbers are a cap and not a target. By comparison as well, as of 31 December 2018 there were 25,000 people from the United Kingdom on backpacker visas in Australia.
My most significant concern about backpacker visas isn't about the numbers; it's about the third-term Liberal-National government's attitude toward backpacker visas and the potential for exploitation. The Morrison government is trying to claim that backpacker visas are a solution to the horticultural labour shortage that our farmers and fruit growers are facing across Australia. These are shortages that the member for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster, has described as a crisis. Backpacker visas are effectively meant to be extended tourist visas with the option of working in Australia. By comparison, the government are now relying on these visas to ensure fruit across Australia is being picked and farms are being tended to.
As recently as August, when asked about the expansion of backpacker visas broadly, Victorian Farmers Federation vice-president Emma Germano said:
... there's been problems with the ... visas in the past so the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, and yet here we are again.
Ms Germano also said that the horticultural sector needs something more sustainable than backpacker visas, and I agree with her. It is one of the key concerns that I, along with Senators Ciccone and Sheldon, have heard at the roundtables we've held which were aimed at addressing these concerns as well as the record-breaking number of people arriving by aeroplane and seeking asylum on the Minister for Home Affairs' watch. And let's be clear: there has been a rapid increase in the number of people arriving by plane from Malaysia and from China seeking asylum. It is being used as a way to access the Australian labour market. It is unmanaged temporary migration for employment.
Both people arriving by aeroplane and people on backpacker visas are at risk of serious exploitation in the labour market in Australia. The stories of people on backpacker visas being exploited in various ways—from underpayment to sexual servitude—are abhorrent. The exploitation of migrant workers is bad for all Australian workers. This is one of the reasons why the shadow minister for trade, Madeleine King, wrote to the trade minister, Senator Birmingham, seeking firm commitments from the government to ensure measures are implemented to stamp out any exploitation of foreign workers.
Senator Birmingham made firm commitments on behalf of the government that they would ensure that working holiday-makers are not exploited, by implementing the government's response to the recommendations of the Migrant Workers' Taskforce. These recommendations must be implemented sooner rather than later to stop exploitation before it can occur. Senator Birmingham has also committed to seek the termination of the existing bilateral investment treaty with Indonesia, addressing the recommendation by JSCOT that I cited earlier. The government also committed to review older style investor dispute settlement systems to ensure they contain modern safeguards; to not use provisions in the Indonesia agreement to extend any labour market testing waivers in the future; and to an inquiry by the parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties into Australia's treaty-making process, which will aim to improve transparency and consultation. I thank the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator Birmingham, for his commitment to negotiating with Labor and our shadow minister for trade in the other place.
In conclusion, in the spirit of Hawke and Keating, I say again that free trade should be fair trade.
The Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019 is to give effect to Australia's obligation under the three free trade agreements signed by the coalition government over the past two years. We have the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and the free trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong and China. Various FTAs have individually come before the parliament over the past decade. Towards the end of the previous parliament, many of you would remember, we had already dealt with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP-11, legislation. Such is the industriousness of our free trade negotiators that we now get to deal with three more FTAs as a job lot.
At the outset, I would underline that Centre Alliance supports free and fair trade. I need to state that upfront. We want to see the maximum opportunities for our exporters. We are a trading nation. Our future lies in engagement with the world. However, we are also mindful that our trade agreements must support our broad national interests, especially Australian manufacturing and our ability to value-add to our raw materials, and energy exports. Our FTA must also protect Australian jobs and living standards, our health and welfare safety nets and environmental standards. Our trade agreements must also preserve and not erode Australia's sovereign decision-making capacity in relation to key economic and social objectives.
We are pro trade, but each FTA should be looked at on its individual merits with independent analysis of the costs and the benefits. All too often these agreements have been negotiated in secret with inadequate transparency. They have been signed and sealed by the Australian government with insufficient analysis and consultation. And the benefits of these agreements are contested. As I and my predecessor, Senator Xenophon, have pointed out, in its last major study of FTA impacts in 2010, the Productivity Commission found the predictions on growth and jobs for FTAs had been exaggerated or not demonstrated and that the opportunities, costs and negative impacts on employment had not been properly considered. Each time an FTA is presented to the parliament, the government of the day froths with enthusiasm about the claimed benefits but then fails to commission and present to the parliament an independent rigorous analysis or any economic modelling. Nor is there any rigorous independent examination of the performance of FTAs after they have been ratified and put into operation.
In previous debates on FTAs, Centre Alliance has expressed a longstanding concern about investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS, arrangements, which have become standard features of free trade agreements. Australia has already had a negative experience with ISDS when Philip Morris, having failed to overturn legislation in relation to plain tobacco packaging in our highest court, in the High Court, went to Hong Kong and initiated action against the Australian government under our 1993 trade agreement with that territory. I supported the Australian government in defending the matter, but nonetheless that particular ISDS litigation cost the Australian taxpayer at least $39 million. The government wasn't upfront in providing the parliament and the people of Australia with those particular details. Former Senator Xenophon and I fought for a couple of years to get access to how much had been spent, through the FOI process, and the parliament officials refused to answer questions, such was the government's embarrassment about the numbers. It went all the way to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Finally the government realised they were going to lose the exemption case, and the number was revealed—$39 million.
We need to understand that the ISDS provisions entitle large corporations to sue governments, should they be affected by changes in public policy. We need to understand that we have a situation—and I accept that ISDS will protect Australian businesses overseas from changes in foreign policies of foreign countries, but it is the Australian taxpayer that picks up the premium. We get to pay in circumstances where the Australian government is sued such that our companies are not subject to that risk. So it's large corporations that the Australian taxpayer is underwriting. We are shifting the sovereign risk from those companies to individual taxpayers. Interestingly enough, Australian companies can't use these provisions here in Australia, so in some sense they even discriminate against Aussie companies that may wish to invest here rather than overseas. They have no recourse other than through our court system.
