International Legal Interests : Sub-program 1.8
The International Organisations and Legal Division administers this sub-program through the Legal Branch. The division’s area of responsibility also includes one Australian overseas post: New York UN.
n.a.: Not applicable.
Objectives, Performance Indicators and Results
Throughout the year, the department sought to ensure that the Government was provided with timely legal advice relevant to Australia’s foreign and trade priorities, and kept fully informed of its international legal rights and obligations. Some of the most significant issues are detailed below.
Against the background of the dispute with Japan over unilateral fishing in contravention of the Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, the department delivered timely advice on that convention, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary international law. This advice led to compulsory proceedings against Japan in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. We also made a significant contribution to the Government’s development of international regimes to promote the sustainable management of valuable Patagonian toothfish and orange roughy stocks, and to direct protection of these stocks where they were either within, or straddling, the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone. Regular advice was also provided to Australian negotiators on legal aspects of 21 bilateral air service agreements and other ongoing negotiations related to social security, film, status of forces and space.
We gave urgent advice on a number of occasions to federal and State police authorities on issues of consular and diplomatic privileges and immunities affecting foreign missions and their personnel in Australia. We also provided urgent advice on various aspects of the arrest and trial of CARE Australia workers, Mr Steve Pratt and Mr Peter Wallace. In addition, the department advised the Government on the possible establishment of an international criminal tribunal for former members of the Khmer Rouge, to ensure that the Government was informed of relevant legal considerations.
The department monitored the regulatory regimes required to implement UN sanctions, and provided legal advice to business and Government agencies on compliance with UN sanctions, including on the suspension of sanctions against Libya.
We made an effective and influential contribution to negotiations on the establishment of an International Criminal Court, culminating in the adoption of a statute at the diplomatic conference held in Rome in July 1998, at which Mr Downer delivered the opening address. Australia, through the department, chaired a like-minded group of countries with the specific purpose of strengthening the international humanitarian law regime. The adoption of the statute fulfilled one of the Government’s prime multilateral and human rights objectives. We are continuing to play an active role in the follow-up to the Rome Conference in the Preparatory Commission, which is mandated to work on the practical arrangements for the establishment of the court.
The department contributed to the UN negotiations for the development of Conventions for the Suppression of Terrorist Financing and Nuclear Terrorism, and sponsored specific provisions to address particular regional concerns. While the text on Nuclear Terrorism is not yet finalised, Australia’s proposals have received substantial support and influenced the negotiating process.
We undertook extensive public consultations pursuant to our reporting obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The report on this matter will be lodged with the convention committee in July 1999.
The development of stronger protective mechanisms to prevent the involvement of children in armed conflict and the sexual exploitation of children have also been a focus of the department. Negotiations on two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on these issues are currently deadlocked. During the year, we played a leading role in seeking a resolution of outstanding issues with the aim of concluding negotiations by 2000. We also participated in the development of an Australian Action Plan to ensure national implementation of global standards agreed at the World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
On behalf of the Government, the department concluded the negotiation of investment promotion and protection agreements with Slovakia, Lithuania and India. We are also involved in the negotiation of 14 bilateral double tax agreements, and have provided advice on the formation of the Government’s forward program of double tax agreements.
We have continued to play an influential role in the development of a Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and, in particular, its associated protocols on migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons (with a special focus on women and children) and illicit trafficking in and manufacturing of firearms. We expect that negotiations on the convention and protocols will be finalised by late 2000.
The department has used multilateral forums to establish mechanisms for the development of an international consensus to broaden legal cooperation on money laundering beyond the proceeds of drug-related crimes to all serious crimes.
The department is the chair of the Interdepartmental Committee on the Law of the Sea. In this function we played a key coordinating, negotiating and representational role in the development of international and regional institutions relevant to the definition and protection of Australia’s extensive maritime rights and interests. These interests include sustainable exploitation, conservation and management of the mineral and living resources of the sea and seabed. In the May 1999 meeting of State parties and at other meetings, we argued successfully for limits on budgetary increases for institutions established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Recognition of Australia’s transit rights through Indonesian archipelagic sealanes has been strengthened in keeping with Australia’s commercial and security interests, and the implementation of measures to protect Australia’s sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone enhanced.
The Government’s commitment to maintain transparent consultative arrangements for treaty action was supported by the department through public consultations and through assistance for the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT). Five presentations on the treaty-making process were given to groups of senior State government officials and private sector representatives. We also provided key speakers for the JSCOT Treaties Seminar of June 1999, attended by 80 members of the public. Outcomes from the treaties process included the tabling of 16 treaties through the Parliament, resulting in 11 hearings and seven reports by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
In conjunction with the Attorney-General’s Department, we conducted a review of the reformed treaty-making process introduced in 1996. We received 66 submissions in relation to this review. The overwhelming majority of these submissions concluded that the reforms had been well implemented and effective in enhancing both the openness and the transparency of the process.
In conjunction with the Australasian Law Information Institute, we continued the development of a treaties Internet database (constituting the Australian Treaties Library). This database is now the world’s most advanced online national treaty information system, already containing the equivalent of more than 26 000 pages of treaty texts. It has been enthusiastically endorsed by users, including State governments, members of Parliament, the legal profession, libraries, academics and the general public.
Through the Workplace Relations Committee, the department has ensured that employees are informed of legal issues relevant to their employment, including aspects of the Certified Agreement, Australian Workplace Agreements and issues relating to fixed and short-term employment.
The department implemented Government competition policy through the selection of a panel of private legal service providers. Positive feedback has been received via panel members on its commercial focus and timeliness.
We responded to over 50 requests from law firms seeking information on the taking of evidence overseas for legal proceedings. We also handled more than 280 cases in relation to private legal proceedings involving arrangements for service of legal documents through diplomatic channels.
The legislation process for all portfolio-related bills has also been managed effectively. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Act 1998 was assented to on 2 July 1998. The Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention Act was assented to on 14 January 1999 and has been proclaimed to commence on 1 July 1999.