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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 2222 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

subsidies on an equal basis to foreign and domestic providers is a powerful inducement to get rid of government subsidies altogether.

As GATS poses such a serious threat to democracy, I do ask members of the government, particularly, and the Labor Party to treat this motion seriously. If we are going to let these agreements undermine democracy any further than they have and if we are not going to talk about whether we have to try to pull them back in some way, we are handing over power to an organisation that is currently definitely determined by the corporate agenda. What will be lost as a result of that is any capacity for governments at all levels in this country to take the responsibility of ensuring the welfare of the community they are elected to represent. If that is not a serious matter for legislatures, I do not know what is. I think it is pretty sad that no-one is even listening to this debate.

MR HUMPHRIES (Chief Minister, Minister for Community Affairs and Treasurer) (7.49): The government notes the concerns that Ms Tucker has raised in this motion and does not in the least denigrate them. I think she was describing us as having an ideological position about GATS. I have to say, to be perfectly fair, that I do not think the government has a particularly strong position about GATS. The government has been in the position of being consulted, like other governments around Australia, on negotiations that the Commonwealth government conducts for Australia as a whole. The ACT is consulted and from time to time makes comment. I would not say that at this stage I could describe particularly clearly the government's position about GATS, although in due course, as the Commonwealth asks us to express an opinion about these things, advice will be sought and a position will be adopted. But I will say some things about the general process which has been used with respect to the GATS issue.

Concerns about expansion of the GATS agreement and the impact of the treaty-making powers of the Commonwealth as far as they impact on the states and territories have been, I think, understood better by this federal government than by any federal government before it. In the past it was the practice of the Commonwealth to make decisions on international treaties and then, on occasions, to use that power to impose a view on Australia's states, and to some degree on the territories as well. What the present federal government has decided to do, which is a position that has not been the case before, is to allow there to be debate or discussion both in the federal parliament and between states, territories and the Commonwealth about the implications of treaties. So it is fairly easy, I think, to be able to say that what we have today is a position whereby we have a much better chance to be able to comment constructively on these things. I suspect that, if a federal Labor government had been in power, we would not have this opportunity to contribute in any way to this debate, much less determine a position of the kind that Ms Tucker is taking.

The Commonwealth has acknowledged the wide community interest in this treaty and is actively seeking submissions from a large number of parties. I think that that very much goes to its credit. For example, a notice seeking public comment on the World Trade Organisation's 2001 ministerial conference in November in Qatar, in the Middle East, and future multilateral trade negotiations was published in the Australian newspaper on 7 April this year and on the website for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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