Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Treaties Committee; Report
On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee’s report entitled Report 103: treaties tabled 12 March and 13 May 2009.
Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.
Report No. 103 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties reviews three treaty actions:
- the Agreement between Australia and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam concerning the Transfer of Sentenced Persons;
- the Convention on Cluster Munitions; and
- the Agreement on Employment of Spouses and Dependants of Diplomatic and Consular Personnel between Australia and the Portuguese Republic.
In each case the committee has supported the proposed treaties and recommended that binding treaty action be taken.
I will direct most of my remarks to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Cluster munitions are bombs, artillery shells and rockets that fragment into small bomblets known as submunitions. One cluster munition can spread up to hundreds of submunitions.
Cluster munitions are the subject of a convention because their broad area of effect and the fact that submunitions often fail to detonate mean they have a significant impact on civilian populations. Their use results in large areas of land being contaminated with highly dangerous unexploded submunitions.
In the short term, unexploded submunitions expose civilians returning to areas of conflict to the danger of being killed or injured. There have been over 13,000 recorded civilian casualties from discarded submunitions.
In the longer term, the suspected presence of unexploded cluster munitions prevents the use and rehabilitation of vital infrastructure, including roads, schools, markets and farms, until expensive and arduous clearance activities have taken place.
The convention was signed in December 2008 and will come into force six months after it has been ratified by 30 states. As of July 2009, 98 states had signed the convention and 14 states had ratified. The convention will require Australia to:
- never develop, produce, acquire, stock or transfer cluster munitions;
- never assist anyone in any activity prohibited under the convention;
- only retain limited stocks used for training purposes;
- provide assistance to cluster munitions victims in areas under Australia’s jurisdiction or control;
- provide to other states parties technical, material and financial assistance to clear unexploded submunitions, and for the economic and social recovery needed as a result of the use of cluster munitions in these jurisdictions;
- criminalise any activity prohibited under the convention; and
- encourage other states not party to the convention to sign and ratify, with the goal of attracting universal adherence.
As with any important measure of this sort, the chief thing is how to ensure the implementation follows both the letter and the spirit of the convention.
The committee is concerned that some of the terms contained in the convention are not clearly defined and may provide an avenue by which Australians could inadvertently contravene the humanitarian aims of the convention.
To prevent this, the Australian government and the Australian Defence Force should ensure that, when drafting the domestic legislation implementing the convention, and when developing policies by which the personnel of the ADF operate, the humanitarian aims of the convention cannot be legally contravened.
To achieve this, the committee recommends that the Australian government and the ADF have regard to certain issues when drafting the legislation required to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and when developing policies under which the personnel of the ADF operate. These issues are:
- the definition of the terms ‘use’, ‘retain’, ‘assist’, ‘encourage’ and ‘induce’ as they apply in articles 1, 2 and 21 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions;
- preventing inadvertent participation in the use, or assistance in the use, of cluster munitions by Australia; and
- preventing investment by Australian entities in the development or production of cluster munitions, either directly, or through the provision of funds to companies that may develop or produce cluster munitions.
The committee is of the view that ratification of the convention will reaffirm Australia’s commitment to limiting the impact of armed conflict on civilian populations, and will significantly improve the lives of people affected by cluster munitions. The convention will also permit Australia to continue to cooperate militarily with its allies.
The committee has also supported ratification of the Agreement between Australia and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam concerning Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which will assist with prospects of rehabilitation and reintegrating prisoners into society, and the Agreement on Employment of the Spouses and Dependants of Diplomatic and Consular Personnel between the Government of Australia and the Portuguese Republic. (Time expired)