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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2448


Mr KELVIN THOMSON (9:07 AM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the following reports, entitled Report 98: Treaties tabled on 26 November and 4 December 2008 and Report 99: Treaties tabled on 3 December 2008 and 3 February 2009.

Ordered that the reports be made parliamentary papers.


Mr KELVIN THOMSON —by leave—The reports review six treaty actions, including:

  • the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
  • an agreement with NATO on the security of exchanged information; and
  • two taxation agreements with the British Virgin Islands.

In each case the committee has supported the proposed agreements and recommended that binding treaty action be taken. We have made an additional recommendation on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The committee considered two taxation agreements with the British Virgin Islands designed to assist in efforts to combat offshore tax evasion. These agreements are part of a suite of such agreements currently under negotiation by Australia and will facilitate the exchange of information relating to taxes and establish the allocation of taxing rights between Australia and the British Virgin Islands.

The British Virgin Islands is one of 35 countries working with the OECD under the auspices of the Global Forum on Taxation to improve tax practices. It currently has a low-tax structure and is known internationally as a centre for incorporated offshore companies.

These agreements will make it harder for taxpayers to evade tax and increase the probability of detection by allowing each country to request and receive certain information held by the other country.

The committee heard evidence that the tax office expects to uncover tax evasion by Australian taxpayers using the British Virgin Islands, and that in the 2008 financial year about $2.2 billion came into Australia from the British Virgin Islands. The tax office intends to use the agreement to look for telltale signs of tax evasion such as a taxpayer using a credit card from one of these countries to repeatedly take cash at automatic teller machines in shopping centres. The committee heard that there were people doing up to 200 or 300 withdrawals a year of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tax havens are one of the underlying causes of the global financial crisis. They contribute to a lack of transparency about who owns what. Taxpayers who pay their taxes voluntarily should not have to shoulder an additional burden to make up for those who do not.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will further promote and protect the economic, social and cultural rights of Australians living with disabilities. The optional protocol allows Australians living with disabilities to lodge unresolved discrimination complaints with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities once all domestic remedies have been exhausted. It also permits the committee to conduct inquiries into alleged grave or systemic breaches of the convention.

The optional protocol will provide an additional layer of accountability to Australia’s antidiscrimination measures and demonstrate Australia’s confidence in its human rights record. It will promote the inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of Australian life.

Accession to the optional protocol is also consistent with Australia’s involvement in other treaties with external appeal mechanisms such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Accession to the optional protocol places the rights of people with disabilities on an equal footing with the rights ensured by these treaties.

In conducting its inquiry the committee heard from the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) that the process by which Australians will be able to make a complaint to the United Nations committee is not clear. The AFDO suggested that the government needs to make clear to Australians the pathway they would have to follow in order to make an appeal to the United Nations committee.

To address this concern we have recommended that the government make advice available to Australians via the Attorney-General’s website—and I am delighted that the Attorney-General is in the chamber today—as to when and how a complaint could be lodged with the United Nations committee. The treaties committee considered that such an arrangement would ensure that Australians are aware of their options when making a disability discrimination complaint.

The committee also considered the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on the Security of Information. This agreement sets mandatory standards and procedures for exchanging classified information between the government of Australia and NATO.

This agreement will strengthen the existing cooperative relationship between Australia and NATO and will aid current ongoing Australia-NATO operations, such as Australia’s military deployment in Afghanistan, by facilitating the sharing of classified information. It will also allow for a deeper strategic dialogue between Australia and NATO and increased cooperation on long-term common interests and issues. The agreement is one of 10 similar agreements entered into by Australia.

These reports review six proposed treaty actions in total. The other treaty actions were minor amendments to the UNESCO International Convention Against Doping in Sport and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. I thank the numerous agencies and individuals who assisted in the committee’s inquiries. I thank the treaties committee staff for their efforts as well. I commend the reports to the House.