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Australian Senate urged to block the FTA

The Age, Melbourne

21 July 2004

Senate urged to block the FTA

(AAP) Leading unions, doctors and welfare groups are urging the Senate to block the free trade agreement with the United States.

Launching a joint statement calling on the Senate to block enabling legislation when it is debated next month, the groups will also send a copy to federal parliamentarians.

Among the signatories are the ACTU, Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW, Australian Conservation Foundation, Public Health Association of Australia, Doctors’ Reform Society and the Australian Council of Social Service.

"Why does (Prime Minister) John Howard want Australians to give away thousands of manufacturing jobs and to gift wrap our future wealth from intellectual property?," ACTU president Sharan Burrow said.

Doctors’ Reform Society national vice-president Tracy Schrader said the agreement undermines Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The joint statement urges the opposition, minor parties and independents to block the deal because it would result in higher medicine costs and restrict Australian voices in new media by limiting Australian content rules.

It also freezes state and local government regulation of essential services at existing levels, adopts US copyright law, could reduce Australian quarantine standards and give the United States greater access to Australian manufacturing markets, they said.

The FTA had not been subject to an environmental impact statement and fails to deliver the economic gains claimed by the government, the statement said.

It comes just weeks before a Senate committee is due to report on the merits of the FTA and before the legislation is debated.

The deal passed the American Congress by an overwhelming majority and Mr Howard has been pressuring the Labor Party to pass it here.

"The PBS is under a very distinct threat through the proposed USFTA," said Morrie Misfud, president of the Pensioners and Superannuants Association.

"We are also concerned that the agreement will encourage privatisation of health services."