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Monday, 30 August 1993
Page: 468


Senator MARGETTS —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. What is the composition of the GATT disputes panel for the second Tuna-Dolphin case? What are the criteria for the selection of panel members to these dispute panels? Who is responsible for appointing members to these panels? Has former Australian trade commissioner to GATT, Alan Oxley, been chosen as a member of the disputes panel for the Tuna-Dolphin case? If so, on what basis? Given his opposition to environmental concerns, as outlined in his paper The looming issue of trade and environment, does this pre-suppose his recommendation on the outcome of that case? If not, why not?


Senator COOK —There are five questions here and I have two minutes to answer them; I will do my best to get across them all.

  Opposition senators—Four, four!


Senator COOK —Well, maybe I will be able to get across all of them. I understand that Mr Alan Oxley, in a paper given to a recent Fenner conference on trade and the environment, indicated to the audience that he could not comment on the Tuna-Dolphin case that is before the GATT for the reason that he had been selected to sit on the panel. I should record, therefore, that I think that is an entirely appropriate action for anyone adjudicating on such a case.

  The panel consists of a former Brazilian ambassador to the GATT, Mr George Maciel, Mr Winfried Lang, a former Austrian ambassador to the GATT, and Mr Alan Oxley, the former Australian ambassador to the GATT. There are several criteria for selecting panel members. The panels are composed of people who are well qualified, either from government or non-government organisations. They cannot be from contending countries in the procedure before the GATT; they have to be from third countries. Panel members are to serve in their individual capacities and not as government representatives, nor can they represent any organisation. The governments cannot give them instructions or seek to influence them as individuals on matters that are before the panel and, importantly, panel members should be selected with a view to ensuring that they are independent and of a sufficiently diverse background and have a wide spectrum of experience.

  Responsibility for appointing panel members lies with the Director-General of the GATT, in consultation with the parties involved in the dispute. Often they all agree on who should be on the panel. In default of agreement, in consultation the director-general can appoint members to the panel. In doing so, he calls on people who he thinks have the appropriate skills for the case that is to be considered. I believe that Mr Oxley was included in this particular case by the director-general. He was not on any list that we put forward, nor did he go forward on the sponsorship of this government; he was selected by the director-general himself and for this particular case. Mr Oxley is a former Australian ambassador to the GATT. He is now a managing director of a private company—International Trade Strategies Pty Ltd. The Australian government has had no role in his selection.

  To the question about the environmental concerns in his paper, whether Mr Oxley is an impartial judge of environmental and trade issues is a subjective judgment for all of us to make. I do not purport to make a judgment about the degree of impartiality or otherwise, but I do say that, from my experience, Mr Oxley is held in high esteem in a wide section of the community in Australia and is regarded as being able to conduct himself properly and fairly in all the circumstances. But it is not for me to comment on his selection or otherwise and I do not.


Senator MARGETTS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Considering Mr Oxley's widely publicised views on removing environmental concern as a basis of trade, does this choice of Mr Oxley mean that the government would prefer to allow GATT to prohibit trading choices based on their environmental implications as unfair trading practices under the rules of the Uruguay Round of GATT?


Senator COOK —With the greatest of respect to the honourable senator, I must say that this question springs from a defective knowledge of what the GATT does.


Senator Hill —You will get used to this sort of gratuitous comment from him.


Senator COOK —It is not a gratuitous comment. When a question is asked of the government which is founded on a wrong notion, it is appropriate for that wrong notion to be pointed out, and I do so with the greatest of respect to Senator Margetts.

  The Director-General of the GATT has chosen Mr Oxley. We as a government have had no role in that. Therefore, it is not appropriate for the government to be held to answer for the choice. That is the GATT's decision and we acknowledge and respect it.

  As far as the Australian government is concerned, we have stood up publicly on environmental issues in all the appropriate forums around the world. This government's record on that is without parallel in the history of this federation.


The PRESIDENT —Order! The minister's time has expired.