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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 9446


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:54): Australian companies, apparently with the support of the federal government, are trading in phosphate mined in Western Sahara with no benefits going to the local people. Western Sahara, illegally occupied by Morocco, is Africa's last colony. The Moroccan government has no title to the resources that it is selling. The three Australian companies involved are Incitec Pivot, Impact Fertilisers and CSBP, which is part of Wesfarmers, which owns Coles supermarkets.

Morocco is the biggest phosphate exporter in the world, with 70 per cent of its foreign currency income coming from the phosphates trade. Even though it is 30 years since the Moroccan occupation, no country recognises that Morocco incorporates Western Sahara. The African Union and over 80 countries, including most African nations, do recognise the government of Western Sahara—the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. International court rulings have determined that Morocco has no legal rights in Western Sahara.

Morocco has close allies in France and the US, both of whom are on the United Nations Security Council. They have used their veto power to prevent the UN from enforcing resolutions calling for Morocco's withdrawal, or at least a free and fair referendum. The Australian government has expressed its support for a referendum, but meanwhile it is doing nothing to stop the trade in Saharan phosphate.

Barrister Tim Robertson SC has called on the Australian companies involved in this phosphate trade to stop their imports from the region. He believes these importers are breaching international law and could end up having to pay compensation. Incitec Pivot and the other companies state on their import declaration forms that the phosphate is from Morocco. As that is not the case, it appears these companies are breaching the Customs Act, which in Australia is a criminal offence.

The United Nations has not imposed sanctions but has condemned the trade. The Australian fertiliser companies importing phosphate are aware of the UN position but say they will continue to buy phosphate until the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns otherwise. Exiled Western Saharans and their supporters have said that this trade and the Australian money that goes to Morocco helps maintain the illegal occupation of Western Sahara.

In 2007, when the ALP was in opposition, their national conference agreed to back self-determination for Western Sahara and all UN resolutions to that effect. But since forming government Labor has essentially followed the policy in force during the Howard years, allowing Australian companies to benefit from theft from the people of Western Sahara. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, should provide a lead now he is looking to engage more extensively in Africa.

Australia increased aid to Africa by over 40 per cent to an estimated $165.2 million in 2009-10 and this trend is set to continue. For the financial year ending 30 June 2011, Australian exports to Morocco reached $29.3 million and imports from Morocco totalled $88.7 million. Does the foreign minister support voting in the UN General Assembly for Western Saharan self-determination? Will the foreign minister take a stand on violations of human rights in the occupied territories of Western Sahara? Will the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recommend that Australian companies stop importing phosphate from the Western Sahara while the trade is controlled by the Moroccan government?

The European parliament is starting to shift on Western Sahara. The EU's development and budget committee has called on its parliament to reject the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement. It is time Australia reassessed its position on Western Sahara. We have a direct link to the exploitation of the land and its people. Catherine Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Australia Western Sahara Association, summed up this connection with phosphate from Western Sahara: 'The food on every Australian's table is fertilised by this stuff, so I believe this issue affects everyone in their daily lives.' I congratulate the Australia Western Sahara Association for their work on this issue and I look forward to a statement from the foreign minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, about the status of Western Sahara.