Bills Digest No. 118   1997-98 Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Amendment Bill 1997


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WARNING:
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

CONTENTS

Passage History

Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Amendment Bill 1997

Date Introduced: 26 November 1997
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Foreign Affairs
Commencement: Royal Assent, except for certain items specified in the Main Provisions section of this Digest which are to commence on a day to be fixed by Proclamation. Such provision must commence not later than six months after this Act receives the Royal Assent.

Purpose

To make a number of changes designed to improve the administration of the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994.

Background

Australia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on 13 January 1993, ratified it on 6 May 1994, and implemented it by passing the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994.The Chemical Weapons Convention Office (CWCO) is a unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was established on 15 February 1995 as Australia's national authority for CWC implementation.The Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994 established a system of permits and notifications which allows the CWCO to collect information from chemical facility operators in Australia in order to complete declarations required by the Convention.

For Australia, which does not have chemical weapons facilities or stocks to destroy, the main focus of CWC verification is related to the production and use of the chemicals listed in the Convention.Historically, parts of the chemical industry have played a major role in chemical warfare production programs.Industrial dye production factories supplied chlorine, phosgene and mustard agents used during World War I.More recently, Iraq's chemical warfare production used equipment originally designed for the production of commercial pesticides.(1) The types of chemical processes that are involved in the production of chemical warfare agents are also very commonly employed in the production of a large number of legitimate commercial chemicals.Within the commercial chemical industry, there are many chemical plants which are not involved in the production of any of the chemicals that have been used for chemical warfare purposes, but which would be capable of producing at least some of them.

Monitoring of the chemical industry under the CWC has two main elements:

  • declaration of activities involving certain chemicals, and the quantities involved; and
  • inspection, to verify that activities are consistent with declarations and that facilities are not used for purposes prohibited by the CWC, including the clandestine production of chemical warfare agents.

Approximately 100 Australian companies and organisations may be directly affected by the routine requirements of the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994.Around 20 hold permits under the Act, including companies in the chemical, foam rubber and textile industries, as well as several non-commercial organisations such as the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) facility at Maribyrnong in Victoria.(2)

The Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force on 29 April 1997.Up until now the Chemical Weapons Convention Office has undertaken the preparatory work required for Australia to meet its obligations when the Convention entered into force, including:

  • liaising with the chemical industry and other areas likely to be affected;
  • identifying and gathering information on industrial chemical facilities;
  • working with declarable facilities to prepare for the possibility of inspection by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body established under the CWC; and
  • putting into place regulatory, administrative and logistic mechanisms to allow Australia to fulfil its CWC obligations.(3)

This Bill seeks to improve the operation of the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994, based on experience gained in its initial implementation, through simplifying administration of the Act and reducing the administrative burden on companies and organisations directly affected.The following changes are included in the Bill:

  • replacement of the yearly permit cycle in the Act, so that permits may be valid for up to five full calendar years.Provision for facility operators to retain a permit beyond the year in which the permit activity ceases or falls below threshold amounts;
  • replacement of regulations with approved forms for submitting information required for declarations of past year activities, and for any periodic or special reports.The approved forms may be submitted electronically;
  • amendment of the requirement for all notifiers to provide reports, so that reports may not be required from certain classes of notifiers; and
  • amendment to the permit transfer provisions so that notification must be given by the transferor.

Main Provisions

The effect of Item 4 is to enable electronic lodgement of permit applications, notifications or reports under the Act.

The effect of Item 13 is to provide for the automatic renewal of permits up to a maximum of four times, making a one year permit valid for up to five years.Item 16 requires the permit holder to notify the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the ownership of the facility is to be transferred.

Several amendments proposed by this Bill further clarify Australia's obligations under the CWC.Item 5 enables regulations to be made defining more precisely the meaning of the terms 'production', 'processing' and 'consumption'.Item 6 enables regulations to be made setting out details of the methods by which quantities of chemicals are to be calculated for the purposes of the Act.The effect of this amendment is to clarify the definition of those facilities which are subject to the permit and notification requirements.

The effect of item 26 is to remove from the record keeping and reporting obligations certain chemical facilities which produce hydrocarbons and explosives in a manner to be specified by regulations (items 21 and 22 refer).Items 27 and 28 allow for the form and content of reports which are submitted to be defined in an approved form, rather than specified by regulations. Items 5 to 15, 17 to 22 and 24 to 29 inclusive are to commence on a day to be fixed by Proclamation and not later than six months after this Act receives Royal Assent.

Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) may undertake routine compliance inspections of certain Australian chemical facilities.The effect of items 30 to 51 is to clarify when an international compliance inspection may take place and the respective roles of the international and national inspectors.

Item 59 enables regulations to be made prescribing the diplomatic privileges and immunities to be provided to certain persons under the Chemical Weapons Convention.Australia's obligations to provide privileges and immunities are spelt out in its agreement with the OPCW.Most of the privileges and immunities required by that Agreement can be effected through regulations made under the International Organisations (Privileges and Immunities) Act 1963.The purpose of item 59 is to allow regulations to be made to deal with cases where the coverage of that Act is not sufficient.Items 45, 48 to 50 and 55 to 59 inclusive are to commence on a day to be fixed by Proclamation and not later than six months after this Act receives the Royal Assent.

Endnotes

  1. Office of the Secretary of Defense (U.S.), Proliferation: threat and response, April 1996, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1996: 20 21.
  2. Chemical Weapons Convention Office, Annual report 1996-1997, AGPS, Canberra, 1997: 49.
  3. ibid.: 5.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Rosemary Bell
4 December 1997
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

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ISSN 1328-8091
© Commonwealth of Australia 1997

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1997

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