The government says, 'Well, ISDS—that was a single case in litigation, and Australia won.' But there's no shortage of examples internationally in which very large companies have used ISDS in efforts to bludgeon governments and pursue changes to policies that such corporations perceive as adverse to their commercial interests. One notable example is the international arbitration claim brought by a Swedish energy company, Vattenfall, against Germany in relation to that country's decision to phase out nuclear power. Vattenfall is seeking 4.7 billion euros—that's A$7.63 billion—in damages from the German government for the closure of two nuclear reactors. That case began in 2014 and still has a long way to run.
I move to the second problem area with the current arrangements, and that is labour market testing. This has already been a significant problem in free trade agreements that have previously come before the parliament, and we've already created a situation in which foreign companies can bring in workers and don't have to test the local market to see if there's an Australian here that can do the job. The failure to include labour market testing requirements has unquestionably opened the door to an erosion of employment opportunities, job security, wages and conditions for Australian workers.
Those problems have been highlighted by Centre Alliance, by the Australian Greens and, indeed, by the Labor Party, which in opposition in the past has expressed considerable reservation about free trade agreements the government has presented to the parliament. Just over a year ago, in the 2018 debates on implementing legislation for the TPP agreement, Labor expressed significant concerns. A number of Labor senators did not vote for the bill; they abstained. There were signs then, however, that Labor was shifting position. At the time, Centre Alliance moved an amendment that required that the provisions of that bill not commence unless the Australian government exchange bilateral side letters with the other parties to the treaty, agreeing that the ISDS provisions would not apply in relation to an investment in Australia by an investor of the other party, as well as side letters agreeing labour market testing must occur in relation to contractual services suppliers entering or proposing to enter Australia from the other party. That proposed amendment was not supported by the coalition, but it was also not supported by Labor.
Today it is clear that Labor's position has moved much closer to the coalition. Indeed, the parliament's consideration of these three FTAs confirm the new bipartisanship between Labor and the coalition on trade policy. As senators will be aware, JSCOT has recommended ratification of the three new FTAs. Coalition and Labor members of that committee were in broad agreement. Labor's JSCOT members further recommended that:
… the Australian government negotiate with the Peruvian Government to withdraw the proposed ISDS arrangements … as there is no clear benefit to such mechanisms, they bring well-established and serious risks …
In its report on the agreements with Indonesia and Hong Kong, JSCOT as a whole recommended that:
… the Australian Government gives due consideration to implementing … independent modelling and analysis of a proposed trade agreement … by the Productivity Commission … provided to the Committee alongside the National Interest Analysis (NIA) to improve assessment of the agreement.
Labor JSCOT members further recommended that:
… the movement of natural persons, as referenced in Chapter 12 of IA-CEPA, only occur on the basis that any temporary foreign labour arrangements include the application of labour market testing and actual skills testing in relevant areas like electrical trades, and notes that this should in any case be a treaty-level agreement.
Note the last part of that recommendation: labour market testing should be locked in by a treaty-level agreement. That's what they said at JSCOT.
Behind the JSCOT process, however, the Labor opposition had been negotiating with the government. On 21 October, Labor leader Mr Anthony Albanese announced that Labor would support this bill on the basis of undertakings given to the opposition by the trade minister, Simon Birmingham. These undertakings include a commitment that there will be no new labour market testing waivers and that future FDAs will not change Australia's workplace laws here. The government will, apparently, bring forward new legislation to introduce criminal penalties for the worst forms of worker exploitation. New measures will be introduced to ensure working holiday-makers are not exploited and are qualified for the work they undertake. The ISDS mechanism in the new agreement with Indonesia will be reviewed as part of the five-year review of that agreement. Existing ISDS mechanisms in other FTAs will be updated, where possible, to include what are described as 'modern, stronger safeguards'. JSCOT will also conduct another inquiry into all aspects of Australia's treaty-making process.
These undertakings from the government are welcome; however, they don't adequately address the concerns held by Centre Alliance, nor, for that matter, concerns previously expressed by Labor and still held by the trade union movement. The ISDS arrangements remain, subject only to some form of review at a future date. Labour market testing is not locked in through any treaty agreement. You're working on trust here, Labor. We saw what happened with the encryption bill when you worked on trust. In this regard the reaction of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, after Mr Albanese announced Labor's new position, is worth noting. The ACTU observed:
The agreements were negotiated in secret and have never been subjected to any form of independent assessment of their economic benefit or to determine whether they are likely to deliver or support jobs for Australian workers.
They will increase the number of workers on temporary visas in this country at a time when the 1.4 million already working here are routinely exposed to exploitation.
They do not guarantee that jobs will even be advertised locally before they are filled by workers on working holiday or training visas.
The agreements contain Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses …
… … …
The ALP has extracted some concessions from the Government not contained in the agreements but has still voted to support agreements which do not meet the standards set out in the party platform.
… … …
The ALP is in breach of its own platform, which represents the commitment it has given to its members and Australian workers. To vote in favour of agreements which do not have labour clauses and include clauses which compromise Australia's sovereignty is deeply disappointing.
That is from your own ACTU.
To give Labor the opportunity to clearly register its new position on free trade agreements, Centre Alliance has circulated an amendment which is in the same terms as that moved by the Australian Greens in the House of Representatives, which in turn adopted the approach taken by Centre Alliance's proposed amendments to the TPP legislation last year. That amendment provides that the provisions of the bill should not take effect without Australia and other FTA parties agreeing on side letters providing that ISDS provisions do not apply in relation to an investment in Australia by an investor of the other party in Australia, and similarly that side letters must provide that labour market testing must occur in relation to contractual service suppliers, working holiday visa holders and training visa holders entering or proposing to enter Australia from the other party. This is a much more robust approach to these key issues than Labor's reliance on the government's non-binding undertakings in regard to labour market testing and some eventual review of ISDS provisions.
Because the Greens have moved an amendment in identical terms, I can advise the chamber that I don't intend to move the first of Centre Alliance's amendments, but we will be supporting the Greens amendment. That leaves one set of amendments that Centre Alliance will in fact move, which will insert a schedule into the bill to amend the Productivity Commission Act 1988 to require the Productivity Commission to inquire into the contribution of Australia's bilateral and regional trade agreements to reducing trade and investment barriers; and the impact of trade agreements on trade flows, investment returns and productivity growth, employment and labour markets, and the development of manufacturing and value-added export industries.
