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December 2013

Australia’s Coalition Government, dominated by the Liberal Party and led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, recently completed a rocky first 100 days in power. Diplomatic rows with China and Indonesia are only part of the story. The Government stands accused, for example, of sending ‘conflicting messages’ to the business sector. At the Business Council of Australia’s 30th anniversary dinner on 4 December, Abbott reiterated his election-night declaration that Australia was ‘once more open for business’. Yet five days earlier, his Treasurer had taken the rare step of blocking a major foreign direct investment (FDI) – a $3.4 billion bid by US firm ADM for GrainCorp.

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The (federal government's) Australian Research Council has provided $260,000 to support this project over 2014-6 (DP140102526), in collaboration with Prof Leon Trakman (lead-CI, former Dean of Law at UNSW), A/Prof Jurgen Kurtz (Melbourne Law School) and Dr Shiro Armstrong (ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, co-editor of the East Asia Forum blog). Below are parts of our original project application to the ARC; an updated and edited version is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2362122.


[Abstract]
"This project will evaluate the economic and legal risks associated with the Australian Government’s current policy on investor-state dispute settlement through multidisciplinary research, namely econometric modeling, empirical research through stakeholder surveys and interviews, as well as critical analysis of case law, treaties and regulatory approaches. The aim of this project is to identify optimal methods of investor-state dispute prevention, avoidance and resolution that efficiently cater to inbound and outbound investors as well as Australia as a whole. The goal is to promote a positive climate for investment inflows and outflows, while maintaining Australia's ability to take sovereign decisions on matters of public policy."

[Aims] Foreign direct investment (FDI) has become essential to global economic development, with FDI flows exceeding US$1.5 trillion in 2012 (UNCTAD 2012). Australia’s treaty making practice, especially its current policy with respect to investor state dispute settlement (ISDS), may be sub-optimal, in that it is not entirely based on sound economic cost-benefit data and supporting econo-legal research. Australia can potentially increase its share of the global FDI pool by adopting a more efficient approach to formulating policy with respect to ISDS.

This project aims to develop a key policy framework and devise salient institutional structures and processes that take account of two competing pursuits: the cost-benefit advantages of promoting Australia as an FDI destination; and the need to ensure that these advantages are considered in light of competing policy objectives that are not explicated exclusively on economic grounds (as explained in the Background section). This project is valuable and innovative because it identifies significant gaps in the current Australian policy framework and uses interdisciplinary research to address them.

The overall purpose is to ensure that Australia attains its optimal share of the global FDI market in the context of competing policy objectives. As such, the project will evaluate the economic and legal risks associated with the Australian Government’s current policy on ISDS through multidisciplinary research, namely econometric modeling, empirical research through stakeholder surveys and interviews, as well as critical analysis of case law, treaties and regulatory approaches. The general aim is to identify optimal methods of investor-state dispute prevention, avoidance and resolution that efficiently cater to inbound and outbound investors as well as Australia as a whole. The specific purposes therefore are: (1) to investigate policies that underpin Australia’s approach to negotiating international investment treaties, with particular emphasis on its policies on avoiding, managing and resolving investment disputes; (2) to identify and analyse links between these policies and the investment practices of both inbound and outbound investors; and (3) to propose recommendations on alternative approaches to investment policy, so that, through a carefully framed cost-benefit analysis, Australia can retain appropriate sovereignty over public policy issues (such as health and the environment) while promoting a positive economic climate for investment inflows and outflows.

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Written by Joel Rheuben (with a more extensively hyperlinked version at freedominfo.org)

As recently reported on the ABC, on 25 October the Japanese government moved to introduce to the Japanese legislature the “State Secrecy Bill” (formally, the Bill on the Protection of Designated Secrets). The government apparently hopes to make the bill law by the end of the year, in time for the establishment of a new National Security Council, which has been used as the justification for the bill.

Perhaps because of this rush, the bill is – to paraphrase Oscar Wilde – not only bad, but badly written, which is worse.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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