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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9487

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (8:46 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present Report 105, treaties tabled 13 May and 25 June 2009.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr KELVIN THOMSON —Report No. 105 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties reviews two treaty actions: firstly, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel—the optional protocol; and, secondly, the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters—the Hague service convention. In each case the committee has supported the proposed treaties and recommended that binding treaty action be taken.

UN personnel involved in delivering humanitarian, development or emergency assistance are often exposed to a security environment of exceptional risk. In the 2007-08 year, 25 civilian UN personnel lost their lives as a result of malicious acts while engaged in humanitarian work. The optional protocol is a supplementary treaty of the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. The convention criminalises attacks on UN personnel engaged in peacekeeping operations. States that are party to the convention are required to either prosecute or extradite persons suspected of committing such acts within the jurisdiction of that state. No such protections currently exist for United Nations and associated personnel engaged in humanitarian work. The optional protocol is intended to rectify this situation.

The optional protocol expands the protection of the convention to personnel involved in additional types of UN operations, including personnel involved in delivering humanitarian, political or development assistance in peace building and delivering emergency humanitarian assistance. This includes, for example, personnel employed by the UN Development Program; the UN Children’s Fund; the World Food Program; and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

There are good reasons for Australia to ratify the optional protocol. A large number of Australians are involved in working for the UN in humanitarian work, and it is in their interests for Australia to ratify the optional protocol. Ratification by Australia will bring the optional protocol closer to being in force. It will also encourage other nations to undertake the ratification process. In addition, while the optional protocol will not necessarily prevent attacks from happening, bringing it into force will strengthen the rule of law and create an additional sense of obligation for nations where humanitarian assistance is delivered. The treaties committee believes that ratification of this treaty will send a message to the international community about Australia’s commitment to the safety of United Nations and associated personnel involved in humanitarian work. If Australia’s ratification of this treaty results in another country prosecuting someone who has attacked an Australian working for the United Nations, it will have been well worth the effort.

I will now turn to the Hague service convention. There are many legal professionals in the parliament who will understand the importance attached in the litigation process for the serving of documents. The service of documents performs the function of advising a person that they are considered by a court to be a defendant in a matter before the court, and enables the court to establish its jurisdiction over a defendant. Because of the importance of a person knowing that they are a defendant in a matter before a court, there are rules governing the service of documents. The rules are generally directed at ensuring that the defendant is aware that they are party to a matter before a court and have accepted the documents.

There are significant barriers to the effective service of documents by Australian litigants to defendants overseas. Currently, the service of court documents abroad is administered through diplomatic channels, which regularly takes some months. This means that defendants are not given enough time to prepare a defence, and this may result in a default judgment being given against them. On the other hand, applicants can be disadvantaged if a court cannot demonstrate that documents have been successfully served. The Hague service convention streamlines and harmonises the process of serving court documents between countries that are party to it by establishing a framework for the transmission of court documents between countries. The committee supports ratification. The Hague service convention has the potential to replace a slow, complex process with a transparent and timely procedure more appropriate to the globalised world in which we live. I thank the numerous agencies, individuals and organisations who assisted in the committee’s inquiries. I commend the report to the House.