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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 130

(Question No. 1416)


Senator Jones asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 1 June 1994:

  With reference to the working paper put forward by the United Nations Disarmament Commission proposing tighter controls as a way of combating international arms trafficking:

  (1) What are the main proposals made in the working paper.

  (2) What input has Australia had in formulating the recommendations made in the working paper.

  (3) What statistics were presented by the commission giving a country-by-country breakdown on international arms trafficking.


Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) At the 1994 session of the United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC), Working Group III dealt with international arms transfers, including the illicit trade in arms. The Colombian representative prepared and circulated a working paper setting out proposed basic guidelines and recommendations designed to enhance international cooperation in the eradication of illicit arms transfers. As well as outlining and summarising the previous international consideration of this issue, the Colombian paper proposes the establishment of global mechanisms to control the trade in arms, together with greater state controls over the internal trade in conventional weapons (including firearms for self-defence or other personal use), domestic arms manufacturing, and the domestic use and manufacture of explosives. The paper also suggests the need to develop mechanisms that would facilitate the work of international authorities, such as Interpol, in tracing illegal weapons transfers.

  (2) Although Colombia has been the major force behind the current UNDC discussions on international arms transfers, Australia has for many years been interested and involved in UN efforts on this issue, including through our participation in the UN Experts Group in 1990/91, the first to have this issue as part of its mandate, which developed the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Many of the proposals in the Colombian paper were based on the Experts Group's work.

  We were not directly involved in formulating the proposals in the Colombian paper, but supported consideration of them by the UNDC. A lengthy procedural discussion in Working Group III about whether or not the Colombian paper should be annexed to the Working Group's report for future consideration was only resolved upon the adoption of a suggestion made by the Australian delegation that the paper should go forward to the next UNDC session as "one element for future consideration".

  The Government supports the development of viable and feasible international guidelines as a basis for practical action to address the problem of the illicit trade in arms. While the Colombian paper was the subject of only preliminary discussion in the UNDC, where a range of different national views were put forward, we believe there is scope for the practical development of the guidelines in the Colombian paper to complement the work of the Conference on Disarmament and the UN Experts Group on government-to-government arms transfers.

  Such guidelines would, we believe, also complement the existing mechanisms to deal with such clandestine activities, including internal domestic legislation (such as Australia's Customs Act and Regulations), national export controls (such as Australia's `Yellow Book'—Australian Controls on the Export of Defence and Related Goods, as enforced by the Standing Interdepartmental Committee on Defence Exports—SIDCE), and, internationally, Interpol procedures and state-to-state or regional cooperation generally.

  (3) No statistics giving a country-by-country breakdown on international arms transfers were presented to or by the United Nations Disarmament Commission during its 1994 session.