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Wednesday, 30 August 2000
Page: 16939

Senator COOK (Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:23 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill. Does the minister agree with the member for Wentworth, Mr Andrew Thomson, that the UN is `just a theme park for indulging the fantasies of the global NGO guilt movement' and that what really gets the UN going is `hearing these unrepresentative NGOs heap abuse on gold plated democracies like Australia'. Minister, if you do not agree with those words, will you repudiate those views in order to try to limit the damage they will do to Australia's international reputation?

Honourable senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! If you want to have a conversation with somebody, please do not do it across the chamber—go outside and have the conversation.

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thought that Senator Cook was going to ask me about the current account result—a favourable result, Senator Cook would have noticed. I suppose it is not surprising that I did not get the question, but I will take the opportunity anyway just to draw it to Senator Cook's attention, seeing that he is interested in trade matters. On the subject that he did raise, that of the need to reform the United Nation treaties system, I appreciate the opportunity to outline the government's position. The government are not walking away from our international obligations or disengaging from the UN system. Our concern is that the UN human rights treaty committees are not working as well as they should and that the views of democratically elected governments like our own are not given due weight in these processes.

The government have therefore decided on a series of strong measures to improve the effectiveness of the treaty committees with two objectives in mind. The first is to send a strong political signal that the system needs substantial reform. The second is, at the same time, to preserve sufficient leverage to be able to work with like-minded states to bring about this reform. The measures we have taken are not about repudiating the UN human rights system; rather, they are about making the system work more effectively both for democratic countries like Australia and for the United Nations as a whole. Australia's future engagement with the system will be dependent on the degree to which the reform process delivers the sort of overhaul Australia believes is needed.

Senator COOK —Madam Deputy President, I have a supplementary question. Minister, I did not ask you the question that you read an answer for. I asked you a question about what Mr Andrew Thomson has said. Given that the Leader of the Government in the Senate has now not repudiated the views of the member for Wentworth, are we correct in assuming that he supports them? Do you support them, Minister? Are they the prevailing views within the government's ranks? Can the minister inform the Senate which are the NGOs that comprise the `global guilt movement'?

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —Senator Cook obviously did not understand what I said, and that is that the government is committed to a process of reform of the UN treaty committee system, because the government does not believe that it is working well enough and the government believes that the views of democratically elected governments are not being sufficiently taken into account. The government wants this system to work well and is committed to reform to enable it to work better. That is the position of the government.

Senator Cook —You are a gutless wimp.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Cook, would you please withdraw that unparliamentary language.

Senator Cook —I withdraw the words `gutless wimp'.