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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3205

Mr GROOM —by leave-I welcome this opportunity to comment on the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. The subject matter of the report, the extraterritorial operation of United States laws, was referred to the Sub-Committee on the Pacific Basin during the last Parliament. It was necessary for the present Committee to conclude the work commenced by the Committee of the Thirty-second Parliament. However, I do not consider the subject matter of this report particularly appropriate for consideration by a joint committee of the Parliament. A good yardstick for determining whether a subject is one for consideration of a committee is whether the issue is of interest to the general community or whether it is a matter which is likely to have important consequences for the general community. A brief glance at the report will quickly indicate that the subject matter of the report is highly technical and of limited political consequence for the vast majority of those we represent. Of course, that does not mean that the issues involved should not be debated in this House.

Without reflecting on the Committee or its advisers, I must say that this report reads like a text book for law students rather than genuinely reflecting the considered views of honourable members. This has resulted from the nature of the reference and not from the competence of those responsible for the report. I indicate my general reservations about the report and my uneasiness in endorsing views on such a complex matter involving important principles of international law and business practice on which I do not pretend to be an expert and on which I heard only limited evidence. Honourable members will see from a reading of the report that I have dissented from one recommendation of the majority. That recommendation is that the Attorney-General introduce legislation 'to prohibit compliance by Australian residents or those doing business in Australia with orders of a foreign country which might damage Australia's trading interests'. I do not believe it is appropriate at this point to introduce legislation of this kind. I refer briefly to part of my dissenting report:

The introduction of legislation of the type suggested would conflict with clear assurances given to United States authorities by the former Attorney-General, Senator Durack. In a press release on 29 June 1983, Senator Durack said: 'On behalf of the then Australian Government, I assured the United States Government that we would not proceed with any blocking legislation unless the Agreement proved less successful than we hoped.'

The bilateral agreement entered into between USA and Australia in 1982 was a positive constructive attempt to overcome the problems which are the subject matter of this report.

The agreement should not be undermined by hasty legislation but should be given a reasonable opportunity to work.

That is a quotation from the dissenting report I have lodged. I trust that the Government will not rush in and legislate, as has been recommended in this report. I conclude my comments by commending the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Charles), for his very fair approach. I commend also the staff members who did so much good work for the Committee, particularly Mr Bergin, the present secretary, other staff members, and Dr Gillian Triggs of the University of Melbourne who acted as specialist legal adviser to the Committee. All those people gave very valuable assistance to the Committee.