The need for rigorous and independent review of Australia's free trade agreements is clear. The last Productivity Commission inquiry was nearly a decade ago. At that time Australia had signed and ratified six FTAs. Since then, we have signed and ratified six more, including the TPP. We have three more FTAs before the parliament today, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade lists another seven agreements under negotiation. There's also the prospective post-Brexit negotiation of the Australia-United Kingdom FTA.
JSCOT has recommended that individual new agreements be subject to review by the Productivity Commission. However, we clearly need a broad inquiry, independent and informed by the full range of expertise, to look at the big picture of our existing FTAs and their impacts and what the future holds in an uncertain international trading environment. Centre Alliance's amendment will set such an inquiry in train.
In closing, and moving to an important issue again relating back to the amendment that was circulated by both Centre Alliance and the Greens, one of these free trade agreements relates to the troubled Chinese territory of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an important trading partner, as suggested by Senator Keneally. It's also in the midst of great turmoil, and the territory's political future hangs in the balance. The very strong showing of pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong's district council elections is a very welcome development and should encourage the Hong Kong administration and the Chinese government in Beijing to respect the territory's special status. But the situation remains fraught with danger. In these circumstances, ratification of the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement would be imprudent and ill advised until such time as Hong Kong's political situation is settled in ways that are consistent with a respect for human rights, the rule of law and the letter and spirit of the 'one country, two systems' principle agreed in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong. I'm personally saddened by the events that are taking place there, having been in Hong Kong on the day of the handover.
Both Houses of the US Congress have now passed a bill that would require the US Secretary of State to annually certify whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to justify being treated differently from China on matters like trade. In the event that this parliament does pass this bill, the government would still be well advised to put Australia's agreement with Hong Kong on the shelf until the current turmoil is resolved in a satisfactory way. To do otherwise would be foolish and send the wrong political signal to Beijing.
I rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019. I begin by noting why the Labor Party has given our support to the recently negotiated free trade agreements with Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru. While many sensitivities and valid concerns were raised throughout the process of negotiating these trade agreements, we have decided on the whole to support them because more than 2.5 million Australian workers depend on trade for employment, and Labor will always be the party of protecting jobs and representing the worker. While we would not have done these deals in this way if we were in government, it is nevertheless incumbent upon us to do whatever we can to create and protect Australian jobs. Reducing barriers to trade, both tariff and non-tariff, results in more competitive industries whereby the benefits are felt by Australian consumers through lower prices and greater choice. It is important to stress here that it is for these reasons we fought hard to secure various concessions from the government on these agreements. The trade union movement provided invaluable consultation in order for us to push for and win significant concessions that ensure the fairness of these agreements, most notably the protection of Australian jobs and measures to stop the exploitation of workers.
Today I want to speak more to the Peru-Australia free trade agreement, as I was on the treaties committee that looked at this and also travelled to Peru as part of a parliamentary delegation. However, I first want to acknowledge the importance of the Australia-Indonesia free trade agreement. The economic partnership between our two countries is one that, historically, has been undervalued—'boats, beef and barley' is the adage often repeated when this relationship is brought up. This trade agreement goes some of the way to helping address this imbalance. From an economic imperative alone, we should be engaging more with our northern neighbour, a country of a quarter of a billion people and a fast-growing middle class and consumer base. Anyone who has been to the capital, Jakarta, in recent times will know just how quickly that country is growing. Currently Indonesia only accounts for about two per cent of Australian exports. There are also the diplomatic imperatives of developing closer links with Indonesia. But, because of the potential size of this future economic relationship, it is important that we get this deal correct now.
I'd also like to add that when I went as part of a delegation to visit Indonesia, the ASEAN delegation, we went to a number of cities within Indonesia. What was striking was the number of Indonesians who'd had some tertiary education in Australia—and yet we do so little trade with Indonesia. It really does not make sense that that relationship is so undervalued.
Going back to our potential future economic relationship with Indonesia, to this end, the shadow minister for trade, Madeleine King, wrote to trade minister Simon Birmingham seeking firm commitments from the government in relation to the agreements. The minister then made a number of commitments. These included: seeking to terminate the existing bilateral investment treaty with Indonesia; a review of older-style investment treaties to replace them with modern safeguards; an assessment of the operation of investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms in a review of the Indonesia agreement that is mandated five years after entry into force; not to use the provisions of the Indonesia agreement to extend any labour market testing waivers for Indonesian contractual service suppliers; to ensure working holiday-makers are not exploited, by implementing the government's response to the recommendations of the Migrant Workers' Taskforce, including new criminal penalties; to ensure that working holiday-makers are qualified for work undertaken in Australia; and the confirmation that the agreements do not create an obligation to privatise any government services or to restrict any future decision to acquire public assets.
Moving on from Indonesia, another of the trade agreements that I was involved in during my time as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in the last parliament is with Peru. This comprehensive agreement will create new trade and investment opportunities for Australia and Peru. It will act as an expansion on our existing agreement with Peru, whereby our trading relationship is currently governed under the World Trade Organization's most-favoured-nation arrangements.
While the committee had previously agreed in August 2018 that the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement, or PAFTA, as it is commonly known, be ratified, there were key areas in which the Australian Labor Party sought further information for examination. These areas related, firstly, to the complexity created by the number of trade agreements—particularly multiple agreements with the same partner. This is often referred to as the noodle bowl effect. Secondly, we were also concerned with the specific inclusion and operation of the investor-state dispute settlement provisions.
However, before I outline the specifics of the agreement that have led to its bipartisan backing, I again acknowledge for the record the Labor Party's long history of supporting trade. In this place, we have led in both advocating for and action on the removal of barriers, both tariff and non-tariff, in order to allow Australian products to compete and thrive in overseas markets. In fact, it was the Hawke-Keating economic reforms that paved the way for the now 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth we have seen in this country. It was their leadership during that period of Labor government that expanded our vision of ourselves as part of a greater region and allowed us to begin to do away with the cultural cringe that had been a persistent drag on our aspiration and on our achievement. The Australian Labor Party recognises that lower tariff rates promote jobs and investment and that open markets have helped to lift millions—if not billions—of people out of abject poverty around the world. It is with this progressive history in mind that we supported the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
Peru is our 54th largest trading partner, but this metric alone does not encompass the importance of this relationship nor what 'open access' means for our respective industries. Over the last decade, Peru has been one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. Two-way trade between our countries was worth A$590 million in 2016, and this is only expected to grow under PAFTA as opportunities for business and investment expand.
