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Bishops says free trade threatens sovereignty and democracy

Canberra auxiliary Bishop Pat Power is speaking on behalf of Catholic organisations in a coalition of church, welfare, trade union and health groups that is arguing that any free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States will undermine Australia's sovereignty and democratic rights.

The Australian Government is promoting free trade as a means of giving farmers better access to the huge US market, but various groups are becoming increasingly vocal in exposing the fine print and often hidden implications of such a deal. Award winners at Friday's Australian Film Institute Awards included messages in their acceptance speeches that highlighted the FTA's threat to expressions of local culture.

Bishop Power (pictured) told ABC Radio yesterday that Australia's independence as a nation "very much is going to be swallowed up by big brother".

"Basically, the concerns that the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has is that Australia's sovereignty and democracy will be eroded by reducing our Government's ability to make laws in areas such as health and social policy," he said.

Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile is in Washington this week to meet his counterpart Robert Zoellick as the two nations attempt to strike a free-trade agreement by the end of the year.

Bishop Power said one of the most disturbing aspects of the deal is that it's being negotiated in secret, without any need for parliamentary approval. He said if Australians knew what was involved, they might review their widespread support for the free trade agreement.

"Very often I think the devil is in the detail, and I think in many cases the Australian public can be hoodwinked," he said. "I think we saw that in terms of what took us into the war against Iraq. We were given a whole lot of information there that's proved to be quite incorrect and I'd be concerned that's the same process that's happening here."

Catholic groups involved in the Fair Trade and Investment Network include the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Catholic Commission for Justice Development and Peace (Melbourne), Catholic Health Australia, Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace, Presentation Sisters Wagga, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre, Mercy Foundation, Justice and Peace Promoter Archdiocese of Sydney, Jubilee Australia Sydney Working Group.

Groups outline case against free trade deal (ABC Radio The World Today 24/11/03)

Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network
Community organisations want health, social and cultural policies out of US Free Trade Agreement (media release 24/11/03 - PDF)
Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
Australia's Vaile to Meet Zoellick in Washington on Free Trade (Bloomberg 24/11/03)
Australia tries again to smooth the way to free trade pact with US ( 24/11/03)
Stars use spotlight to act up in national interest (The Age 22/11/03)

25 Nov 2003