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Wednesday, 2 February 1994
Page: 252


Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (7.03 p.m.) —The coalition will support the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Bill which will give effect to Australia's obligations as a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, lead to the ratification of the convention and provide a legislative basis for its national implementation. In the 95 years since the first attempts at The Hague conference on chemical weapons and in the 69 years since their use—but not possession—was outlawed under the 1925 Geneva protocol, the international community has been trying to ban chemical weapons. The achievement of international agreement on this in January 1993 was a significant milestone. We applaud the efforts of the international community in having outlawed some of the most abhorrent and horrific of all weapons of mass destruction. The Chemical Weapons Convention is the first treaty in history to ban the development, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of an entire category of weapons.

  The coalition would like to give appropriate recognition to the role that Australia played. I make particular mention of the efforts of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Gareth Evans, and his department over the years. Because of my particular interest in this area, I witnessed the efforts of many dedicated and capable officers in his department. They can all be proud of the contribution that Australia made to the achievement of this very important agreement.  The coalition is particularly pleased with the support gained within the Asia-Pacific region for the convention. We urge our regional neighbours to continue this commitment by ratifying the convention at the earliest opportunity.

  The difficulties inherent in the complex negotiations for the convention reflect the problems the international community has been facing and will continue to face as a result of the end of the Cold War. The so-called new world order, which was so optimistically talked of and which was to reflect a new era of global cooperation, has failed to eventuate. Instead, the international community is continuing to wrestle with a whole range of intractable problems—from bloody conflict in Bosnia to starvation in Africa, from political instability and economic hardship in Russia to human rights abuses in Burma. The list is long and difficult.

  The question becomes that of what the international community can do to reach agreement on such difficult issues. To date, efforts, whilst diligent, have not been impressive. The issue of human rights, for instance, stands as an example of an international issue on which little agreement has been reached. The Vienna conference last year, which was designed to reach a greater international consensus on the undeniable need for consistency in the respect for human rights, did much to illustrate the divisions which exist but little to implement the practical schemes to ensure that individuals' rights are universally respected. In other words, a convention is not enough; it is just simply a starting point.

  The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—be they chemical, biological or nuclear—is potentially one of the most threatening developments of our age. The technology to deliver these weapons is becoming more widely available. Some states are showing little hesitation in selling both the knowledge and the materials necessary for their development—that is, both the warheads and the delivery vehicles. The continuing proliferation actions of states such as North Korea remain totally unacceptable to countries like Australia. The threats arising from possession of such weapons, the destabilising results and the uncertainty generated can trigger chain reactions that could lead to devastating outcomes.

  In the area of arms control and disarmament, the weakness of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the role of the IAEA, as illustrated recently over North Korea, has become deeply disturbing. The need to strengthen and expand the missile technology control regime is urgent, as evidenced by the sales of sophisticated technology, even from within our region. Now that the Cold War has ended, the case for a comprehensive test ban treaty, particularly after China's large nuclear test last year, has strengthened.

  The Chemical Weapons Convention is a step towards more encompassing arms control regimes. Although it has gained a more significant outcome than other international negotiations, it still suffers from similar problems. This is particularly the case with respect to the difficult problem of how the international community can bring pressure to bear on states which have no intention of conforming with the spirit or requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention or often of other such issues. The issue of compliance—how to encourage and enforce it—remains a major challenge to the international community.

  I turn briefly to the level of support for the CWC. To date, 154 countries have signed the convention but only four have ratified it. The treaty will come into force when 65 signatories have ratified it. Australia is seeking to provide on example by promptly passing this legislation. We support that example. Let us hope that others will do likewise.

  The coalition is concerned about the limited international support the convention is receiving from those countries most likely to be interested in possessing, or which indeed already possess, chemical weapons. Not only have states such as North Korea not signed the convention; most middle eastern nations have not signed either. Given that the Middle East is the only certain theatre since World War II where chemical weapons have been used, this omission is obviously unsettling.

  Chemical weapons are not difficult to make. The extent of Iraq's extensive chemical weapons program discovered after the Gulf War is an illustration of the ease with which states can develop and conceal huge chemical weapons arsenals. Iraq has declared, for example, 140,000 chemical weapons, 600 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent and 3,500 tonnes of precursor stock to United Nations inspectors, but it has still not been possible to determine whether this is in fact the total stockpile. Without the cooperation of the country concerned it would be therefore very difficult to enforce the provisions of the convention, whether that particular country is a signatory or not.

  About 20 states are believed to possess chemical weapons, many of which will not sign or ratify the convention. Therefore, as I said a moment ago, greater efforts need to be made to find ways in which such countries can be brought on board to accept the importance of the principles of this convention, and how it can enhance their security rather than threaten it. From there, apart from the issue of a cooperative enforcement regime, the international community has got to look to other ways in which it might be more effectively enforced in relation to states that are not willing to comply. I want to look briefly at verification. The effectiveness of the convention will also be limited by the effectiveness of its inspection and verification regime, which is already less than perfect. This was the most difficult part of the negotiations for the final agreement, and the verification provisions were then substantially watered down.

  The convention now provides for two verification regimes—a routine monitoring regime involving declarations and systematic inspections; and a challenge inspection regime where any state can request an inspection of any facility in any other state. Both regimes are likely to be limited in their effectiveness and dependent upon state cooperation. Problems such as we are witnessing in North Korea with respect to its refusal to allow adequate IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities despite it being a signatory to the NPT illustrate the likely difficulties ahead.

  Another concern I have with the convention is the exceptions to it. I read that the use of chemicals for `law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes'—article II 9(d)—is not prohibited under the convention. There seems to be some ambiguity about this, but it is not hard to imagine ways in which states could develop chemicals for what they refer to as domestic riot control that could have other uses. The use of that as a means to avoid the effectiveness of the convention, and how that is going to be regulated, is something we are yet to see in detail. On its face, it does appear to be an obvious omission or concession that unfortunately can be abused.

  I want also to mention the role of industry. The Australian chemical industry has been totally supportive of this legislation and the convention and the process leading to the convention, and I commend it for that. It is obviously essential that chemical companies comply with a range of laws to ensure their safe operation. I hope that the government will ensure that there is not an unnecessary burden imposed on such companies which are pursuing genuine legitimate business aims in the need to comply with the convention. Of course, such compliance is paramount.

  On this side of the chamber, we have some little concern with aspects of the cost. We note that Australia's annual contribution to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in the Hague, is estimated to be about $1.7m. That is one thing, but we also see that Australia is going to establish its own chemical weapons convention office at a cost of another quarter of a million dollars. We do not see, without further explanation, exactly why that could not be done within existing resources and within the skills of DFAT; that might be something that the minister is willing to address in his reply.

  In conclusion, the convention does need to be strengthened. This is obvious from what I have outlined today. The coalition would urge that every effort be made bilaterally and multilaterally to overcome its shortcomings. The signing and ratification of the convention obviously must not be seen as the end point. It may not be the starting point but it is only a step along what is still a very difficult road. The convention must continue to evolve so that there can be greater reassurance that such weapons are effectively outlawed.

  Although the convention does have limitations, it is an important step towards banning weapons which have an immediate and appallingly detrimental effect on human life and which should never be countenanced as a weapon of war. We on this side of the chamber will continue to maintain our long running support for the elimination of such weapons of mass destruction and thus we are pleased to support the bill.