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Monday, 22 September 1997
Page: 6558

Senator BOURNE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Hill. As the minister would be aware, almost 100 countries attending the Oslo conference on landmines have formally adopted a text of a treaty banning anti-personnel landmines to be signed in Ottawa in December 1997. Given that the text for the treaty was formally adopted in Oslo, why has our government backed away from committing Australia's signature to the agreement, despite voting in favour of the treaty? What are the so-called `national interests' that the Foreign Affairs and Defence ministers are using to explain why Australia will not commit to sign the document?

Senator HILL —We have a different process now. Basically, I think it will interest the Senate if I confirm that we are committed to the goal of achieving a global landmines ban. We signed the Brussels Declaration of Principles on a Global Landmines Ban on 15 August and participated in the negotiations for a landmines ban, which were held, as you said, in Oslo.

The treaty is a stronger document than the draft on which the Oslo conference began work, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Australia on key issues such as definitions and verification which are central to the effectiveness of any arms control treaty.

Cabinet will now consider whether Australia should sign the treaty in Ottawa in December. As with any treaty which is proposed for our signature, the government will first need to assess how the treaty stacks up against Australia's national interests and goals, including the goal of an effective global solution to the landmines problem—a goal which will require further work, given that a number of countries central to the landmines equation, major users and producers, have made clear that they will have nothing to do with the Ottawa treaty. We will continue our efforts in the conference on disarmament to ensure the major producers and exporters of landmines are brought into the process of finding a solution to the landmines problem.

We are also pleased that Australia was among the first states, the 10th in fact, to accept strengthened protocol 2 to the Inhumane Weapons Convention. Whilst disappointed that it stopped short of a total ban, we were pleased that the protocol offers enhanced protection from APL to civilians and peacekeeping forces. The new protocol also contains an enhanced review mechanism through which further strengthening of the protocol can be pursued.

Key countries absent from the Ottawa process are engaged on the landmines issue in both the conference of disarmament and the IWC. The government is committed to continuing to lead by example in building international support to address the appalling humanitarian crisis brought about by past misuse of landmines.

Senator BOURNE —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, could you tell us when cabinet will be considering whether Australia will be signing that document?

Senator HILL —As I just said, cabinet will now consider whether Australia should sign the treaty in Ottawa in December, so I presume cabinet will be giving it early consideration.