Our sovereignty at stake
A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday, 19th October, 2013
It is ironic that the candidate who staked so much of his political capital on his ability to ‘stop the boats’ and ‘protect this nation’s borders’, should roll over so promptly when in office like a Cheshire cat and have his political tummy tickled by the likes of Cargill and Monsanto.
Ironic, but not surprising, because Tony Abbott’s first words on winning the 7 September Federal election were to declare that Australia was now ‘open for business’.
While our men and women in uniform are dispatched to patrol our borders to make sure that no ‘illegal’ humans can enter, transnational corporate capital can come and go more or less as it pleases.
It is not enough that we roll out the red carpet for these ‘foreign investors’ as though they were royalty. Now, with the new administration’s commitment to sign up to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) without reservation, we are ceding a large chunk of our sovereignty to them as well.
Not heard of the TPP? That’s hardly surprising, because, like nearly all free trade negotiations since the infamous ‘battle of Seattle’ back in 1999, the 12-nation TPP talks, involving Australia, the United States, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, have been conducted exclusively behind closed doors. More than that, it’s only due to the leaking of 2 of the 26 chapters under negotiation that we know anything about the substance of this agreement.
One of these chapters is titled, innocuously enough, Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). What this means is that foreign investors have the right to take state and federal governments to international tribunals if they dare pass legislation, or adopt policy, that conflicts with Australia’s obligations under the TPP.
One of Australia’s first civil society forums on the Trans Pacific Partnership, held at the Hawthorn campus of Swinburn University, on 14 October 2013. My contribution begins at 1:06 and ends at 1:25.
What does this mean in practice? Under an earlier free trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources sued the Canadian government because the state of Quebec had a moratorium on coal-seam gas fracking.
While we don’t know for sure – because the draft TPP is a closely-guarded state-and-corporate secret – it is thought by those who have followed the process closely that other chapters will impact on our domestic freedom of action in a number of ways. For example, there may be well be prohibitions on any laws requiring the mandatory labelling of products containing genetically-modified organisms.
There may also be restrictions or even prohibitions on the ability of governments to adopt procurement standards that preference local suppliers and local jobs. National governments’ freedom of action to adopt laws and rules that safeguard the environment may be curtailed, should such rules impact on transnational corporate profits.
The trouble is, we won’t know what this agreement contains until the negotiations have been concluded, when it will be presented to the Australian Parliament, and the Australian people, as a fait accompli.
What we do know is more than enough to set alarm bells ringing loudly. The other chapter that has been leaked contains provisions designed to tighten already restrictive intellectual property laws. One Canadian media commentator, on reviewing the powers the draft TPP confers on international media conglomerates, said that it ‘would turn all Internet users into suspected copyright criminals [and] appears to criminalise content sharing in general’.
Before some of our most basic rights and freedoms that we take for granted are signed away behind some closed door, supposedly in the name of ‘growing the economy’ and ‘boosting employment and productivity’, we must at the very least be entitled to know the detail of what this agreement contains.
Whether or not he ‘stops the boats’ and ‘protects our borders’, Tony Abbott will be selling our national sovereignty to the highest bidder if his government signs onto to the TPP in its current form.