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Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Page: 533

Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (18:59): Mr Acting Deputy President, I present the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties' Report 146.

Senator FAWCETT: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The report contains the committee's views on the treaty between Australia and the Netherlands regarding the presence of Australian personnel in the Netherlands in response to the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The committee would like to take this opportunity to echo the sentiments of the Parliament of Australia and express our condolences to the victims' families and their loved ones. We would also like to pay tribute to the dedicated Australian personnel who have worked so hard to bring the victims' remains home and to investigate the cause of the downing of MH17. We acknowledge the tragic and difficult circumstances under which they have been deployed.

This treaty did not follow the usual treaty-making process, as it was not tabled in parliament for 20 days before binding treaty action was taken. Instead the treaty was fast-tracked under the national interest exemption, an arrangement designed to facilitate urgent treaty action in exceptional circumstances. The treaty entered into force on the date it was signed by both Australia and the Netherlands, being 1 August 2014. The treaty was tabled on 30 September 2014 by the foreign minister with an explanation for the urgent action.

Mr Acting Deputy President, we are all familiar by now with the tragedy that necessitated this treaty: the downing of MH17 and the need to recover and repatriate the bodies of 38 victims from Australia; the launch of Operation Bring Them Home by the government; and the deployment of personnel from the Department of Defence and the Australian Federal Police. Those personnel required certain rights and protections to facilitate that deployment, and in order to grant those the Netherlands required a binding treaty. It was necessary for the deployment to take place as quickly as possible, so the national interest exemption was invoked. This is the seventh time that this exemption has been invoked since it was instigated in 1996, and on three of those occasions it was to ensure similar protection of Australian personnel deployed abroad at short notice. In this instance, prompt action was required to allow the deployment to take place quickly and ensure that the legal framework was in place to enable this sensitive and important work to be undertaken.

Mr Acting Deputy President, the committee is satisfied that, in this case, there was justification to invoke the national interest exemption and supports the treaty. On behalf of the committee, I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.