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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21474


Mr CADMAN (2:08 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of Australia's involvement in measures to prevent the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction? Is the minister aware of any alternative views?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —Firstly, I thank the honourable member for Mitchell for his question. The House should be aware that Australia is one of just 11 countries which have been participating in the Proliferation Security Initiative. We took part in the latest meeting, in London, between 9 and 10 October. That was the fourth meeting of the PSI, as we call it, which has taken place since May. All the participants at that meeting—including the United States, Japan and many members of the European Union such as Britain, France, Germany and others—agreed that the global threat of weapons of mass destruction demanded a truly effective global response.

The Proliferation Security Initiative will now be opened up to countries and international bodies that want and have the capacity to contribute expertise and capabilities to help the PSI achieve its aim. This broadening of participation in the PSI is essential and it will obviously strengthen the capacity of the PSI to deal with the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction around the world. Progress has also been made on a model boarding agreement with flag states to facilitate practical measures to interdict traffickers of weapons of mass destruction materials at sea.

Interestingly enough, the participants at the London meeting agreed on further exercises. Honourable members will remember that the first exercise under the Proliferation Security Initiative, which was called Pacific Protector, took place in the Coral Sea in mid-September under Australian leadership. Another exercise was held just before the London meeting. There are now eight more exercises planned for between now and the middle of next year. It is my expectation that Australia will participate in one way or another in all of those exercises. In some of those cases we may have a very minor role but, nevertheless, it is appropriate for us to participate and be involved in Proliferation Security Initiative exercises. In the next few months, for example, there will be Spanish and French led maritime interdiction exercises and also an Italian air exercise.

I can only say that I am very pleased that support for the Proliferation Security Initiative is strong and growing. Over 50 countries have now expressed their support for the aims of the initiative, and such strong support does reflect something that has changed in the international community in recent times, which is the determination of the international community to address the issue of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. There used to be a rhetorical commitment, but what we are really seeing now is a very practical commitment to try to stop the trade in these dreadful weapons systems.

I was asked whether there are any alternative views. I do not actually have much to say about that. I know the opposition has been uneasy about the Proliferation Security Initiative; it has failed to give it active support. That is surprising, because during the life of the Hawke and Keating governments the Australian government was very committed to trying to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—there was the chemical weapons convention, the biological weapons convention and so on. But now we have an opposition which apparently is not very happy with the idea of trying to stop the trafficking in weapons of mass destruction through the Proliferation Security Initiative, which leads one, sadly, to conclude that the opposition is rather weak on security issues.