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Monday, 17 June 1996
Page: 1638


Senator MARGETTS(6.15 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This is an important report. It is an important part of the outcomes of the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on the implications of Australia's defence exports. It is important because there was a lot of uncertainty about the process, from everybody's point of view. It seems that part of the problem has been insufficient coordination between the various bodies involved. That seems to be brought out in the conclusions of the audit office. The leaflet provided with the report states:

There is scope to improve the focus of export facilitation by better linking facilitation to the establishment and maintenance of industry capabilities of priority to Australia's defence self-reliance.

One of the questions we were asking during the process is: what is the basis of this policy? Is it based on what is good for Australia's defence? Is it based on what seems to be good for somebody to make dollars out of Australia's defence? What is it based on? Every time we ask the question, the goal posts seem to move. We hear, `Oh no, Senator. We are not just talking about dollars,' or, `Oh no, Senator. We are not just talking about Australia's defence.' But exactly what it was based on did not seem clear. If what it was based on was clear, then we would have some means of judging whether or not it was achieving its goals.

I think there is a lot to be said about this report. It is not just about dollars. I think what it is about needs to be clarified. It has recommended a review of defence export control legislation, including penalties amongst other things, and a liaison and coordination between agencies involved in the administration of export controls. I would say, `Hear, hear.'

There certainly seems to be a need for the Department of Defence to not answer on everybody else's behalf, just as it did when the report was tabled in the Senate and just as it did to the dissenting report. It answered on behalf of Customs and it answered on behalf of Foreign Affairs. In fact, that has been the problem. Defence has been a kind of controlling mechanism.

Other issues involved—such things as human rights abuses by anybody with whom Australian companies might be negotiating an export grant—are considered important by many people, but Defence was in fact making many of the decisions. They would choose whether or not an application was referred to the joint committee to decide such things. I would like to spend some time looking carefully at the report. Therefore, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.