G’day. Isn’t it funny that Australians only got a chance to have a look in on the FTA debate because Labor was divided? Thank God for it. More Labor division on policy please, so that the people get a chance to work out what’s going on and whether they want what’s being slipped through or not. As Kusha Panta in Melbourne wrote:
“‘Who will blink first?’ was an article written by a prominent journalist yesterday about the FTA debate. It was one of many with similar subjects. I am not sure what to make of the media that is treating the politics as a sporting spectacle. Is Howard going to be wear down Latham or ….? Who is going to back down? Who is more consistent? Do we prefer to get to the good policy at the end or we only care about the being consistent. There is hardly any debate or opinion on whether FTA is in the national interest. Have we become so obsessed with sports (the game of winning and losing) that we treat politics as a contest that has no bearing on the long term future of the nation?”
In similar vein, Phil Ubegang in Townsville copied me an email he sent to the Townsville Bulletin:
The Hijacking of Townsville… by the Townsville Bulletin
Last Monday Townsville was visited by both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party. A great opportunity was at hand for the community to present pressing local issues for their consideration, such as the public hospital crisis, problems with the energy and transport infrastructure, the effect of the proposed FTA on the region and the future of the mining industry.
Instead we were copped a load of nonsense about veterinary school, and this red herring was served up to our national leaders. How utterly embarrassing it is, to be a resident of Townsville. Congratulations must go to News Ltd and the TB Editors for helping to shield the government from any public controversy in our region.
Steve Turbit asks:
“Could you tell your Press Gallery colleagues that the next time John Howard makes some broad sweeping statement such as the one he made about Latham’s amendment being “dangerous” or “damaging”, could they please ask him to explain how this is so? I am really sick of him getting off so lightly.
Tonight it’s over to you on the FTA – the politics, the merits, and the ideology of the FTA, although I got too many emails to publish them all. First though, another lift from the value-for-money Crikey sealed section:
Medicos sickened by FTA
This little item in the current Journal of Australia on the effect of the United States Trade Agreement on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme makes interesting reading. Here’s the abstract:
* The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) contains major concessions to the US pharmaceutical industry that may undermine the egalitarian principles and operation of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and substantially increase the costs of medicinal drugs to Australian consumers.
* AUSFTA’s approach to the PBS excessively emphasises the need to reward manufacturers of “innovative” new pharmaceuticals, instead of emphasising consumers’ need for equitable and affordable access to necessary medicines (the first principle of our National Medicines Policy).
* Several features of AUSFTA may bring pressure to bear on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) to list “innovative” drugs that the committee initially rejected because the evidence for cost-effectiveness was not compelling.
* Intellectual property provisions of AUSFTA are likely to delay the entry of PBS cost-reducing generic products when pharmaceutical patents expire.
* We support the many concerned health and consumer organisations who have asked the Senate either not to pass the enabling legislation or to delay its passage until a fairer deal in terms of public health can be obtained.
It appears the Liberal Party is now divided over the FTA. Indeed, John Howard seems ready to “flip-flop” at any moment. Oh, the delicious irony!
Re Latham proves he’s still got guts, Margo hit the nail on the head. It’s wonderful to read a concise, down to earth, refreshing and critical look at the FTA debate & what many of us suspect are the real motives behind the Liberal Party’s rushed support of the FTA. We are tired of hearing the bias coming out of the Murdoch and Packer corporate entities. As swing voters we were relieved to hear that Latham and Labor are prepared to make a stand to ensure the value and security of the people’s PBS system and to protect local content rules. Sometimes it’s the little issues that make the big difference to us, the average citizens.
Latham should make this PBS issue as big as possible, because the average Aussie punter has little interest in finding out the realities for themselves.
WASHINGTON, Aug 4 (Reuters) – The U.S. National Institutes of Health on Wednesday rejected a nonprofit company’s challenge to Abbott Laboratories Inc.’s 400 percent price hike on a key AIDS medicine.
Washington-based Essential Inventions had asked the government for a license to produce cheaper, generic copies of the drug, Norvir, before the patent expires in 2014. The group argued Norvir was developed with support from taxpayer funds and was being sold at an unreasonable price.
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said he felt using the “extraordinary remedy” sought by Essential Inventions “is not an appropriate means of controlling prices.”
“The issue of drug pricing has global implications and, thus, is appropriately left for Congress to address,” Zerhouni wrote in the decision.
