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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21675

Mr WILKIE (4:29 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee's report entitled: Report 55: Treaties tabled on 9 September 2003Two Agreements on Taxation—United Kingdom and Mexico; Trade in Wine—European Union; Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands; ILO Convention No. 155—Occupational Safety and Health; Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants; Rotterdam Convention on Notification of Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides; Whaling Convention—Amendments to Schedule.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mr WILKIE —I seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Debate interrupted; adjournment proposed and negatived.

Mr WILKIE —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee's report entitled Report 55: Treatiestabled on 9 September 2003, together with the minutes and the Hansard transcript of proceedings. Report 55 contains the findings of the inquiry conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties into eight treaty actions tabled in the parliament in September 2003, relating to the matters identified in the title of the report.

The double taxation agreements with the United Kingdom and Mexico are the first treaties examined in the report. The agreements are similar in terms and approach to several other agreements of their kind: they are designed to facilitate trade and investment, combat fiscal evasion, protect Australian tax revenues, and maintain Australia's position in the international tax community. In the case of Mexico a new agreement has been signed, but in the case of the UK a treaty has been in place since 1967. The committee has accepted the view of the Department of the Treasury that, despite modification in 1980, the treaty was still out of date with today's taxation language and requirements and was in need of replacement.

Over time the committee has developed broad awareness and knowledge of the existence and importance of Australia's network of taxation treaties but in this report notes that, despite every effort, officials from the Department of the Treasury are unable to clearly state or quantify benefits to Australia as a result of these treaties. More importantly, the committee has commented on previous occasions on the tendency of departments to introduce legislative measures which will give effect to the terms of the treaty prior to the conclusion of the committee's review. Therefore the committee has recommended that more attention be given to the timing of treaties in their negotiation stages and their procedures for entry into force such that the parliament has had the opportunity to complete its review before the next steps are taken by government to bring the treaty into force.

Having made those observations, the committee recognises the importance of Australia's contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands and acknowledges the urgent need for the agreement concerning the operations and status of the police and armed forces and other personnel deployed to the Solomon Islands to assist in the restoration of law and order and security to have entered into force on or before 24 July 2003 when the Regional Assistance Mission was deployed. The agreement provides part of the necessary framework in international law for Australia and other assisting countries to deliver assistance to the Solomon Islands.

The International Labour Organisation Convention No. 155: Occupational Safety and Health 1981 is designed to ensure that ratifying states formulate, implement and periodically review a coherent national policy on occupational safety and health in the work environment. Despite the time taken to coordinate, all states and territories' advise that the terms of the convention are able to be met. The committee understands that the convention is supported by the Commonwealth as well as all state and territory governments and representative organisations of employers and workers.

The Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions form two of three conventions developed under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program, forming an international framework to manage hazardous chemicals through their life cycles. Persistent organic pollutants, dealt with in the Stockholm Convention, are chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment and animals, bioaccumulate through the food chain, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment, even at low concentrations.

The Rotterdam Convention concerns a notification procedure among parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in order to protect human health and the environment. The committee recognises the importance of these two treaties considered in this report, together with the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, in maintaining a strong international approach to the management of dangerous chemicals.

In terms of the more routine treaty actions examined in the report, the amendments to the agreement between Australia and the European Community on trade in wine, and the amendments to the schedule of the international whaling convention, the committee notes that these are straightforward actions to extend the terms of treaties that have been in place for some years and has made recommendations accordingly.

In conclusion, it is the view of the committee that it is in the interest of Australia for all the treaties considered in report 55 to be ratified where action has not occurred prior to the committee's review, and the committee has made its recommendations accordingly. I commend the report to the House and thank the secretariat for their ongoing commitment and effort. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Mr WILKIE —I move:

That the House take note of the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.