Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker,
These bills implement Australia’s obligations under the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus. Otherwise known as PACER Plus.
I note the Minister in the Chair who was responsible for signing this agreement. It’s good to have him here as part of this debate.
Australia’s relationship with the Pacific Island Nations is a very important one.
The nations of the Pacific are our neighbours and our friends.
This agreement helps to build on this – tying our economies even closer together.
There are currently 11 signatories to this agreement; ourselves as well as the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Nui, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
And as the speaker before me, the Member for Kingsford Smith said hopefully more will join in the years ahead.
In particular Papua New Guinea as well as Fiji.
This agreement means that tariffs will be cut on 88.5 per cent of Australian exports to signatory countries – apart from New Zealand.
It also means that there will be no tariffs on goods imported from countries that have signed this agreement to Australia – apart from New Zealand. These Bills implement that commitment.
Under the agreement we will also provide $4 million to assist Pacific island countries to prepare to ratify this agreement and $19 million to update their custom processes.
I should note though that this does not make up for the more than $11 billion that this government has cut from the aid budget.
As the Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map released earlier this month shows, aid to Pacific Island nations has been cut by a number of countries over the last few years and other countries and organisations like the Asia Development Bank and the World Bank are moving to fill that gap.
It is also worthy of note that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties gave a report to the House on this agreement and in recommending support for it they also recommended that this agreement include, or that future trade agreements include with it independent economic analysis of the merits of this agreement.
This is the third time that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has recommended the Government conduct independent economic modelling for trade agreements and I note they did that for a fourth time today.
The Committee reported today on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and recommendation three of their report is identical to the recommendation they gave in PACER Plus and I read that for the House:
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider implementing a process through which independent modelling and analysis of the proposed trade agreement is undertaken by the Productivity Commission or equivalent organisation and provided to the Committee alongside the National Interest Analysis to improve the assessment of the Agreement.
That was a recommendation of the Committee, a unanimous recommendation led by the Honourable Stuart Robert who I know the Minister holds in high regard.
His recommendation, the recommendation of all the members of that Committee is something of serious consideration by this Parliament and by this government.
It has also been recommended by other parliamentary committees, it’s also been recommended by the Harper Review, the Productivity Commission and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
However unfortunately, so far, it’s fallen on deaf ears.
I think that’s a mistake.
This sort of independent analysis is important because it helps to respond to community concerns about agreements like this – and whether they are in the national interest.
At the moment, what the Parliament relies upon and what the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties relies upon is that National Interest Analysis. A report done by DFAT.
A report done serious and capable professionals but by individuals who are responsible for negotiating the deal saying that it’s a good deal.
I think it would be a worthy addition to public debate and consideration of these agreements for the Parliament to have available to it an independent economic analysis of that agreement struck by the government.
That’s why if we win the next election I have said, and other members of the Labor team have said that we’ll fix that and ensure that all future trade agreements are subject to independent economic analysis.
With that I commend the bills to the House.