Essential Inventions, which is run by consumer activists, said it will appeal to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
Abbott spokeswoman Jennifer Smoter welcomed the ruling as “good news for patients.” The company has defended the price hike as necessary to help fund future drug research. Smoter also said Federal Trade Commission staff told Abbott they were not planning to open an investigation into whether the Norvir price hike was anti-competitive, as some lawmakers and activists charge.
Norvir, known generically as ritonavir, is a protease inhibitor used to fight the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Norvir is a component of many AIDS-fighting drug regimens because it has the unique ability to make other protease inhibitors more effective.
Abbott in December raised the U.S. price of a 100-milligram Norvir capsule $8.57 from $1.71. Worldwide sales were $95 million in 2003.
Activists said it was unfair that the U.S. price was five to 10 times higher than in other developed countries. “Essential Inventions is asking the Bush administration to adopt a simple rule – U.S. consumers should not pay more for drugs invented on government grants,” President James Love said.
The activists had asked the NIH to for the first time invoke a 1980 law, the Bayh-Dole Act, to “march-in” and grant licenses to other companies to produce Norvir. The law requires government-funded inventions be made available “on reasonable terms.”
Abbott received a $3.47 million NIH grant in 1988 for early research on protease inhibitors. Abbott said that was less than 1 percent of the more than $300 million the company spent to develop Norvir.
Guido Tresoldi in Fitzroy, ALP member
Things are developing quite quickly and I must admit that Latham has been cleverer than I have given him credit for.
Let’s be blunt. The FTA (like anything that Howard has devised) is as much as a political tool to divide the Labor Party than policy.
I believe that at the end of the day the ALP was more interested on how to circumvent the minefield that Howard presented to them, rather than wanting to block the deal (the correct choice).
While we progressives are gnashing our teeth at the Parliamentary ALP decision, I wonder whether this is such an important issue to a couple living in Cranbourne with kids, mortgage and both working (one partner as a casual). I can’t see the FTA getting the ‘barbeque stopper’ status as yet. What would impact on voters is if Latham was seen as indecisive, or (and this was Howard’s ultimate aim) split the Party, draining it of spirit before the election.
I am not an expert in Australian history, but this ploy by the conservatives is nothing new: conscription during WW1? The Communist Party referendum in the 50s? The conservatives can see a mile away what would divide a party which contains a ‘progressive’ wing. Just aim for the issue and Bob’s your uncle.
Ultimately the ALP at this stage want to:
1) Keep the progressives/left in the Party united.
2) Stop primary vote drifts to the Greens/Democrats.
3) Try the ‘bring cake and eat it too’ strategy of saying that the ALP is not against the FTA, but thatAustralia needs these amendments (which according to many FTA critics are piss-weak anyway) to protect Australian interests. If the government does not play ball, they are the ones who are selling out totally to the Americans etc. etc.
On one hand Labor can say it is not anti FTA (or anti-American), they show themselves as the protector of Australian interests and more savvy about the Agreement than the Coalition. But if the Government knocks back the amendments then, it’s the Coalition which does not care about whether pharmaceuticals go up or whether we going to have only American voices on our TV. Now that’s a reverse wedgie.
James Woodcock, ALP member
Not a good week to give up drinking. I am pissed right off at this decision. It reeks of Me-tooism just like Tampa, but, as you correctly point out,Labor would have had a good chance to run a grassroots campaign on it. Many Australians are pissed off at the Americans about the Iraqi War and being lied to. This is just one more dose of economic reform that we are just supposed to swallow and not gag on.
What frustrates and angers me most is that just like the last election that there will be no decent public debate or discussion about the whole FTA now that both sides have “synchronised” their policies.
Unless Labor proposes amendments they know or hope the Coalition will not agree to, and refuse to not pass the bill without the amendments, this will be the future of the Labor in this country as well.
On Tuesday I was thinking, Labor, you abject fools. You’ve lost the left. You’ve lost even the chance at preferences from many who were tempted to vote for you. But now I’m not so sure. I think this has been a masterpiece of politicking by Latham.
Howard is now in an impossible situation. If he agrees to the Labor Party’s demands in the enabling legislation, he loses all the high ground he has tried to claim by insisting that Labor has opposed the legislation because of anti-Americanism/indecision.
He obviously isn’t anti-American, because he broadly accepts the agreement. He hasn’t been indecisive; he’s been waiting for sufficient information before making a stance. Howard loses the big advantage of the wedge he’d hoped for.
