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Monday, 18 October 1999
Page: 11784

Mr WILKIE (8:46 PM) —by leave—Pine Gap has been—and I am confident will continue to be—a vital joint facility between Australia and the United States of America. Our friendship and ongoing cooperation is of mutual benefit. I am supporting the dissenting report on this treaty not because of any great concern about our association with the USA but because of concern about the lack of information made available to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, primarily by our own Department of Defence. Given the controversial nature of the facility, I find this action totally unacceptable.

The treaties committee was established to ensure that the public could be confident that any agreement has the endorsement of the parliament and is transparent and accountable. Whilst I agree with the majority of remarks contained within Report 26—an agreement to extend the period of operation of the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap, unfortunately I do not believe the current recommendations go far enough. The conclusion suggests signing the treaty, even though there was inadequate information to make a recommendation as to the future of the facility. As the current arrangements can be extended and there is no urgency for this treaty to be signed, I believe the issues contained within the report must be dealt with first.

As a member of the treaties committee, I believe we must take seriously our obligation to review all arrangements which Australia enters into with other nations. Whilst there are security implications of this treaty which must be considered, the difficulties surrounding these are not insurmountable. The current situation where the parliament can obtain more information from a public library as opposed to our own Department of Defence is ludicrous. Some may even be excused for thinking the department has treated the parliament with contempt over this issue.

That private citizens can provide the parliament with more information than its own department—and that it is suggested this information should be taken as fact without confirmation by the department—is to me ridiculous, no matter how qualified the provider or how reliable that information may be. To argue that elected representatives of the Australian community cannot be entrusted with any more information than has been provided to us during the review displays a disturbing lack of confidence in the maturity of Australia's democracy and a profound disregard for the fundamental principles of public accountability that underpin our parliamentary system.

Another area of the report which highlighted the need for further information is the current inequality which exists between the treatment given to members of the US Congress and members of the Australian parliament. Whilst prior requests for access and information have been met with a need to know response, the reality is the treaties committee must receive this access and information to make a valued recommendation on this issue. Australia must come of age and be afforded equal treatment and access to what is in fact a `joint facility'. On prior occasions when this issue had been raised, the treaties committee was not in existence. Now the committee has the responsibility for dealing with this treaty, it must be afforded the proper access.

The absurdity of this argument is highlighted by the fact that a good many US congressional committees are routinely allowed access to such information without apparent jeopardy to US national interests. Recommendation 1 of the dissenting report states:

The Minister for Defence should authorise his departmental officials to provide the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties with:

• a full (classified level) briefing on the purpose and operation of the Joint Defence Facility;

• a copy of the classified agreement that gives operational effect to the Agreement between the Australian Government and the United States Government relating to the Establishment of a Joint Defence Space Research Facility (1966); and

• on-site access to the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap.

If the government does not accept the recommendation to provide a full briefing to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, then the Government should move to establish a National Security Committee of Parliament to oversee the operation of Defence facilities, including the Joint Defence Facility, and other defence-related security and intelligence agencies.

Therefore, the recommendations contained within the dissenting report must be acted on as a matter of priority. I commend both the report and, more importantly, the dissenting report to the House.