IF Fremantle council thinks WA’s upper house is a problem for its plastic bag ban, wait till it comes up against the Trans Pacific Partnership, warns federal Labor MP Melissa Parke.
The TPP, as it’s commonly known, is an international trade agreement being hammered out in absolute secrecy between 12 governments and a handful of multinational corporations. Few details have leaked, but it is known to include a clause allowing multinationals to sue governments—including councils—over laws that impact their profits.
There are supposedly provisions to protect public health and the environment, but Ms Parke says precedents from existing trade deals have exposed them as toothless. Although the case is still pending, she points to tobacco giant Philip Morris’s action against the Australian government over plain packaging laws as an example.
“Even though the legislation was upheld in the High Court, Philip Morris has been able to launch action against the Australian government through Hong Kong because of an existing trade agreement,” the MP says.
She says it’s under this provision that Fremantle’s plastic fatwa might come under fire. Local opposition to fracking or big transport infrastructure projects could also be steamrollered regardless of who’s in government.
“There’s a number of issues with the TPP,” says Ms Parke. “Overall, it will impact on the cost of medicines—not just here but in poor countries—on labour rights, the environment, human rights and multinationals’ tax avoidance.”
She says pharmaceutical companies could sue the Australian government if their medicines aren’t covered by the PBS, leading to the scheme’s demise and the end of affordable generic drugs. She also fears the TPP will entrench the “ever-greening” of medical patents, where rights holders simply turn a pill that’s coming to the end of its patent protection into a powder then apply for a new patent to prevent cheaper generics entering the market.
Ms Parke says it deeply concerns her that disputes under the TPP are to be heard by a panel of lawyers and there will be no avenues for appeal.
“This is a panel of lawyers who could be acting for a multinational one day and then arbitrating a dispute the next. They’ll be massively conflicted.”
The MP has launched a new cross-party parliamentary working group to look at the TPP. It includes independent senator Nick Xenephon and Peter Whish-Wilson from the Greens, who are staunchly opposed to the TPP. The Chook noticed local Greens senator Scott Ludlam sitting in a corner during its recent launch.
Ms Parke was offered a chance to read the document but she declined because she would have had to sign a four-year confidentiality clause.
She wants the document debated publicly before it is signed, not after.
Ms Parke says TPP supporters talk about the supposed positives, of new markets and economic opportunities, but she says there are so many nasties that it’s not worth the risk. She is adamant the Abbott government should refuse to sign.
“It’s being sold as a trade deal, but it’s not about trade, it’s about increasing corporate monopoly rights.
“Where is the cost-benefit analysis?”
She points out the Australian Productivity Commission has slammed trade deals as pointless and says they deliver few benefits to Australia.
“The TPP sounds neighbourly, like gazing at a pleasant mountain scene, but it is a tsunami,” Ms Parke says, referencing the film Interstellar.
“I think it’s diabolical.”
by STEVE GRANT