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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 40

Mr WILKIE (11:29 AM) —by leave—The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties Report 85: Treaties tabled on 6, 7 and 27 February 2007 contains the review of five treaty actions. The Agreement between Australia and the Swiss Confederation on Social Security is one of Australia’s many international social security agreements. Australia already has social security agreements in place with 18 other countries. We have recently signed agreements with Korea, Japan, Germany and, most prominently, with Greece. Australia is currently negotiating eight further social security agreements. These social security agreements close the gaps in social security coverage for people who migrate between Australia and other countries, which I believe to be in the national interest of Australia. In a similar way, the Agreement with the Government of Finland for the Avoidance of Double Taxation with Respect to Taxes on Income and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion is one of a number of such treaties Australia has with other countries, and we expect to review more such treaties in the future. The measures are sensible and should be supported.

The Agreement with the Government of the Republic of Korea on the Protection of Migratory Birds requires both Australia and the Republic of Korea to prohibit the taking, sale, purchase or exchange of birds and their eggs, with a small number of exceptions, such as for scientific research. My electorate of Swan has a very significant migratory bird habitat, particularly at the Milyu Nature Reserve, and any effort that can be made to protect those species and conserve their habitats is very valuable.

In relation to the fur seals measure, the committee was informed that the Antarctic fur seal population has grown to over 1.6 million. The committee is satisfied that the removal of fur seals from the specially protected species list will not result in any potential threat of future commercial exploitation.

Finally, I would like to make some comment on the Treaty between Australia and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, which provides a fifty-fifty income split for royalties from the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields and prevents maritime boundary disputes from being contested for 50 years. While I agree with the committee’s conclusion that the treaty is in Australia’s national interest, I would like to emphasise my dissatisfaction with the government’s decision to invoke the national interest exemption and make comment on the overall process that has led to this treaty.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs explained that the exemption was invoked to take advantage of immediate short-term opportunity in East Timor to bring the CMATS treaty into force. However, both the minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade informed the committee that the CMATS treaty had been publicly available since its signature in January 2006. Given this early public availability, it has not been adequately explained why the treaty was not referred several months earlier for review.

The national interest exemption should not have been invoked before the committee was given a reasonable opportunity to consider and report on the treaty. The committee has previously reported within a very short time frame—for instance, in relation to the Cambodia prisoner transfer agreement, where the committee heard evidence on the evening of Tuesday, 5 December 2006 and made an interim report on the morning of Thursday, 7 December 2006 to enable work to progress immediately to bring that agreement into force. The government was aware that the opportunity to ratify the CMATS treaty with East Timor was a possibility in the days leading up to its eventuality. It should have taken this opportunity to approach the committee with a request for an early hearing and a prompt interim report on the agreement. Personally, I blame incompetence and inefficiency of the minister and the department. Not to do so would lead one to the conclusion that they were deliberately ignoring Australia’s proper treaty review process.

I also take this opportunity to comment on why we have the CMATS treaty before us today. A few years ago the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties conducted a review of the Timor Sea Treaty and the division of royalties from resource projects in the Joint Petroleum Development Area between Australia and East Timor. This included the International Unitisation Agreement, which set out the income split for resource royalties, including those from the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. This agreement would have seen East Timor receive 90 per cent of the royalties from 10 per cent of the Greater Sunrise field—which is in the Joint Petroleum Development Area—which equates to roughly 18 per cent overall.

East Timor, however, refused to ratify the agreement, believing that it did not reflect an equitable split of the revenue stream. East Timor believed that, had the maritime boundaries between Australia and East Timor been set using the equal distance method, 100 per cent of the Greater Sunrise fields should have been located in their territorial waters. The nonresolution of this dispute meant that joint venture partners were prevented from commencing any projects, because they wanted to have certainty over tenure and income distribution before committing billions of dollars to project development.

East Timor has only now agreed to the CMATS treaty because it will allow projects to commence and royalties to be guaranteed. However, by agreeing, the East Timorese have agreed that the maritime boundaries will not be challenged for 50 years and that royalties from other possible projects in the disputed area go to Australia. This trade-off gives East Timor 50 per cent of the Greater Sunrise royalties. Given that Australia would probably have lost the rights to all of Greater Sunrise if the International Court of Justice had been allowed to rule on the dispute, this outcome is not bad for Australia.

East Timor is undoubtedly one of the poorest and most underdeveloped nations in the world. In order to develop, East Timor desperately needs to mobilise the full capacity of its resource sector. By denying the East Timorese this, the government was effectively robbing them of their right to development. And it surely must have come as some surprise to the East Timorese that Australia, the nation that delivered them freedom, was now trying to hoodwink them out of the resource royalties that they so desperately needed to lay the foundations for their fledgling democracy.

Australians do not like a bully and they certainly do not like a bully who picks on the smallest and least able to defend themselves. But, sadly, this has been the approach of successive Australian governments in dealing with the Timorese on this issue—none more so than this government. It has tried to bully the East Timorese out of the oil and gas that so rightfully belongs to them. This government is guilty of blackmail of the highest order. Its approach to dealing with the East Timorese on this issue has been a disgrace and it runs counter to Australian values. A fair go is central to the Australian ethos. But according to this government our fair go ideal does not extend beyond our own borders, not even to one of the most poverty stricken nations on earth.

I support ratifying the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, but the income sharing provided for in this agreement should have been the starting point for negotiations, not the end point. We should never have been dragged kicking and screaming to this outcome.

I would like to thank the committee secretariat and all those who put in submissions and presented evidence on this treaty. As an aside, can I refer people to Paul Cleary’s book entitled Shakedown: Australia’s grab for Timor oil, which has recently been released and which gives a very accurate picture of what has been happening in the negotiations over the Timor Sea oil.