Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 2223 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

The government is well aware that Australia's involvement in treaty making has been the subject of widespread debate in recent years. In particular, there have been issues raised in a number of areas which are important to put on record here, issues such as the effect on Australia's sovereignty, Australian business and economic security, and state and territory parliamentary responsibilities and autonomy, and the impact on local communities. Of course, as members well know, the states and territories have no power to make treaties, much as perhaps we would like to. Therefore, that Commonwealth responsibility is exercised in a way which allows the Commonwealth to share with the states and territories as much consultation and discussion about these matters as the Commonwealth deems appropriate.

We are all aware of occasions in the past when the Commonwealth, having enacted an agreement with a foreign country, has used its power acquired under the Constitution thereby to enact legislation in respect of matters that are perhaps thought of as the responsibility of states and territories and, in doing so, has changed the nature of federalism in this country. As I say, it is to the credit of the present federal government that it wants to change that dynamic by having a debate which allows there to be more involvement in those decisions before they are finally and irrevocably made.

Mr Speaker, reforms to the treaty-making process were put in place in 1996 by the Commonwealth and the Council of Australian Governments. Those reforms helped to improve consultation with the states and territories and provided for a greater role for the Commonwealth parliament in treaty scrutiny. The reforms allow any concerns about international treaties to be raised by all Australian governments as well as by the public and other interested parties. It is also important to recognise that treaty making is a fact of international life. The growth in treaties reflects the increased internationalism of world affairs in areas as diverse as multilateral trade, the environment, industrial relations and human rights.

Some issues affecting Australia's interests can only be resolved through international cooperation and agreement. Also, many treaties have conferred economic, social and other benefits on Australia that otherwise simply would not have been attained. Australia's participation in key international treaties such as GATS must therefore be expected and even encouraged, I would submit, if we are not to be left behind or to suffer from missing out on potential benefits.

GATS was an important outcome of the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations and entered into force in 1995. It provides a framework of rules for international trade in services and a timetable for progressive liberalisation on a multilateral basis. Although the November-December 1999 WTO ministerial conference in Seattle failed to launch a new round, services and agricultural negotiations are now under way.

GATS can have important and positive results for the ACT, given that it is primarily a services-based economy. In a media release announcing the launching of the Chief Minister's export awards, I reported that services exports from the ACT last year were approximately $688 million, compared with merchandise exports of around $28 million. Obviously, not all of that $688 million is for overseas, but an increasing amount is and that growing level of exporting of services means that the ACT does indeed have a stake in an appropriate direction for the GATS process.

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .