Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5509

Senator KIRK (4:39 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the 48th report of the committee entitled Treaties tabled in August and September 2002, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and minutes of proceedings. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator KIRK —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The report contains the results of an inquiry conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties into 10 treaty actions tabled in the parliament on 27 August and 17 September 2002. Specifically, the report deals with six subject matters, and I will mention each of these briefly.

First, the amendments to the schedule to the international whaling convention maintain the ban on commercial whaling and permit aboriginal whalers in some parts of the Northern Hemisphere to continue their hunt. This accords with Australia's long-held position on the banning of commercial whaling and the limited hunting of whales by Aboriginal subsistence cultures to meet demonstrated traditional, cultural and dietary needs. The committee notes that Australia's domestic legislation provides stronger protections for whales in Australian waters than those afforded under the convention.

The second subject matter is in relation to two agreements regarding compensation for oil pollution damage caused by spills from tankers. The changes to the limitation amounts in the 1992 protocol of the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage and the limits of compensation in the 1992 protocol of the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage will have the effect of increasing the existing limits in both conventions to take account of the erosion of their value by inflation since 1992. The committee accepts that it is in Australia's interests to accept the proposed amendments to these conventions as they were supported by all interested parties and are minor by nature. However, the committee anticipates an improvement in the notification processes for such actions. In this case, both had been tacitly accepted before the department notified the joint standing committee.

The third subject matter is in relation to two protocols amending double tax agreements with Canada and Malaysia. These are similar to several other treaties examined by the committee since its inception in 1996. The general aim of the DTAs is to promote closer economic cooperation through the elimination of overlapping taxing jurisdictions and to prevent international fiscal evasion. The specific aims of the proposed protocols I am referring to today amending the DTAs with Canada and Malaysia are to align these agreements with current Australian tax treaty policies and practice. The committee has recommended ratification in both cases.

Following recommendations in report 46 of the committee, Treasury provided greater detail on the specific issues and quantitative gains and losses that will accompany the amended DTAs with Canada and Malaysia through supplementary NIAs for each protocol. The committee notes and is satisfied with the efforts of Treasury to provide fuller and more specific details in relation to individual DTAs that come before it. Concerns about the inability of the government to quantify some amounts while apparently being more certain of others continue to occupy the attention of the committee in relation to the estimated benefits and losses accompanying the extension of tax bearing arrangements with Malaysia.

The committee recognises that economics is far from being an exact science and it requires the making of assumptions about the conduct of individuals who have open to them a large number of possible actions. However, the committee urges that Treasury continue in its efforts to provide as much information as possible about the assumptions on which it makes its policy decisions and what it hopes to achieve from the actions it implements in DTAs.

The fourth matter is the agreement between Australia and the USA concerning security measures for the reciprocal protection of classified information. This sets out the procedures and practices for the exchange and protection of classified information and for visits between Australia and the United States of America. The agreement is similar to ones concluded with other countries and will set uniform standards and procedures for exchanging classified information between all government departments and agencies in both countries. The proposed agreement provides the necessary protocols and security assurances to facilitate the exchange of classified information by ensuring that the information is protected by legally binding obligations.

In response to the concerns of some Australian parliamentary representatives, the committee was assured by the Department of Defence that members of parliament have access to classified information with no requirement for a security clearance. In the context of article 11 of the treaty, the committee expressed concern about the ability of Australian members of parliament to visit joint facilities in Australia and the arrangements for visits of American elected representatives to those sites. The committee requested further information from the Defence Security Authority on this and other matters but it is still awaiting clarification on some points. Despite the committee's concerns about some aspects of the agreement, it is the opinion of the committee that the treaty overall is in the national interest and should be ratified.

The fifth matter that this report covers is the Treaty between Australia and the Hellenic Republic on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. It is similar to several others already in place between Australia and other countries, and it is based on the Australian model mutual assistance in criminal matters treaty. Mutual assistance can be requested under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987, but a country is not obliged to provide it. Therefore, a treaty providing legal obligations on both parties makes the process more certain and more efficient. The committee agrees that this proposed treaty action will make mutual assistance in criminal matters between Australia and Greece more efficient, and has recommended ratification.

The sixth and final matter concerns the purpose of the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand relating to Air Services. This is to allow direct air services between Australia and New Zealand to facilitate trade and tourism. This is an open skies agreement. It is the first of its type and it is in keeping with the principles of the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement and the Australia-New Zealand Single Aviation Market Arrangements, or SAM, which entered into force on 1 January 1983 and 1 November 1996 respectively. The committee was advised that, as this is an open skies agreement, virtually all the barriers that pertain to the normal bilateral treaties have been removed. The agreement will confirm the existing liberal aviation rights between the two countries, as in the SAM arrangements, as well as remove some of the remaining restrictions in the aviation arrangements between Australia and New Zealand. The committee agrees that, by facilitating the development of the single aviation market between the two countries, the agreement will promote benefits by way of inbound tourism, freight operations and greater air travel options for Australian consumers, and it recommends that binding treaty action be taken. It is the view of the committee that it is in the interests of Australia for the treaties considered in report 48 to be ratified where binding action has not already been taken, and the committee has made its recommendations accordingly. I commend the report to the Senate.