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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 29679

Mr ANDREW THOMSON (12:32 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee's report entitled Six treaties tabled on 23 May 2000—report 41, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mr ANDREW THOMSON —The report I have just tabled contains the findings of the committee's review of six proposed treaty actions that were tabled on 23 May 2001. These proposed treaty actions are:

· an Agreement with Germany on Films Co-Production;

· an Agreement on Social Security with New Zealand;

· an Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels;

· a Protocol to amend the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims;

· the withdrawal of ratification of a series of International Labour Organisation Conventions relating to hours of work and manning of ships; and

· the denunciation of International Labour Organisation Conventions relating to minimum age rates and the inspection of emigrant ships.

In this report we express our support for all six of these treaty actions. Rather than making a grand oration covering all the treaties that I have just enumerated, I would like to comment on the Agreement on Social Security with New Zealand and the protocol to the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims.

The Agreement on Social Security with New Zealand caused the most contention in the committee, and some very interesting interrogation occurred of officials who came to give testimony. This agreement enables the working life residence of a person who has been in either country to be added together to form an eligibility for a range of pensions that are available in either Australia or New Zealand. The essential feature of this agreement, which replaces an existing and longstanding agreement with New Zealand, is that it changes the manner in which each country contributes to the payment of those pensions.

The current agreement is an old style host country agreement, where the country in which the pensioner is resident meets most of the cost of pension payments. In normal cases, you would ask, `What is wrong with the old style agreement?' You might say, `Hold fast to that which is good,' which is a good principle to follow, but in this case the new agreement is a shared responsibility agreement—a more modern approach to the problem perhaps—where each country contributes to paying the pensions in proportion with the length of time that the pensioner has lived and worked in each country.

Because of the typical patterns of immigration between the two countries, the new agreement is expected to save the Australian government $93.9 million over the next four years. The agreement is very clearly in the national interest. It will result in considerable financial benefit to Australia while at the same time preserving the important role that freedom of trans-Tasman movement and a single labour market play in developing closer relations, especially economic relations, between our two nations—one day perhaps even leading to the union of the two, but that debate is for another time.

The second treaty I would like to comment on is the protocol to amend the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims. This agreement fits alongside other international maritime agreements to provide a framework to ensure Australian authorities can claim damages against shipowners for accidents that lead to environmental damage. We agree that Australia should recognise and be part of a scheme that increases the amount that claimants may recover in the event of a ship accident, while at the same time not placing undue financial risk on shipowners or salvors.

We see this agreement as providing a way to support new higher liability limits, whilst instituting somewhat simplified procedures. The agreement also acknowledges the fact that inflation has eroded the value of the liability limits provided for in the current convention. I commend this latest report, our 24th report, to the House.