Australia–Singapore Digital Economy Agreement
Summary of Concerns
The Australian Greens are concerned by efforts to reduce the regulatory capacity of the government in the digital economy. It has been made very clear by the ACCC in their recent Digital Platforms Inquiry, and indeed through an extensive and growing body of evidence, that big tech companies and multinational corporations can engage in anti-competitive practices, breach privacy, avoid tax, and exploit workers.
Further, we maintain that any trade agreement should be subject to a high degree of parliamentary and public scrutiny and debate. This agreement facilitates the reduction of regulation and there has been no transparency around the text of the agreement or the process of negotiating it. Additionally, this agreement, unlike other trade agreements, does not require any enabling legislation which means that parliament is unable to debate this agreement.
We are incredibly concerned by the fact that this agreement is seeking to establish a benchmark for future digital trade agreements without a commitment by Australia to properly interrogate and amend our own data privacy and protections frameworks, and without a commitment to allow for greater public scrutiny and oversight of the process of negotiating any trade agreements.
Further, we are concerned that this agreement contains lower standards than those emerging globally, namely the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Commitments made in this agreement are lower than that of the GDPR and we are concerned that committing Australia to a model of lower privacy standards could jeopardise our position in our trading negotiations with the EU and with future trading partners where data privacy standards are much higher.
The Australian Greens are specifically concerned by the deregulatory agenda of this agreement as it goes further than any previous agreement in its efforts to limit regulation of transfer and storage of data across borders and the prohibition of requirements for local facilities.
We are also concerned about the implications that this agreement may have for data privacy and protections, particularly for the transfer and storage of personal data across borders.
Additionally, the Australian Greens are concerned about the restrictions on regulation to source code and algorithms, particularly in the context of COVID-19 where the public scrutiny of source code and algorithms used in the COVIDSafe App were crucial to ensuring appropriateness and transparency of a government issued application of significant public importance.
The Australian Greens maintain that the government must ensure that it has significant policy flexibility to regulate in the public interest, particularly where data flows and data localisation are concerned. We do not see that this agreement and the exemptions built into it do this sufficiently.
The Australian Greens note the comments made by the Australian Council of Trade unions and AFTINET in relation to the potential impact this agreement has for workers in the digital economy. Significantly, that the work is often insecure, precarious, and exploitative, and we support their contention that this agreement may prevent the Australian Government from regulating to improve the working conditions of those employed in these industries.
The Australian Greens recommend that:
There be a more thorough examination of the implications on data privacy and workers rights’ in relation to this agreement, and more broadly on the future of Digital Economy Agreements.
That the Australian Government undertake a more thorough assessment of the implications and impacts of this agreement and any future agreement of this kind on public interest regulations in relation to offshore data storage, cross-border data transfers, and public availability of source code and algorithms.
The Australian Greens recommend that no binding treaty action be taken.
Senator Jordon Steele-John
Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia