John Howard and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday agreed on a
timetable for a new defence security pact to be signed by the end of
this year. But before the deal is signed off the Australian Parliament
should take a look at it.

For
the last ten years, the Joint Senate and House of Reps Committee on
Treaties has regularly reviewed treaties signed by the Australian
Government. But this is usually after the relevant Minister has already
publicly committed to such international agreements. As Devika Hovell pointed out in The Age recently, the Government dominated committee invariably gives any such treaties the thumbs up.

John
Howard’s justified criticism of Paul Keating’s secret treaty
negotiations with Suharto are well known. Upon winning office the
Howard Government made much of its Treaties committee initiative
arguing that it would open up foreign policy making to a measure of
democracy and accountability.

The reality is that the committee has acted more as a rubber stamp. Yet, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties terms of reference do include “any question relating a treaty or other international instrument whether or not negotiated to completion.”

So
what better opportunity for the Government to show that it’s serious
about democratic review of its foreign affairs work than to allow the
Treaties committee to investigate, with public hearings and
submissions, the proposed Indonesian treaty before it’s finalised?

And
what better opportunity for the Government to prove that it hasn’t
nobbled the Senate Committee system than to allow a controversial, but
unarguably important reference, to proceed.

Ben Oquist is currently employed to promote human rights in West Papua.

Peter Fray

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