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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 3617

Senator COONAN (6:41 PM) —I rise to speak on behalf of the coalition in response to the proposed International Monetary Agreements Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2009. This bill is not controversial, and I am not going to delay the Senate very long with my comments. The bill proposes to amend the International Monetary Agreements Act 1947 so that the process for Australian acceptance of amendments to the articles of agreement of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development is simplified.

At present, when an amendment to the articles of agreement is agreed to by the IMF or the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, an amendment of the International Monetary Agreements Act is required to change the schedules to reflect the new articles of agreement. This bill proposes to alter the definition of ‘articles of agreement’ in the International Monetary Agreements Act to include any amendments that enter into force for Australia without the need for further legislation to amend the act. It will not have any financial impact. It does make commonsense to do this, because it will allow governance changes approved by the IMF and the IBRD to be accepted by Australia without an amendment bill passing through parliament. An example of the benefit of this action is the speedy approval of the new funding model for the IMF. The current financial crisis has served to highlight the need to be able to respond quickly to changes introduced by these global bodies. Expediting Australia’s formal acceptance of amendments to the IMF and IBRD agreements will ensure that we continue to work together with these bodies in a seamless manner.

While I am aware that there are some concerns that this bill will undermine parliamentary democracy and scrutiny in the chamber and indeed national sovereignty by allowing legislative changes to occur without reference to parliament, we must also acknowledge that there are already similar provisions in place which allow updates to international treaties to which Australia is a party. In addition, as the IMF and IBRD agreements are international treaties, amendments to the agreements will still be tabled in parliament and considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. So there will be an opportunity to voice concerns that may be wished to be raised. Also, if there are any funding requirements arising from amendments to the IMF or IBRD agreements, they will still be dealt with through an appropriations bill, ensuring that nothing will, in that sense, slip through the cracks.

We in the coalition do support the role that the IMF and the IBRD play in assisting and supporting global financial stability, particularly in times such as these which we now encounter. We also acknowledge the need for swift reaction to enable the full potential of the power of these important international bodies to be realised. I had thought that this was in the non-controversial business list of the Senate, but it does not really matter where it is dealt with. The coalition will be supporting the bill as drafted and, in those circumstances, I commend it to the Senate.