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Profile: Australia

Australia was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (SBSTTA) rejects proposals during a meeting in Montreal to recommend a permanent moratorium on genetic use restriction technologies (GURT). GURTs are those which use genetic engineering to restrict the growth of plants in order to protect the intellectual property rights of the seed developer. The most well-known restriction technology is “terminator” technology (see 1994 and after). Another is “traitor” technology, so named because the traits of seeds and plants produced with this technology can be genetically controlled, e.g., a certain proprietary chemical may be required in order for certain genes to be expressed. The proposal to ban GURTs was made after a report by a blue-ribbon scientific panel was presented before the SBSTTA. The report had concluded that restriction technologies are a threat to agricultural biodiversity and national food security. The delegates at the meeting reportedly agreed that the study was broadly based and well done. After listening to the report, the government of Norway proposed that the SBSTTA recommend a moratorium on field trials and commercialization of the technology. India, Portugal, Kenya, Peru, and several other countries backed the proposal. The US opposed it, as did Canada—though only the US delegation attempted to defend the technology. One of the concerns expressed by supporters of the proposal was that terminator technology could be used to strong arm poorer countries into adopting or accepting certain trade policies. Countries like the US, it was suggested, could withhold seed or the chemicals needed to sustain the growth of chemically dependent plants as a sort of ransom. With the US and Canada opposed to Norway’s proposal, an alternative resolution was drafted by Britain (and then amended by Suriname). Though different than Norway’s, Britain’s proposal would have also recommended a ban on commercialization and field trials. But this was not considered agreeable either. Finally, a “contact group” was formed, which went into private discussion. The compromise that resulted from the closed-door meeting looked nothing like either of the original proposals. Under the provisions of the compromise resolution, governments would have the option of imposing a ban on field trials and commercialization. It failed to affirm the conclusions of the Blue Panel report, making no mention of GURT posing a direct threat to biodiversity or national sovereignty over genetic resources. “I don’t know what happened in that room,” Silvia Ribeiro of Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) says, “There were two reasonably strong resolutions when they went in and one very weak proposal when they came out. I think the South has been tricked.” The new proposal was then weakened even further by the efforts of Australia. Even an industry representative took a stab at weakening the proposal. “In the feeding frenzy, a representative from the seed industry became so excited that he took the floor, presumed the prerogative of a government, and proposed additional resolution text to restrict farmers’ rights to save, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed,” according to RAFI. The following day, during a plenary discussion, RAFI called attention to a little noticed provision that had been slipped into the draft by Australia as an amendment. RAFI noted that it would restrict countries’ rights to impose a moratorium on GURT by linking any moratorium to potential trade sanctions. “Shortly before the debate ended, the US delegation made an ugly and aggressive intervention that put the question to rest: The US bluntly threatened trade sanctions on countries that impose a moratorium and made clear that it was willing to use the WTO to force terminator down the world’s throat,” according to RAFI. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/25/1999; Convention on Biodiversity, 6/27/1999, pp. 23-26 pdf file; Convention on Biodiversity, 6/27/1999; Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/28/1999; Economic Times of India, 7/8/1999]

Entity Tags: Suriname, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, Portugal, United States, United Kingdom, Peru, Kenya, Australia, Canada, Norway, India

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Australia and New Zealand, in a joint statement, announce that they will require all genetically modified products to be labeled. [Australian Broadcast Corporation, 7/28/2000; Australia, 7/28/2000]

Entity Tags: Australia, New Zealand

Timeline Tags: Seeds

An Echelon station in Menwith Hill, Britain.An Echelon station in Menwith Hill, Britain. [Source: BBC]By the 1980s, a high-tech global electronic surveillance network shared between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is gathering intelligence all over the world. The BBC describes Echelon’s power as “astounding,” and elaborates: “Every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism.” [BBC, 11/3/1999] One major focus for Echelon before 9/11 is al-Qaeda. For instance, one account mentions Echelon intercepting al-Qaeda communications in Southeast Asia in 1996 (see Before September 11, 2001). A staff member of the National Security Council who regularly attends briefings on bin Laden states, “We are probably tapped into every hotel room in Pakistan. We can listen in to just about every phone call in Afghanistan.” However, he and other critics will claim one reason why US intelligence failed to stop terrorism before 9/11 was because there was too much of a focus on electronic intelligence gathering and not enough focus on human interpretation of that vast data collection. [Toronto Star, 2/2/2002]

