TPP-11: Government attempt to cut short inquiries would prevent democratic scrutiny, says AFTINET

Media release April 4, 2018: AFTINET Convener Dr Patricia Ranald today called on the government not to cut short parliamentary inquiries which are intended to scrutinise the revised TPP-11 (renamed the Progressive Comprehensive TPP) before Parliament votes on the implementing legislation.

Dr Ranald explained that last week the government tabled the TPP-11 text in Parliament and initiated a review by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) on which the government has a majority, before Parliament votes on the implementing legislation. The JSCOT has called for submissions by Friday April 20.

“Normally, the text for category 1 (major) trade treaties is required to be tabled for 20 sitting days, to enable the JSCOT to conduct an inquiry that would include consideration of all submissions and to hold public hearings to hear evidence from the public. This would mean that the JSCOT report would be presented on August 22. The only exception to this rule is if the Minister provides evidence to certify that a treaty is particularly ‘urgent or sensitive.’ This is a ridiculous claim to make, since other governments are aiming to complete their legislation processes only by the end of 2018,” explained Dr Ranald.

“Community concern about the TPP-11 has also succeeded in getting a Senate Inquiry, which could conduct a more independent and critical assessment, because the government does not have a majority. The Senate inquiry, knowing the normal reporting date for JSCOT would be August 22, is set to report one month later, on September 18, which leaves ample time for consideration of legislation by the end of the year,” said Dr Ranald.

“However, we have now been told by the JSCOT secretariat that the Trade Minister may ask the JSCOT to cut short its inquiry and change the reporting date to the week of June 25, two months earlier, after only 10 sitting days. This will not allow enough time for proper scrutiny of the TPP-11, which has many complex changes and side letters compared with the TPP-12 text. The JSCOT will not make a decision until it next meets on May 7, and the reporting date would only become public after that.

“Presumably at that late stage the government would then try to exert pressure on the Senate to curtail its inquiry, or would try to press ahead with the implementing legislation before the Senate inquiry is completed. If this happens we will intensify our campaign to ensure that the Senate does not vote on the implementing legislation until its own inquiry is completed,” said Dr Ranald.

“To our knowledge no government has previously attempted to cut short a JSCOT inquiry into a major treaty. This would prevent proper democratic scrutiny by both JSCOT and the Senate inquiry, and would increase community distrust of the process. We call for the government to implement the usual process and keep the JSCOT reporting date of August 22,” said Dr Ranald.

Contact Dr Patricia Ranald 0419 695 841