On 25 June 2015, the federal Senate's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee tabled its Report on its Inquiry (initiated 2 December 2014) into the "Commonwealth’s treaty-making process, particularly in light of the growing number of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements Australian governments have entered into or are currently negotiating". The Terms of Reference included "j. exploration of what an agreement which incorporates fair trade principles would look like, such as the role of environmental and labour standard chapters". This opened the door to many of the 95 public submissions discussing an issue more related to the contents or substance of trade and investment agreements: the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. These are typically included nowadays as an extra avenue for foreign investors to claim for violations of host state commitments (such as Australia's Free Trade Agreements reached last year with Korea and China, but not with Japan).
Out of 14 organisations and individuals (including myself) invited to give evidence at public hearings in May 2015, based on their written submissions, nine volunteered opinions on ISDS and a further three were questioned on it by Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson. He initiated an "Anti-ISDS" private member's Bill last year, although the Coalition and Labor Senators on the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee recommended against enactment.
In the present Inquiry, the three (out of six) Committee members presented an extensive majority Report, entitled "Blind agreement: reforming Australia's treaty-making process". Senator Whish-Wilson presented a short Dissenting Report urging more wide-ranging reforms to enhance public participation and parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiation and implementation of trade agreements. The (two) Coalition Senators also issued a short Dissenting Report, arguing for the adequacy of the present system of public consultation by current government politicians and officials as well as scrutiny by the Joint (house) Standing Committee on Treaties, conducting an inquiry and making recommendations to Parliament after the treaty is signed and tabled but before Australia takes binding treaty action (ratification etc).
The majority Report noted that "While a number of issues specific to individual trade agreements, such as inclusion of [ISDS] clauses and intellectual property ... and copyright chapters, are controversial and the subject of public debate, they are only considered in this report to the extent that they shed light on the treaty-making process" (para 1.7). However, the majority Report did later mention ISDS and indeed recommended that Australia develop a model investment treaty or chapter including indicative provisions.