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Thursday, 25 September 1997
Page: 8573


Mr NUGENT(10.57 a.m.) —I am pleased to speak on the Foreign Affairs and Trade Legislation Amendment Bill 1997 this morning. Before I get to the substance of my remarks I would like to pick up on a couple of points made by the previous speaker, the member for Maribyrnong (Mr Sercombe).

I would certainly agree that there is, to a large degree, a bipartisan view on many of the issues that are covered by this bill. Australia does have a good reputation and this government has been pleased to continue a number of the initiatives that were put in place by the previous government. That has particularly been the case with the CTBT.

I also agree with many of the comments by the member for Maribyrnong concerning biological weapons. In a previous life, when I served in the military for some two dozen years, those sorts of issues were things that I became very well aware of, with almost a coalface working-level approach, and I very much agree with many of the comments he made. He also made some valid points about genetic engineering. In a previous parliament one of the committees undertook a formal study on genetic manipulation, genetic engineering. It seems to me that that is a field which is moving so rapidly, and on an ongoing basis, that it is very much an area that we need to look at on a regular updating basis. It is perhaps time we did some more work in that area.

The member for Maribyrnong also referred to a trip that he and I made last year to Pakistan, where we were briefed in Peshawar on the subject of landmines. I will return to that subject later in my remarks, but I acknowledge that he and I were there. I can also inform the honourable gentleman that, even more recently, Madam Deputy Speaker Sullivan and I were briefed on the subject of landmines in Laos, where we were part of a delegation. Only two weeks ago, we and other members of the delegation were having a very comprehensive briefing and demonstration. I can inform the House that Madam Deputy Speaker very spectacularly pressed the button that caused a detonation as part of the demonstration. It was very carefully arranged that hers was the biggest bang of the entire demonstration!

Although I am being flippant, the point that I want to make in alluding to this is that there is no question that Australians overseas are playing a very prominent role in the area of de-mining. We have obviously very considerable skills. Particularly in Asia and South-East Asia, huge areas are affected by landmines. It was interesting that not only do we have Australians—both military and civil personnel in their own right—in various parts of the South-East Asian area but also that, in an American team in Laos, one of the first people we met was a military fellow who was in fact an Australian, on secondment to the US military forces, who had been posted back to Laos as part of the military de-mining team. Even the Americans could not do without the Australian expertise, a fact which we were obviously very pleased to see. I think there is a general acknowledgment overseas that we do very well in that area.

The Foreign Affairs and Trade Legislation Amendment Bill 1997 deals with a number of things. It is an omnibus bill which amends four acts administered generally by the portfolio: the International Organizations (Privileges and Immunities) Act; the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act; the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act; and the Passports Act 1938. The bill addresses a diverse range of issues, mainly of a technical nature, including meeting formal legal obligations in respect of international organisations, strengthening international nuclear safeguards standards, and false passport applications.

Firstly, the bulk of the amendments included in this omnibus bill relate to the International Organizations (Privileges and Immunities) Act. These amendments update an act that is nearly 35 years old and they are necessary to keep pace with the increasing number and diversity of international organisations now being established—organisations which Australia obviously becomes involved with as the world shrinks its boundaries and we become more and more involved in the broader community.

Secondly, a group of amendments deals with disarmament issues re chemical weapons. The chemical weapons bill amends an oversight in the drafting of the original chemical weapons act. It is highly unlikely, of course, that an inspection team will ever come to Australia to investigate another country's allegation that Australia was in breach of the convention. Nevertheless, should this occur, representatives of the country making such an allegation will now be extended standard diplomatic privileges and immunities, along with other members of the inspection team.

Thirdly, one of the major amendments of the bill is in respect of nuclear safeguards. This will implement the recently negotiated International Atomic Energy Agency Protocol to strengthen safeguards.

Fourthly, the amendments to the Passports Act, which is an act from 1938, tighten up the provisions relating to the offence of making false statements in relation to passport applications. It adds the concept of `recklessness' as a mental element in the offence of making a false statement on a passport application or in support of an application.

It seems to me that the whole group of legislation amendments are all about recognising that Australia must, on an ongoing basis, be vigilant in updating its legislation and the actions that it takes in terms of the international community. Increasingly, of course, national borders shrink, and communications and travel mean that we live in an international, global world. We cannot any longer put up barriers at the borders of our country and lock everybody else out—although there are some amongst our number who might wish to do that. The reality of life is that we cannot do that.

This legislation is part of making sure that Australia maintains its responsibilities; that it is part of the international community; and that we look after not only our wellbeing as part of that international community but also our wealth and the importance of jobs. Our international reputation, of course, relies on a number of areas covered by this bill. Our influence is very considerable. As you and I both know from our recent travels and other travels that we have undertaken, Madam Deputy Speaker, our reputation is high in the international community in a number of the areas covered by this legislation.

The previous speaker and I were in Peshawar last year looking at landmines. He and I were also in the capitals of India and Pakistan last year where we were talking to those governments on matters such as the CTBT. We did not get agreement but, nevertheless, it was an issue that had to be pursued. This government and members of this parliament quite appropriately have a need and a responsibility on an ongoing basis to make sure that Australia holds its head high. We need a good international standing and reputation and we need to continue to go abroad to push the particular views necessary to maintain international peace and to improve the quality of life not only for us but also for people in those countries.

