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Monday, 9 September 1996
Page: 3060

Senator HARRADINE(4.30 p.m.) —This certainly is a very historic day. I am pleased to see the work done on this over many years has at last come to fruition. Of course the work done by the Senate committee and its report Trick or Treaty? gave the proximate stimulus to the establishment of this committee.

I am very pleased to see what has happened. It is historic—people have taken it on when I had given it up. Let me remind the Senate that 13 years ago last month, on 23 August 1983, I gave a notice of motion to move:

(1)(a) That a Standing Committee of the Senate, to be known as the Standing Committee on Treaties, be appointed to consider all treaties laid before the Senate, and any other treaties to which the Committee may have access, and to report in respect of each such treaty—

(i) whether Australia should undertake to be bound by that treaty if that treaty is not already binding upon Australia; and

(ii) the effect which Australia's being bound by that treaty has or would have upon the legislative powers and responsibilities of the Australian States.

(b) That, for the purposes of this Resolution—

It then goes through a whole range of explanatory matters.

Senator Abetz —It has paid off.

Senator HARRADINE —Yes. A lot of work was done by a lot of people, not least of whom was Professor Colin Howard, who had a great interest in this. I would like to quote what he said in an IPA Review of August-October 1988. The article was entitled `The explosive implications of the external affairs power'. Professor Howard said:

Since international obligations are easily characterised as a national responsibility, they provide a perfect excuse for assuming responsibility for domestic issues which would otherwise be beyond central constitutional power.

. . . . . . . . .

It has been turned into an instrument of domestic political coercion manifestly contrary to both the word and the spirit of the very Constitution in which it appears.

Then later on he said:

. . . the only effective constraint on a wholesale invasion of areas of State legislative power which have hitherto been regarded as properly within their competence is political, not legal.

I have had slight differences of opinion with Colin Howard on the issue. Nevertheless, in this particular historic debate his contribution, which I found very useful, was quite influential.

There is a draft treaties bill which I had prepared in 1983. Congratulations! It is very heartening to see that these things have come to fruition. I thank, particularly, Denis Strangman, who was a former officer of mine, for his perceptiveness and discernment in this particular area over a long period of time.

The World Trade Organisation agreements and the treaty bases for those sorts of agreements have to be considered at some particu lar stage not least for their affect on the intellectual property laws of various countries and how they may in fact discriminate against countries such as Australia. I just mark that for the information of the committee.

Also, there is developing a very important debate on patents law and what is being patented. For example, what is happening in the human genome mapping area is something that ought to be—

Senator Ellison —Bioethics.

Senator HARRADINE —The question of ethics and so on. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.