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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 1687


Senator Ludlam asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 6 December 2010:

With reference to Australian mining companies operating overseas:

(1)   Does the department have any system in place for monitoring the behaviour of Australian companies overseas to ensure they are complying with international human rights standards and environmental standards.

(2)   Is the department currently investigating whether there is a need for Australia to legislate extra-territorially in order to ensure that its mining companies operating overseas do so in line with Australian human rights and environmental standards rather than those of the host state.

(3)   Is the department aware of a recent United States of America (US) law that passed through Congress which makes it compulsory for US registered companies sourcing from Congo to state the measures they have taken to exclude conflict minerals from their supply chains.

(4)   Has legislation similar to that implemented in the US been considered by the department.

(5)   Given that currently more than 300 Australian mining companies are operating in Africa and considering the ongoing atrocities committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, and including most recently the rape of approximately 200 women in a cluster of villages over a six day period from 30 July 2010 by a group of armed rebels (reported in Global Witness on 13 September 2010): does the department believe Australia could be taking a more active approach to ensure that our demand for minerals is not actively contributing to the brutal conflict.


Senator Conroy (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) —The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   Australian companies are responsible for ensuring they abide by the laws of the jurisdiction in which they operate as well as Australian laws that apply extraterritorially. The Australian Government expects all Australian companies to comply with all applicable laws and obligations when operating abroad and to conduct their business according to best practice. The Department actively advises companies of the existence of Australian extraterritorial offences, sanctions and international obligations and encourages companies to seek legal advice on the application of these rules and regulations. Other than in limited specific circumstances, for example in relation to breaches of Australian laws implementing UN Security Council sanctions, the Department does not have a general investigatory or law enforcement role regarding possible criminal activity or breaches of laws by Australians operating and living overseas. Australian posts will familiarise themselves with key Australian businesses operating in their country of accreditation, but they have no general legal authority to supervise Australian business. If Departmental officers receive information that suggests an Australian individual or company has engaged in serious criminal misconduct they are required to lodge a report. In 2007, the Department strengthened these reporting requirements and established a section in the Department’s legal division that has the responsibility for liaising with the Australian Federal Police in relation to such reports. Departmental officers receive specific training on this reporting requirement as part of their induction in Canberra and their pre-posting training. The Australian Government also expects Australian companies to conduct their business overseas according to best practice, which includes preventing and rectifying environmental and social damage. By adhering to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (the OECD Guidelines), the Australian Government encourages Australian companies to adopt a set of non-binding principles to promote responsible business conduct. The Treasury hosts the Australian National Contact Point (ANCP) under the OECD Guidelines. It is responsible for promoting the OECD Guidelines to Australian business and investigates specific instances of alleged non-compliance with the OECD Guidelines by Australian companies. The ANCP publishes reports of its findings in relation to such specific instances. The Australian government actively supports efforts and initiatives that encourage companies to operate in a socially responsible manner and advocates transparency. Australia’s dedication to such initiatives is demonstrated by, amongst other things, its advocacy of the OECD Guidelines and its support for the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Kimberly Process (KP). The KP Certification Scheme (Scheme) is a joint initiative of governments, industry and NGOs aimed at preventing the flow of conflict diamonds into the legitimate diamond trade. Australia, as a member of the KP process, has rigorously enforced KP certification requirements at its borders and has actively participated in the KP’s Working Group on Monitoring, which is the Scheme’s primary supervision and enforcement mechanism. EITI is a joint government, industry and non-government organisation initiative that promotes transparency and the reconciliation of resources industry payments to governments. The initiative strengthens the capacity of developing countries to espouse good governance, reduce corruption and encourage sustainable development of their natural resource assets. Since 2007, Australia has provided $1.45 million to the World Bank-administered EITI Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF), which supports implementation of the initiative in developing countries. Australia is also a member of the MDTF Management Committee and belongs to the Non-European supporting country constituency of the EITI board. The United States, Canada and Japan also belong to this constituency group. The Department conducts regular outreach to Australian industry in all state and territory capitals on the theme of “trading with integrity”. This outreach highlights Australian laws with extraterritorial jurisdiction. The outreach also highlights international best practice in corporate social responsibility, including adherence to the OECD Guidelines.

(2)   No.

(3)   Yes.

(4)   No.

(5)   The Australian Government expects Australian companies operating in any sector in any country to abide by the laws of that nation and Australian laws with extraterritorial application. These extraterritorial laws include laws criminalising the participation in the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and armed attacks against foreign governments or a civilian population. Australia fully implements United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions in response to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to prohibiting the supply of military-related goods and services, the sanctions also prohibit any dealings with persons identified by the UNSC as contributing to the conflict. Australia’s UN sanction enforcement laws apply to any person in Australia, as well as to any Australian individual or company overseas. The Department’s annual outreach activities referred to in the response to question (1) includes information relating to these laws. While ultimately it is host governments that are responsible for developing and enforcing appropriate safeguards to ensure the safety of their citizens and to prevent conflict, Australia’s aid program assists with building stronger governance structures. Australia is committed to working at all levels of society with its partner countries to support improvements in government capability, responsiveness to citizen needs and accountability.