The ball is now his. If he refuses to bat it, then the obvious question is why? He’s claimed that this agreement won’t harm our health care system or our local content regulation. If that’s so, how do the amendments cause any problems? He is pinning his electoral hopes on this issue. He sees it as the big issue of this term in government. So where can he go?
Labor’s position is one appealing directly to the concerns of the majority of Australians who are suspicious of the value of the agreement to Australia. It directly addresses their qualms. It neutralises the whining about failing to address the issue because it cuts to the quick. And it seems that if Howard refuses to accept the amendments (and I suspect he won’t, because of the political cost of doing so), Labor is going to hold fast. Latham has to, if he is to retain the pivotal loyalty of the left wing as the election approaches, and he knows it.
Watching Abbott debating Gillard on Lateline, I lost count of the number of times he bleated “anti-American”. Does he really think that’s a vote winner?
So it’s going to become an election issue. For Latham, I think, it’s a winner. This has the fingerprints of Faulkner all over it. There is no smarter politician in Australia.
David Redfearn in Brunswick, Melbourne
A friend’s comment (in verse) on Latham’s stand after I sent her ‘Latham proves he’s still got guts’:
The Libs charged Mark with “petty action”, When he talked food-and-drugs Yankeefaction, The words meant to cloak us, He brought to sharp focus, Mark’s acts not reduction, REDACTION!
Perhaps Mark Latham’s slogan could be: “It’s the kitchen table, stupid!!!” because that is clearly where he is pitching his message and you are so right in implying that the press gallery and other opinion makers still don’t get it regarding Latham’s small is big” approach.
A Labor politician of my acquaintance told me some time ago that Mark Latham should keep talking over these interests because he has a capacity to reach people that way and this latest stand over the PBS and the FTA really illustrates that if comments I am hearing are any indication. I don’t just talk to my rusted on fellow lefties in my local cafes in inner Melbourne; my recent visits to family and friends in rural NSW have been very revealing, especially in relation to the FTA and our relationship with the USA. I found deep concern about Howard among a number of rusted on National Party voters (and that’s without even mentioning Telstra!).
I personally still think the FTA is a dog of a deal but I am glad that Latham has taken the stand that he has. He is still the high roller in my view and the other mob still don’t know how to handle it.
On another note, here is a text message from my daughter, Joanne, who is travelling at present and to whom I sent a copy of “Not Happy, John”:
“I have almost read Part 1 of “Not Happy, John” and you can be sure that wherever I am in the world I will be voting against Australia’s no.1 tyrannical dictator. Margo Kingston makes me feel proud of my values and I shouldn’t be ashamed to be Australian, but allowed to be angry.”
Kevin Morton, Citizen of Australia
Whilst I would sincerely like to believe your analysis of what Mark Latham has done (honed the argument over AUSFTA down to one issue that the majority of the people can understand); I find it an irresponsible gamble using the future of Australia as “Iron Mark’s” stake in the betting.
The four central problems AUSFTA poses Australia are Australian Quarantine, the PBS, the “Buy American” US Procurement legislation and Intellectual Property Rights. After only four hours of research I found enough evidence on these four Little-Johnny “barbeque stoppers” to convince a dimmer-than-average-rhesus-monkey that the free trade deal was anything but; yet Latham has only addressed one of these issues.
IF the government doesn’t back down and IF he wins the next election he can introduce amendments on the other issues; but what happens if Howard blinks before the election? Can Latham then say “I also want these amendments” without losing his credibility with the Australian people? I don’t think so.
He has gambled not just his political future but the future of Australia economically, ecologically, and intellectually.
Ask the Canadians what it’s like dealing with the Americans. There the Canadian government found itself in Court for giving their citizens a decent postal rate which the Americans deemed anti-competitive against their FTA with the U.S. As well, the disgraceful position in America exists where its own (non affluent) citizens have to get reasonably priced medicine from Canada or Mexico.
It is a chilling thought that the Howard government is so keen to open our door to the predatory American drug companies. We must give Mark Latham all support and praise for standing in the way of this potential disaster for Australia.
John Dalton in West Ryde, Sydney
I don’t claim to be an expert on patent and copyright law. I’m an engineer and scientist who has spent over a decade working within the constraints of the patent and copyright system, so I have some understanding of how patents and copyrights affect engineering and science innovation “at the coal face”.
I ask myself what motivates the proponents of chapter 17 of the FTA, which extends the monopolies of patents and copyrights. By my understanding someone standing for free trade should be against increased regulation and monopoly and so against chapter 17. A paradox.
