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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23280

Dr SOUTHCOTT (1:20 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee's report entitled Report 56—Treaties tabled on 8 October 2003: Economic and commercial cooperation—Kazakhstan; ILO convention No. 182—elimination of worst forms of child labour, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee. Report 56 contains the findings of the inquiry conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties into two proposed treaty actions tabled in the parliament on 8 October 2003, relating to the matters identified in the title of the report.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Dr SOUTHCOTT —The bilateral Agreement on Economic and Commercial Cooperation with Kazakhstan, once in force, will facilitate trade and economic cooperation between ourselves and Kazakhstan. The agreement prescribes that each country grant the other most favoured nation treatment with respect to duties, taxes or charges imposed in connection with the import or export of goods. It also provides a formal framework within which any future commercial dispute can be managed. The committee understands that the text of the agreement is similar to that of similar agreements between Australia and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

This is the second time that this agreement has come under the scrutiny of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. It was first reviewed by the committee in 1997. During that review the committee discovered, among other things, that Telstra had experienced severe difficulties in the operation of a joint venture in Kazakhstan, resulting in legal complications and financial losses, the details of which are set out in the committee's 11th report. In light of those findings, the committee considered that ratification of the proposed agreement by Australia would demonstrate Australia's endorsement of a standard of commercial relations which the committee considered unacceptable, and therefore recommended against it. The government response to the committee's 11th report, which was tabled in 2001, reported that Telstra's difficulties had been resolved and that a new national interest analysis would be prepared. It is this new analysis, tabled in October this year, that has provided the basis of the committee's current review, the findings of which are contained in the report that I am tabling today.

In this recent review, the committee found recent trade levels with Kazakhstan to be disappointing. Nonetheless, the ongoing stability and economic growth in Kazakhstan are favourable in the re-evaluation of the proposed agreement. The committee also acknowledges the potential that Kazakhstan holds as it is rich in resources and is experiencing significant economic growth. The agreement may help position Australian traders in the future. However, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did acknowledge that Kazakhstan is a risky environment and that commercial enterprises enter at their own risk. Notwithstanding this, the committee accepts the department's advice that Kazakhstan has made progress towards a favourable investment climate. While business opportunities are currently limited, the committee also understands that the agreement will assist businesses seeking trade with Kazakhstan in the future.

Whilst, in its 11th report, the committee has commented extensively on flaws in the consultation process, on this occasion the committee was generally satisfied with the way in which the department had engaged in consultation. However, the committee continues to doubt the tangible effects of entering into this treaty and is not convinced that the economic and political situation in Kazakhstan can be predicted with any confidence, and therefore the benefits of the proposed agreement may be difficult to define. The committee acknowledges that the agreement is one of encouragement, and that it is not an enforceable treaty. The committee finds on balance that it is in the national interest to proceed with binding treaty action.

The International Labour Organisation Convention No. 182, which concerns the elimination of the worst forms of child labour, is designed to ensure that the ratifying ILO member states take immediate and effective measures to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency. Ratifying states also commit to rehabilitating victims and preventing other children from becoming victims. Convention No. 182 is one of the ILO's eight fundamental conventions. It has been ratified at an exceptionally rapid rate, with 144 of the 177 ILO member states having ratified the convention.

The government has taken the unusual step of tabling the convention in parliament prior to all Australian jurisdictions having compliant legislation in place. It is hoped that the early tabling will speed up the ratification process. All state and territory governments support the convention, have provided formal agreements to ratification and have expressed their commitment to achieve compliance where appropriate. The committee was concerned that the early tabling of the convention has led to incomplete or inaccurate evidence being presented to it. In the course of preparing this report, the committee discovered that more jurisdictions than was advised at the public hearing already have compliant legislation. The committee therefore recommends that, under such circumstances, it is provided with updated evidence, as it becomes available, up until the committee's report is tabled. In conclusion, it is the view of the committee that it is in the interests of Australia for the two treaties considered in report 56 to be ratified, and the committee has made its recommendations accordingly. I commend the report to the House. (Time expired)