The Guardian August 4, 2004


FTA betrayal

The majority decision of the Labor Party caucus last Tuesday 
to vote its support for the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement 
(FTA) is a tragic day for the ALP and for Australian working 
people and their families. In a feeble face-saving exercise, 
Labor has made its support conditional on two amendments to the 
enabling legislation.

The two proposed amendments on existing media content rules
and bogus patenting claims by pharmaceutical corporations
would have no impact on the agreement itself. Latham
stressed that he agreed with the contents of the FTA.

It is a huge personal victory for Howard over Latham. It is a 
huge betrayal. The truth of the FTA was staring the ALP leaders 
in the face. The Senate Committee was always a charade behind 
which Latham was hiding  hiding his support for the FTA until 
he could use the Senate Inquiry findings as a cover for 
capitulation.

This is not to overlook the sell-out by the Liberal-National 
Party Coalition which once again demonstrated its cynical and 
cowardly subservience to the political and economic interests of 
the US Government and corporations by negotiating this unequal 
agreement.

Mark Latham, who earlier in the year said that the ALP would not 
support the FTA, has now ignominiously capitulated to the 
pressure exerted by Howard personally and by big business 
interests which also support the agreement.

By handing Howard a big victory the ALP leadership has, almost 
certainly, undermined the possibility of defeating the Howard 
Government in the coming elections. It will demoralise many Labor 
voters who hoped that a Latham leadership would lead to a 
revitalisation of the Labor Party.

This is a definitive decision which will determine many other 
issues in the future. Having capitulated on this issue the ALP 
will capitulate on other similarly important issues in the 
future. By endorsing the FTA the Labor Party has created a 
situation that will prevent it from implementing those policies 
that contradict the FTA should an ALP Government be elected. The 
FTA will override Australian legislation that differs from the 
terms of the agreement.

Australia will become even less independent than it is now. It 
will be possible for the US to impose enormous economic and 
political pressure on any and every Australian Government in the 
future. It will chain future governments and future generations 
as never before. It is not merely a trade agreement. It is an 
investment agreement, removing restrictions on the takeover of 
the Australian economy by US corporations. It will have serious 
consequences for the environment, on our cultural development, on 
health and education, on every aspect of life.

It is an agreement that nothing short of a revolution is going to 
unravel.

Rather than giving priority to the interests of Australia's 
working people, the ALP caucus majority has demonstrated that it 
gives top priority to the American alliance and the interests of 
the corporations that will benefit from the deal.

In their report the Labor Party Senators, having recommended 
acceptance of the FTA, went on to give no less than 42 other 
recommendations all of which are arguments why the FTA should be 
rejected or renegotiated. Such a flawed document should never be 
signed.

Real alternative needed

By endorsing the FTA, the Labor Party has put itself on the same 
economic and political course as that of the Liberal Party. What 
now is the difference?

As its consequences become clear it will bring both Parties into 
disrepute as never before. In this respect it will further weaken 
the two-party system and open the door wider to political parties 
with a real alternative to offer  including the Communist Party 
of Australia.

The Australian media has done its job to keep the Australian 
people largely in ignorance of the real terms and significance of 
the FTA and thereby prevented any mass opposition from 
developing.

The working people of a number of countries have already 
experienced what happens under similar agreements with the US. 
They have invariably led to massive loss of jobs in 
manufacturing, increased prices, the loss of sovereignty and 
independence as the US corporations take over more and more 
sections of the economy.

This is inherent in the remarks of some State Labor Party 
premiers such as Peter Beattie who sees an increased flow of US 
capital to take on "development" in Australia. Working for the 
Yankee dollar will become more and more of a reality and this 
will not help the Australian economy but will swell the profits 
of US corporations.

The Liberal-National Party leaders claim that the FTA will bring 
huge benefits to the Australian economy but many other 
assessments, including those made by US leaders, refute these 
claims. Howard and others have lied about WMD in Iraq and they 
are also lying about the benefits of the FTA and the retention of 
the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in particular. As last 
Monday's Four Corners program revealed, the assault on the PBS is 
aimed at driving out of the market the manufacturers of much 
cheaper generic drugs and giving the big and very powerful US 
pharmaceutical corporations monopoly control.

The US Trade Office proudly declared that the FTA deal with 
Australia would bring the most "significant immediate reduction 
of industrial tariffs ever achieved in a US free trade 
agreement". It estimates US exports of manufactured goods to 
Australia will increase by US$2 billion (A$2.6b) compared with a 
corresponding increase of only US$1.4 billion for Australia. This 
will increase Australia's trade deficit with the US (already A$6 
billion) and lead to the loss of many thousands of jobs.

While the Parliamentary ALP left voted against endorsement of the 
FTA it remains shackled by the idea that "unity" must prevail so 
long as there is a "good debate". Sharan Burrow  an ALP member 
and President of the ACTU  said that the ACTU would abide by 
the decision providing there had been a "good debate".

This is a false theory by which the right dominates and regiments 
those with left positions, behind whatever the right decides. The 
voice of the left is silenced and stifled. It renders the left 
weak and ineffective. In the case of the FTA it means "unity" in 
support of a monumental betrayal that will have devastating 
consequences for the working people of Australia.

In a statement to The Guardian, Communist Party General 
Secretary Peter Symon said, "The ALP leaders have capitulated to 
the Howard Government in a betrayal of monumental proportions. It 
will have very bad and long-term consequences for the working 
people of Australia. By this act the ALP has given preference to 
the interests of US corporations and the US alliance rather than 
to the interests of the Australian people or the independence of 
Australia.

"The ALP's capitulation shows once again the need to build 
alternative left and progressive political organisations in 
Australia that can implement new policies that serve the 
interests of working people. The Communist Party will play its 
part in this process which is now more urgent than ever", said 
Symon.

Other voices in opposition were those of the Greens, whose leader 
Bob Brown said that Labor's capitulation to Prime Minister 
Howard's FTA will demoralise and offend millions of Australian, 
including Labor voters.

"The Labor Party is allowing itself to be out-manoeuvred 
politically by Howard rather than standing firm."

The Greens have indicated that they will move stronger amendments 
than the ones proposed by Labor but vote against the FTA 
regardless of the outcome of the amendments.

Australian Democrats spokespersons have also opposed the FTA and 
will, presumably, vote against its endorsement.

Taking full advantage of the capitulation of ALP leaders, Liberal 
Senator George Brandis said, "I'd like to congratulate Senator 
Conroy [right-wing Labor] on his significant victory over the 
left of his own party".

Doug Cameron national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing 
Workers' Union, said: "You cannot reconcile the recommendation 
from the Senate inquiry to accept this agreement and the 42 other 
recommendations that set about demolishing this agreement. It is 
an act of political cowardice by the Senate committee and caucus 
should reject it".

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