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Thursday, 27 May 1999
Page: 5609


Senator MURPHY (3:51 PM) —In speaking to the bill proposed by Senator Woodley, the Defence Cooperation Control Amendment Bill 1997 [1998] , I indicate that we obviously have a degree of sympathy with the objectives that Senator Woodley has put into the bill. It in many ways reflects a bill that was introduced as a private member's bill back in 1995 by a former Labor member. But it is one thing to have an approach to ensure that human rights are considered utmost in dealing with the export of arms and the trade in arms and military weapons; it is also important that we do it in a way that brings about an outcome that succeeds but does not also work to the detriment of many of the countries that we would like to see progress. We have been very strong on those issues. Indeed, in 1998 we amended our national policy platform with regard to defence exports. The changes to the Labor Party's policy on defence exports say:

Labor will ensure government control over the manufacture and export of arms and munitions. Labor supports the export of Australian defence equipment within strict guidelines. Labor will not permit defence exports to countries: (a) which have an adverse impact on Australia's security interests; (b) which contravene United Nations embargos; and (c) where there is a clear identifiable risk of the proposed export being used for the major suppression or violation of human rights or fundamental freedoms of their own citizens.

We also say:

Defence exports are important in maintaining local industry support for the ADF and in contributing to Australia's own defence capability. Accordingly, Labor will review the defence export facilitation program in consultation with industry to ensure maximum opportunities for Australian Defence Industry within the strict guidelines required for defence exports.

If you analyse how Senator Woodley's bill would be implemented, I have to say it does provide many difficulties. Indeed, it would not be unfair to say that the bill would probably preclude any trade in arms and, indeed, probably trade even in non-military type goods. Senator Woodley's bill expands some of the definitions of the Gibson bill of 1995. As I say, that then takes it to an area where it would be almost impossible to implement. In fact, we would probably have difficulty even if we were to do trade with ourselves within certain areas.

I listened to Senator Bourne, and I have read Senator Woodley's second reading speech given back in 1997. I think that that overlooks a lot of the practices that are already in place. Senator Woodley referred to a report that was done back in 1994 by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, named Implications of Australian defence exports. It made a number of recommendations with regard to trade in defence weaponry. The government responded—and it was the Labor government at that time—to the report and, of course, changes were made.

Senator Woodley also mentions that the Department of Defence has a booklet that sets down the criteria for the export of Australian defence weaponry. The guidelines are headed up `Department of Defence Australian export controls'. It is a general information guide for Australian industry, ensuring Australia's export responsibility. If I can go to the second page of that, it says:

In assessing applications for the export of defence and related goods, the following criteria are considered. Proposed exports may be denied if they are to countries against which the United Nations Security Council or the United Nations General Assembly has imposed a mandatory arms embargo; to countries with policies or interests which are hostile to the strategic interests of Australia or its friends and allies, such as countries developing weapons of mass destruction or supporting terrorism; to governments that seriously violate their citizens' rights, unless there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against those citizens in violation of their human rights . . .

Of course, having said that, it is quite obvious and it is true that there have been many instances where weapons have been sold and purchased by countries from a whole host of countries that have very high moral applications with respect to trading in weapons and arms. Nevertheless, there have been circumstances that have arisen afterwards that have seen those weapons used against the citizens or some of the citizens of a particular country. The guidelines go on to say:

. . . where foreign and strategic policy interests outweigh export benefits. If the goods would be used country to an international agreement, be used in conflict, either internal or external; and if bilateral relations with regional countries could be damaged or if the export would be reasonably judged to adversely affect Australian military capability.

It then goes on to talk about what is control and lists the various categories. It then goes on to how export controls are administered. It says:

Controls on the export of defence and strategic goods are administered by the Strategic Trade Policy and Operations, STPO, section of the Department of Defence, whilst barrier control lies with the Australian Customs Service.

It also is implemented through both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—and there is a group that is overseas—and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. At the end of the day, the final decision rests with the minister. These guidelines were further amended in July 1998. They set down some criteria for denial.

Applications to export military goods are considered in terms of Australia's broader interests and will be approved unless the Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel refuses the application. Export of military goods will not be permitted: (a) to countries against which—

as I said earlier—

the United Nations Security Council or the United Nations General Assembly has imposed a mandatory arms embargo; (b) to countries with policies or interests which are inimical to the strategic interests of Australia or its friends or allies. Australia's broad national security interests remain a crucial consideration in assessing defence exports. Countries developing weapons . . .

And it goes through that. It also says that exports will not be permitted to:

governments that seriously violate their citizens' rights unless there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against those citizens.

When you look at that and put it alongside the bill that Senator Woodley is proposing, you will see that many things are already in place. From my point of view it then becomes, in part, an exercise of implementation. Many of the applications and the tests that need to be applied in the export of defence weapons, et cetera, are in place. It really is a matter of how it is implemented. As I said, the guidelines indicate that the minister has the final say.

