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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5597

Senator GREIG (3:31 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Justice and Customs (Senator Ellison) to a question without notice asked by Senator Greig today relating to judicial nominations for the International Criminal Court.

Specifically, I asked the representing minister if he could inform the Senate of what steps the government might be taking or had taken in terms of the nomination process for Australian judges who might potentially sit on the International Criminal Court. The minister's answer was very disappointing. He said that he had had a discussion with the Attorney on that but was not fully briefed and that he would undertake to get back to the Senate about it.

I acknowledge that the minister has been busy of late with other matters, but this is an issue which the Senate has been debating in a controversial way for quite some time. I felt that we should know at this fairly late stage whether, at the very least, the government has given consideration to some kind of short list. In this chamber we had a very extensive, robust debate on the question of ratification of the International Criminal Court. Finally, the parliament agreed on 27 June this year that, yes, Australia should sign on to that and become one of the 60 states setting in motion the establishment and formation of the International Criminal Court to deal with crimes against humanity, such as genocide and other atrocities.

It is worth noting that Australia's decision to ratify took place on 27 June. That was a Thursday, the last sitting day of that sitting period. This meant that, by ensuring that we beat the deadline of June 30 of this year by just three days and by signing on at that time, we could participate in what is called the Assembly of States Parties—that is, the inaugural group of countries which supported the notion of the International Criminal Court and signed up to that in a jurisdictional sense. The mechanism of the Assembly of States Parties provides for, amongst other things, the opportunity for any country which has signed on to the ICC to nominate for consideration judges to sit on that bench.

Given the very strong and, in many cases, leading role that the Australian government played—particularly through the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer—in advocating and supporting for many years the notion of the ICC, it is very disappointing that we should at this very late stage not be in a position to even identify whether or not we have considered appointing or at least nominating judges for the ICC.

As I said, Australia played a leading role in the negotiations leading up to the finalisation of the court. Indeed, our country chaired what was known as the like-minded group of countries, consisting of some 65 countries, all of which advocated a strong and effective court for the purposes that I have outlined. Given that Australians could be subject to the court's jurisdiction—even if we had not ratified it—I think our interests are best served by having an effective voice in the Assembly of States Parties, yet we seem to be abrogating our role in that regard.

At the time of the negotiations, very strong concern was expressed by many Australians, including some in the government, who felt that we would in some way be losing sovereignty by signing on to the notion of an International Criminal Court. There was very strong concern about perceived bias from the court, particularly for countries which have signed on to and supported the court but which may have a history of atrocities or experience of human rights abuses. We Democrats would argue that surely one of the best ways to help remove that doubt and concern is, at the very least, to ensure that Australia nominates a judge or two from our country, to give them the opportunity to serve on the International Criminal Court. The many misconceptions that we heard prominently throughout the debate over Australian ratification could perhaps be addressed in that way.

It is very disappointing that the minister at this very late stage is not able to even identify whether or not the government has considered so much as a short list. I think we should note with disappointment the way in which the Australian government has approached this—initially very enthusiastically in terms of support for the court; initially very enthusiastically in terms of meeting the deadline, which it did; and initially indicating that there would be some kind of opportunity to indicate those judges who may be forwarded, which it has not done to date. With disappointment, I ask that the Senate take note of that and call on the minister to respond in the way in which he said he would—that is, as soon as possible. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.