Senate debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022


Indigenous Australian: Free Trade Agreements

5:43 pm

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

This evening I rise to speak on Australia's processes regarding free trade agreements and the importance of Australia pushing for Indigenous inclusion chapters. Australia's free trade agreement processes are like any transparency or the ability for communities to actually comment on the potential impacts before they are agreed upon. Report 193 of Joint Standing Committee on Treaties highlighted that civil society groups, unions, community members, traditional owners and environmental advocates are not provided with the same level of access to these negotiation processes as are business and industry. The report also stated that Australia's free trade agreement consultation process is inadequate and indeed very tokenistic. This is because corporations get a seat at the table over environmentalists, unionists, traditional owners and community members. These deals often benefit large corporations and compromise human rights, labour laws, cultural heritage and environmental protections. This process is so secretive, we only see the agreement once it's been agreed to, so there's no scope for any actual amendments without serious concessions.

The government claims this secrecy is an issue of national security, which, frankly, is a bit of a cop out. I'm not convinced that this is the only option. In fact, we know it's not. New Zealand has a much broader and even more transparent consultation process that starts before negotiations even begin and actually continue until the free trade agreement is ratified. There are public consultation meetings and an opportunity for everyone to make a submission and participate in the parliamentary examination processes. Another feature of New Zealand's treaty negotiation process is the dedicated Maori engagement to provide active partnership and respond to the range of needs, aspirations, rights and interests of Maori as a crown treaty partner. Again, this is yet another reason why we need to be pushing for a First Nations federal treaty in this country.

Australia's treaty agreement framework falls short in transparency and accountability and in upholding human rights and environmental standards. This needs to change. The Australian Labor Party, when they were in opposition, and the Australian Greens have argued that Australia's free trade agreement-making process should be better and more transparent. For years, the two major parties have written trade policy in favour of big corporations at the expense of community, workers, human rights, traditional owners and the environment.

Another major flaw in this process is that this government and previous governments have not pushed for an Indigenous inclusion chapter in our free trade agreements. The Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement, which was signed last year in December, does not include a chapter on Indigenous trade, but in the recent trade agreement between New Zealand and the UK there was a chapter that contained provisions for cooperative activities to strengthen the trade relationship between the UK, New Zealand and Maori enterprises. The aim of this chapter is to help Maori enterprises maximise the opportunities that arise during a free trade agreement, alongside New Zealand and UK enterprises, and recognises the importance and value of Maori to New Zealand's economy and society. This means that the UK government is open to the inclusion of these chapters, and if they are pushed to include them this government could do that. The previous government clearly did not care enough to push this, and it seems unlikely that the current government will actually care to try to do this and amend the agreements to provide the inclusion of such a chapter. The parliament has not cared enough to set up an inquiry into the potential benefits of Indigenous inclusion chapters, so don't even know what we're missing out on, because we haven't even asked the question.

We've had our land stolen and our cultural heritage destroyed, and now there has been a recent rise in companies using native ingredients and First Nations botanicals and marketing them and themselves as First Nations companies. They are making huge profits, but the profits are not going back to the communities; these profits are sitting with a select few. Often they are run by white fellas. They are stealing and capitalising on our knowledge. We need an Indigenous inclusion chapter that is going to place First Nations businesses at the heart of it.