Entity Tags: United Kingdom, United States, Osama bin Laden, Echelon, National Security Council, Canada, Australia, Al-Qaeda, New Zealand

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) passes conference resolution 3/2001, approving the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, popularly known as the International Seed Treaty. The vote is almost unanimous with only two countries abstaining: the United States and Japan. [The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 11/3/2001 pdf file; Financial Times, 11/6/2001] The treaty—under negotiation for seven years [Financial Times, 11/6/2001] —requires countries to share the genetic resources of all seed varieties from 35 food crops and 29 forage crops, officially designating them as part of the global commons. The seeds will be deposited in a network of seed banks for use by all member countries, free of charge, for research and experimental plant breeding. The treaty prohibits using the seeds for chemical or pharmaceutical research. Companies using the seed for commercial purposes are required to pay an equitable share of the resulting profits to a trust fund, which will finance efforts to improve the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in developing countries. A multilateral system will be set up to facilitate countries’ access to the 64 selected crops. [Australian, 10/31/2001; Reuters, 11/5/2001; Financial Times, 11/6/2001; Food and Agriculture Organization, 6/29/2004] The treaty also affirms farmers’ rights “to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material, and to participate in decision-making regarding, and in the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from, the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture… .” [Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,, 11/3/2001 pdf file] The US refusal to sign the treaty was based on its concern that the treaty does not do enough to respect intellectual property rights. Specifically, the US wanted “WTO rules on intellectual property rights [to] be applied without modification to the new treaty,” according to the Financial Times. It also wanted any references critical of intellectual property scrubbed from the text. But the Chair, Ambassador Fernando Gerbasi of Venezuela, would not permit it. The US, along with countries like Australia, expressed concerns during negotiation that there would be little incentive for biotech companies to invest in crop research if they were required to share their patented GM genes. [Australian, 10/31/2001; Financial Times, 11/6/2001] Additionally, the US wanted a provision in the treaty that would have allowed for germplasm embargos against Cuba or other “enemies” of “enduring freedom.” [ETC Group, 11/4/2001] The treaty will enter into force 90 days after the 48th country ratifies it. [Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,, 11/3/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Australia, Japan, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bush administration (43), United States

Timeline Tags: Seeds, Food Safety

Australian intelligence services issue a joint assessment stating: “All known weapons-grade fissile material was removed from the country after the Gulf War.… Iraq’s attempts over the past two years to buy dual-use items suggest a covert effort to make weapons grade uranium in gas centrifuges, but the evidence is patchy and inconclusive.… US agencies differ on whether aluminum pipes, a dual use item sought by Iraq, were meant for gas centrifuges.… Iraq is likely to have a nuclear program… though it is unlikely to be far advanced.” [New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Australia

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Bush administration picks Philip Carroll, a former CEO of Royal Dutch/Shell’s US division, to advise post-Saddam Iraq’s oil ministry. [Harper's, 4/2005, pp. 74-76] He is formally appointed in January 2003 along with Gary Vogler of ExxonMobil, three employees of the US Department of Energy, and an employee of the Australian government. In the months before the invasion, they are sent to Kuwait where they “begin planning for the restructuring of the ministry of oil to improve its efficiency and effectiveness [and] begin thinking through Iraq’s strategy options for significantly increasing its production capacity,” Carroll later explains. [Muttitt, 2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Gary Vogler, Australia, Philip J. Carroll

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

After seeing photos of the trailers hailed by the CIA as evidence of an Iraqi biological weapons program, former UN weapons inspector Rod Barton tells the Australian government that US intelligence has wrongly concluded that the vessels in the trailers are biological fermenters. [Associated Press, 5/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Rod Barton, Australia

