Joint Standing Committee on Treaties


Peter Khalil: I too rise to speak on the presentation of report 186 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. I just want to comment on the two free trade agreements: the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement and the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. As deputy chair of JSCOT—a new role for me post the election—I want to sincerely thank the JSCOT secretariat staff for all their hard work and the support that they provided to us through this process. I also acknowledge and thank the JSCOT chair, the member for Wentworth, for his work in leading the committee through this process, as much as can be done in this place, with less partisanship and more coordination and partnership in working towards the national interest. I thank the chair, the member for Wentworth, for all his work in preparing this report. I also thank all of the members of the JSCOT for their efforts, but particularly the Labor members for their invaluable contributions to the report.

I think the chair, the member for Wentworth, has covered many of the issues that I would have covered. I think it would probably be useful to just reflect on some of the Labor principles on free and fair trade that are highlighted in this particular report. First and foremost, in the additional comments of the report, the Labor members sought to include commitments to labour market testing. In them, we noted that Australia has not made any commitments in relation to labour market testing around contract service supplies, as we had not yet entered into negotiations on an agreement.

For this reason, during this JSCOT review process, the Labor members of the committee argued that any future agreement that Australia may negotiate with Indonesia for the entry of temporary foreign workers as contractual service suppliers should (1) be negotiated as a treaty-level agreement so it would come back to JSCOT for further consideration and (2) include a commitment to labour market testing to preference Australian jobs and also skill tests to ensure that any temporary foreign workers meet the same standards as Australian workers. The Labor members of the committee believe that report 186 should have included this as a recommendation, with the language that I’ve described. Unfortunately, the whole of the committee did not come to agreement on that. To have that in there did not receive support, but it has been included in the additional notes.

I also highlight two critical recommendations that from our perspective were very important to be included in this report. Recommendation 4 was in respect of the Australian government pursuing the termination of the old agreement between the government of Australia and the Republic of Indonesia concerning the promotion and protection of investments, and terminating the survival clause of that older agreement—the BIT, the bilateral investment treaty. There is acknowledgement there that provisions in the new agreement, which we have just reported on, replace the outdated previous bilateral agreements between the two nations. This measure reduces Australia’s potential exposure to claims under the superseded agreement. This is a very important development.

It should also be further noted that the achievement of a comprehensive agreement with one of our largest and closest neighbours, as the member for Wentworth has outlined, is of utmost importance at a time of global trade uncertainty. We all know that in a decade Indonesia will be the world’s fourth-largest economy. It is a market of 260 million people literally on our northern doorstep, yet—and some people might be surprised by this—it currently accounts for only two per cent of our exports. That is a remarkable statistic. The Labor Party has always been a party of trade on fair terms. We’re hopeful that this agreement will lead to greater exports and a closer trading relationship with our most important northern neighbour.

I also want to draw attention to recommendation 5. The committee recommended that the Australian government give due consideration to implementing a process through which independent modelling and analysis of proposed trade agreements is undertaken in the future by the Productivity Commission or an equivalent organisation and provided to the committee, alongside the national interest analysis, which is part of the normal process, to improve the assessment of agreements. It’s very important that we have this independent economic analysis to ensure that trade deals work for all Australians.

I am pleased we were able to include in the body of the report some language around the importance of consultation mechanisms and, going into the future, how they can be improved so that our agreements are better, particularly looking at them from the perspective of being a more inclusive civil society with the union movement as well as the business community. That has been achieved with some of the language in the report.

In conclusion, I echo what the member for Wentworth raised in respect of the Hong Kong free trade agreement. There is a valid argument that the ratification of this agreement with Hong Kong does in and of itself focus attention on the unique status of Hong Kong and its one-country two-systems framework. The characteristics that make Hong Kong unique under this system are recognised in a sense by the very act of engaging with them and signing a separate agreement with the autonomous territory. It emphasises the fact that they have a separate system to an extent with the rule of law, freedom of expression and the limited democratic rights that are afforded to the citizens of Hong Kong under the basic law and that are held dear by the people of Hong Kong and those outside of Hong Kong. They are in line with many democratic values of many other countries, such as our own.

Given the ongoing political instability and civil disturbance in Hong Kong, any risk to those unique elements of the Hong Kong system is very concerning to us. As long as the signing and ratification of the agreement with Hong Kong strengthens those unique elements it is obviously worthwhile that we support this. I do note for the record that any diminution of those unique elements in the Hong Kong system would be very concerning and probably lead us to have another look or reconsider the time line for ratification. It is important that that is noted. I have in public and in the media spoken up for the right to peacefully protest in Hong Kong. If we as democratic leaders and members of parliament in a democracy don’t actually support them and their right to peacefully protest, who will?

It’s important that the report also contained some language with respect to the ongoing civil disturbances and political instability, and urged for a peaceful resolution of these issues and for the preservation of that unique status that is enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong. I’m pleased to have worked with the chair to make sure that that kind of language was also included.

In conclusion, I wish to thank all of the groups, the associations, the organisations and the individuals that participated in the committee’s inquiry by putting in written submissions, attending public hearings and answering our many, many questions. I thank them for all the hard work they put in and for their input. I also thank all the members of the committee. It is, as I mentioned, important that trade agreement processes should be more open and consultative, and we hope that will continue into the future. JSCOT is one of the few avenues for ordinary people—individuals, as well as other stakeholders—to provide input and feedback, so their input into the JSCOT report is of critical importance. I want to give my personal thanks to all of the different civil society groups, the union movement, business groups, researchers, academics and individual citizens who took the time and made the effort to speak to the committee during this process.