Australia's exports of beef, sheep meat, sugar, wine, canola, horticulture, rice, barley and wheat are effectively shut out of the Peruvian market due to high tariff barriers. Additionally, Peru's price ban system had resulted in tariffs of up to 29 per cent on Australian dairy, rice and corn. Australia is the fourth largest investor in Peru's mining and energy sector. On the parliamentary delegation to Peru, we met many in the mining and energy sector. If they could have had more Australian engineers there yesterday, they would have done so.
During the course of the committee, the Minerals Council of Australia noted that specialised mining equipment, technology and materials are some of Australia's leading expert exports to Peru. On the parliamentary delegation to Peru, I was able to try Andean quinoa, which the producers told me they were keen to start exporting to Australia. This quinoa is grown in a specific region of the Andes mountains where there is very high soil quality and very pure water. I remember that the Greens had quinoa at their Christmas party or their end-of-year party a few years ago, so maybe one day they will be able to have Andean quinoa as well!
Many of our trade competitors already have agreements with Peru—the European Union, the United States, Canada and Singapore have all signed bilateral FTAs. This is why it was so important for us to also secure favourable conditions—so as not to be effectively barred from entry due to tariffs, bureaucratic red tape and other barriers.
One issue that was repeatedly raised during the committee hearings into PAFTA and, in fact, was one of the main reasons the ALP called for the second committee was the noodle bowl effect. This refers to the complexity that exists where multiple agreements overlap. PAFTA is the fourth trade agreement that Australia either has or currently has under negotiation with Peru. Prior to PAFTA, our trade relationship was administered under the rules set out by the World Trade Organization. Both our countries are also signatories to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, commonly known as the CPTPP, and the Pacific Alliance Free Trade Agreement.
Firstly, it is important to understand that PAFTA was being negotiated while the future of the original TPP was very unclear. So, in the potential absence of that, it was very much desired to preserve many of the benefits available in PAFTA. Secondly, we need to look at PAFTA as separate from the CPTPP. Despite both Australia and Peru being signatories to each agreement, PAFTA is a better reflection of the singular views of our nation. The CPTPP was negotiated by 11 nations, giving equal access to each. However, PAFTA offers broader but less specific and technical benefits. We will also start to see the results of PAFTA almost immediately, as its ratification by Peru is only subject to an executive process.
The next issue that the committee looked into was the investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms, commonly known as ISDS. Here an international arbitration procedure allows for conflict resolution between countries and foreign investors. While the committee acknowledged and was sympathetic to the ongoing concerns raised by many stakeholders, it is necessary to set straight some of the more outlandish scaremongering that has been present throughout the negotiation of recent trade agreements.
Firstly, ISDS provisions in the agreement equally benefit Australian companies. They give our companies an important assurance when operating in an environment that differs from the legal and ethical standards they may be privy to at home. Unfortunately the term 'ISDS' has also become synonymous with the plain-packaging lawsuit levelled against the Australian government by Philip Morris. Let me assure you that no-one is more aware of this than the Australian Labor Party. It was us, led by former Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon, who fought tooth and nail so that government policy to protect the health of citizens could not be undermined by corporations in this way. Additionally, compared to older ISDS mechanisms, modern provisions in agreements like the CPTPP, PAFTA and the updated Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement include extensive safeguards and protections for public policies.
The leading negotiators on PAFTA from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade explained to the committee that it includes some of the more thorough safeguards and standards ever negotiated in a trade deal. This includes in the areas of labour market testing and public health, both of which were front-and-centre concerns for the Labor Party. As in all negotiations, we had to weigh the positives against the negatives. After a long and thorough process, the bipartisan committee acknowledged the gains in opportunities that PAFTA will provide for Australian businesses and exporters and noted the importance of early ratification.
As I have said, I was lucky enough to be part of a parliamentary delegation to Mexico and Peru. On the second leg of this trip, we went to the Peruvian capital of Lima and also to some nearby towns and manufacturing businesses. As explained in detail just now, this visit was especially important given the various mutual trade agreements we either had or had under negotiation.
From 2016 to 2017, Australia and Peru's total two-way merchandise trade was $435 million. In the same period, total trade in services was $211 million. This included the export of education related travel, valued at $45 million. In 2016, Australia's investment in Peru totalled $563 million, primarily in the mining sector. While two-way trade is relatively modest, under the recently signed free trade agreement with Peru, these figures are expected to grow, and there is a real appetite there for Australia's know-how, particularly in the mining sector. On 12 February 2018, our respective ministers signed the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement. This will eliminate tariffs on 99 per cent of Australian goods within five years of the agreement's entry into force. It is important to note that this was negotiated when it wasn't clear whether the original Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement would go ahead, given the United States' U-turn.
Finally, I would like to add that, as both a Victorian senator and the deputy leader of the delegation, I encourage us to look at ways to promote more students from Latin-America to come to study in Australia. Victorian government statistics show that international education has been the state's largest export for more than a decade. From 2016 to 2017, it generated $9.1 billion in export revenue and supported almost 58,000 jobs. I will say that again: from 2016 to 2017, it generated $9.1 billion in export revenue and supported almost 58,000 jobs. That is a major industry, by any description. Further growth in this area could serve as a major economic boost to the state. One area that we can immediately look at in order to facilitate this is in the Peru-Australia Air Services Agreement. While this was signed in 2017, it is yet to come into force.
These are areas that will not only provide for economic growth but also strengthen our bilateral friendships. As a middle power in the Asia-Pacific, we should be looking at all of the ways in which we can improve our ties and grow our engagement in our region.
