July 27th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

TRADE: Sugar industry study backs failed policies, not new solutions

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: SA Govt to ignore Drug Summit call for harm minimisation?

ICC: a clarification (letter)

It's a cruel world ... (letter)

Welfare equity? (letter)

Islam and Australia (letter)

COMMENT: After Cheryl Kernot - character is important in public life

ASIA: Hong Kong: deflation and Big Brother

BIOETHICS: It's fact - life begins at fertilisation

COMMENT: Liability insurance and the abortion industry

COMMENT: How to uphold Australian 'culture' - plagiarise

BOOKS: 'ALIVE: The True Story of the Andes Survivors', by Piers Paul Read

COVER STORY: Why the Kashmir conflict won't go nuclear

EDITORIAL: The maternity leave morass

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Telstra sale splits minor parties - but will it be enough?

Government should act to secure super savings

MEDICAL SCIENCE: Nerve cells used in spinal cord regeneration trial

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Empty vessels at the old corral / Short-termism

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a clarification (letter)

by June Beckett

News Weekly, July 27, 2002

May I please make a small clarification with regard to your article on p.3 (NW, June 29) in relation to the decision to proceed with ratification of the Statute of the ICC.

The article stated, "The sudden turnaround in Coalition sentiment follows a long-running and exhaustive Parliamentary inquiry headed by Western Australian Liberal Julie Bishop", giving the impression that Ms Bishop had participated in the inquiry from the very beginning.

She had not. Indeed, Ms Bishop only came into the picture after the last Federal election, when the inquiry was virtually completed - the written submissions having been already lodged and all of the public hearings and oral evidence having been finalised.

The original Chairman was former Liberal Member for Wentworth, Andrew Thomson, who was - rather strangely - disendorsed by his own party just prior to the election.

In fact, when the inquiry resumed post-election, the make-up of the Committee had considerably changed with seven out of the 16 members being brand new.

One would hope that all these latecomers to the inquiry, including the Chair herself, would have gone to the trouble of reading all the submissions and transcripts of the hearings - acquainting themselves not only with the public's vehement opposition to the ICC but with those most compelling arguments against ratification put forward by the likes of Dr Ian Spry and Mr John Stone.

However, a reading of the "Bishop" Committee's final report leads me to believe that this didn't happen, as the recommendations display an astonishing naivety and preparedness to trust what is essentially an unknown quantity at this stage.

All the anti-ICC arguments have been swept aside as irrelevant or unimportant, with the Committee preferring instead to believe the emotive and unsubstantiated pleas from NGOs that "the ICC will operate in accordance with widely recognised legal principles" and that a permanent court "may help to reduce the influence of international politics in decisions about what crimes to investigate and prosecute." (My emphasis).

Having been invited to attend the JSC public hearing in Sydney in February 2001, I gained the immediate and very distinct impression that the then Committee was listening carefully to all the concerns expressed regarding our undoubted loss of sovereignty, the possible impact on the ADF and the dangerously wide and imprecise definition of the crimes.

Andrew Thomson himself severely rebuked two Bar Association representatives who were forced to admit that, in their enthusiastic support for the ICC, they had not even considered the question of whether or not our proposed ratification would be unconstitutional.

But there are other concerns which should be aired. The first relates to the Prime Minister's attempt to assuage the public's anxiety by the proposed declaration to be made by Australia upon ratification.

This is not only utterly meaningless (you cannot be half pregnant - you either support the ICC and all that it stands for, or you don't) but Article 120 of the Statute states: "No reservations may be made to this Statute", which effectively nullifies the declaration anyway.

Nor is there any comfort to be derived from his assurance that, if everything goes awry further down the track, we can withdraw from the Statute.

Not only would the required 12 months' notice give aggrieved parties ample time in which to lodge a politically-motivated and trumped-up complaint (e.g. the Woomera detainees for their "imprisonment" or the aborigines for the mental anguish caused by the lack of an apology), but Article 127 ensures that, even after our withdrawal from the Statute, we would still be obliged to co-operate with the ICC in connection with criminal investigations and proceedings commenced prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective.

In other words, complaints lodged before any subsequent withdrawal by us, will continue to occupy our time long after our withdrawal - as will the costs involved.

Secondly, both the JSC and the Government appear to have completely failed to address the possibility that the wording of the Statute as it presently stands - and to which it seems we shall be giving our support - may well be changed in the future.

In November 1998, the US complained to the UN Secretary-General that the original text of the Statute adopted by the Conference had been changed "without any notice or procedure".

In other words, the final document they allege was not the same text as that presented for signature on 18 July "even though it differed in a number of respects from the text that was adopted only hours before."

What guarantee is there, then, that other changes, subtle or otherwise, are not made in the future, without consultation or consent - changes that could significantly alter the procedural or legal ramifications?

According to the Statute, changes can be made by a "simple majority of States Parties present and voting." In other words, tiny specks on the world map - who have virtually nothing to lose one way or the other - can band together and vote for changes in the wording which might well have a significant and detrimental effect on us, because, at the end of the day, Australia will have but one voice.

Finally, any discussion as to the cost of this exercise has, so far, been carefully avoided.

In November 2000, our annual assessed contribution was estimated to be approximately $US5 million.

And we were told by the bureaucrats that the actual figure "will depend upon factors that are not yet known, such as which States will be amongst the first sixty to ratify the Statute and how quickly other States ratify following the Statute's entry into force."

Looking now at the current list of 68 ratifications, apart from most of Europe, the others are mostly tiny or otherwise Third World nations which are dependent for their very survival on foreign aid.

So, will these impoverished countries be paying the same contributions as we shall, or will their share of the burden be assessed at a lower scale? In any event, it would come as no surprise to learn that the above conservative estimate has by now been revised in an upward direction.

After all, the ICC is going to have a cast of thousands and we shall be paying dearly for the Judges, the Prosecutor and the whole travelling entourage, right down to the lowly typists.

And for what purpose do we do all this - other than to attempt to ingratiate ourselves with that nebulous entity known as "the international community" or as a face-saving measure for the foolish Messrs Downer and Williams?

June Beckett,
Bay Village, NSW

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