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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25973


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (12:42 PM) —I wonder whether I could answer Senator Nettle's questions first, Senator Ridgeway. It might make it easier, if that is okay. Senator Nettle raised two issues. The first concerned the Greens' amendment on sheet 4366, which is to require the joint committee that is set up to supervise implementation of the agreement—a committee between governments—to assume a new role, and that is reporting to the Australian parliament and in effect being accountable to the parliament, even to the extent that within the amendment she argues for provisions that would enable any instrument that came out of that process to be disallowed by the Australian parliament. Consistent with what I said last night, this is a failure to appreciate basically our system of governance, which gives this responsibility to the executive. It would be inappropriate therefore for us to seek to interfere in the conduct of the business of a committee that is reporting to both executives. If the Australian parliament is minded it has other ways of pursuing the implementation of the free trade agreement as the years go by. It could conduct inquiries; it could obviously ask questions in the parliament. There are a range of different processes that can be utilised. But to seek to corrupt the institutionalised structure for administration by this means we would suggest is not only unwise but inappropriate.

The second issue she raised concerned the quarantine provisions of the agreement. It was not related to the implementation bill but related to the agreement. As this chamber knows, the government has been at pains to stress that the free trade agreement will not compromise Australia's quarantine regime. This was one of our no-go areas in these negotiations. We wanted an agreement that allowed for an expansion of Australian trade but not at a cost to Australia's quarantine regime, which has been so important in protecting this country from quarantine threats.

Senator Nettle, on this occasion, confuses the role of both the committee and the working group that are set up under the free trade agreement to assist in the implementation of that agreement as in some way threatening that Australian quarantine structure. In doing so, she is mistaken. If she refers to chapter 7 of the agreement she will see the role of the committee that is established to assist both governments in the implementation of the agreement is as is stated there:

The objectives of the Committee shall be to enhance each Party's implementation of the SPS Agreement, protect human, animal, or plant life or health, enhance consultation and cooperation between the Parties on sanitary and phytosanitary matters, and facilitate trade between the Parties.

There is nothing in that that is threatening to Australia's quarantine regime. If she then moves to annex 7-A, which sets up the technical group, she will find that whilst that group provides technical advice it can in no way interfere with the scientific assessment which is the basis of a quarantine assessment.

These issues were explored at considerable depth by both the joint parliamentary committee and the Senate committee and, whilst those committees made various suggestions, I do not think that either found that there was any real threat to Australia's quarantine arrangements as a result of either the committee or the working group. I appreciate the concern she is expressing, but it is the confident view of the government that the agreement as it has been negotiated will in no way threaten Australia's quarantine arrangements and that her fears in this regard are not well founded.