I rise to join the debate on the Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019. In their contributions to this debate, many people have said that free trade should be fair trade. To my point of view, this is not free trade. It is not free trade when big corporations are given more power than governments or Australian investors or workers—because that is what these bills, particularly through the ISDS provisions, do. You can't claim it's free trade when workers' rights are at risk. You can't call it free trade when big corporations can take governments to task. You can't justify it by saying, 'Well, Australian companies may be able to take the governments of other countries to task.' We don't support that either. And we don't support empowering Australian companies to try to ride roughshod over other countries' workers' rights and other countries' environmental rights—like Australian companies have done under other free trade agreements and the ISDS provisions. We don't think that's right either, and we call that out as well.
When we're looking at entering trade agreements, we should be ensuring we are protecting human rights, workers' rights and our environment. These need to be at the heart of how we engage, both in this region and in the rest of the world. We shouldn't be enabling multinational corporations to call the shots. No matter which way you cut it, that's what ISDS provisions do. I'll come to this in more detail later, but we don't buy the government's—or, for that matter, the ALP's—assurance that they've somehow improved the ISDS processes and they've carved some stuff out. You could drive a truck through the so-called carve-outs! The very nature of ISDS provisions means that they give others the power to try and attack, for example, our environmental protections or our workers' rights protections. It opens up the ability of corporations to take action if, for example, the government wants to improve our environmental protections—heaven forbid the government should want to!—and a company or a multinational thinks that this may stop them from making a motza.
We should be using our trade opportunities with other countries to promote values such as human rights, protecting our environment and workers' rights, But instead we see the government, now with the assistance of the ALP, sign up to what we think are dodgy trade deals which give more powers to big corporations and which could undermine Australian workers and undermine our provisions to protect the health of Australians and to protect the environment—powers for big corporations to sue our government to protect their profits. Here in Australia, these kinds of deals have already led to the collapse of Australian industries and the destruction of some of our precious places, have driven down wages and have threatened to stop our governments regulating against what we consider to be reckless corporate behaviour. We all know that big corporations wield their power for their own interests. We need to place human rights, workers' rights and environmental protection at the centre of how we trade with other countries and ensure that the community is able to scrutinise these agreements—because, once again, we still haven't had proper scrutiny of these agreements.
I've stood in this place before and raised this issue repeatedly, as has Senator Whish-Wilson when he held this portfolio, and as has Senator Steele-John. We have raised the fact that these agreements don't get proper scrutiny. They have significant potential for significant impact. The Greens care about people and the planet. We don't take corporate donations. And we do not sell out on these issues. These issues undermine Australia's sovereignty. These bills put in place the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement—this at a time when the whole world can see the disruption that's going on in Hong Kong, the way that protesters are being treated and the disruptive nature of decision-making. And yet we think it's okay to go ahead and make an agreement with Hong Kong at this time. I understand that the protesters over there and the people fighting for democracy in Hong Kong haven't said, 'Don't ever sign it', and they haven't said, 'Don't rip it up.' They haven't said, 'Sign it.' They've said, 'Just don't do anything at the moment, because of the unrest that's going on.' How can we contemplate signing such an agreement when there is such unrest in Hong Kong at this time?
The schedules of the bill amend the Customs Act to provide rules for determining whether goods are Peruvian or Indonesian or Hong Kong originating goods and therefore entitled to be imported into Australia at preferential rates of customs duty. The amendments also enable regulations to prescribe record-keeping obligations on exporters and producers of goods exported to Peru, Indonesia and Hong Kong, for which a preferential rate of customs duty is claimed. The customs tariff amendment bill will make complementary amendments to the Customs Tariff Act to give effect to the preferential rates of customs duty in accordance with the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and the Australia-Hong Kong free trade agreement.
While the Greens are supportive of trade agreements, they need to be ones that promote and protect environmental sustainability, human rights, labour rights and the broader principles of fair trade. We believe very strongly that the provisions in these bills do not count as free trade. They undermine the very concept of free trade, because of the ISDS provisions. It is our view that support for these trade agreements is limited to the interests of specific sectors of the economy that stand to benefit directly. Civil society, unions and human rights groups have been strongly vocal in their opposition to these agreements.
We have serious concerns about the provisions within both the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and the Hong Kong free trade agreement relating to the ISDS, or investor-state dispute settlement, provisions. We have concerns about ecommerce, the temporary work visa programs and limiting the regulatory capacity of our government. We wrote a comprehensive dissenting report to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties to this effect. We have serious concerns about provisions within PAFTA which relate to ISDS, temporary worker visas and the lack of clarity around which agreement Australia and Peru will follow. Will it be TPP-11 or PAFTA? We are deeply concerned about the lack of provisions which ensure compliance with human rights, labour rights and environmental protections, and we are broadly concerned with the lack of transparency and risk analysis occurring in the making of these trade agreements.
On ISDS provisions: all three of these trade agreements contain provisions for ISDS. We strongly disagree with the inclusion and use of ISDS clauses in trade agreements, which we have fought in this place on a number of occasions. ISDS clauses expand the legal rights of multinational corporations and offer advantages not afforded to domestic investors. They also create a chilling effect, where governments either delay or reconsider regulation to avoid the risk of arbitration. This is unconscionable. Particular policy areas such as labour protections, environmental protections and health and safety protections can be affected by this chilling effect.
Many of us have fought for many years to get adequate protections—and I use 'adequate' advisedly, because we know that environmental protections in this country are not adequate and need strengthening—but the ones we've got have been very hard fought for, and we should not be putting them at risk in this manner. What we have seen occur over the last few years is a so-called modernisation of the ISDS provisions, which include so-called enhanced safeguards, which are really broad, undefined and generalised protections for governments seeking to regulate for legitimate public welfare initiatives—for example, public health, safety and environmental protections. We do not think that these are an adequate modernisation of ISDS provisions, and they do not provide enhanced safeguards.
There have been controversial cases dealing with fair and equitable treatment, where tribunals have found in favour of corporations on the basis that government action has interfered with the company's own expectations of the treatment they should receive. This is an extremely worrying trend. The Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement excludes ISDS cases against public health measures, specifically mentioning cases related to the PBS, Medicare, the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. There is no specific mention of tobacco regulation, and it remains to be seen whether the general exclusion for public health measures will deter tobacco companies from taking cases if a future government should decide on changes to regulation.
The Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement also has provisions that we are nervous about. Whilst we welcome the inclusion of explicit limitations in the scope of ISDS provisions through the exclusion of the PBS, Medicare, the TGA and the Gene Technology Regulator, and in this case tobacco within the Hong Kong agreement, we do not believe there are sufficient protections for future government measures which seek to address health, the environment, essential services, industrial relations and other public interest issues.
In terms of the Indonesia-Australia CEPA, we reject the contention of the national interest analysis, the NIA, that ISDS provisions are a necessary inclusion within the IA-CEPA. We agree with the extensive analysis of ISDS provided by AFTINET in their submission to the JSCOT inquiry, and we contend that the demonstrated risks associated with these ISDS clauses—that they are costly, incompatible with human rights, procedurally opaque and lacking in impartiality—provided a strong case for their exclusion from this agreement.
As outlined by the ACTU in their submission to the JSCOT inquiry, the inclusion of ISDS provisions is a restriction on national sovereignty and the ability of governments to regulate in the public interest. The Greens agree with this position and do not believe that the proposed provisions sufficiently protect the public interest. Whilst DFAT's NIA promotes a modernised ISDS mechanism through the inclusion of carve-outs for the PBS, Medicare, the TGA and the Gene Technology Regulator, it does not prevent other ISDS claims being made where broader areas of public interest are implemented, such as environmental and, also importantly, industrial laws.
There are also inconsistencies between the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement and the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement around ISDS provisions. PAFTA and the Indonesia-Australia agreement do not include a specific exclusion for tobacco regulation, which contrasts with the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement, which contains detailed exclusions for tobacco products.
Given the Philip Morris ISDS case brought against Australia, Indonesia's involvement in the WTO dispute against Australia's plain-packaging laws and Indonesia's very prominent tobacco industry, we are concerned that this places Australia at risk of arbitration should any regulations be made to tobacco products—for example, e-cigarettes in the future. We do not accept the assertion of the NIA, which makes the assumption that general public health exemptions to ISDS sufficiently cover this. We cannot take this risk. Australia has fought so hard and made such progress in this area, and yet this potentially opens it all up again.
We're also concerned about the effects to reduce the regulatory capacity of governments in the electronic commerce trade. It has been made very clear by the ACCC in their recent digital platforms inquiry, and indeed through an extensive and growing body of evidence, that big tech companies and multinational corporations can engage in anticompetitive practices, breach privacy, avoid tax and exploit workers.
Both the Indonesia-Australia agreement and the Australia-Hong Kong agreement contain chapters outlining frameworks for e-commerce which permit the free flow of data, including financial data, across borders. We are firmly committed to ensuring that digital rights and data privacy are strongly protected, and we do not believe that either of these agreements provide tangible or sufficient provisions to achieve this. The intention of the e-commerce chapters in these agreements is to reduce regulation of data flows. This is at odds with the responsibility that the government has to be able to adapt to meet future needs with privacy protection provisions.
We are also deeply concerned about the temporary work visa programs. I bet every single member of this chamber has heard of workers who have come into this country, have not had the protections of our industrial relation laws, have been underpaid or have been abused in their workplace. They do not have job security. What is the point of making sure? In fact, the next bill that comes into this place is about further undermining our industrial relations laws. We do not want to have workers put into a position where they have unsafe work conditions, poor pay conditions and are offered substandard accommodation when they come into this country. I have heard of many occasions when this has occurred.
There's also been a lack of independent evaluation and transparency. We continue to have deep concerns about the lack of transparency and public scrutiny involved with the current procedure for making trade agreements. Again, we have outlined these concerns many times in this chamber and the opaque process continues to happen. It is essential that any proposed agreement be tabled in parliament and be open for wide public consultation prior to signing, in order to ensure consistency with domestic, democratic policy-making principles and practice which do not enable big corporations to undermine and override laws and regulations that are made in Australia to protect our health, protect our workers' rights, protect our human rights and protect our environment. These provisions are opaque. It is all very well for the ALP to now cosy up to the government to try and ram these agreements through this parliament when they still have ISDS arrangements that are opposed by trade unions. You've heard what the ACTU said. You've heard what non-government organisations have said about these agreements. They do not meet the purpose; they are not fair trade. It should not be free trade at the cost of fair trade. We do not support these agreements and we specifically do not support ISDS—the process which overrides— (Time expired)
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I know that Australians value a fair go and being fair dinkum. Free trade sounds nice, yet we need fair trade in Australia. I want to make three points, and I will discuss the government's trap. Firstly, the Indonesia, Peru and Hong Kong free trade agreements are bundled together as one job lot. My first comment is to criticise the government for bundling three free trade agreements into one piece of legislation. It is no wonder that we are being forced to vote for or against these agreements as some bizarre job lot, because the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement is rotten. It is bad for our country. The dishonesty from the government extends beyond bundling the agreements. It extends to the lies that the government is telling about the agreements.
Let me talk about the ISDS provisions, the investor-state dispute settlement provisions, in all three of these agreements before us today. These clauses allow private companies to sue the Australian government if our actions cost them money. I'll say it again: the clauses that the government has written into this legislation and which the Labor Party supports allow overseas private companies to sue the Australian government—sue us—if our actions cost them money. Let me give you some examples. When President Putin—who's no shrinking violet—came to power, he took on the corrupt oligarchs that exploited the end of communism to steal everything worth stealing and then paid no taxes on the wealth. Putin cleaned up the oligarchs. Many fled overseas. From there they used ISDS, investor-state dispute settlement, provisions to sue Putin for acting in Russia's best interests and for making them pay their fair share of tax. He wanted these foreign companies to pay their fair share of tax, and those foreign companies won. They beat Vladimir Putin. I know why Prime Minister Morrison loves ISDS, investor-state dispute settlement, provisions so much. Large companies not paying their fair share of tax in Australia is part of the Liberal-Labor duopoly's game.
I will rephrase that. Now I know why Prime Minister Morrison's government loves ISDS provisions so much. Large corporates not paying their fair share of tax won't happen on this government's watch! Who controls Australia? Who governs Australia? It's not the elected Australian government.
