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Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Page: 9205

Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (3:20 PM) —The coalition notes today’s statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs announcing that Australia has extended bilateral sanctions against Iran in response to Tehran’s continued failure to adhere to United Nations Security Council resolutions. The coalition support the extension of bilateral sanctions. In government we supported the United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for Iran to open its nuclear program to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency with the intent of halting what we assessed was a nuclear weapons program.

The international community has sent many unambiguous messages to Iran that it must fulfil its international obligations and stop uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. International coordination of responses is vital. Therefore, by meeting the level of European Union sanctions, Australia is playing its part. Australia should keep up its pressure on Iran over failing to adhere to UNSC resolutions, not agreeing to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s requirements for inspections of all facilities and full clarification of Tehran’s nuclear policy.

I note that the government is also proposing some new measures in relation to trade with Iran. The Minister for Foreign Affairs commented that he is not intending to prevent legitimate Australian trade with Iran, but I do note that he proposes that there be no new financial support for trade with Iran under Australia’s trade promotion and trade financing programs—and I make a particular reference to the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation. EFIC has its own independent charter and is expected to behave independently. While I can understand the desire of the government to take a clear stand on this issue, it is important also for EFIC’s independence to be respected. There are some deals or trade negotiations which involve greater risk than EFIC is prepared to take, and that then involves a national interest account decision by the government. It is quite appropriate for the government to act as it sees fit in relation to national interest account measures, but I urge caution in interfering in the normal commercial activities of EFIC in making decisions about what sort of trade transactions it should back.

Trade with Iran is quite small, although it was once one of our most important wheat markets. We had, I understand, about $200 million worth of trade in 2006-07, and that included a range of primary products including barley, animal oils, fats, meat and butter. Coking coal and motor vehicles have also been important exports to Iran, and it is probable that some exports arrive in Iran through other Middle East destinations. However, that trade, whilst small, is important. Most of it is a difficult market. It will be difficult for Australia to break back into Iran with our new wheat-marketing arrangements, and there may be no desire to do it, but I think there does need to be a recognition of the fact that sometimes there will be a need for EFIC to be involved in projects that have significant national interest.

On the other hand, we in no way turn a blind eye to the unacceptable behaviour that has been apparent in Iran’s nuclear program, and we agree with the government’s assessment that Iran remains committed to its indigenous development of nuclear energy. Iran’s commitment under its current and, for that matter, its previous leaders to develop nuclear energy and its intent to maintain a weapons option is likely to continue. We recognise the validity of Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and its increasing need for energy. Iran’s approach to this issue, though, seems to be a complex mix of energy needs, statements about its own sovereignty and national strategic ambition. I think it is important that we respond appropriately and support United Nations Security Council resolutions in relation to this issue, particularly No. 1835 of 27 September. The coalition opposes proliferation of nuclear weapons wherever it may occur around the world.

In view of Russia’s opposition to further United Nations sanctions against Iran during the debate over Security Council resolution 1835, we also call on the government to take up this issue in diplomatic representations with Russia. We urge the government to take into full consideration the view of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the authorised UN agency treating technical and operational aspects of nuclear issues, that Iran remains committed to enrichment. This is not likely to be reversed, and pursuit of non-proliferation inspections and verification regimes must be part of future international responses to Iran’s activities.

Can I also make some brief comments on the government’s decision not to take legal action concerning Iran’s anti-Semitic views. We, like the government, were appalled by the anti-Semitic views expressed by the Iranian President in his 23 September address to the UN General Assembly, and we condemn those remarks unreservedly. I can understand that sometimes these kinds of issues are full of legal complexity, and sometimes the government have been full of bravado about what they want to achieve, such as international prosecution in the whaling issue, and when they see what the facts are they realise that they are unable to mount a successful case. I think the government need to be thorough, vigilant and correct in condemning unacceptable behaviour and unacceptable comments. It is disappointing that no legal action is possible, but, on the other hand, to mount a case that would inevitably fail would also be counterproductive. So I caution against bravado where there is no capacity to actually deliver what might be threatened in those statements.

I welcome the government’s further commitments in relation to sanctions against Iran. I urge them to be aware of the potential implications for some Australian exporters and, if need be, to be sympathetic to the circumstances of those exporters. I recognise that no-one, even for commercial reasons, should seek to undermine government policy in relation to these important areas, but we also need to be aware of the economic implications for sometimes perhaps quite small and committed companies.