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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 6

Mrs MAY (12:51 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee’s report entitled Report 68: treaties tabled on 7 December 2004 (5) and 9 August 2005—International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, as amended by the protocol amending the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the second protocol amending the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia; supplementary agreement between the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the government of the Commonwealth of Australia concerning the Anglo-Australian optical telescope, at Siding Spring, New South Wales, Australia.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mrs MAYReport 68 contains the findings and recommendations of the committee’s review of three treaty actions tabled in parliament on 7 December 2004 and 9 August 2005. The proposed treaty actions on which I will comment relate to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, enabling Australia to attend the East Asia Summit and the transfer to sole Australian ownership of the Anglo-Australian telescope.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture will provide a binding international framework for the conservation, sustainable use and exchange of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. This framework is designed to promote global food security and ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. The plant genetic resources treaty was first tabled in December 2002 and was reviewed by the treaties committee of the 40th Parliament until the inquiry lapsed on the prorogation of the parliament. The committee received evidence from a number of industry groups, initially presenting reservations about the treaty. Industry reservations related to the ratification and implementation of the treaty—namely, the funding, legal implications and scope of the treaty.

The committee also received evidence from the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture—or AFFA—that industry concerns raised with the committee could best be addressed by Australia at the treaty’s governing body meeting, the first of which is due to take place by June 2006. AFFA advised the committee that, for Australia to partake in the governing body meeting, it would have to ratify the treaty. AFFA in turn addressed the concerns presented by industry groups. At the time of review, only one industry group maintained its reservations about ratification of the treaty. These reservations are included in the committee’s report. Having taken into consideration the evidence received, on balance, the committee believes that the treaty will ensure that Australia continues to have access to overseas sources of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

The committee also reviewed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which aims to promote peace, amity and cooperation between parties. The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation is one of the foundation documents of the Association of South-East Asian Nations—or ASEAN—and includes a procedure for dispute settlement between states parties. In the short term, acceding to the treaty allows Australia to attend the East Asia Summit. The summit is significant because it is expected to provide a new forum for regional dialogue, with the potential to make substantial progress on regional economic issues and strategic cooperation. This includes areas such as terrorism, regional pandemics and other issues of regional significance. During the course of its review, the Australian government informed the committee of its decision to accede to the treaty in order to prepare for Australia’s attendance at the East Asia Summit, which is taking place in December of this year.

The third treaty examined by the committee will amend the existing agreement relating to the Anglo-Australian telescope to provide for the UK’s commitment to the telescope to continue until Australia obtains sole ownership on 1 July 2010. Collaboration with the UK on the Anglo-Australian telescope has been a key element in Australia’s globally competitive performance in astronomy. In 2001, however, the UK advised Australia that it had other astronomy priorities and so intended to end its involvement with the Anglo-Australian telescope. The committee was informed that the UK would be directing some of its astronomy assigned funding towards facilities such as the European Southern Observatory and Gemini Observatories, both of which operate next-generation eight-metre optical telescopes. Instead of terminating the agreement with Australia, the UK agreed to amend the existing agreement to continue the UK’s commitment to the Anglo-Australian telescope but at a reduced level until the termination of both agreements. The new termination and the telescope handover arrangements will ensure long-term access for Australia to a valuable scientific instrument in the lead-up to Australia’s acquisition of the Anglo-Australian telescope.

In conclusion, the committee believes it is in Australia’s interest for the treaties considered in Report 68 to be ratified. I commend the report to the House.