We can also get sued for not doing something. Little old El Salvador decided to leave some of their gold in the ground, as is their right, so a Canadian-Australian company called Pac Rim sued El Salvador for not letting them mine. Pac Rim did not have approvals. They did not produce an environmental impact study. They just registered their mining claim and sued El Salvador—and Pac Rim won. El Salvador now has to pay $300 million or let Pac Rim mine. Who controls El Salvador? It's not the El Salvadorian government.
Will the same apply to our coal seam gas? Will all our farmers, who are already struggling with the worst drought in a hundred years and are mocked by a government that promises assistance they never actually get, have no choice but to let Indonesian mining companies unlock the gates, turn productive farms into gas fields and let bulldozers run riot over productive farmland? The environment gets it in the neck with these ISDS provisions as well—not the sky god of warming environmentalism, but real environmentalism. Renco Group Inc is a company owned by one of the richest men in America. In Peru they invested in a metal smelter which is one of the 10 most polluted sites in the world. Peru took Renco to their local court to force Renco to install sulphur filters to make the air in neighbouring villages breathable. The local court found in the villages' favour, but then Renco moved the case to an ISDS panel and won. Who controls Peru? It's not the Peruvian government.
New Zealand doesn't fall for the nonsense of these ISDS provisions. They don't include them. They look after their sovereignty. Why can't the Australian government, under both Liberal and Labor parties, do that? ISDS is just one of One Nation's objections to these provisions. It takes justice away from everyday Australians and moves it into international courts where even a small case costs in the tens of millions of dollars. In these courts there is no national interest, no thought of common-law protections of our inalienable human rights and no consideration of the basic principles of justice. There is no justice, and the government wants to deliberately undermine sovereignty. National interest is being subverted to corporate profits, and to hell with the consequences for everyday Australians! Could this heartless Liberal-National government be summed up any better than that? Who controls Australia? Who governs Australia? It's not the elected Australian government.
Let me turn to another objection: the labour market provisions. This agreement that the government pushes, with Labor's full support, allows Indonesia to supply 4,100 new temporary visa holders into the Australian market, rising to 5,000 annually by 2024. In addition, this agreement requires Australia to send trainers to Indonesia to upskill their labour force to Australian standards so even more can come over. Why is government not asking if they are going to take jobs from everyday Australians? Why is government not asking what effect this will have on the lives, businesses and wages of tradies and construction workers in particular?
There are currently 1.4 million of these temporary work visa holders in Australia. Every new trade agreement brings more. Coincidentally, there are also 1.4 million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed. Yet all we hear from the government—and, oddly, today from the Labor Party—is that immigration leads to more jobs. If having more of these workers leads to more jobs, when is that going to happen? When are our 1.4 million unemployed and underemployed going to benefit from all these corporate trade agreements? The answer is that none will benefit. These agreements exist to bring in large numbers of foreign workers to drive down wages in Australia and maximise corporate profits. Australia is used to that from the Liberal and National parties and, increasingly in recently years, from the Labor Party. My question is: why is the Australian Labor Party voting for this killer? Aren't the Labor Party supposed to be the party of labour? Aren't the Labor Party supposed to protect Australian workers? Well, apparently not.
There is one aspect of these agreements that One Nation does support, and that is the expansion of Australia's farm exports—half a million tonnes of grain to Indonesia, along with a 1,300 per cent increase in cattle exports by the year 2050. Dairy gets another $6 million dollars in exports. Carrot and potato tariffs are eliminated. The Peruvian agreement will eliminate a 17 per cent tariff on beer and a nine per cent tariff on wine and will allow market access for Australian sugar, dairy, beef, lamb, cereals and nuts. In times of drought, these targets may at best be theoretical, but this drought will not last forever. It will rain again—we know that in Australia's cycles—and, when it does, these additional markets will be critical to getting our farmers back on their feet. Our struggling manufacturing sector will benefit from another 250,000 tonnes of steel to Indonesia and from market access to Peru for pharmaceutical and minerals markets.
Ultimately, the absolute necessity of keeping our economy out of recession today by developing these new markets has decided our vote on this matter. But look at how the government have roped us into voting for their globalist, elitist mates—putting a gun to our farmers' heads. Tellingly, when Senator Pauline Hanson spoke in this chamber just an hour or so ago, Liberal and Labor heads were bowed in shame, and rightly so, because Australians value a fair go and Australians value being fair dinkum.
I am rising to speak to the growing Australian export opportunities across the Asia-Pacific bills. What a title! Who, with their rose-coloured glasses, invented that title? Who was not paying attention to what the real impact of this legislation will be? In fact, I think a better title for this legislation would be the 'giving big business everything they want and screwing over ordinary people in the process bills'. The Customs Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Bill 2019 empower corporations, not people, and we should oppose them.
The coalition has listened to its supporters—big business—and it has given them everything they want. This bill gives more power to attack workers, more power to undermine environment protections and more power to undermine the needs of ordinary, everyday people. This is all about taking power away from people, from the community, and handing it to the corporations. This bill will enable trade agreements that lock Australia into disastrous investor-state dispute settlement frameworks. I know we have heard a lot about these ISDS frameworks in the debate tonight, but I'd like to quote from Chief Justice French, who said about ISDS provisions:
Arbitral tribunals set up under ISDS provisions are not courts. Nor are they required to act like courts. Yet their decisions may include awards which significantly impact on national economies and on regulatory systems within nation states. Questions have been raised about the consistency, openness and impartiality of decisions made in ISDS arbitrations.
The Prime Minister has critiqued international organisations for negative globalism. But the truth is that the organisations that he critiques—the UN and others—are far more representative, consistent and beneficial to Australia than these ISDS clauses. ISDS clauses benefit corporations. They don't benefit Australia, and we should not be signing trade agreements that have ISDS clauses in them. This again is what Justice French had to say about them:
They have general implications for national sovereignty, democratic governance and the rule of law within domestic legal systems.
If the Prime Minister is genuine about addressing how Australia engages with its international commitments and about empowering our country and is genuinely committed to governing in the interest of his 'quiet Australians', the best place for him to start would be to examine these ISDS clauses in detail. Then he would genuinely understand how they benefit corporations rather than the Australian community.
