Senate debates

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Questions without Notice: Additional Answers


3:10 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to give further information relating to a question I took on notice in question time yesterday from Senator Hanson which related to an order to produce documents stemming from 11 December 2013 and a claim by Senator Hanson that that order had not been met. I'd refer the Senate and Senator Hanson, in particular, to a 12 December 2013 letter to the President of the Senate that was tabled in that regard, noted and recorded at page 1,728 of Hansard at that time. The letter outlines why the government is not in a position to comply with the order of the Senate. It states clearly: 'Unilateral disclosure of information before signature or before all parties would have otherwise agreed to the release of the approved text would be prejudicial to Australia's international relations. Specifically, a disclosure of this information would be in breach of relevant commitments made to Australia's partners in negotiations. This is consistent with normal practice in negotiating international treaties. Negotiating text is dynamic, changes regularly and has no binding status.'

The letter also noted that: 'Pre-emptive and unilateral release of such confidential information could damage Australia's standing as a negotiating partner, both in respect to current processes and potential future processes. Australia will be in a position to publicly release FTA texts when all parties agree to do so, not before. Accordingly, and consistent with longstanding Senate conventions, the government claims public interest immunity in relation to the documents covered by this order. The Senate can be assured that, once the text of trade agreements is agreed between parties, but before it is ratified by the Australian government, it will be made public and it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny through the well-established review processes through the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.' That is of course exactly what has occurred in relation to each and every trade agreement that this government has brought to fruition.