The best explanation I have come up with is that proponents of chapter 17 are not for free trade but are for private ownership. They are typically against public property and against increased regulation of property, as they believe those weaken private ownership. In the case of patents and copyright they are for increased regulation as they believe it strengthens private ownership.
Perhaps chapter 17 of the “Free Trade Agreement” is really a “Private Ownership Agreement”?
Chapter 17 of the FTA allows abstract ideas to be claimed as private property. We shouldn’t be talking about whether chapter 17 of the FTA is good for free trade but whether ideas are property to be privately owned.
No idea is formed in isolation. Instead all ideas draw from those around and those who have gone before. It is impossible to have a non-social idea in that having ideas *requires* interaction with and inspiration by other people.
Witness the emphasis the scientific research community places on publishing ideas and establishing networks of collaboration.
Thomas Edison once said: “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.” The existing patent and copyright system allows the 99% perspiration to be protected. Chapter 17 of the FTA extends the monopoly to include the 1% inspiration, thus hampering innovation.
Graham Daniell in Greenwood, Western Australia
The proposed free trade agreement between the US and Australia threatens more than just Australia’s media content and pharmaceutical prices. It also requires Australia to closely conform to American intellectual property laws, in particular the draconian DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).
Under the treaty, Aussies must block any party that “manufactures, imports, distributes, offers to the public, provides, or otherwise traffics in devices, products, or components, or offers to the public, or provides services that; are promoted, advertised, or marketed for the purpose of circumvention of any effective technological measure; have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent any effective technological measure; or are primarily designed, produced, or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of any effective technological measure.”
One effect of this will be to render impotent a previous decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that “region coding” of digital media (for example DVD movies) was anti-competitive and thus contrary to Australian Competition Law.
Under the treaty, Australians will not be allowed to buy “region-free” DVD players, and will be barred from converting existing players to be region free. This will mean that it will not be possible for Australians to buy DVD movies overseas while on holiday and bring them back, and will also stop the direct importing of overseas disks.
They will also be barred from other ways of circumventing anti-competitive practices, such as “mod-chipping” computer game consoles to enable them to play games from other than the manufacturer of the game unit.
This can only have the effect (as desired by the big media companies) of driving up prices of electronic entertainment media, which have dropped dramatically since the ACCC’s ruling a couple of years ago.
Unfortunately Australian legislators are only concerned only about the effects of the treaty on pharmaceutical prices. It would seem they are unaware of the treaty’s IP ramifications.
If the unfair provisions of the FTA are to be rectified then the IP issue must also be addressed.
Re your question in Latham’s conditions for FTA support: the facts behind the politics about how Australia could be bound by the FTA treaty without parliamentary approval of legislation amending current laws, the key is chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
I hadn’t realised it tied in with our FTA before visiting Webdiary yesterday, as if I wasn’t already feeling sorry and sad enough. It’s been a long time coming but 3rd August 2004 was the day I was finally disgusted enough to becoming an activist.
From global exchange:
“NAFTA includes unprecedented ways for corporations to attack laws through so-called “investor-to-state” lawsuits. Such suits, established by NAFTA’s Chapter 11, allow corporations to sue governments for compensation if they feel that any government action, including the enforcement of public health and safety laws, cuts into their profits. Already, Chapter 11 lawsuits have been used to repeal a Canadian law banning a chemical linked to nervous system damage, and to challenge California’s phase-out of a gas additive, MTBE, that is poisoning the state’s ground water. Negotiators want to include these anti-democratic lawsuits in the FTAA.”
“Since the agreement’s enactment, corporate investors in all three NAFTA countries have used these new rights to challenge a variety of national, state and local environmental and public health policies, domestic judicial decisions, a federal procurement law and even a government s provision of parcel delivery services as NAFTA violations. While most cases are still pending, some corporations have already succeeded with these challenges. Remarkably, NAFTA also provides foreign investors the ability to privately enforce their new investor rights. Called “investor-to-state” dispute resolution, this extraordinary mechanism empowers private investors and corporations to sue NAFTA-signatory governments in special tribunals to obtain cash compensation for government policies or actions that investors believe violate their new rights under NAFTA. If a corporation wins its case, it can be awarded unlimited amounts of taxpayer dollars from the treasury of the offending nation even though it has gone around the country’s domestic court system and domestic laws to obtain such an award.”