Every single one of the agreements being implemented by these bills includes ISDS provisions. We've seen what happens with ISDS in the tobacco case. That was a case of Australia leading the world in regulatory reform, taking steps that protected our citizens and helped reduce the damage that smoking causes. Tragically, tobacco companies were willing to use ISDS to try and block this groundbreaking legislation.
There are also inconsistencies around ISDS exclusions in the free trade agreements with Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru that are being considered here. The Peru and Indonesia agreements don't include a specific exclusion for tobacco regulation, which contrasts with the Hong Kong agreement, which contains detailed exclusions for tobacco products. But given the Philip Morris ISDS case brought against Australia, Indonesia's involvement in the WTO dispute against Australia's plain-packaging laws and Indonesia's tobacco industry, we Greens are extremely concerned that this places Australia at risk of arbitration should any regulations be made on tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, in the future.
We do not accept the assertions that the general health exception to the ISDS sufficiently covers this. These ISDS provisions are very broad-reaching. We may see coal companies trying to use ISDS provisions to stop action on climate change. We know that at the moment the government here has its head buried in the sand on taking serious action about getting out of coal, gas and oil. But in the future, when the penny drops and the realisation is made that we need to have that serious action, that we need to have genuine action, that we need to be rapidly getting out of coal, gas and oil mining and export, we know that these fossil fuel corporations are going to try to fight it. The likelihood that they will try to use ISDS provisions to fight it is absolutely very real. The coalition government, by allowing this to occur, along with its position on not taking enough action on climate, is desperate to keep Australia trapped in the past.
Then we've got the fact that the government is trying to ram through an agreement with Hong Kong, despite the events unfolding there. We've seen what's going on in Hong Kong. It's tragic. We've seen the attacks on democracy. We've seen the tragic events as protesters have been standing up for their rights. We've seen the struggles that they've faced. Surely that should be enough to actually make the government take a step back and say, 'Now is not the time to be signing a trade agreement on Hong Kong'? But apparently not. Apparently what's happening in Hong Kong is not enough to get in the way of a trade deal. Apparently it's not enough to pause and think about what it could be doing.
And then the Labor Party, once again, are carrying out their strategy of whinge and fold. That phrase—or a less polite version of it!—was coined by some in the press gallery watching their behaviour in in this parliament. Sadly, it is all too familiar. We know why Labor have to do the whingeing—because so much of their support base is absolutely against these free trade agreements. The Australian Council of Trade Unions doesn't support ISDS provisions. Labor say that they are the party that's based on trade unionism, and that they are standing up for the rights of workers and trade unions—and yet their key stakeholders are saying to them: 'Do not agree with this legislation which has these ISDS provisions in it and the trade agreements that implement them.' But here we are again, with Labor having reached a cosy deal with the government and this bill set to sail through the parliament.
The Greens support labour market testing, and I always thought the Labor Party did, too. The Labor Party say that they do, but these agreements undermine the ability to undertake that very basic activity of labour market testing, and the end outcome is worse for everyone. It makes those workers that are brought here on particular working visas very vulnerable to their employers. They suffer from worse conditions. They suffer from wage theft, and that's on top of the wage theft that's already being perpetuated in our system. And yet, rather than trying to take action on it, the Indonesian trade agreement is allowing for an extra 4,000 to 5,000 working-holiday work permits outside the 457 visa system.
I think of the union members that I met this morning, who were in parliament to protest against the government's union-busting legislation. There was Sally McManus and Michele O'Neil, along with a room full of nurses, hospitality workers and health service workers. Labor MPs were there, in number, having their photos taken and saying how proud they were of standing up for these workers and standing up for unions. But every one of these workers is under threat from these trade agreements—under threat of having to work beside or having their jobs replaced by exploited workers who are too scared to stand up for their rights because they would be at risk of having their visas revoked if they did. We know that is going on in Australia now. We know that is the reality—that workers are being exploited on temporary work visas.
I understand Labor and the government have been having their cosy chats and they've worked out that they 'will use all necessary mechanisms to ensure that any Indonesian national utilising the additional working holiday visas is treated equally under Australian workplace law, is free from exploitation and is qualified for any work they undertake this in country'. I say to the government and the Labor Party: why don't you get that happening to those exploited temporary work-visa holders who are working here in Australia now? Get the system working here now for all of those exploited workers. And, once you've got that in place, well, then you can consider expanding that system. We know we have got a massive problem with the exploitation of foreign workers on temporary work visas—workers who are absolutely petrified that if they do anything that involves standing up for their rights they are going to be shipped back home, because they are there only at the whim of their employer. Get that sorted out first, and then we could consider expanding that system. Once you start opening up categories of people like contractual service suppliers and giving them the fast track around Australia's labour laws, they end up being exploited on below local wages and conditions.
It's for these reasons that we have heard civil society, unions and human rights groups, who have been vocal in their opposition to these agreements. The Greens are supportive of trade agreements, and it is possible to have trade agreements which promote and protect environmental sustainability, human rights, labour rights and the broader principles of fair trade. That is what we should be going into these negotiations with. We should be saying that these things are not negotiable—that we are not going to negotiate away our environmental protections and that we are not going to negotiate away our workers' rights. And, if we went into those negotiations and said, 'This is the bottom line,' then we could be negotiating trade agreements that are fair. But that's not what is on the table for us today. We as Greens believe that there is a better way. The Greens believe in a world where social justice and grassroots democracy empower people. We believe in a world where the government stands up for the rights of workers and for the rights of the environment, rather than undermining those rights. We believe in a world where the government funds the infrastructure that needs building and helps us transition to green, sustainable energy rather than relying on decrepit fossil-fuel plants. We have a vision of a better future—one where we empower communities and workers, not corporations.
I think of the weekend that I have just spent travelling through regional Victoria. I met a whole range of community members who were doing their best to work to support their communities. I met with members of local councils. I met with farmers. I met with members of LGBTIQ community organisations and others. It was exciting to see what they were doing. They were engaging in their community. They were working in sustainable agriculture on farms. They were building communities together. We need to be encouraging more of that—a world where people are empowered to build communities together, rather than a world where we have corporations riding roughshod over their rights and the rights and protections of our environment.