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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 3983

Senator BUSHBY (5:51 PM) —On behalf of the Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Senator McGauran, I present two reports of the committee, report no. 111—Treaties tabled on 25 November 2009 (3), 4 and 24 February 2010 and report no. 112—Treaties tabled on 9, 10, 15, 16 and 29 March 2010.

Senator BUSHBY —I move:

That the Senate take note of the reports.

I seek leave to have the reports incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The reports read as follows—

Tabling Statement for Report 111: Treaties tabled on 25 November 2009 (3), 4 and 24 February 2010

I present Report 111 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which reviews the following significant treaty actions:

  • amendments to Appendices I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals;
  • the Statute of the International Renewable Energy Agency;
  • an agreement with France on cooperative enforcement of fisheries laws in sub-Antarctic maritime areas; and
  • a health care agreement with Slovenia.

The report also deals with 1 minor treaty action.

The Committee supports all the treaties examined in this report. However, the Committee has made an additional recommendation in relation to amendments to Appendices I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Mr President, these amendments affect three species of shark that range in Australian waters, the porbeagle, shortfin mako and longfin mako. Due to risks to these species, each is now listed on Appendix II of the Convention, obliging Australia to work with other countries to conclude international agreements for their conservation. In this regard, Australia is participating in multilateral negotiations for a Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks that will include these sharks.

The inclusion of these sharks on Appendix II has an additional ramification in terms of Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. All species on an appendix for which Australia is a range state must be listed as migratory species under the Act, and such listing came into effect on 29 January this year.

Mr President, this listing has caused considerable concern among recreational fishers who are now prohibited to fish for these sharks. The Committee received more than 40 submissions to its inquiry, largely from recreational fishing groups and individuals opposed to the EPBC Act listing, who challenged the scientific basis for the listing and raised concerns about a lack of consultation about the legislative change.

The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has acknowledged it did not consult with recreational fishers or conservation and environment groups about these amendments. Given the nature and number of submissions received, the Committee has recommended that the Department review its consultation processes for environmental treaties to ensure that more effective consultation is undertaken with all potentially interested parties.

Mr President, the Committee was unimpressed with the long delay in tabling these amendments in the Parliament. The amendments were adopted in December 2008, automatically entered into force for Australia on 5 March 2009, but were not tabled until 25 November 2009, nearly nine months after they had entered into force.

The Committee considers that the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts needs to more effectively manage its treaty making process to ensure treaty actions are tabled in a timely manner and that this Committee’s timeframes are respected.

The Committee reiterates the point raised in its previous report - the value of the Committee’s inquiries to the treaty making process is undermined when there is insufficient time to properly consider a treaty or to allow public examination of a treaty.

Mr President, I will now turn to the Statute of the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA. IRENA is a treaty level inter-governmental organisation that has been established to promote the widespread and increased adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy technologies. The organisation is currently in an interim preparatory phase and will enter into force on 8 July 2010.

IRENA will be a centre of excellence for renewable energy technology and a significant mechanism to facilitate international engagement on this issue. Through prompt ratification of the Statute, Australia will be able to engage with the international community on renewable energy technology development and deployment, and take an active role in development of IRENA and its work plan.

IRENA will allow Australia to strengthen cooperative ties with countries both in and outside our region and move beyond Australia’s traditional engagement with bodies such as the International Energy Agency. In particular, membership of developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region is likely to bring further international attention to the energy challenges faced by this region.

Mr President, the Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement of Fisheries Law between Australia and France in Maritime Areas adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and McDonald Island is intended to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the territorial seas and exclusive economic zones surrounding these territories. Such fishing is a serious threat to the marine environment and the sustainability of valuable fish stocks.

This agreement will formalise previous ad hoc enforcement activities undertaken with France to enforce fisheries laws and will greatly improve efforts by both countries to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Southern Ocean. Activities that are authorised by this treaty include boarding, inspection, hot pursuit, apprehension, seizure and investigation of fishing vessels believed to be acting illegally.

Mr President, the Agreement between Australia and Slovenia concerning the provision of health care is one in a series of bilateral agreements Australia has entered into to provide reciprocal access to the public health care system for temporary visitors to another country.

Under the agreement a person in need of immediate medical treatment will be provided with the medical services that are clinically necessary for the diagnosis, treatment and care of that person. Such services will be to the same standard of treatment that is provided to residents of the country the person is visiting and each country will meet the costs associated with providing such services.

