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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 8

Mr WILKIE (12:56 PM) —Report 68 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties contains a review of three treaties. Firstly, I will comment on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Treaties committees of the 40th and 41st parliaments received 12 submissions over the course of both reviews of the plant genetic resources treaty. In their submissions, industry groups expressed concern about various aspects of the treaty. Industry groups all agreed that Australia should not ratify the treaty until its exact impact and its associated costs and benefits in all areas had been identified and assessed to industry satisfaction.

The Australian Seed Federation was interested in receiving more detailed information and entering into further discussion with the Australian government in various areas. These were: firstly, consultation regarding the advantages and disadvantages of ratification of the treaty; secondly, how funds will be raised and how the governing body responsible for implementing the treaty will be financed; thirdly, how material transfer agreements or contracts for plant genetic resources for food and agricultural material exchange will coexist with common law contacts; fourthly, the legal implications of ratification of the treaty, as the Seed Federation does not accept the department’s view that Australia would need legislation change to administer Australian obligations under the treaty; and, fifthly, the scope of coverage of the treaty. The Seed Federation is concerned that the treaty will apply to all holders of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and allow the Australian government to take whatever measures it deems necessary to include private holdings.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation and Grains Council Australia initially expressed similar concerns to those of the Seed Federation, including the funding of the governing body. The grains corporation was concerned that the majority of costs associated with the treaty could be borne by industry. The grains corporation agreed with the Seed Federation’s stance on material transfer arrangements and the scope of coverage of the treaty. The grains corporation also drew attention to the use of ambiguous language with respect to articles of the treaty relating to material transfer agreements and the uncertainty of whether states and territories may have to provide access to plant genetic resource material.

It was observed by one industry group that there was no evidence to suggest that the capacity of Australian plant breeders who access genetic resources from overseas is likely to become more difficult if Australia does not ratify the treaty, as put forward by the government. Further, Australian participants involved in the exchange of germ plasm have not concluded that the proposed regime under the treaty will improve access.

The list of crops covered by the treaty was also of concern. For example, the treaty excludes crops which Australian industry expected would be included, such as soya beans, peanuts, linseed, safflower, panicum, buckwheat, sesame and, for the horticulture industry, tomatoes. There is a concern that non-inclusion of such crops could lead to disputes between parties with Australian interests unable to be satisfied in the wider area of the multilateral negotiations.

Another shared concern was the small number of countries that have ratified the treaty. Australia does not know the reasons for the opposition or lack of interest from such countries as the United States of America, who has not ratified the treaty, or Japan, who has not signed up to the treaty.

The department met with industry groups and addressed the issues raised through the committee by way of additional consultation. While the grains corporation and the Grains Council revised their view at a hearing in the parliament, the Seed Federation has maintained that there are outstanding issues concerning the treaty—namely, its administration and compliance with the material transfer agreement process and that it is not possible to determine whether ratifying the plant genetic resources treaty is in Australia’s interest.

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 founding documents of the Association of South-East Asian Nations—ASEAN—and includes a procedure for dispute resolution between 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. Given the importance of this summit to Australia, one would have thought that government members of the treaties committee would have attended that hearing. It is sad, therefore, that the meeting could only proceed because Labor provided a quorum.

As has already been stated by the acting chair, the member for McPherson, the committee also looked at the supplementary agreement with the United Kingdom on the Anglo-Australia telescope. We fully support that treaty and commend the report to the House.

The ACTING SPEAKER —Does the member for McPherson wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?