Whilst this legislation is well intentioned—there is no denying that Senator Woodley has put this up in good faith and with the sole intention of bringing about a better world—there are circumstances we have to consider, particularly circumstances with our near neighbours. Senator Bourne mostly spoke about Indonesia throughout her speech, and there are some difficult things happening in Indonesia. Having defence relationships can be very important for the development of those nations. Certainly, no government in Australia has ever entered into a defence arrangement or agreement with the intent of acting to the detriment of a country. We have always sought to act in the best interests of any countries that we have entered into agreements with. Therefore, we have to consider the implications of Senator Woodley's bill along those lines as well. As I said at the outset, I think that, if this bill comes into effect, it would make it impossible for this country to take any course of action in trade in defence weaponry—even in non-military legal goods.

In the circumstances with which we are confronted, the Labor Party is also concerned and has always been concerned about human rights problems around the world. That is why we changed our policy in the way that we did. We know that there have been mistakes in the past, and we acknowledge them. Defence cooperation can not only bring important security benefits but also assist many developing countries. We have done that. During his second reading speech, Senator Woodley mentioned Bougainville and PNG. Whilst it did not start off too well, and whilst there have been claims that some Australian military equipment was used to attack citizens in Bougainville, at the end of the day we had the intention of bringing about a satisfactory outcome.


Senator Margetts —It did not come about through defence cooperation, I can tell you.


Senator MURPHY —You may say that, Senator Margetts, but I have to say to you that I think the circumstances could have been a lot worse if there had been no cooperation between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Likewise, with the circumstances that are happening in Timor and in Indonesia, it is important that Australia is involved rather than being not involved at all, simply because we feel that there are breaches of human rights—and there are, there is no denying that. What would the situation be if we were not involved at all? That is what I think Senator Woodley's bill would do. It would preclude us from being involved. From the definition of the bill and the application it would have, that is exactly what would happen.

Our position is that any defence cooperation arrangements must be designed to enhance national and regional security or to assist the suppression of violation of human rights or fundamental freedoms of citizens of the countries with which we have cooperative arrangements. It is essential that Australia closely monitors the human rights performances of those countries. And we do—although we may not do it to everybody's satisfaction—with every intention of ensuring the right outcomes.

It is probably worth mentioning that last October the current government suspended the joint exercise in cooperation between the ADF and the Indonesian special forces, Kopassus. The government avoided any direct mention of human rights issues, preferring to attribute the circumstances of the suspension of those exercises to economic conditions. We certainly supported that step and considered it an appropriate step. That shows how even existing circumstances can work.

Senator Woodley's bill, as I said, is clearly well intentioned but it does pose a range of difficulties. It is easy to put up a bill for the purposes of achieving certain outcomes, but I think it is far more difficult when you are in government to actually implement these things. If you look at the range of criteria that is currently in place—and that is the point: a range of criteria is in place—if you think there is a problem, then it is a problem of implementation. Turning to some aspects of Senator Woodley's bill, section 6 states:

(1) The Government shall not enter into or continue any defence cooperation unless the following provisions are complied with:

(a) the Minister shall ascertain whether the Government of the State with which it is proposed to enter, or has entered, defence cooperation is using its armed forces or any paramilitary or other ancillary entity as a matter of deliberate policy to deny basic human rights to the people of that State or any other State;

In some instances that would be almost impossible to find out.


Senator Margetts —As a deliberate policy.


Senator MURPHY —Senator Margetts interjects and says, `As a deliberate policy.' But it would still be almost impossible to find out. If this was the case, these people are not about to jump out of the box and say, `We have a deliberate policy.' We know that where these things happen they happen in a covert way. It would be impossible for the minister of the government of Australia to somehow find out or determine some of these things. But Senator Woodley's bill says:

(b) in carrying out the provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection, the Minister shall obtain advice in writing from the Department;

That is good. I am not quite sure what advice the department would provide. It goes on:

(c) before granting an application for an arms transfer or finalising a defence cooperation agreement, the Minister must cause a social impact statement to be made, with opportunity for public comment—the social impact statement must include but is not limited to the following matters:

(i) a report of the current status of human rights violations, whether by armed forces or other formations, within the recipient nation;

That would be very difficult to ascertain. Even if it happened, even if there had been some trade in arms, if we were able to ascertain it, it does not necessarily mean that if we had already had some arrangement or agreement that we would be to blame for that. If you go through the clauses of Senator Woodley's bill, as I said, whilst very well intentioned—and we support all of the intention—it is something that would not be able to be implemented. It would not work and indeed may have a detrimental effect on some of the countries that we would like to see progress in the world. Therefore, as I said, whilst I support the intention of the bill, I cannot support it.