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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7422

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (09:35): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties I present the committee's report entitled Report 125: treaties tabled on 7 and 28 February 2012.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Mr KELVIN THOMSON: by leave—The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties' Report 125 contains the committee's views on a series of treaties which were tabled on 7 and 28 February 2012.

One of the more important treaties covered in this report is the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York on 18 December 2002. The optional protocol aims to strengthen the protection of persons deprived of their liberty against acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It provides for a mechanism to better ensure that detaining authorities are accountable for conditions in places of detention and for greater international transparency.

The optional protocol has now been in force for over five years and has more than 60 states parties, and a further 22 are signatories. Australia already has strong legal protections against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. However, ratification of this optional protocol will improve outcomes for detainees in Australia by providing a more integrated and internationally recognised oversight mechanism. It will provide an opportunity for organisations involved in detention management and oversight to share problem-solving measures and other information on the conditions and treatment of detainees. Implementation should minimise instances giving rise to concerns about the treatment and welfare of people detained in places of detention in Australia. In addition to the human rights benefits, monitoring has the potential to minimise the costs of addressing such instances, including avoiding litigation costs and compensation payments.

The optional protocol is an effective mechanism even in jurisdictions that already enjoy preventive monitoring through pre-existing oversight bodies. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission noted in 2010 that the protocol had been 'valuable in identifying issues and situations that are otherwise overlooked and in providing authoritative assessments of whether new developments and specific initiatives will meet the international standards for safe and humane detention'. The committee does not want to see implementation of this treaty protocol delayed. We have recommended that, rather than making a declaration under article 24 to delay our obligations by three years, the Australian government work with the states and territories to implement a national preventive mechanism as quickly as possible.

The treaties committee has also approved another six treaties including the amendments to the Agreement Establishing the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development adopted at London on 30 September 2011. This agreement was in response to the events in the Middle East and North Africa in 2010 and 2011—the so-called 'Arab Spring'. The bank was called upon by the international community to extend its geographic scope to support the transition of the southern and eastern Mediterranean countries to become market economies. It is in Australia's national interest to accept the proposed amendments to allow the bank to extend its operations to eligible countries in the southern and eastern Mediterranean to support the transition to democracy in such countries. Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia have taken steps so that they may potentially benefit from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's expansion. The bank is well placed to support countries that are transitioning towards open and democratic market economies.

The report also covers amendments to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, which added two species found in Australia: the giant manta ray and the eastern curlew. The eastern curlew is a striking-looking bird with a long curved bill, which every year migrates around the world between the coastal beach and shore areas which it inhabits. Like many other migratory shorebirds, it is highly vulnerable to areas of its habitat being paved over for industrial or housing developments—the loss of habitat links in its migratory chain is devastating. We should all be concerned at declines in the eastern curlew and other migratory shorebirds from areas in the Yellow Sea in Korea, which they used to use as feeding areas, and I hope that all countries party to this convention will take their responsibilities under this convention seriously.

The remaining treaties covered in this report examined: the Prevention of Pollution by Harmful Substances Carried by Sea in Packaged Form; conformity assessment certificates between the European Union and Australia; the Convention on International Wills; and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. The committee concludes that all the treaties covered in Report 125 should be supported with binding action. On behalf of the committee, I commend the report to the House.