The telling of Australian stories on television and in film is in peril, Federation’s Friday Forum heard on May 15.
Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network campaign director Dr Patricia Ranald spoke about fears for Australia signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between Pacific Rim nations.
“Media companies and Hollywood oppose laws for minimum levels of Australian content on TV and other media and subsidies that assist in the making of Australian content films,” Dr Ranald said. The US Government wants these laws reduced or abolished in the TPP. The danger is that our government could trade this off in secret negotiations.
“This would reduce our ability to make not only generally Australian content films but films like Ten Canoes or any of the wonderful Indigenous films that we’ve seen in the past few years…This would have a big impact on Indigenous culture and making sure that people know Indigenous culture as part of the Australian story.”
Dr Ranald explained the Trans-Pacific Partnership also proposes “longer and stronger monopoly rights on patents on medicines, which will delay cheaper medicines from coming onto the market”. She warned the agreement would also restrict the government’s ability to regulate the price of medicines, currently achieved via the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
“Of course, for Indigenous people, who have much worse health outcomes and shorter life expectancies, higher medicine prices would be a real disaster,” she said.
Dr Ranald warned the Trans-Pacific Partnership could impact on indigenous rights to traditional plants and crops. There are proposals which would give corporations the right to patent plants. She said that as a consequence of the terms of another trade agreement biotech companies had claimed patents on traditional Latin American healing plants.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership could also limit warnings on alcohol and tobacco and nutritional information, as standardised regional labelling is proposed.
Dr Ranald warned trade agreements can put workers’ rights and the environment in danger if they give foreign investors rights to by-pass local laws and democratic processes.
Dr Ranald said one of the biggest concerns about the TPP proposals is foreign companies having rights to sue governments for hundreds of millions of dollars over changes to domestic law, if they could argue that that law or policy harmed their investment.
“The previous government had a policy against agreeing to this in free trade agreements but the current Coalition government has said it is prepared to agree to it. John Howard didn’t agree to it in the US-Australia free trade agreement, but the current government is willing to agree to it,” Dr Ranald said.
She told how a mining company is suing the El Salvador Government for $300 million because it refused a mining licence which would have polluted the main water source.
“They are ignoring the rights of that government but also the rights of indigenous people to have access to an unpolluted environment,” Dr Ranald said.
She also gave details about a company suing Egypt over a rise in the minimum wage.
“That’s a very serious thing for all unionists because it means these rules in trade agreements can be used to challenge basic workers’ rights to a minimum wage or other industrial legislation.”
Dr Ranald said the Trans-Pacific partnership was “called a partnership rather than a free trade agreement because…partnerships sound nice and cuddly”. She said the proposals are mostly about more corporate rights at the expense of people’s rights and citizens need to send a strong message to the government to say no to these proposals and release the text of the TPP for public scrutiny before it is signed.
Click here for more information.