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The TPP is a dodgy deal

Speeches in Parliament
Larissa Waters 15 Oct 2018

I rise to speak tonight on the Customs Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018 and the related bill. It's kind of like a parallel universe, because here we are debating a deal that has already been signed and that already has appalling provisions in it, including these investor-state dispute relation clauses, or ISDS clauses, as they are known. We have already seen quite a bit of discussion about them in the chamber and for good reason: it's effectively a corporate takeover of democracy.

ISDS provisions will allow foreign governments whose profits are restricted by any laws that this parliament might then pass—whether those laws increase health outcomes for the community, whether they protect the natural environment or whether they guarantee cheaper medicine—any of those decisions that might affect the profit bottom line of foreign companies will then be able to be challenged by those companies. The sovereignty of our very parliament will be at risk from these ISDS clauses and we will see foreign companies and multinational companies with a greater ability to control the laws that this parliament makes than we will have ourselves. You could not find a more ludicrous example of law-making. You could not find a clearer example of a corporate takeover of democracy.

It's repulsive, and yet both sides of parliament have taken this hook, line and sinker. They are both completely fine to continue on with these ISDS provisions. Labor have previously made some remarks that, 'Jeez, we are not that keen on these ISDS clauses.' Well, where are you now? It is very, very disappointing to see that you, most of all, have rolled over on this. I don't buy it. I don't think anybody else buys that Mr Bill Shorten thinks he can unilaterally fix this. It is too late. The deal has already been signed. We are discussing this bill tonight. It will be too late to fix. He is not God. He cannot rewrite stuff just because he says he wants to. It doesn't work that way.

It is a great disappointment to us that Labor have backflipped on this. They are letting down Australian workers, who will be adversely affected by this TPP deal. They are letting down the natural environment, because there will be a chilling effect on bringing in any new laws that in any way lift our environmental standards and protect this very planet that sustains all life. And it will have a chilling effect on any other regulation that might restrict corporate profits. It's so offensive that we are now letting foreign multinational companies dictate our public policy. That is really not what the Australian people expect of us.

I want to talk about the fact that other countries have backed away from including these ISDS provisions for precisely the reasons that I've just outlined, and yet Australia somehow does not have the wisdom to do that, or at least the major parties don't have the wisdom to do that. People know, and it was even mentioned by the government earlier, that we have already been sued using these clauses under other free trade agreements. The Philip Morris case is an excellent example. They were suing us over the plain packaging laws that this country wanted to bring in. The only reason that we didn't lose that case was due to a jurisdictional quirk. It turns out they changed where the headquarters where, and suddenly the relevant free trade agreement didn't apply anymore. The Australian government got off on a technicality. It doesn't change the fact we were being sued by a cigarette company for trying to restrict them advertising to kill more customers, and we would have lost were it not for some quirk of them changing where their headquarters were based.

These provisions are dangerous, and that's exactly why the European Court of Justice has found that ISDS is 'fundamentally incompatible with national sovereignty'—which is exactly why the EU have said that they're not going to include these sorts of clauses in their free trade agreements. I don't know why the EU gets it and Australia doesn't. What's so confusing about the fact that we should be in charge of the laws that we make for the good of our citizens, not foreign multinationals and their profit bottom lines? I don't find it confusing at all. And I am a lawyer. I don't have great expertise in this area, but it's pretty clear to me that that is a dodgy deal for Australians.

I talked a little bit about labour market testing. My concern is that the TPP-11 will simply override any sort of local labour market testing that we might otherwise like to have. I think this deal really sells out Australian workers, and I share the disappointment of the union movement that the Labor Party has completely rolled over, once again—just folded to this government in this bizarre, small-target strategy that they somehow think will win them support at the election. Well, I've got a newsflash for you: the Australian people want conviction. They don't want this small-target strategy that signs up to whatever neoliberal agenda the government is trotting out from its dinosaur backbench; they actually want some vision and some policies that improve people's lives and that protect the environment. But it's up to you. You're meant to be the opposition, so maybe you should start opposing something sometimes.

The other thing I want to mention tonight in just a brief contribution is the effect on agriculture. I've just been out to Felton Valley in the beautiful, rich Darling Downs region of my state of Queensland, and this issue of the free trade agreement came up. These were mostly grain exporters that I was speaking with. They were concerned about the impacts of the free trade agreement, and they were concerned that their bottom lines, which are already being hit hard, might be further restricted—and they've got very good cause for that concern. I want to mention some statistics from some modelling commissioned by the folk that the government would perhaps normally listen to, including the Minerals Council, the Business Council and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry—some of the larger businesses that this government might normally take its marching orders from. That modelling has found that, in fact, agriculture stands to make zero gains in exports under the TPP-11. Our grain exports would not change at all, and all other agricultural exports could actually decline. How is this meant to be a good deal for our farmers? What are the National Party doing about that? Not much, by the sound of it.

And manufacturing will shrink by two per cent under the TPP-11. Any increased exports would be completely offset by increased imports. In fact, there will be less than half a per cent of GDP added in a decade's time as a result of this deal. That's about 1½ days worth of income for the Australian economy after a decade. And wages, after a decade, would grow by only a miniscule amount—0.46 per cent, or about $10 a year in 2030. I don't know who's benefiting from this deal, but it's certainly not Australian workers, it's not agriculture and it's not the environment. And it's not the sovereignty of this parliament to make decisions about the future of our country and our citizens. So why did the Labor Party agree to just follow on the coat-tails of the government on this one? And why do they think people will buy the lie that they can fix it after it's already been signed? How thick do they think we are?

This is a dodgy deal, and I stand by the comments of our spokesperson on this issue, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who spoke in a very impassioned way on this topic earlier. It's a dodgy deal. It benefits no-one except foreign corporations and big business—the very same groups of folk that make generous donations to both major parties, and also to the National Party. One wonders whether that's why we're in this position. This is a deal that benefits big business. Big business then goes on to contribute generously to the re-election coffers of the other political parties in this joint and—hey, presto!—they're all happy; everyone wins except you, dear public.

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