Mr President, I commend the report to the Senate.

Tabling Statement for Report 112: Treaties tabled on 9, 10, 15, 16 and 29 March 2010

I present Report 112 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which reviews eight significant treaty actions:

  • Taxation information exchange agreements with Gibraltar, the Cook Islands and the States of Guernsey;
  • Agreements on the allocation of taxing rights with the Cook Islands and the States of Guernsey, entered in conjunction with the taxation information exchange agreements;
  • An exchange of letters amending the agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand Concerning a Joint Food Standards System; and
  • New agreements on Social Security with the Czech Republic and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Two minor treaty actions are also included.

Mr President, the Committee supports each of the actions considered in this report. I will direct my remarks today to the content and purpose of the eight significant actions.

I turn firstly to the five taxation agreements. These treaties have a common object, Mr President — the elimination of harmful tax practices amongst low tax jurisdictions, in accordance with OECD standards.

We do not know the full level and type of economic activity between Australia and the Cook Islands, Gibraltar and the States of Guernsey. All three, however, are recognised offshore financial centres; and AUSTRAC data indicates that the flow of funds is significant.

Mr President, the proposed new treaties will help Australia combat this threat to the integrity of our tax system. Three are tax information exchange agreements, which essentially follow an established model format. Both parties are obliged to exchange information which is foreseeably relevant to the administration and enforcement of domestic tax laws. Where the party does not hold the information necessary to comply with a request, it must use its relevant information gathering powers to obtain it.

The two additional taxation treaties with the Cook Islands and the States of Guernsey provide for the allocation of taxing rights in order to prevent double taxation of the same income. Australia offered these agreements to encourage entry into the information exchange arrangements. The Committee understands that Gibraltar did not take up the offer.

Mr President, I turn to the exchange of letters amending the Joint Food Standards System. This system is a cooperative bilateral arrangement involving the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, and the Australian States and Territories. It provides the framework for the timely development and review of food standards appropriate to both countries. Draft standards and amendments become part of the legally enforceable Food Standards Code following consideration and endorsement by the Ministerial Council, a deliberative body comprising relevant ministers from all jurisdictions.

Mr President, the Exchange of Letters will amend aspects of this process to give effect to the recommendations of a 2007 report. It will remove the Ministerial Council’s power to call for a second review of a draft standard or amendment. It will also remove the automatic requirement for the Council to seek a review at one jurisdiction’s request.

Two further changes will affect the adoption of standards in exceptional or emergency situations. A single exceptional circumstances mechanism will apply to both parties; enabling separate standards to be created only in response to specific risks. The Exchange of Letters will also create additional obligations for jurisdictions adopting temporary standards, where there is not sufficient time for the normal drafting process to take place.

Mr President, the Committee supports these measures to improve the efficiency of the system, notwithstanding the fact that another review into Food Labelling Law and Policy is currently underway. The Committee has been assured that the present measures will not undermine the outcome of that review.

Mr President, I turn finally to the new bilateral Agreements on Social Security with the Czech Republic and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. These treaties will add to the 23 bilateral social security agreements Australia has already ratified. Agreements of this nature assist Australian residents access certain social security payments which they are entitled to receive from another country. Specifically, the treaties considered in this report will cover the Australian age pension; and the Czech and Macedonian age, disability and survivor’s pensions.

Once the treaties enter into force, people living in one country will be able to lodge a claim for a pension with the other country. Restrictions on the portability of payments will be removed; and avenues for mutual assistance will be provided to help ensure people are paid their correct entitlements.

Mr President, the Committee is conscious that these agreements impose an administrative cost on Australia which will not be fully offset by the reduction in the cost of age pensions. This is due in part to the small number of persons eligible under the Agreements. The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs estimates that two thousand people across both countries will be affected by the Czech Agreement; and four thousand people will be affected by the Agreement with FYR Macedonia.

Mr President, in noting that these numbers are small, the Committee has not lost sight of the fact that the improvement in the pension incomes of eligible Australians will be significant. The Committee accepts that the social benefit to be realised in this instance outweighs the net cost to Australia.

In concluding my remarks today, I thank the numerous agencies, individuals and organisations who assisted in the Committee’s inquiries.

Mr President, I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.