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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3396

Senator BOURNE —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What are the government's objections to the human rights clause of the Australia-EU trade and cooperation agreement? Why does Australia now believe that we cannot `observe universal human rights'? Which universal human rights does the government intend not to observe or believes that we are not observing now? Are those rights related, for instance, to Australia's treatment of our indigenous population or to Australia's stand on greenhouse gas emissions?

Senator HILL —I was listening to Triple J this morning, so I missed the AM program.

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator HILL —I am a strong supporter of Triple J.

Senator Kernot —Turn around and tell that to Senator Alston.

Senator Bob Collins —You want to close it down, Robert.

Senator HILL —I cannot get a fair go around here, Madam President.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Just wait a moment.

Senator HILL —I missed the AM program in which I understand a European Union trade official raised the issue of Australia's reluctance to include a human rights clause within what is a draft trade and cooperation agree ment between our country and the European Commission. The reason, I understand, is simply that—it is a draft agreement about trade and economic cooperation.

Senator Kernot —No human rights in trade!

Senator HILL —We actually believe Australia has a good record on human rights. We are proud of our record. We have not only signed up to all the major conventions on human rights but we adhere to them and we furthermore promote that record internationally and proudly, Senator Bourne, and you do as well. It is good. We fail to see why we would therefore need to include within a trade agreement with the European Union a specific obligation upon ourselves that relates to our obligations under human rights conventions.

Senator Bolkus —Why was it good enough for John Major and not for you?

Senator HILL —Who was it good enough for? The one it was good enough for apparently was Gareth Evans, who had been negotiating this for the last two years. Gareth Evans may well have felt that he needed to parade our credentials in some way to the European Union; we believe our record stands. Our record is well known. Our record is well respected.

Senator BOURNE —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer. I ask him further: is it the case then that this is a draft framework for all EU trade and cooperation agreements, which I understand it is? If that is the case, wouldn't it then be right and proper for Australia to insist that a human rights clause be included because then they will be included in future EU agreements? Don't we believe that if our record can stand up to this sort of scrutiny everybody else's should as well and we should be pushing that at every single opportunity?

Senator HILL —If there were a way in which we could use our influence to improve human rights performance elsewhere, then I would support that. My note here speaks of a bilateral agreement between Australia and the European Union. I find it hard to understand how Australia would be negotiating a draft framework agreement for the European Union. Nevertheless, I will go back to the minister and see if I can get further information on the specific question that you now raise. If I can add something usefully next week, I will do so.