2 August 2004

Voting the AUSFTA up or down

A few people are floating the idea that the Senate can amend or qualify the preferential trade agreement with the US. The Senate committee disagrees. As the inquiry's chair wrote in the preface to their June interim report:

A vote which gives all the relevant bills passage without amendment triggers the Agreement. Any amendment to or rejection of a bill will have the effect of abrogating the whole Agreement.

If Labor decides to pass the beast with amendments that means only that they are trying to spin one past the electorate. If the thing needs changing then the changes must be renegotiated with the US.

The Senate Committee has recommended ratification and Labor will undoubtedly follow that advice. There's a growing mountain of parliamentary reports:

They are all mountainous PDFs and you can make your way through that lot I congratulate you. Voting on Trade is probably the most useful and it's mercifully brief. Recommendation 2 is the most important point in the report.

3.91 The Committee recommends that the government introduce legislation to implement the following process for parliamentary scrutiny and endorsement of proposed trade treaties:

a) Prior to making offers for further market liberalisation under any WTO Agreements, or commencing negotiations for bilateral or regional free trade agreements, the government shall table in both Houses of parliament a document setting out its priorities and objectives, including comprehensive information about the economic, regional, social, cultural, regulatory and environmental impacts which are expected to arise.

b) These documents shall be referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade for examination by public hearing and report to the parliament within 90 days.

c) Both Houses of parliament will then consider the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, and then vote on whether to endorse the government's proposal or not.

d) Once parliament has endorsed the proposal, negotiations may begin.

e) Once the negotiation process is complete, the government shall then table in parliament a package including the proposed treaty together with any legislation required to implement the treaty domestically.

f) The treaty and the implementing legislation are then voted on as a package, in an ?up or down? vote, ie, on the basis that the package is either accepted or rejected in its entirety.

The legislation should specify the form in which the government should present its proposal to parliament and require the proposal to set out clearly the objectives of the treaty and the proposed timeline for negotiations.

Labor coudl take some of the sting out of this decision by undertaking to enact Recommendation 2 which mirrors what happens in the US.

No comments: