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Monday, 18 October 1999
Page: 9835

Senator LUDWIG (4:09 PM) —I wish to add a few short words in relation to the proposed agreement between Australia and the United States to extend the period of operation of the joint defence facility at Pine Gap from November 1998 to November 2008. A national interest analysis was prepared in support of the proposed treaty action. It described the facility as an intelligence gathering facility. Review has been difficult and time consuming. The test applied by the committee—and it is appropriate for it to do so—is to ask whether the proposed action is in Australia's national interest.

The facility has been in operation since 1966. However, the defence department, in providing a national interest analysis, did not provide the range nor the depth of information that has been presented by other departments with other national interest analyses. As a consequence, it was considered that the committee's deliberations were at a disadvantage. When called upon to perform the treaty review functions, there seems to be a very strong disposition on the part of the defence department to maintain the level of secrecy surrounding the site, which sits at odds with the functions of the committee. This dilemma must be rectified if the value of the treaty review process is to continue.

The recommendations of the committee are that: firstly, the Minister for Defence authorise his department to provide the treaties committee with such information and access as would allow us to determine whether the treaty action is in Australia's national interest; and, secondly, the minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the committee, develop a means of ensuring more constructive and parliamentary consideration of sensitive security related treaties into the future. It seems clear from the report that all members were inclined towards the continuation of the joint defence facility, as it is in Australia's national interest. The principal support has been given. However, it was not unqualified, because of the lack of cooperation received by the defence department.

It seems that the differences that emerged during the committee's deliberations have led to ways of resolving the dilemma that has been confronted. The methodology adopted by other members to resolve the dilemma has merit but, on balance, it is not in my view a cogent argument. When viewed in the proper perspective, the minority report sits by and large in agreement with the majority report. There are far more points of agreement than of opposition. The main argument advanced by all is that it is clear that the government must move to right the problem that has arisen. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.