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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3128


Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security) —I inform the Senate that Senator Button is absent today. Any questions which would normally be directed to him should be directed to me.

RESIDUAL LINKS WITH GREAT BRITAIN


Senator DURACK —I remind the Attorney-General of the agreement which was reached at the 1982 Premiers Conference concerning the abolition of residual constitutional links between Australia and Britain, other than with the Crown, and, in particular, the abolition of Privy Council appeals. I also remind the Attorney that on 22 June last year he announced that the British Government had confirmed its willingness to include in its legislative program towards the end of last year or early this year the necessary United Kingdom Bill to give effect to the Premiers' agreement. I also remind the Attorney that following a meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in mid-July last year he announced that substantial progress had been made in regard to this matter which would be followed up quickly with consultations at the Prime Minister and Premier level. As it is now nearly two years since this agreement was reached at the Premiers Conference and there has been no announcement by the Attorney following the matters I have referred to, I ask, firstly: Does he not agree that there has been an intolerable and unjustified delay in implementing the Premiers ' decision? Secondly, will the matter be raised again at the Premiers Conference next week and, if so, what will be done about it there? Thirdly, in any event, what does he intend to do to abolish appeals to the Privy Council which become more anachronistic every day?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I appreciate that not many people will talk to Senator Durack any more to tell him what is going on, including his friends in Queensland, Tasmania and elsewhere with whom he has no doubt been in touch in the past on this matter. The reality is that were he willing to curb his impatience he would find that the matter he referred to is listed on the agenda for the Premiers Conference next week. The Commonwealth will be putting to the Premiers a revised proposal which we confidently believe will meet the outstanding concerns of the States.

Senator Durack will find also that the reason for the delay has not been anything attributable to the Commonwealth but, perhaps inevitably given the sensitivity of the matters concerned, a desire on the part of the States to be completely satisfied as to the mechanisms and machineries that are proposed and a certain degree of unwillingness on the part of a couple of States to reply to correspondence from the Commonwealth that would have enabled us to wrap together some final proposals. The particular matter that has been causing difficulty has not been so much the Privy Council appeals, about which, so far as I am aware, there remains unanimity of approach between the Commonwealth and all the States, notwithstanding some occasional blips suggesting the contrary; rather the problem zone has been the lingering question of imperial honours and the desire on the part of two States, whose identities will be familiar to all of us, to maintain a system of imperial honours and to ensure that no arrangements that are made for the removal of residual links generally and the exercise of power of any specific kind by the British Government in respect of Australia will interfere with the capacity to award miscellaneous gongs of the kind that some people still find attractive and fascinating. That has been the problem area. We think we have seen now a way through it and I remain reasonably confident that the agreement in principle of two years ago will be consolidated and carried through to legislative form.


Senator Chipp —Sir Gareth doesn't sound too bad.


Senator GARETH EVANS —I was not named after him; I was named after Gary Cooper. I think my mother thought he was a Welshman. Gawain I think might have been a bit posher, but never mind.


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator GARETH EVANS —I am sorry, Mr President. Let me return to the business at hand, which is that of residual links. I am fascinated to discover that Senator Durack is concerned that we should accomplish the removal of the Privy Council appeals, apparently at all costs, even if it means riding roughshod over the understandable concerns of the States. I would be interested to hear from him, should he be minded to express a view in a supplementary question, as to whether he would approve the use of the external affairs power by the Commonwealth in the form of some adventurous unilateral legislation, should it be the case that my optimism is unfounded and the co-operative approach that we are proposing does eventually fall through.


Senator DURACK —Mr President, I am happy to accept the invitation of the Attorney-General to ask a supplementary question. Is it not a fact that at the Premiers Conference two years ago the Premiers put aside from their agreement this fascinating question about honours, governors and so on and that their agreement in fact related to matters of substance such as the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council and the removal of the repugnancy provisions of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865? Is it also correct that they had agreed to a mechanism for the abolition of these anachronistic restraints upon States and Australian sovereignty without resort to the external affairs power and that, if that agreement had been given effect to, these matters would have been achieved by now?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I appreciate that not all of us are capable of the kind of bounding athleticism that Senator Durack brings to his law reforming tasks and for which his record is famous, but the reality of the matter is that it was not quite as simple as that. Those were the terms in which the agreement was expressed, but when it came to-


Senator Chaney —So you can play a new tune on an old fiddle.


Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Chaney is incapable of appreciating that there are certain things that the Commonwealth can do unilaterally and do very well and effectively. There are certain things which it is much less possible to do quickly if one adopts the approach to federalism which the Opposition, in its palmier ideological days, was anxious to foist upon us.


The PRESIDENT —Order! We have had eight minutes and only one question.


Senator GARETH EVANS —I am working on it, Mr President. If one adopts the kind of approach to the Federal compact that, as I say, has been urged upon us by the Tories in the past, it is necessarily a very slow business not only getting the sheep into their pens but also keeping them there for long enough actually to legislate. We are trying to do that. We are very close to it and I hope we will be able to accomplish it, and I hope we will have the Opposition's support in doing so.