Tim Blair


New Criterion



Wednesday, August 04, 2004
THE STRUGGLE FOR OWNERSHIP of the bi-partisan US-Australia Free Trade Agreement is far from over.

Labor leader Mark Latham has staked out his position. He didn't really want the deal, but he's agreed to it, except that if it's not passed with his amendment to the enabling Act he doesn't want it, and if his amendment is accepted, then it's his FTA.


Either way we get an FTA, it's just a matter of who owns it.

But there are a couple of problems.

1. It remains a moot point whether the evil against which Latham wishes to protect us is increased by the FTA. Australian law, unlike US law, doesn't allow the drug owners to block generics by patent application here as they can in the US. Will things get worse? The oft-quoted Professor Peter Drahos of the ANU thinks so, others are failing to rush out in support.

2. Labor doesn't have an amendment. It has a policy that it would be a good idea to have an amendment addressing a problem that it hopes exists. This makes it hard for PM Howard to call the amendment "risky", but he does that anyway. On the other hand, it makes it hard for Mark Latham to convince us that his ultimatum is based on more than his political vanity.

"Nice footwork, Mark", say the commentators, "pure atistry". But so far the lad has had the dance floor to himself.

Let's see how the Government could tango.

Suppose Howard defeats Latham's amendment, but proposes a less noxious one to address the hypothetical problem. The price of Labor's obstruction has just gone up by several factors.

Now it's strictly ball-room, all the way to the ballot box.