Foreign corporations wanting to sue Australian governments will have to cool their heels. Incoming trade minister Andrew Robb says Australia's negotiating position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement remains in place despite an election commitment to overturn the blanket prohibition on so-called investor-state dispute settlement provisions.
The previous government declared point-blank Australia would never again sign an agreement with an ISDS provision. One of the few trade agreements Australia has signed with such a clause has allowed a Hong Kong-based subsidiary of tobacco firm Philip Morris to take Australia to an international tribunal over its plain packaging laws, despite having lost its case in the High Court.
It is believed the US is close to accommodating Australia's insistence by carving out an exemption while requiring each of the other 10 signatories to be bound by the provisions.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will be the world's biggest, incorporating Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam, as well as Japan, which joined this year.
Opening Australian governments to lawsuits over resource extraction, foreign land purchases, pharmaceutical benefits and health measures is a potential minefield for the government.
Mr Robb will attend trade minister talks on the partnership on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Bali on October 3. Prime Minister Tony Abbott will discuss the partnership at a meeting of leaders including US President Barack Obama in Bali on October 7.