It has always seemed anomalous to me that, in places such as India and Pakistan which have huge poverty problems, so much of their budget is spent on nuclear weapons and arms in one form or another. Australia needs to make sure that it is a good citizen so it can go overseas and continue to argue the case, on an ongoing basis, to get some of those countries to change their priorities.

The issue of landmines is a very important one. As I mentioned earlier, when we were in Laos two weeks ago we had a briefing on de-mining demonstrations and were given a map that showed the number of sites in Laos. It is not a big country; it has a population about the size of Victoria's. Hundreds and thousands of tonnes of mines were dropped on Laos in recent times. The reality is that they were often dropped on commercial centres and key targets such as airfields or runways. Since the war, people have been blown up when they have gathered for activities or when they have tried to get the country going again—for instance, when they have cleared a site to start a new business, such as farming or industry.

We visited an aid bridge that Australia was funding at one of the rivers in Laos. We spoke to the John Holland team who were building the bridge. The reality was that the first thing they had to do was to put considerable effort into making sure that the area was cleared of mines. It is a major issue and one which we need to pursue, and which this government is pursuing—as did the previous government—with considerable vigour and making more and more funding available to help our friends and neighbours in South-East Asia.

It was interesting that in Laos we were given a wooden replica of a little fragmentation mine about the size of a cricket ball. I meant to bring it with me this morning, even though we are not supposed to produce things in this chamber. During the war in Vietnam and Laos these mines were dropped by bombs, and each bomb had about 600 of these little containers inside. It would open up and scatter these things all over the place. They do terrible damage to the population; they are indiscriminate as to whom they hurt and attack and, of course, they are all over the countryside. So when the farmers go out in their villages and are planting their rice paddies, or whatever, they do not know when they will step on one. The result of the landmines is terrible damage to many of the population, and it will continue for many years to come. If children find one of the unexploded little devices they might think it is just a ball and they might pick it up and throw it to one another. I might throw it to the honourable member opposite from Port Adelaide (Mr Sawford) in all good innocence and fun—


Mr Sawford —You wouldn't be so unkind.


Mr NUGENT —And it could blow up in his face. No, of course, I would not do that to him. The point I am making is that young kids will do this in all innocence, and the devastation with young children is really quite appalling.

The subject of landmines is a very important one. By pursuing the sorts of measures covered by this bill—the chemical and nuclear safeguards—and the further biological and landmine issues raised by the previous speaker, we can demonstrate to the world that we, as a country, are good corporate and international citizens.

We can particularly do that in the Asian part of the world, which is so important to this country's future. This country's future undoubtedly is going to be very strongly linked with the Asian region. It is important from a trade point of view. The reality of life is that we run a huge trade imbalance with Europe; we run a huge trade imbalance with the United States. We are actually running a large trade surplus with Asia, and Asia is the growing part of the world.

We have the sorts of products, commodities and services that are so much in demand in those areas. Therefore, it does help our reputation very considerably when we want to get into trade. If we do not have that trade and do not export our products or services, then we lose jobs. That is detrimental to the Australian community. It is very important that, as part of our overall strategy as a country and as a government, we pursue the areas that are mentioned in the amendment bill because it has those broader ramifications. Our reputation is, therefore, important.

A good example of an allied matter that is relevant to our good reputation and that will have good flow-on effects in terms of the tangible issues of trade was the recent bail-out of the Thai baht. Thailand got itself into financial trouble and we arranged a currency swap, which does not cost Australia any money and which is guaranteed to come back at a certain time at a certain rate. It is under the management of the IMF, so we are not actually losing any money at all. It is not money that we would be spending on anything else, but it provides confidence to Thailand. It was interesting that, when we undertook that act, the foreign secretary of the Philippines, who was here at the time, said that it was the single most confidence building act that Australia has committed in the last 10 years in terms of our reputation with Asia. We were part of the team.

As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, when you and I were in Thailand only last week on a delegation, we had a meeting with the deputy foreign minister of Thailand as well as with many other officials. Their attitude was quite simple: that Australia had demonstrated that a friend in need is a friend indeed, and we had done the right thing to support Thailand. Although there are those in our community who will say we should have spent the money on somebody else, it was not a question of spending money, it was not a question of lending money. It was a currency exchange. It has cost this country nothing at all other than gaining us a lot of goodwill and we have a guaranteed safeguard in terms of getting it back. There is no cost associated with it, but there is tremendous goodwill associated with it, and our reputation throughout Asia has grown tremendously.

With you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on that same delegation I attended the ASEAN interparliamentary organisation in Indonesia a couple of weeks before we were in Thailand. We met all of the ASEAN countries while we were there and a similar attitude was espoused by all of them that quite clearly Australia was seen to be focusing on Asia. It was seen to be a good neighbour; it was seen to be a good friend; it was doing all the right things in terms of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, landmines and so on.

We are seen as a country to be very clearly making our contribution. We make that contribution in the international community in these intangible areas, although it is very tangible when you are out there de-mining and saving lives. We make that contribution and, of course, it stands us in very good stead when we then want to trade and to sell our services.

It seems to me that we have here some legislation which is practical and necessary and an ongoing part of the updating of our mechanisms for dealing with the international community, which is an important part of the broad canvas of government activity. I commend the bill to the House.