The Committee received a significant number of submissions from members of the public opposing the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). This Chapter examines these submissions.
Extent of public concern
Between 4 March and 9 May 2016, the Committee received 11,859 emails via the website SumofUs.org, 4,559 emails via the website GetUp.org.au and 61 short emails from individuals. All these emails opposed ratification of the TPP.
The Committee decided to treat any email of less than 100 words in length as correspondence. Longer emails were accepted as submissions to the inquiry, and collated for publication. Emails received via SumOfUs were published as submission 256, emails from individuals were published as submission 257, and emails received via GetUp were published as submission 258.
In addition to the campaigns by GetUp and SumOfUs, a number of submissions contained the same set of text, indicating a number of form letter type campaigns were being generated from other sources.
In relation to form letters, the first received letter was authorised as a submission and subsequent identical letters were taken as correspondence.
Of the 258 submissions authorised as part of the inquiry in the 44th Parliament, the majority were also from members of the public opposing ratification of the TPP. These submissions went into some detail about their concerns.
Matters of concern
In those submissions where members of the public detailed their concerns, a number of consistent themes emerged.
The common theme amongst these submissions, that the TPP should not be ratified, was usually expressed in these terms:
Trade agreements must work for everyone, not just corporations, and it would be deeply irresponsible to ignore this by supporting the move to give any corporations, let alone foreign corporations, greater rights than Australians and their Federal Parliament. In addition it is vital that any international agreements do not restrict freedom of speech, the rights of Australian citizens to have access to an uncensored internet and affordable medication, do not allow foreign corporations to sue the Australian Government and do not diminish laws that protect the people and the land of Australia. Any agreement that will restrict the democratic rights and freedoms of Australian Citizens is both unlawful and unconstitutional.
Where members of the public included details of their concerns in their submissions, the following themes stood out:
the modelled benefits of the TPP;
Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions;
the cost of medicines; and
the temporary entry provisions for professionals.
As will be examined in the next Chapter, a number of organisations and academics have attempted to model the economic benefits of the TPP. The most widely cited modelling was that conducted by the World Bank, which predicted a 0.7 per cent increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2030 as a result of the TPP.
A large number of submissions from members of the public opposing ratification of the TPP argued that the modelled growth was modest and would not balance the trade-offs submitters considered are included in the TPP. For example:
The TPP will have almost no economic benefits for Australia, because we already have free trade agreements with all but three of the Pacific Rim TPP countries. A World Bank study has estimated that it will result in a tiny 0.7% growth in the Australian economy after 15 years.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)
Objections to the ISDS provisions of the TPP fell into two separate categories: concerns about sovereignty and ceding power to foreign corporations; and concerns that ISDS may restrict the Government’s ability to regulate in the national interest on health and environment issues.
Submitters concerned about Australian sovereignty argued that free trade agreements, and ISDS provisions in particular, are not in Australia’s national interest because they act against the maintenance of an independent and sovereign Australia that can make its own decisions in relation to domestic and foreign policy.
For example, the submission from the Spirit of Eureka presents:
… arguments against the Investment and Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, which directly remove disputes from the Australian court system, effectively diminishing sovereignty.
Concerns about the impact ISDS provisions will have on Australia’s ability to regulate in the national interest most often cited the attempt by Philip Morris to use ISDS to obtain compensation for lost revenue as a result of the Australian Government legislating to require plain packaging on tobacco products.
Submitters were concerned that this might be the first of a number of claims by businesses against the Australian Government were it to regulate on issues such as greenhouse gas emissions or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The general sentiment can be summarised by the following example:
The TPP allows foreign corporations to bypass domestic courts and sue governments over changes to domestic law in unfair international tribunals which have no independent judiciary, no precedents and no appeals. Cases against tobacco regulation can be excluded, but ‘safeguards’ for other health, environment, labour rights and public interest regulation are weak and will not prevent future cases.
Cost of medicines
Submitters concerned about the costs of medicines argued that Australia’s health care system relies on the low cost of generic medicines to enable a reasonable level of universal care to Australian residents.
According to these submitters:
TPP rules would require countries to change their laws in order to expand drug companies’ monopoly powers, leading consumers and healthcare providers to pay higher prices on more drugs for longer—or go without needed treatment.
Temporary entry provisions for professionals
The final theme running through the submissions opposing the ratification of the TPP was the extension of temporary entry for business persons provisions to professionals.
Submitters were concerned that professionals from overseas would be able to work in Australia without their employers first testing whether local professionals might be available.
Submitters were also concerned that employers who obtained professionals from overseas might then exploit them through underpayment, excessive working hours, and poor occupational health and safety conditions.
The views expressed by Barbara Godfrey in Submission 131 are typical of those concerned about this issue:
Under the TPP, temporary workers can be brought in without labour market testing—therefore no need to see if there are Australians who can do the job. Not only is this brutal to our own workforce, but there is evidence of exploitation of foreign workers who come here on 457 visas. Some of the companies employing these people have been publicly exposed in recent months by the media. The Fair Work Ombudsman has revealed that up to 20% of workers who come here under 457 visas are being underpaid.
The Committee acknowledges that many Australians have deep concerns about how free trade agreements will affect their lives.
Many of the issues raised by submitters will be dealt with in detail in later Chapters.
However, the Committee is aware that these submissions represent a strong vein of public sentiment against free trade agreements in general.
The Committee is concerned that, with growing isolationist sentiment internationally, the Australian Government needs to focus on how it engages with the public on free trade agreements if it wishes to maintain support for these agreements.
The next Chapter will discuss public engagement in greater detail.