Friday, 1 June 2018
Senator RHIANNON: I have some questions for Austrade. I note that, in 2017, the Australia-Ecuador Business Summit was held in Quito to promote Australia's expertise and capacity to support Ecuador's growing mining sector. What I've also become aware of is that, in Ecuador, mining is quite challenging because Ecuador is widely regarded as the most biodiverse country in the world. I wanted to check in with you about how Austrade is working in Ecuador. Is Austrade aware that Australian companies own mining concessions in protected forest reserves and indigenous territories?
Mr Hazlehurst : Subject to any observations that my colleagues would like to make, you'll forgive us, but that's a very specific question. We'd be very happy to provide whatever information we can on notice, but I don't believe we'll have the capacity to answer—
Senator RHIANNON: Nobody's here to answer it? That's really sad.
Mr Hazlehurst : Ecuador is one of a very great number of countries in which Australian businesses are active. I doubt we will have someone here today that has the detail on those matters.
Senator RHIANNON: I'll try and ask some of the questions in a general way, because this is happening right now, and that's why I've been lobbied about it. Does Austrade support mining activities in areas earmarked for biodiversity and watershed conservation and in areas where ranching and agriculture have been prohibited for decades? It would seem a contradiction that mining is then allowed to come in. Do you have a position on that?
Mr Hazlehurst : A general position for Austrade would be that we would seek to connect Australian businesses with opportunities elsewhere in the world. Our understanding would of course then be that those Australian companies would be required to operate consistent with the laws of the country in which they're operating and indeed with any other international arrangements that are in place. It's not, fundamentally, our role to enforce the laws of another country.
Senator RHIANNON: But isn't this an ongoing controversy? It sounds good when we're sitting here a long way away: 'We obey the laws of the country.' But when the laws of the country can readily change—and there is an implication here for public Australian money that's been used in the past, through the old AusAID organisation, where it played a role in contributing to these protected areas. So we've had a government agency working in Ecuador with a non-government organisation from Australia—it's also international; it's called Rainforest Information Centre—where they helped set up one of these areas. Now I'm talking about it, I'll ask you to take this on notice. It was actually the Las Cedros Biological Reserve. It was set up previously, with public assistance from this country. Then there have been changes of government and allegations of corruption in the country. Does Austrade have some measures in place so you don't just say, 'We rely on the laws of the country'? Because the laws might change, so that it is easier for corrupt activities to occur, and Australian companies could be caught up in something that will be detrimental to the people in that country and to the standing of Australia. Do you have something to handle that?
Mr Hazlehurst : In the same way as Dr Fahey referred to earlier in terms of another part of our business, the Landing Pads program, we provide advice to companies interested in exploring opportunities in other countries about the laws of the country there and the regulations that apply. We would also, as part of the general services we provide, draw those matters to businesses' attention. But our role is one of facilitation, linking and informing; it's not one of policing the activities that occur in another country. It's beyond our remit.
Senator RHIANNON: I'm certainly not asking about policing of activities. But you're opening up possibilities for Australian companies to go into other countries—that is a fair summary of Austrade, isn't it?
Mr Hazlehurst : Particularly opportunities to export from Australia into those countries.
Senator RHIANNON: But you do more than assist with exports—like this Australia-Ecuador Business Summit, held in Quito. There were a lot of people there. It was specifically about supporting Ecuador's growing mining sector. So that's part of your work as well?
Mr Hazlehurst : Yes, I believe so. But I did say at the outset, in relation to the specific example that you gave, that we would need to take on notice precisely what our involvement was in that particular event.
ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Gallacher ): Could you give us some idea how long you will need?
Senator RHIANNON: I'll ask this question, then I'll put the rest on notice. Again, you might want to take this on notice. It goes beyond Ecuador. There have been incidents with these mining companies where, because many of the local people are opposed to it, some mining camps have been burnt down. There are quite serious implications for the workers that the mining company brings in. Are those things that you give advice on? Are you tracking these mining companies? Maybe in the first instance you think that going into this country is a good way to do business. But then events may change, and the local people might be taking action. Lives may be at risk. Are you giving advice to that level, particularly with these summits that you hold or ongoing advice that you might provide?
Mr Hazlehurst : In a general sense, as I said before, we certainly provide advice to companies about the regulatory environment and the business environment for the market that they are seeking to enter into. In broad terms, the answer to your question is yes. We provide advice to companies about what they can expect to find when they enter into that market. We also have arrangements in place where we provide services to businesses. We have a range of checks that we put in place around 'Is this a company that we want to do business with?' We can go into some more detail on notice, if you'd like, around that. And we keep a watching brief on that. If it turns out that there's a company that, for whatever reason, at the outset appears to have satisfied all our checks but for which subsequently further information comes to light, it could easily be a situation where Austrade might withdraw its services from that company.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. If you could take that on notice to provide the additional information and take on notice those earlier questions you were unable to answer.
Mr Hazlehurst : Certainly.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Acting Chair.