How to kill a country

Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon & John Mathews


Opening remarks by Linda Weiss

On behalf of my co-authors, I would like to thank the Evatt Foundation and its President for putting the trade deal on the programme and giving us the opportunity to discuss it with you tonight; and our thanks must go especially to Bruce and Yola for their generosity in hosting this wonderful event. Thanks too to our musical backup, we can at least start on an upbeat note, even if we don't end up there!*

Over the next forty minutes or so, we hope to shine a little light on the killer trade deal and what it means for Australia. I will start with a few introductory comments before handing over to my co-authors; they will cover quarantine, investment, and intellectual property, and I will round off with some points on the PBS.

A good place to start is with the two questions that we've been asked countless times since the book came out: Why did we write the book, and why the killer title? There were a number of reasons why we came out of scholar's closet to write this book. But the main one was that there were clearly two stories to the deal -- yet only one was getting any serious discussion. And it wasn't the one that would deliver a killer blow.

There was the story about poor market access for our top exports - about how badly we did in getting concessions on beef and dairy and virtually everything else. We gave the US immediate, open, and unfettered access to our agricultural markets from day one and, in return, we must wait 11-18 years for quotas to be lifted in our most competitive exports -- beef, wine, and so on. The list of puny market concessions we obtained from the deal is a lengthy one and the examples could be extended. But the point is that Australia did very badly on market access -- so badly that the Australian negotiators walked away from the deal only to be ordered back to the table by Howard - and this access story was very well covered in the media.

But there is another story -- a much more damaging side to the deal -- which is the real focus of our book. This is the less well-understood tale about the undoing of our institutional advantages -- the dismantling and destruction of some of the nation's most important institutional arrangements like:

• Our rigorous Quarantine procedures that safeguard Australian agriculture from devastating exotic pests and diseases and give us a competitive advantage in world markets;

• Our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) that protects the health system against soaring prescription costs and makes medicines affordable for all Australians;

• Our Intellectual Property (IP) laws that encourage local innovators in IT and biotech, for example, without extravagan