Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties; Report
On behalf of the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the 138th report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, dealing with treaties tabled on 11 and 12 December 2013, 20 January 2014 and referred on 15 January 2014, together with the minutes of proceedings of the committee and the transcript of evidence.
Ordered that the report be printed.
That the Senate take note of the report.
This report contains the committee's views on the five proposed treaties: the Convention between Australia and the Swiss Confederation for the Avoidance of Double Taxation with Respect to Taxes on Income and its associated Protocol; the Arms Trade Treaty, which I will come back to later and make some brief comments on; the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay on the Exchange of Information with Respect to Taxes; the Agreement on Scientific and Technological Cooperation between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam; and the Exchange of notes constituting an agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Australia to amend the agreement concerning space vehicle tracking and communications facilities of 29 May 1980.
In particular, I would like to single out the Arms Trade Treaty, partly because of its importance to the community—not so much here in Australia but to the broader global community and many of the trouble spots we see—but also because of the leading role that Australia played in that. As I will come to, there are some flaws still with this treaty in terms of those who have signed up to it. But it is, to date, the first-ever binding international treaty governing the trade in conventional weapons. That trade is worth some $70 billion annually, and it presents a major barrier to peace and stability in many parts of our world. The treaty will establish common global standards that are aimed at lifting the degree of transparency around the trade in weapons, particularly to try and avoid those weapons disappearing into illicit markets.
Australia has been an active proponent of this for some time. Back in 2009, Australia co-authored and, in fact, co-sponsored the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 6448 which called for a conference to be convened to elaborate a legally binding document on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms. Australia was eventually elected as the vice-chair of the preparatory committee and Australia's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva was appointed the president of the conference convened in March 2013 to negotiate the final text. Each nation that is a signatory will be required to develop its own register and keep a national control list of weapons that will be covered by the regulatory mechanisms. Those weapons will be prohibited from being exported when the export would (a) breach a United Nations Security Council arms embargo or a similar measure or (b) breach an international treaty to which the exporting state is a signatory or where a party has acknowledged at the time of authorisation that the weapon would be used in the commission of genocide or crimes against humanity and certain war crimes.
As I mentioned, this is only the start of this process, because any nightly news that you watch you will see people in turbulent parts of the world carrying weapons, most commonly Kalashnikovs—AK-47s—which have their origins in Russia, or are copies from China. Neither of those nations have participated in developing the treaty nor have they signed it. The United States, the world's largest exporter of conventional weapons, has signed the treaty, although the committee is aware that domestically there is some pressure on the US government from internal industry and other concerns not to ratify it. We would certainly encourage them to continue and set the lead by actually ratifying that treaty. The treaty also has no enforcement provisions and, clearly, that can be an issue in terms of having weight from it. Nor does it include a fully comprehensive list of conventional weapons.
Despite these limitations, it is the first step the international community has taken in this direction of controlling conventional weapons. For that reason, the committee welcomes it as well as noting the critical role that Australia has played in getting us at least to this point. The committee recommends that binding treaty action should be taken and also recommends that binding treaty action should be taken in relation to the four other treaties examined in this report. On behalf of the committee, I commend the report to the Senate.
Question agreed to.