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

At a UN meeting in Granada, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s “Working Group on Article 8(j)” meets ahead of the Convention’s eighth biennial meeting to discuss implementation of Article 8(j) and related provisions of the Convention, as requested by the seventh conference of the Convention that took place in 2004 in Kuala Lumpur. [Convention on Biodiversity, 2/20/2004] Article 8(j) of the convention calls on member countries to protect the traditional knowledge, innovation, and practices of indigenous peoples and peasant farmers. One of the group’s tasks is to “consider the potential socio-economic impacts of genetic use restriction technologies on indigenous and local communities” and make a recommendation based on three previous UN reports (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003; February 7, 2005; September 26, 2000-September 28, 2000) and official submissions from indigenous peoples and farmers’ organizations (see September 26, 2005-September 27, 2005). In every one of these reports, terminator technology was considered a threat to the poor. In spite of this, the Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian governments, guided by a US representative (the US has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity) and industry lobbyists, push to make the Working Group’s recommendations supportive of terminator technology. Lobbyists for the seed companies include Harry Collins, vice president of Delta & Pine Land, and Roger Krueger of Monsanto. Delta & Pine Land jointly holds three patents on terminator technology with the US Department of Agriculture. According to the ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization opposed to terminator seeds whose representatives are present at this meeting, “With a US government official consulting at her side, the Australian negotiator insisted on deleting reference to the ‘precautionary approach’ and used this as a bargaining chip to win controversial wording for a ‘case-by-case risk assessment’ of terminator.” However, the efforts of these countries to draft a recommendation that would weaken the moratorium on terminator seeds are opposed by the majority of other parties, including Spain, the African Group, Egypt, the Philippines, Norway, Pakistan, Kenya, India, and Brazil. [ETC Group, 1/27/2006; National Farmers Union, 1/27/2006; Canadian Press, 1/30/2006] Australia refuses to budge and it is finally agreed to revise the recommendation to say that further research on terminator technology should include “a case-by-case risk assessment basis with respect to different categories of GURTs technology subject to the precautionary approach.” [Convention on Biodiversity, 1/27/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Brazil, Working Group on Article 8(j), Australia, Canada, Harry B. Collins, New Zealand, Spain, Philippines, India, Kenya, Norway, Pakistan, Roger Krueger, Egypt

Timeline Tags: Seeds

At the eighth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), member countries must decide whether or not to uphold the 2000 moratorium on field testing and commercializing terminator technology. The technology, formally known as genetic use restriction technology (GURT), would be used to produce seeds that grow into sterile plants. Since 2000, four CBD-commissioned reports have been completed, every one of which has raised concerns that the technology would threaten the interests of poor farmers worldwide. Additionally, submissions to CBD bodies from various indigenous peoples and farmers’ organizations have denounced the technology. Proponents of terminator technology—the seed industry and the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States—argue that the technology would protect biotech companies’ property rights, and thus encourage them to invest in more research. They also contend that the technology could be used to prevent the spread of other genetically modified crops. During the CBD’s working group meeting on March 23, delegates from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand attempt to weaken the Convention’s ban on terminator technology insisting that member countries agree to insert a provision that would allow a “case-by-case risk assessment” of the technology. The proposal is soundly rejected. Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the G77 and China (together a group of 130 non-industrialized countries), argue that a case-by-case risk assessment is “clearly unacceptable” because it would allow the possibility for field tests. [Inter Press Service, 3/24/2006; ETC Group, 3/27/2006]

Entity Tags: New Zealand, Canada, Australia, China, Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Malaysia

Timeline Tags: Seeds

The Commonwealth Fund, a private organization founded to improve America’s health care system, releases a study that finds the US spends more on health care than any nation on earth, yet “consistently underperforms on most dimensions of performance, relative to other countries.” The report is based on a number of surveys conducted with patients along with information from primary care physicians. “The US spends twice what the average industrialized country spends on health care but we’re clearly not getting value for the money,” says Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis. Compared with Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Britain, “the US health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high-performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The US is the only country in the study without universal health insurance coverage, partly accounting for its poor performance on access, equity, and health outcomes. The inclusion of physician survey data also shows the US lagging in adoption of information technology and use of nurses to improve care coordination for the chronically ill.” These findings are similar to those of studies conducted in 2004 and 2006. “The most notable way the US differs from other countries is the absence of universal health insurance coverage,” the study’s authors note. “Other nations ensure the accessibility of care through universal health insurance systems and through better ties between patients and the physician practices that serve as their long-term ‘medical home.’ It is not surprising, therefore, that the US substantially underperforms other countries on measures of access to care and equity in health care between populations with above-average and below-average incomes.” The study’s executive summary concludes: “For all countries, responses indicate room for improvement. Yet, the other five countries spend considerably less on health care per person and as a percent of gross domestic product than does the United States. These findings indicate that, from the perspectives of both physicians and patients, the US health care system could do much better in achieving better value for the nation’s substantial investment in health.” Britain receives the highest overall ranking in the study, followed by Germany, and then by New Zealand and Australia, which tie for third. Canada is placed fourth. [Commonwealth Fund, 5/15/2007; Agence France-Presse, 5/15/2007]

Entity Tags: United Kingdom, Germany, United States, Karen Davis, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Commonwealth Fund

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

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