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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 15284

Senator RIDGEWAY (4:11 PM) —by leave—I wish to respond to what Senator Cook refers to as bragging rights in the context of the process that the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee is going through. Senator Cook has been around this place for a long time and he would be well aware of the position that has always been adopted by the Australian Democrats on matters of this sort. I refer first of all to the position taken by the former senator for New South Wales Vicki Bourne in her private senator's bill about the Parliamentary Approval of Treaties Bill.

There has been some confusion about whether Senator Cook regards this motion as being inconsistent with the processes undertaken by the committee. I am well aware that the committee is looking at these particular types of issues. I am well aware that the committee has also made it clear—or at least from discussions that I have had with members—that it is highly unlikely that the role of the parliament will be improved in the context of debating and ratifying any treaties that are dealt with by the executive of government. I certainly respect the views that have been put forward by Senator Cook, but I think that it is a cheap shot to suggest that we are talking about bragging rights here.

These types of motions have been moved on a number of occasions and, whilst the executive does have the power to make treaties, there is a need to respect the role of the parliament in scrutinising its actions and in making recommendations to further the interests of the Australian people. The principle that is sought is one no different, no more, no less than that which currently exists in relation to the US Congress. If the Americans seem to think that it is okay for them to go down the path of authorising their President to deal with fast-tracking trade agreements, keeping in mind that they have an opportunity to deal with full ratification through the Congress, then it is seems highly appropriate in this circumstance. Whilst there are virtues and deficiencies that we can talk about in relation to how the US parliamentary system might work, the reality is, at the end of the day, that this parliament ought to have a role in relation to ratifying any treaty that is dealt with by the executive of government.

Again, I say that it has been party policy for an enormous amount of time and goes back to well before my arrival here. Senator Cook would be well aware of that. It is a position that we will continue to put forward and it will be dealt with tomorrow in relation to another motion of similar form about the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It is clear that that will not be supported. There is no reason though that these motions ought not be put forward, not as a question of grandstanding or bragging rights but as a question of recording the principle in the Hansard that there is a need and a role for the parliament to be involved.