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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 92

Senator KEMP (7.06 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

This is quite an important treaty, and it has been the subject of some debate in the parliament and the estimates committees. Just prior to an election, Mr Keating flew to a conference of Pacific leaders in Nauru and decided to settle $107 million as a compensation claim to the Republic of Nauru. This, of course, was a settlement that was taken before there was a final hearing of the International Court of Justice. In relation to the extensive debate in the Senate estimates committees, Senator Evans said that the government had decided that, in light of the preliminary hearings, it was unlikely that the case would be won. I think his words were to the effect that the judges had holus-bolus changed the precedence relating to international law, and the government decided to settle $107 million.

  This matter raises a number of issues—and others have already spoken on this in the chamber—including the astonishing willingness of this government to submit itself to international courts. There were two other potential parties for the action that the Republic of Nauru had sought for compensation—the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Neither of those two countries allowed the international court jurisdiction. I do not know whether Senator Evans or Senator Crowley regards those countries, therefore, as bad international citizens but, of course, they did not cop the $107 million bill that Senator Evans and Mr Keating decided had to be paid to the Republic of Nauru.

  Australia settled on $107 million, and then sought pro rata compensation from the governments of the United Kingdom and New Zealand. This treaty indicates that the government of the United Kingdom has decided to make a compensation payment of not a third, but $12 million.

  In this chamber today we have had a major debate about drought assistance—of what assistance should be given to our farmers who are suffering the worst drought on record. Some people in the chamber raised the matter of the $80 million the government is giving in respect of the friendship bridge across the Mekong; others raised the issue of the $80 million to $100 million that the government is giving to Nauru. The money seems to be available, but provided one is not an Australian. The first issue I wish to bring to the Senate's attention is the astonishing willingness of this government to submit itself to international bodies and tribunals and the consequences which can flow from that. The consequence is that Australia is up for an amount in the order of $80 million plus. That is the first consequence which flows from it.

  The second consequence is that clearly the United Kingdom and New Zealand did not feel the same way about this issue. So the United Kingdom, presumably after strong pleadings from Senator Gareth Evans, has decided to provide a payment of only $12 million—extensively short of the presumably pro rata share of over $30 million. This shows again how this government constantly misuses its treaty making powers and gets itself into serious problems. Other governments do not do that. The United Kingdom does not do that; New Zealand did not do that; but we did.

  It is alright for Mr Keating to make a big fella of himself and pay massive compensation. When he went up to North Queensland it was a pity that he did not decide to make a big fella of himself to the farmers suffering the worst drought on record. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a press release that was put out in October last year by Mr Andrew Peacock, the shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. This press release points out that Australia's settlement with Nauru opens up a Pandora's box.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows









The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Honourable Andrew Peacock, drew attention to the consequences likely to flow from Mr Keating's negotiated settlement with the Government of Nauru totalling a payout of $107 million over 20 years.

Mr Peacock noted that PNG Foreign Minister Kaputin had made it clear in his address to the UN General Assembly in New York today that PNG had the matter under close examination and may be seeking similar payouts from the Australian Government.

PNG Foreign Minister Kaputin said that "The negotiated settlement between the governments of Nauru and Australia has been widely welcomed for the redress it provides for a long period of colonial exploitation of Nauru's principal land-based natural resource and destruction of much of the natural environment. It is also arousing considerable interest as to its possible implications in other former trust territories and colonial dependencies. The government of PNG is only one of a number of interested parties which has the matter under close examination."

Mr Peacock said that the Australian Government's decision to settle this compensation deal out of court had unquestionably not been thought through properly. Its implications were not given adequate advance consideration and the decision could rebound on Australia.

Mr Peacock said he had consistently queried the extent of Australia's liability with respect to the $40 million cash payment to Nauru this year. He also said it was difficult to justify embarking on 20 years of bilateral aid for a country which, when it joined the Asian Development Bank two years ago in 1991, was considered to be a potential donor (not recipient) country and was asked to contribute to the Bank's soft loan window, the Asian Development Fund.

Melbourne, 12 October 1993

For further information contact Jane Drake-Brockman on (06) 277 4419.