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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 38

Dr SOUTHCOTT (11:23 AM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties I present the committee’s report entitled Report 85: Treaties tabled on 6, 7 and 27 February 2007.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Dr SOUTHCOTT —by leave—Report 85 contains the committee’s findings on five treaty actions. The committee found all the treaties reviewed were in Australia’s national interest and, where a recommendation was required, recommended that binding treaty action be taken. I will comment on all the treaties reviewed in report 85.

Under the social security agreement with the Swiss Confederation, residents of Australia and Switzerland will be able to move between the two countries safe in the knowledge that their right to benefits is recognised in both Australia and Switzerland. The agreement provides for enhanced access to certain Australian and Swiss social security benefits and greater portability of most of these benefits between countries.

The agreement with Finland on the avoidance of double taxation is a revised version of an existing treaty. The changes are designed to further aid in the elimination of obstacles to investment as a result of international double taxation. The agreement will reduce rates of withholding taxes on dividends, interest and royalties and bring into line the treatment of capital gains tax with OECD practice and integrity measures. In particular, the agreement includes rules to allow for the cross-border collection of tax debts and rules for the exchange of information on tax matters.

Australia has a strong interest in maintaining biodiversity generally and in protecting migratory bird species which visit our shores. The agreement with the Republic of Korea on the protection of migratory birds will help protect bird species which regularly migrate between Australia and the Republic of Korea. This agreement complements the two similar agreements Australia has in place with China and Japan.

Measure 4 (2006) Specially Protected Species: Fur Seals removes Antarctic fur seals from the list of specially protected species established under the Antarctic Treaty. Research has determined that these fur seals are no longer at significant risk of extinction, meaning they no longer require specially protected species status to ensure their conservation. Fur seals will continue to receive the comprehensive general protections afforded to all Antarctic seal species.

I would finally like to comment on the Treaty between Australia and Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, known as the CMATS treaty. The principal aim of the CMATS treaty is to allow for the exploitation of the Greater Sunrise natural gas field, located between Australia and East Timor in the Timor Sea. Upstream revenues from this resource will be shared equally between Australia and East Timor. It is estimated that this resource will yield around US$20 billion over the life of the field. The treaty also prevents both countries from asserting or pursuing their maritime boundary claims in the Timor Sea for 50 years.

Many of the submissions received by the committee in relation to the inquiry expressed strong reservations about certain aspects of the treaty. Particularly, there was concern regarding the 50-year moratorium on asserting claims to maritime boundaries. Several submissions accused Australia of contravening international laws in this respect, claiming that, if permanent maritime boundaries were concluded along the median line halfway between the coastlines of Australia and East Timor coastlines, the Greater Sunrise field would lie entirely within East Timor’s exclusive economic zone. This related to a further concern over the equal share of upstream revenues from the Greater Sunrise field. Many of the submissions received pointed out that the delimitation of maritime boundaries along the median line would result in all of the revenue from Greater Sunrise belonging to East Timor.

While the committee acknowledged these concerns, it noted that, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, if the two countries were unable to agree to a permanent maritime boundary, they were obliged to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature without prejudice to the final decision. This has been achieved through the CMATS treaty. Further, the equal share of upstream revenue from Greater Sunrise is a vast improvement on the previous 18 per cent East Timor was entitled to prior to the CMATS treaty. The apportionment of Greater Sunrise under this treaty is a positive step for East Timor and the committee supports the sharing arrangement established by CMATS.

I should mention briefly the government’s use of the national interest exemption to bring the CMATS treaty into force prior to the committee reporting. The exemption is intended for use in only extreme situations, and the committee would have preferred the opportunity to review the treaty and report in a shorter than usual time frame. The committee acknowledges that the immediate development of the Greater Sunrise field will be a significant benefit to the people and economies of both Australia and East Timor and that the ratification of the CMATS treaty was required before that development could occur.

I thank the committee secretariat for their work in assisting the committee during the public hearings, in the receipt of submissions and in the preparation of the report. I thank all members of the committee. I see that the member for Swan and the member for Lyons are here. They are both very diligent and hardworking members of the committee. I commend the report to the House.