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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12801

Mr HARDGRAVE (1:39 PM) —The two reports before us today are significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are the 10th and 11th reports to be tabled by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties since March this year. Secondly, the 16 proposed treaty actions that they review cover a wider variety than most of the reports that have been tabled in the 3½ years since the committee came into being. Thirdly, they give an indication of both the number and the variety of the various treaties that Australia has entered into—everything from telecommunications through to peacekeeping missions in Sinai, pension agreements with the UK and the international plant protection convention. A wide variety of work is done by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

Incidentally, if I understand the various positions correctly, some people in this nation still do not believe that Australia should have any sorts of treaties in any area with any other country. But, of course, in today's world, this is simply an unrealistic position to have. We do need contracts and arrangements. We need that in commercial life. We need that in the dealings we have between worker and employer. We need that between countries because nations do not act in good faith, and what occurred in Seattle last week where President Clinton took purely domestic imperatives instead of getting the right result for the world trade situation—the latest round of talks in that area—in itself proves the case that countries do not act in good faith.

So the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties helps to bring the average Australian out of any isolation or any detachment they may feel from the process of treaty making and gives them a chance to participate. These reports, as the chairman has already said, are proof positive of the consultation that we have undertaken on behalf of all members in this place and in the Senate in the revised treaty making process.

As a committee, we have gone to considerable lengths to receive views on proposed treaty actions. The two that are reviewed in report 27, being tabled now, were held over from an earlier report to ensure that interested groups were in fact given the chance to express their views on that matter. While we normally operate on a 15-sitting-day period between tabling of treaty documentation and tabling our reports, our process is designed, nevertheless, to ensure that people are given the maximum time possible to comment on treaty matters that are tabled in the parliament.

Our material is widely available. It is posted on the Internet. We advertise nationally—in a limited way perhaps, but this is primarily because of budgetary reasons. We have also built up a list of people who have expressed direct interest in treaty making matters—a database to which the documentation is automatically sent after each tabling. In fact, people around the world comment that the Australian treaty making process and the database that has been established gives them something that they do not have in their own country. No other nation exposes treaty making and trusts the people in the way that we do.

To seek and receive the various material by whatever means is a right of citizens of this nation. While I support strongly the rights of citizens to have their say, I would remind everyone in this place that we should actively encourage citizens to exercise their responsibility of participating in the decisions that are made in this place, not just on treaties but on other matters. If people do hold a view on international treaties, gain some information about what is proposed and seek to offer comment on it, that is all part of the process of being an effective forum for discussion and debate. That is what the parliament is all about.

This committee examines each proposed treaty action in detail at public hearings, and also during our own private discussions through the submissions that we receive. We delay the tabling of the results of some of our reviews, particularly treaty action, to receive additional information. It may not be a totally perfect process, but it is certainly far more thorough and detailed than anything that existed before 1996 when this revised treaty making procedure came into place.

Australians from all walks of life now have an opportunity to contribute to this very important process of treaty making. As I said, no other nation has this sort of openness, this sort of inclusion that we offer the people of Australia, and I believe this process proves that this parliament trusts the people of Australia to participate in a sober and reasonable way. We will continue to seek the trust of the people of Australia to continue this review and examination process that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties does. On behalf of all honourable senators and members, I say that the role of the parliament is to provide the forum for debate and discussion. That is why this particular treaty making process now has taken on such a great parameter for all Australians. (Time expired)

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The time allotted for statements on these reports has expired. Does the honourable member for Wentworth wish to move a motion in connection with the reports to enable them to be debated on a future occasion?