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  Issue No 62 Official Organ of LaborNet 14 July 2000  




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Fair Trader

Interview with Peter Lewis

AMWU boss Doug Cameron is gearing for a showdown with the ALP over their free trade agenda. But what's he really on about?


Doug Cameron

Do you agree that there has been a net benefit to Australia in trade liberalisation?

I think there has been a benefit to certain regions and certain industries on trade liberalisation. The question of whether there has been an overall net benefit is one that I believe should be determined after an incoming Labor Government conducts a social audit of the effect of trade liberalisation.

Would you say the indicators should be purely jobs, or are there other factors involved?

There are a number of factors. I think the evaluation of trade should be determined in employment growth and in improved social protections: the implementation of core labour standards; sustainable environmental standards; the elimination of forced labour and child labour and the adherence to human rights and democratic values. That is the context I believe trade should be analysed in.

In your fair trade call you are effectively advocating that Australia takes a lead in these issues by putting its own penalties on countries that don't meet those standards.

What I have asked the ACTU to consider, and what the ACTU agreed to do, was to continue to monitor the developments in the debate on social tariffs and issues such as a Tobin Tax. So what we are talking about is a monitoring process and an analytical process that has been missing, I think, from the trade debate for many years in this country.

Where is that debate being run at the moment? Whose ideas should we be monitoring?

We should be monitoring ideas in Europe, such as the social audits. In the United States and Canada there are people who are arguing for a Tobin Tax and an analysis of social tariffs. There is a worldwide approach on this issue.

Could you just explain your concept of the Tobin Tax?

The Tobin Tax would be a small tax and what is being proposed is about .05% on money movement. That's speculative investment. And there is something like $1.5 trillion speculated around the world each day, and a small tax would benefit international trade, because it would create a more reliable exchange rate. Speculative flows are used to de-stabilise the exchange rates in countries with terrible effects on working people.

Would you advocate any of those sort of measures being introduced unilaterally in a country like Australia?

No, some of these measures could not be introduced unilaterally. Issues such as a Tobin Tax would have to be introduced internationally. But there is no reason why a country like Australia could not adopt, in principle, these issues, and seek support for those issues in the international arena. Indeed, the Tobin Tax has already been adopted in principle by the Canadian Parliament.

The idea of fair trade is resonating in the community because there is a dissatisfaction with globalisation. Do you think the public understands what is going on around them, or is it just everything moving too fast?

Well, if the public in Australia don't understand, it is certainly a worldwide phenomenon. It is not just an Australian phenomenon about people not being happy with what is happening. You have only got to look at Seattle; look at London; in France. All of these countries, working people and community groups are saying free trade is not delivering.

But one of the arguments against your notion of social tariffs is that a country like Australia itself is currently in breach of ILO standards, whereas countries like Iran, China and North Korea have a clean bill of health under the ILO. Is this the mechanism you think should be used to define which countries are meeting the standards?

Well, I don't think China and Iran have got a clean bill of health. There would have to be measures that would go wider than simply one organisation looking after it. For instance, the ICFTU should have a role in any analysis of countries not complying with basic human rights and trade union standards. So, I am all for discussion about how you monitor, how you analyse and how you finally determine whether a country is in breach or not. I have got no fixed view on this. All I am calling for is the debate to be opened up in Australia as the debate has been opened up internationally. We should not be dragging the chain and simply advocating a continuation of free trade as if free trade has got all the answers to the welfare of a community. As for Australia, we should never be in breach of international standards and the fact we are at present, is an absolute disgrace. I would expect a Labor Government to bring us into line with modern, democratic and socially progressive international countries to respect international standards.

One of the people who is engaged in the debate with you at the moment is Trade Minister, Peter Cook. His analysis seems to be a suggestion that protectionism will set back the cause of labour rights internationally. How do you respond to that?

I think what is going on in the Labor Party is an acceptance, without any critical analysis, of the benefits - and I use that word loosely - of free trade. I don't think there has been a proper analysis done. Until we do a social audit; until we deal with trade as Labor deals with all of its other policies, that is based on fairness, we will not benefit this community.

What sort of evidence would you need to see to convince yourself that free trade is the correct policy?

