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Coalition Letter to Mr. Robert Hill, Minister of Environment of Australia in Regard to Their Export of Toxic Waste to South Africa


12 September 2000

Minister Robert Hill
Minister of Environment and Heritage
Canberra, Australia


Dear Minister Hill:

We write to express our shock and deep dissappointment that the government of Australia has so frivolously dismissed international environmental committments to the world by exporting 60 tons of hazardous waste to South Africa.

Australia acceded to the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal in 1992. Later that year at the very First Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention, the world agreed by consensus to Decision I/22, that forbid developing countries from importing hazardous wastes. In 1994 at the next Conference of Parties over 60 countries agreed by consensus to a full global ban on the export of hazardous wastes from the wealthiest, and high-waste producing countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to all other countries (Decison II/12). In 1995 the Convention then chose, again by consensus, to transform the ban decision into an amendment of the Convention (Decision III/1). In 1998 (Decision IV/7) and again in 1999 (Decision V/3) the Convention urged all Parties to ratify the ban at the earliest opportunity. All of these decisions were passed by consensus with Australia participating as a full Party. Indeed, when the historic Basel Ban Decision II/12 was passed in 1994, Australian delegate, Chris Lamb, addressed a Geneva news conference and stated that Australia would abide by the decision.

Yet now we find that Australia is willing to openly and publicly flout these international committments. Further, they have done so to the African continent which was very first region of the developing world to condemn all hazardous waste imports into that continent in several Organization of African Unity (OAU) resolutions (1987-1989), the Lome IV Convention, Article 39 ban (1989) and the Bamako Convention (1991).

With respect to Australia's Basel Convention committments, the fact that the ban amendment has not yet received the necessary 62 ratifications to enter into full legal force, does not excuse Australia for its failure to uphold the implementation of Decision I/22 and II/12. Indeed at the last conference of the Parties, countries were asked to report on their implementation of Decision II/12. Is Australia now going to report that it has defied the decision of the Parties?

To our knowledge this is the first time that a Party to the Basel Convention has deliberately chosen to ignore decisions of the Basel Convention. Decisions of the Convention while not carrying the weight of a full amendment are still considered binding on the Parties. To claim otherwise is an affront to the Convention and its deliberations. Treaties cannot function without its decisions being followed by its Parties. Indeed the very rules of procedure under which the Basel Convention operates was adopted by a decision of the Parties. Is Australia now setting a precedent by claiming that decisions are not serious committments?

The idea that somehow this import is justified because it is for research, is to be recycled, or that the residues from the process will be re-exported to Australia is absolutely irrelevant. The Basel Ban decision has no exemption for research. Recycling processes are specifically covered by the Basel Ban as it is well understood that almost all waste trade in recent times is destined to recycling operations which are often highly polluting and in any case, still result in the avoidance of practicing waste minimization at source and work against the principles embodied in the Basel Convention (Article 4, para. 2). And the fact that the residues that were not released as fugitive emissions on South African soil were returned to Australia has no bearing on the applicability of the Basel Ban whatsoever.

Finally, as stated above, the excuse that because Australia has not officially ratified the Basel Ban amendment, in no way excuses Australia from abiding by the will of the international community.

For the above stated reasons, we the undersigned organizations, committed to upholding the global waste dumping ban, demand to know how and why the decision to import hazardous wastes from Australia was made, and demand a clear announcement from your office that this will never take place again. Finally, in order to show good faith, we ask that Australia immediately take steps to ratify and implement the Basel Ban Amendment (Decision III/1).

Sincerely yours,
Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network (BAN)

Linda Ambler, groundWork
Bryan Ashe, Earthlife Africa (Durban)
Marcelo Furtado, Greenpeace International
Matt Ruchel, Greenpeace Australia

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