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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26228

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (9:08 PM) —I think Senator Harris is being unduly cautious. If he refers back to article 4.3 of the agreement he will see that the exporting state has an obligation to cooperate for the purposes of enforcing and assisting the enforcement of the measures, ensuring the accuracy of claims of origin and matters of that type. Thus, there is a procedure for verification—that is, verification by an official of the exporting state. But that is our obligation to the importing state, and each has the same obligation.

If the exporter does not want to get the tariff preference, there will be no verification. This is not something being forced on all exporters, but if someone wants to gain a benefit it is not unreasonable that they might be asked to demonstrate that they are complying with the rules. Senator Harris, when you look at how that will apply in Australian law, which are the provisions in the implementation bill that we are discussing, I think you will find that they are very soft provisions indeed. Even the Australian verification officer cannot enter a premises without the consent of the occupier. That is why I suspect that in all cases it would be within business hours, because this is a process done with the consent of the occupier. Before obtaining a consent, a notice must be given in accordance with 214BAE(3), which says that the verification officer must tell the occupier that the occupier is entitled to refuse consent. These provisions are absolutely full of safeguards to ensure that there is no pressure upon the exporter.

As Senator Harris says, when you get to 214BAH, which says that the verification officer may ask questions, it is specifically stated that the occupier is not obliged to answer the questions. The verification officer may ask for assistance; the occupier is not obliged to comply with the request. So one can work through practically every provision within this part and see no potential for coercion on the exporter at all. If the exporter wants to get a tariff benefit, clearly they will want to comply and cooperate. That is what this part is all about.

I concede that 214BAK does not specifically say that the occupier can refuse to allow the operation of the electronic equipment, and I presume these are forms of data records et cetera. On the other hand, if the occupier does not want the officer to do that they will not give them consent to enter the premises and they will not agree to answer questions. This is a cooperative process. Therefore, whilst I understand that Senator Harris is looking for mischief within the provisions, and that is quite legitimate, I do not think he will find them in this part. I also say to Senator Harris that his area of concern is not actually relevant to the amendment that is before us, because the Greens are not objecting to verification by an Australian official; they are objecting to the fact that an American customs officer may, albeit with the consent of the occupier, accompany the Australian official.