I would need to see evidence worldwide, that workers are not being exploited by big business; where environments are not being destroyed by big business in the pursuit of profit. I would need to see governments not being intimidated by big business and movement of vast sums of money, which de-stabilises the economies and governments. Once we have some of these things in place, then maybe we would be moving closer to fair trade.

One of the difficulties with the fair trade line is that it ends up sounding pretty similar to the sort of lines that One Nation was coming out with a couple of years ago. Is it difficult to run this argument without having the racial undertones?

No. I think it is very easy. There is nothing racially based on what the ACTU is proposing, and the policy that I put to the ACTU, which was carried. This is about trying to lift the standards of working people around the world. It is not about trying to put them down on the basis of their race or colour.

Although when you were addressing ACTU Congress during the international debate, a lot of those international guests on stage were representing countries that would be penalised under the sort of scheme you are advocating ..

But a lot of them would have supported that scheme. For instance, the South African president Willie Madisha has indicated that without sanctions against South Africa there would not now be a free South Africa. And the Fijian trade union movement's representative Diwarn Shanker supported sanctions against the Fijian rebels and Speight. So sanctions are not a new thing. In fact I thought the South African delegate made it very clear that we should never disarm ourselves in relation to sanctions.

What is your vision of the Australian economy in fifty years time?

I would want and support a more open, more internationally competitive economy, but for that economy to have a much stronger manufacturing base. And I think we need to spend the next ten years at least developing proper industry development policies for Australia to re-build our manufacturing industry. Without a manufacturing industry, Kim Beazley's Knowledge Nation will never come to fruition. Manufacturing delivers much of the high tech service industry worldwide, and we are watching our industry decline in front of our eyes under the policies of the Howard Government.

So we need to do a number of things to see my vision of a more balanced economy for Australia with a bigger role for manufacturing and manufacturing services. We need proper industry development policies. We need a huge investment in research and development, education, training and innovation. Australia should not to simply capitulate to free trade and allow our industries to be bulldozed under unfair competition. Australia should be developing engineers, scientists, and have a manufacturing base that can provide jobs for ordinary Australians who will never be rocket scientists or computer scientists.

When Beazley addressed the ACTU Congress he did say that Labor would incorporate core Labor standards into the trade framework. How far apart are you from where Labor is at the moment? What is you beef with Labor and what are you going to bowl up at the Hobart Conference?

Well, I am apart from Labor in terms of their analysis of free trade. I would want them to adopt a proposition that is similar to the ACTU position on the definition of Fair Trade. I just can't understand why Labor, in their draft policy agenda, talks about fairness in almost every policy document, except Trade. Why is Trade different? And why should that core Labor value of fairness not be included in "Trade"?


*    Visit the AMWU

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*   Issue 62 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Fair Trader
AMWU boss Doug Cameron is gearing for a showdown with the ALP over their free trade agenda. But what's he really on about?
*  Politics: Free Trader
Trade Minister Peter Cook states his case for coninuting trade liberalisation and why the 'fair trade' agenda is against the interests of Australian workers.
*  History: Organising - Fifties Style
What do the new wave of organisers do? Pretty much the same hard slog that Audrey Petrie did in the 1950s around Sydney for the Hotel, Club and Restaurant Union (HCRU).
*  Unions: The Whistleblower
A lone Chinese seafarer is fighting to stop a Panamanian flagged vessel from dumping toxic waste into Australian waters
*  International: Jakarta Breakthrough
Indonesian workers have just won a new historic bill of rights which gaurantees them legal protections when they form unions.
*  Solidarity: Rio Versus the Rest of the World
Union members around the world have taken part in a week of international action against the mining giant Rio Tinto. Andrew Casey looks at all the hot spots.
*  Satire: Amnesty Branch Targets Lazy Letter Writer
Police are investigating claims that the Glebe branch of Amnesty International has captured and tortured a member whose tardiness in letter writing had become renowned.
*  Review: Little by Little
Clinton Walker's groundbreaking book, CD and video charts the careers of indigenous artists like the legendary Jimmy Little.

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»  Unchain Your Mind
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»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  Political Hackers and the Law
»  Still a Role for Tariffs
»  Fair Trade - Australia Would be Hit Too!
»  Mexican Greens - A Different Analysis
»  Korean unrest - All the Latest Here

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