From The Nation:
“Multinational investors can randomly second-guess the legitimacy of environmental laws or any other public-welfare or economic regulation, including agency decisions, even jury verdicts. The open-ended test for winning damages is whether the regulation illegitimately injured a company’s investments and can be construed as ‘tantamount to expropriation, though no assets were physically taken (as is the case when a government seizes an oil field or nationalises banks).
“NAFTA’s arbitrators cannot overturn domestic laws, but their huge damage awards may be nearly as crippling – chilling governments from acting once they realize they will be ‘paying to regulate’.”
This is what global competition is really about – local communities and workers competing against once another to absorb more of the production costs of the world’s most powerful and profitable corporations.
Merrill Pye in Sydney
Though people are objecting to particular examples of how this “Free Trade Agreement” may affect us badly, I’d ask us to look at the ideology at its base. This Trojan horse provides a legal way to lock us into an extreme economic kind of fundamentalism, the same as in a world trade agreement rejected a year or two ago.
The neo-liberal ideology also affects any government or charitable (“non-profit”) regulation or involvement in almost any part of society, including public schools, hospitals, heritage, arts, the environment, natural resources, national parks, even parts of defence, and calls it “unfair” or “subsidies”.
Eventually things like the Trade Practices Act and many other legal protections for the land and the people (PBS, Occupational Health and Safety) are struck down as “anti-competitive”.
The ideology says that the basis of society and democracy, particularly the Australian version *, is wrong. That public good and public service should only ever be a by-product of the drive to private profit; that the “best and highest” use of human effort and intelligence is to serve that aim, not to improve the world, express humanity, or whatever.
Any improvement or service provided in order to make money is to be the least possible, produced as cheaply as possible – whatever this means for your staff, your providers or the natural resources you use – for the highest possible price (called “efficiency” and “productivity”). This, for example, drives farmers to poor long-term land management to meet short-term price and supply demands from a buyer with the whip-hand, a situation common in Third World countries.
Another example will be the future history of NRMA, originally set up as a community based, though private, non-profit service-provider. Most of its recent troubles have been conflict over changing from that to this other basis of operation.
The costs – human, social, environmental – may be dumped on whatever poorly-funded government services are left, or in an ironic twist, also used as a source of profit, say by setting up a services company to bid for tax money provided (because government responds to public pressure) to help with the damage, as government services are cut, corporatised or privatised to follow the managerial ideology.
Representative government and accountability are, like following the letter of the law, perhaps necessary evils, but to be used as sparingly as absolutely necessary. Law-makers should be lobbied and/or “donated” to make the laws, including tax laws, as favourable as possible.
It is better to pay political parties, lawyers, public relations firms and advertisers to give an impression of a “good company” than pay the same money on *being* a “good company”. The people pay because the companies deduct these expenses from their income.
Don’t let people tell you “it’s inevitable”. So was the Thousand Year Reich, so was the Divine Right of Kings, and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. They say that because they want you to believe it and give up. They say: “Don’t ask ‘Who moved my cheese, and who has it now?’ “; just accept it and adapt. But remember evil can only triumph when good people do nothing.
It’s taken between 500 and 1000 years of struggle to get a legally-bound and legally-removable ruler, representative government with voting rights for all adults, support for the mentally and physically ill, injured workers and their families, legal rights for women and ordinary people, and everything that distinguishes a decent human kind of society from the rule of “strongmen” and their enforcers – the human equivalent of a baboon troop, ruled by force, fear and furtiveness.
Why prepare to throw away all those blood-bought lessons? Why knowingly step back down that path when we’ve seen, over and over, how destructive and brutal it is?
* Australian version – A Tale of Three Prison Camps. During the Pacific war the Japanese army set up three camps for prisoners-of-war from British, Australian, and then American forces. They provided better supplies to the officers in each camp. The British camp kept its distinctions and privileges, with antipathy between officers and enlisted men; The American camp descended into ‘free trade’ of rations, medicine, etc, so that some ended up sick, poor, without help, and others became “King Rats”. In the Australian camp, the officers and men shared and each helped the other, so the survival rate at the end of the war was better than the others.
This is the legend, and I’m sure it’s simplified, but it points to the best purpose and moral foundation of Australian society as evolved from the mid-nineteenth century until about the 1980s, when the “Free Trade” push – so reviled for many years for things like exporting wheat from Ireland during the Great Famine, because English markets could pay for it and starving Irish couldn’t – made a comeback.)