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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 1758


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (16:11): I present the 123rd report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

Report No. 123 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties contains the committee's views on a series of treaties which were tabled on 13 October, 2 November, 22 November and 24 November 2011. One of the more important treaties covered in this report was the agreement to extend the existing agreement between the government of Australia and the government of the United States of America concerning the conduct of scientific balloon flights for civil research purposes until 2022. The agreement provides NASA with the use of facilities and services for balloon launchings and recoveries in Australian territory, tracking and transmission of information and data from each balloon, and the recording and sharing of information from these flights between NASA and Australian scientists as well.

Australia has derived significant scientific and economic benefits from activities conducted under the 2006 agreement, especially through encouraging collaboration between Australian scientists and NASA scientists. The Australian scientific community supports quite strongly the continued participation of Australia in NASA's balloon program. Australian scientists have also flown their own balloon experiments or have been collaborators with other scientists as a result of some of this work. Extending the agreement will enable Australian scientists to continue this research and will further ensure that Australia remains entitled to receive data from these experiments. It is a genuine win for the Australian scientific community as it is for global scientific development.

In April 2010 there was an incident where a NASA balloon became involved in an accident at a launch. Although no-one was injured or killed, this appears essentially to have been the result of good fortune

The committee did question this incident and was very interested to hear the measures that have been put in place to ensure such an incident is not repeated if at all possible. From the evidence presented during the inquiry, it does appear that corrective procedures have been introduced. Notwithstanding this one negative occasion, the committee does believe that the agreement facilitating scientific balloon launches by NASA in Australia is a genuine benefit for Australia. It is of benefit to our economic circumstances and to our scientific relations and advancement and there are political and diplomatic benefits that justify the continuing of this relationship. So in regards to this treaty we strongly recommend that binding treaty action be taken.

The treaties committee also approved a series of other treaties, including two agreements amending the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, an agreement between Australian and the European Space Agency on space vehicle tracking, four tax information exchange agreements and a social security agreement between Australia and the Republic of Latvia. It is pleasing to see a continued stream of tax information exchange agreements come through the treaties committee and be finalised by the government. This is part of a global effort to try to shut down tax havens and ensure that all earnings are treated in a fair and equitable manner when it comes to the tax system. It is important to be able to share this information and these four countries are good additions to an already successful long list—which dates back to the Howard government—of agreements struck between Australia and other countries or domiciles often seen as tax havens.

The social security agreement between Australia and the Republic of Latvia provides for improved access to Australian and Latvian retirement benefits and greater portability of these benefits between the two countries. This is like numerous other agreements that have been struck in relation to social security benefits. Improved access to benefits is an underlying principle of bilateral social security agreements where the responsibility for providing benefits is shared between the two countries that are parties to the treaty. Under this agreement residence in one party's territory will not affect a person's entitlement to benefits under the legislation of the other party. People who move between Australia and Latvia will be able to do so in the knowledge that their rights to benefits are recognised in both countries. As an aside, I note that, when considering this treaty, the signature on behalf of Australia in entering into this agreement with Latvia is the signature of the Special Envoy of Australia to Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Caucasus, esteemed former senator Dr Russell Trood. It is pleasing to see former senator Trood continuing his good work in this way on behalf of the Australian people.

I note that in regard to these social security agreements there has been a trend where Australia perhaps fulfils its side of the bargain a little more vigorously than do the other parties. If we look at the time it takes to process applications from those seeking pensions, data indicates in some instances that Australia is processing the applications of those seeking benefits from the Australian government in a far more timely manner than some of the other countries do. Greece, which is one of the largest agreements struck in regard to social security arrangements, is a prime example of this. Whilst we all understand that Greece and the Greek government face particular challenges at present, we should expect that when these agreements are struck they are delivered on in a mutually agreeable manner and we do see the benefits of the sharing occurring as expected. Nonetheless, with those comments, I commend all of the treaties covered in report 123. The committee concluded that binding treaty action should be taken in all instances regarding these treaties. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.