Latest Wikileaks dump raises concerns for regulation in Australia

SBS, Australia

Latest Wikileaks dump raises concerns for regulation in Australia

New leaked documents on Wikileaks suggest a Trade in Services Agreement could undermine Australia’s ability to make legislation.

By Jason Thomas

4 Jun 2015

A new dump of leaked secretive trade deal documents on WikiLeaks reveals an international agreement could prevent future Australian governments from introducing regulations around licensing, qualifications and technical standards, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The WikiLeaks dump of the little-known Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) includes 17 new documents, with details of negotiations ranging from telecommunications to financial services.

Australia was pushing for deregulation in the TiSA talks, University of Sydney research associate Dr Patricia Ranald said.

Today, Dr Ranald told SBS the documents revealed the negotiations were not for the benefit of citizens, but large service-providers, such as private health insurers.

“These particular negotiations are being done on behalf of multinational companies,” Dr Ranald said to SBS.

She said childcare and aged care might be industries where future governments would seek to introduce new legislation around the numbers of carers per client, which the TiSA agreements might prevent.

SBS has contacted the office of Australia’s Minister for Trade, Andrew Robb, for comment on the leaked TiSA texts.

In the SMH report, Australian National University associate professor Matthew Rimmer said the TiSA agreements would directly challenge privacy.

"Big IT – such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo! and Facebook – have been pushing for trade rules on electronic commerce," Dr Rimmer was quoted as saying.

"TiSA will have a significant impact upon the regulation of information technology ... [it] poses significant challenges in respect of privacy – both in terms of government and commercial use of information."

The Wikileaks website describes the TiSA agreements as part of a ‘T-treaty-trinity’ of TTP-TiSA-TTiP.

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The secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the US, Australia and several other states is to be a free trade agreement that covers about 40 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTiP) is a similar agreement between the US and the European Union.

Previously, unions and industry groups have criticised the current government, and previous Labor governments, for their secrecy in the TPP negotiations, which are currently being negotiated behind closed doors, while farming and business groups have praised the efforts to liberalise trade.

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A previous WikiLeaks dump of TTP texts included details about Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which are provisions that allow companies to seek damages from countries for changes to legislation.

An example is the case by tobacco company Phillip Morris which has an ISDS claim against Australia for plain packaging legislation, which the Gillard government introduced.

The ISDS provisions can provide companies with incentives to invest in countries where there may be a perceived sovereign risk, Australian Chief Justice Robert French AC said to a crowd in Hong Kong in March this year.

However, the implications of ISDS clauses on domestic courts could not be reduced to a ’good thing or a bad thing’, but domestic law must be at arms-length from international arbitral proceedings, Chief Justice French said.