The Treaties Committee of the federal parliament is trying to protect our freedoms and privacy by overturning a muddle-headed Gillard Government decision to sign up to the misnamed ACTA agreement. Behind the facade of ‘Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement’, the weasel-worded text would remove individual rights and privacy to the benefit of mega-corporations, mostly US-owned and based. Australia should certainly not ratify this treaty, CLA says.
ACTA: hold your horses, says Treaties
By Bill Rowlings, CLA CEO
The Australian Parliament’s Treaties Committee wants the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement put on hold, possibly forever.
Australia must not ratify ACTA until after an independent and transparent economic analysis of its costs and benefits, the committee says. That is one of nine recommendations of the Treaties Committee which put the controversial agreement in doubt. CLA believes it should be abandoned: Australia should undo its signing: certainly, we should never ratify it.
The dramatic parliamentary committee stance in the face of the support for ACTA by the Gillard Government – and particularly by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy – was swamped in late-June by the emotional debate over refugees in the last sitting week of parliament.
But the stop sign put in the path of ACTA is one the best moves the Treaties Committee and its chair, Kelvin Thomson, have ever made, CLA believes.
ACTA is an agreement about property rights. It is driven by the USA, and engineered within the USA by mega commercial interests such as the big pharmaceutical companies, movie and music concerns, major media interests and big internet players.
The agreement began being negotiated in secret sessions from at least as far back as 2007, with draft versions kept hidden from the public and civil society groups. Only exposure through WikiLeaks brought full details to light. Negotiations were not characterised by an absence of consultation: there was instead active non-consultation.
Attempt to restrict freedom
ACTA is a complex legal document which focuses on trademark and copyright rules and sets up intellectual property enforcement. Basically, it is corporate America’s attempt to restrict people’s freedom of expression and privacy. It would give massive extra powers to governments and companies, and undermine individual rights worldwide.
It effectively bullies non-ratifying countries into abiding by ACTA dictates. For example, it could allow big pharma companies to restrict or even destroy generic drugs in poorer countries.
The agreement was signed in October 2011 by Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, NZ, Singapore, South Korea, and the USA. In January 2012, the EU itself and 22 EU countries also signed… but a number of them are back-peddling rapidly after fierce opposition from within their own countries.
The Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said his support for ACTA was “a mistake”. The Slovenian ambassador to Japan who signed the agreement said she signed “out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention.
“Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children," said Helen Drnovsek-Zorko.
No signatory country has yet ratified (formally approved) the agreement, which comes into force after ratification by six countries. After entry into force, the treaty would nominally only apply in those countries which ratified it. But in effect its reach would extend to girdle the globe.
ACTA has flaw, chair says
Australian Treaties Committee chair Kelvin Thomson says the agreement has flaws and the committee is not yet convinced that it is in Australia’s interests.
“The committee is concerned about the lack of clarity in the text, the exclusion of provisions protecting the rights of individuals, and ACTA’s potential to shift the balance in the interpretation of copyright law, intellectual property law and patent law,” Mr Thomson said. “The international reaction to ACTA, which, without exception, comes from countries which the committee considers would have the same interests as Australia, must also be taken into consideration.”
His committee has made nine recommendations, including that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement not be ratified by Australia until:
- the Treaties Committee has received and considered an independent and transparent assessment of ACTA’s economic and social benefits and costs;
- the Australian Law Reform Commission has reported on its Inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy; and
- the Australian Government has issued notices of clarification in relation to the terms of the agreement.
The committee also recommended that, given their importance in the world economy, Australia should also have regard to ACTA’s ratification status in the European Union and the USA.
The European Parliament’s International Trade Committee voted in June 2012 to reject ACTA. British MEP David Martin recommended against the treaty, stating: "The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties".
Similar criticisms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now being negotiated:
So secret, Canada and Mexico no allowed to attend: