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Thursday, 31 August 2000
Page: 17145


Senator BARTLETT (6:23 PM) —As we are talking about treaties so much today—


Senator Sherry —This is tedious repetition. This is your third go this afternoon.


Senator BARTLETT —It might be repetition but I am sure it is not tedious. I want to speak to this motion to take note of the report—a motion moved by Senator O'Brien, who I am sure is taking an interest in this as well. The report entitled Two treaties tabled on 6 June 2000 was tabled by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties this week, the committee chaired by the fast becoming notorious Mr Andrew Thomson, whose remarks had some coverage earlier this week in relation to other issues. I disagree very much with those remarks, but the conduct of the chair in the way he does business through the committee is something that I do not criticise. Indeed, I thank him in relation to this report and specifically for his willingness to seek a common agreement so that a consensus report could be put down, and that is what has occurred.

The report deals with two treaties. I will not go through with tedious repetition the government's position in relation to treaties more broadly. Suffice to say, the committee as a whole and its role highlight the importance of engaging internationally and examining and hopefully increasing community awareness and understanding the great benefit we get from many of the international agreements that we reach. One of the treaties covered in this report is the proposed agreement with Spain on remunerated employment for dependants of personnel at diplomatic and consular missions. The committee did not have any problems with that. The other treaty, which I want to speak about at more length, is the proposed amendments to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.

The committee supported the amendments, and I personally very strongly support them—one amendment in particular will uplist the dugong to the highest level of protection in this convention. I think that is an appropriate move and a welcome one. From my own personal experience as environment spokesperson for the Democrats, I have a lot to criticise the federal government for in relation to their environment performance but, broadly speaking, their performance in relation to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species has been reasonably positive. There were some areas the Democrats would have liked the government to have put forward for uplisting and they have not but, generally speaking, I think the federal government has a reasonably positive record.

However, this report does focus on some concerns about the information provided by the Department of the Environment and Heritage to the committee in the process of the committee's consideration of the convention. It does make some criticisms about the inadequacies of the information the department provided originally, and I think those criticisms are fair enough. If all the information that was eventually provided had been provided initially, I think there would have been a lot less concern and a lot less scope for misunderstanding, shall we say, about the value or otherwise of what the government had done in supporting the uplisting of a number of different species, including dugong, and increasing the protection available to some endangered species under this convention.

I have spoken previously about the World Trade Organisation and its role in trade somewhat critically. This is another convention that deals with trade—with trade of endangered species only, but it is a very important mechanism for regulating, controlling, overseeing and managing trade in wildlife and plant species that are under threat. For some of those people in the community who like to suggest that one of the best ways to preserve wildlife is to commercialise it, I think the very existence of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species highlights the dangers of commercialising trade in wildlife, because in many cases the reason why species are listed as endangered under this convention is the existence of trade and the commercial industry surrounding some of those species. So it is a very important convention.

I think it is worth noting the importance of this convention, particularly given all the commentary not just in this place but in the broader community about international treaties and conventions. This is one that Australia has engaged in very constructively and reasonably effectively and with a strong willingness to enhance environmental protection around the world. It shows the benefits of engaging constructively. We do not always win. We cop a lot of criticism from other governments about some of the things we propose, but for some reason copping criticism in this area has not led us to talk about withdrawing, and nor should it. Similarly, Australia is critical of other countries in terms of some of their proposals. There is often robust debate and a lot of fairly intensive lobbying at the various meetings that regularly take place to look at the various species and categories of species listed in the convention.

It is worth emphasising the recommendations. There are specific recommendations encouraging the department to provide information about proposed amendments to the convention much further in advance than it has done. I think that is appropriate and very important, and I hope the Minister for the Environment and Heritage takes that on board. There is another recommendation that deals with the impact of automatic entry into force provisions. That means that when the convention agrees to make a change it will automatically come into force after 90 days. That raises some issues about whether that will give adequate opportunity for scrutiny by the community. I think that is an issue appropriate for debate. I am personally very dubious about the need to extend periods of time for entry into force under this convention anyway, particularly if notification is given to the committee and to the Australian community about proposed changes much earlier, as is recommended elsewhere in the report. But I do not have a problem with it being examined. I certainly do not have a problem with the government, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other relevant ministers identifying those international agreements to which Australia is party that allow amendments agreed at a conference of parties to automatically enter into force without having to go through some further process—which is the thrust of the other recommendation.

As part of the broader ongoing need to increase community awareness and understanding of how some of these treaties and conventions operate, I think getting the facts of their operation out into the community, out into the public arena, would be valuable. Indeed, just into our arena and raising the awareness of parliamentarians would be a start because I am sure most of us do not know which treaties and conventions have those provisions in them. I think that is a recommendation worth supporting, although my personal view, in relation to this specific convention, CITES, is that I do not support and would not support extending or removing the automatic entry into force. I think it is important for prompt action to increase protection for endangered species where it is identified as necessary. It is a recommendation that I support, and I think this convention—the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species—is a classic example of a positive international convention that Australia, thankfully, is continuing to engage in, rather than withdrawing from, criticising, ridiculing and misrepresenting. I hope that the government reconsiders its approach to some other UN international processes and similarly engages more constructively on those, using the approach that the environment department has done under this minister and, I believe, under previous ministers. It is a positive one that has helped not just the Australian environment and the biodiversity of our species but also endangered species around the world.