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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5876


Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (17:03): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee's report No. 117 entitled Treaties tabled on 9 and 10 February, and 1 March 2011.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Mr KELVIN THOMSON: by leave—I present today report No. 117 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which addresses treaties tabled in parliament on 9 and 10 February, and 1 March 2011. This report considers three significant bilateral agreements and two instruments amending treaties to which Australia is already party.

Of particular interest to Australia's Slovak community will be the new social security agreement to provide pension portability between our two nations. The agreement with the Slovak Republic follows a model successfully implemented with some 24 other countries. Such agreements aim to increase retirement incomes for migrants who have spent part of their working lives in either country and deliver greater choice of residency for all benefit recipients.

Under this agreement, over half of the Slovak Republic age pensioners in Australia will qualify for entitlements accrued in their homeland for the first time. Australia, in turn, will have a net social security benefit, as pensions paid here will be offset against Slovak provided funds. The agreement also provides that superannuation and pension requirements are due in only one nation at a time. This cuts costs for employers and opens employment and business opportunities in both nations.

Another treaty in this report represents, in my opinion, a significant step forward for law enforcement and cooperation in our region. The prisoner transfer treaty between Australia and the People's Republic of China provides a framework of rights and protections for Australian and Chinese nationals seeking to transfer from correctional institutions in the other nation. Given past human rights concerns, it is important to note that no prisoner will be compelled to transfer. The treaty requires that all parties involved consent to the transfer and that prisoners are fully informed in writing of all the legal implications.

A mandatory requirement under transfer agreements is that the receiving party enforces the full term of the original sentence. Department representatives advised, however, that there is flexibility. The served term may be adjusted through the use of non-parole periods, for example.

The committee understands that this treaty with the People's Republic of China has been a long-term priority for government; yet it is two years since China formally advised that it had domestic arrangements in place for its ratification. The committee urges ratification and implementation of this treaty to avoid any further hardship for Australians held in China and their families.

The other bilateral agreement dealt with in this report introduces new co-production opportunities for film, television and digital media in Australia and South Africa. Agreements like these should be of great interest to Australians, given the potential for rich cultural exchange and boosted production activity between two vital media industries.

Finally, I draw the attention of the House to the proposed amendments to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia and to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The Treaty of Amity is an important vehicle for Australia's engagement with ASEAN. The Third Protocol amending the treaty opens accession to regional organisations like the European Union. The committee welcomes this forward-looking gesture, which demonstrates ASEAN's willingness to engage beyond the region.

The amendments to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement were minor in nature, but the committee notes in consideration that even minor changes can have major implications. Amendments to annotations, for example, dealt with telecommunication regulation in an increasingly competitive international market.

To conclude, the treaty actions in report 117 are not controversial, but neither are they inconsequential to Australia's national interests. They all have the committee's support.

I commend the report to the House.