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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2328

Senator WALTERS —My question is directed to Senator Durack and refers to General Business Order of the Day No. 108, Constitution Alteration (External Affairs) Bill 1984. Will he explain the object and purpose of clause 2 of the Bill?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Before Senator Durack responds, I make the same remarks to him as I did to Senator Chipp. The right to ask the question is allowable under standing order 98, but I draw Senator Durack's attention to standing order 419 about not anticipating debate on the subject.

Senator DURACK —Mr President, I thank you for drawing my attention to the standing order which I have already had occasion to look at relating to the question to Senator Chipp. I am glad that Senator Walters has taken the opportunity of the Standing Orders to ask me this question because it is a most topical matter and requires further explanation. The object and purpose of my Bill to which Senator Walters has referred is to limit the scope of the external affairs power of the Commonwealth as recently interpreted by the High Court--

Senator Georges —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I submit that this is going too far. It is obvious that Senator Durack cannot answer the question without anticipating the debate. Senator Durack is about to make a virtual second reading speech on a portion of the Bill. I intend to seek to make a personal explanation after Question Time on another matter, but I raise this matter now because it makes the President's position difficult. The President indicated yesterday that a certain amount of flexibility is allowed as we proceed towards an election. Nevertheless, we should not create a precedent and allow senators to pop up and start asking questions of other senators who happen to have items on the Notice Paper. That cannot be done except within the strict limits indicated by the President. I submit that Senator Durack is exceeding those limits.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I am not ruling the question out of order. I have drawn Senator Durack's attention to standing order 419. It states that a senator cannot anticipate debate on a matter which has been placed on the Notice Paper. I also draw his attention to standing order 100, which clearly says:

In answering any . . . Question, a Senator shall not debate the matter to which the same refers.

Senator DURACK —Thank you again, Mr President. As I was about to explain, this Bill will restrict the very wide scope of the external affairs power and the way in which it is interpreted. The government and particularly the Attorney-General glory in these vast new powers which they have obtained. The fact of the matter is that the Federal Government can enter into a treaty on any subject under the sun and this Parliament can give effect to that threat notwithstanding that it is dealing with matters completely unrelated to any other power which the Federal Government has under our Constitution. The Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia has explained that this sort of procedure will mean that the distribution of powers conferred under the Constitution could in time be completely obliterated, that there would be no field of power which the Commonwealth could not invade and the Federal balance achieved by the Constitution could be entirely destroyed. This is very relevant at present, as I said, because of the Government's plans to introduce a Bill of Rights to give effect to an international covenant. As the Premier of Queensland showed yesterday, that will cover every subject under the sun related to State powers. It will turn the federal system on its head. The object of the Bill that I have introduced is to prevent that. I hope that the Senate will give speedy passage to it when we return and that the Constitution will be amended to restrict this Government in exercising these vast powers, which it should not really have.