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Thursday, 12 November 1998
Page: 244


Mr DOWNER (Foreign Affairs) (9:39 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The Anti-Personnel Mines Convention Bill 1998 will give effect to Australia's obligations as a party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (the Ottawa Convention) and will provide a legislative basis for the convention's national implementation.

I take great personal pleasure in introducing a bill which represents an important step towards a goal this government is committed to: that is, a future world without landmines.

The scourge of landmines—the senseless, random taking and blighting of innocent lives—is a peculiarly vicious, late twentieth century form of terror which all responsible peoples and governments must strive to end—everywhere and forever. The appalling dimensions of the humanitarian and economic crisis being faced by so many countries, including in Australia's region, require this.

It was for this reason—because we understood that bold steps were required to address the global landmines problem—that this government as one of its first acts on assuming office announced its support for a global ban on landmines and—pending the achievement of this—declared an indefinite national moratorium on the use of landmines by the Australian Defence Force—notwithstanding the fact that the ADF has had no association with the indiscriminate or irresponsible use of landmines. This was a significant break with the caveated policies of the past and underlined our absolute determination to end the human suffering caused by a weapon incapable of distinguishing soldier from civilian.

Since that time, Australia has played a leading role in international efforts to find a comprehensive and lasting solution to the global landmines crisis. Indeed, building international support for an effective, global landmines ban has been—and remains—one of the government's key arms control objectives.

It was therefore with considerable pleasure and great pride that I signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (the Anti-Personnel Mines Convention) on behalf of Australia when it was opened for signature in Ottawa on 3 December last year. In so doing, Australia joined over 120 other countries—well over half the community of nations—forswearing the use, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines and undertook to destroy its stockpile of anti-personnel mines, consistent with the provisions of the convention.

Signing the Ottawa Convention was the quickest, most absolute way for a government to commit itself to this objective, and it was right that Australia, with its strong humanitarian record, took this stand in support of a global landmines ban. For us, the bottom line was that because landmines are so commonplace, so deadly, and have been so widely and insidiously misused over recent decades, the only sane, humane response is to eliminate them. I am proud of that decision.

Of course, the global battle against landmines is far from over and now is certainly not the time for complacency. The international community must now build on the norm established by the Ottawa Convention. We owe it to the victims of landmines past, present and future to continue working through all possible avenues to ensure that major traditional producers and exporters of landmines which remain outside the Ottawa Convention are brought into the process of finding a lasting, effective solution to the landmines problem. The next step will be to get negotiations under way as soon as possible in the Conference on Disarmament on an agreement to ban transfers of landmines as a way of complementing the Ottawa Treaty and tightening the clamps on the global supply of landmines. Australia is leading the way on this front and we will continue to work hard on this long after the issue has left the media headlines.

Neither will we lose sight of the ongoing urgent need to do something concrete and compassionate about the millions of landmines which are already in the ground and which continue to claim innocent victims on a daily basis. We will continue to lead the way in assisting countries such as Cambodia to rid themselves of the continuing deadly legacy of landmines, drawing not only on our financial resources but also on the experience and courage of our deminers and the talent and innovative thought which our scientists and our engineers have applied to the technological challenge which these silent killers continue to pose.

The bill before the House gives life to Australia's obligations under the convention. Part 2 of the bill makes it an offence to engage in activities prohibited under the convention and provides appropriately severe penalties of ten years imprisonment for offences committed under clause 8 relating to the Convention prohibitions.

Part 2 of the bill creates offences relating to placement, possession, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines by Australian citizens or members of the Australian Defence Force or on territory under Australian jurisdiction or control. The offence would be punishable by either imprisonment for 10 years or a fine of $66,000 (or both) for an individual; or a fine of $1.1 million for a corporation.

Part 2 of the bill also provides a specific exemption to this obligation, namely for the retention or transfer of a minimum number of anti-personnel mines necessary for the development of, and training in, mine detection, mine clearance, or mine destruction techniques. The bill authorises the Minister for Defence to grant permission to place, possess, produce or acquire, stockpile or move anti-personnel mines for the purposes of the development of, or training in, mine detection, mine clearance, mine destruction or mine deactivation. This is fully consistent with article 3 of the convention and would ensure that Australia's skills base in mine detection, mine clearance and mine destruction techniques is not inadvertently compromised.

Part 3 of the bill deals with the powers of fact-finding missions which may be mandated under the convention to assess whether Australia is in compliance with provisions of the convention. Part 4 of the bill provides for information gathering necessary to ensure full compliance with the obligations and reporting responsibilities contained in the convention. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Edwards) adjourned.