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Thursday, 26 June 2003
Page: 17644


Ms JULIE BISHOP (11:15 AM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee's report entitled Report 52: Treaties tabled in March 2003: Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement; Amendments to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; Regulations for the prevention of pollution by sewage from ships (revised); andConvention on the control of harmful anti-fouling systems on ships, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.


Ms JULIE BISHOP —by leave—Report 52 contains the results of the inquiry conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties into four treaty actions tabled in the parliament on 4 March 2003 concerning endangered species, pollution from ships and antifouling systems on ships, and the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

The amendments to appendices I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora provide for the strict regulation of trade in species threatened with extinction, either by prohibiting trade altogether or by monitoring international trade in species such as the Madagascan chameleon, the Black Sea bottlenose dolphin and the seahorse. The committee found that the amendments are consistent with Australia's commitment to international cooperation for the protection and conservation of wildlife that may be adversely affected by trade.

Also in relation to the environment, the Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships—generally referred to as MARPOL—defines and sets standards for sewage management systems on ships and in ports. There are currently no enforceable international standards relating to the discharge of sewage from commercial vessels. The committee supports MARPOL and recommends that binding treaty action be taken, as it will enable Australia to enforce the full range of controls on sewage systems on foreign and Australian flagged vessels and ensure that consistent national and international standards can be applied to foreign ships, thereby protecting the Australian marine and coastal environments.

Recognising the harmful effects of organotin based compounds in antifouling paints on ships, the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships was developed by the International Maritime Organisation. This treaty action enables Australia to enforce a full range of controls on such paints on foreign and Australian flagged vessels. The convention provides for inspection of ships and detention for violations. The committee therefore recommends that binding treaty action be taken.

Among the proposed treaty actions tabled on 4 March was the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and associated exchange of notes. This treaty is the first bilateral free trade agreement that Australia has signed in 20 years. The committee is aware that there are significant concerns in the Australian community, especially given its widely accepted status as a template treaty for future free trade agreements. For this reason, the committee sought the views of a broad range of interested parties, including state governments, peak industry organisations, academics, and finance and commercial bodies. The committee believes that the scope of issues addressed in this report should answer most concerns effectively, and that concerns about any future agreement should be considered by assessing each proposed free trade agreement on its own merit.

The committee considers that the main advantages under the Singapore-Australia free trade agreement appear to be increased transparency and predictability for service providers, and decreased input costs for industry using components from Singapore as a result of the reduction in tariffs. The removal of tariffs on Singaporean imports to Australia should improve the competitive position of Australian manufacturing industry by allowing access to duty-free industrial inputs. The report addresses a wide range of issues and, as a result of its deliberations, the committee supports the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement and recommends that binding treaty action be taken.

Before I conclude, I wish to raise a matter of considerable concern to the committee. In the case of the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement and MARPOL, the relevant legislation was introduced and passed through the House of Representatives prior to the committee reviewing the proposed treaty action and tabling its report. While the committee accepts that binding action has not been taken in a strict sense, the introduction of enabling legislation to implement treaty obligations before the committee has completed its review and reported to parliament could undermine the workings of the committee over time. It is, at least, in contravention of the spirit of the committee's terms of reference.

In conclusion, it is the view of the committee that it is in the interests of Australia for all the treaties considered in Report 52 to be ratified where treaty actions had not already entered into force, and the committee has made its recommendations accordingly. I commend the report to the House.