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Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 786

Senator JONES —My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Has his attention been drawn to a statement in yesterday's Courier-Mail in which the Premier of Queensland hinted at further strike Bills in Queensland and to a number of statements in which the Premier said that Mr Hawke was reluctant to criticise the new Queensland anti-union legislation because he was jealous of it? Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen went on to say that Queensland would secede from the Commonwealth of Australia if it did not get a fair deal at the coming Premiers Conference. He said:

If they don't want to treat us according to the Constitution, then we will jump into it alone.

He confirmed that this meant taking steps to gain independence from the rest of Australia. What is the Federal Government's attitude to the statements made by the Premier and can the Minister inform the Senate as to what legal right the Premier has in relation to Queensland's secession from the Commonwealth of Australia?

Senator BUTTON —The statement allegedly made by the Premier of Queensland has been drawn to my attention.

Senator Sheil —That is funny.

Senator BUTTON —Yes, it is funny. I understand that yesterday Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen confirmed that he meant that steps would be taken to gain independence for Queensland from the rest of Australia. I believe that there will be further consideration of this matter by the Premier of Queensland. In 1934 Western Australia petitioned the Parliament of Westminster seeking preliminary steps to be taken in respect of the secession of that State from the Commonwealth of Australia. That petition was not greeted with warmth by the United Kingdom and in fact was rejected. I remind honourable senators that the preamble to the Constitution Act of the United Kingdom Parliament, by which the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act was established, recites the agreement of the people of the several colonies of Australia 'to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown'. Most of us, except one or two of Irish extraction, would be grateful for that recitation which appears in the preamble to the Constitution Act. Neither the Constitution nor the Constitution Act makes any provision for secession of a State. Section 128 of the Constitution sets out the only practical method of amendment to the Constitution, and that is by referendum. The application of section 128 of the Constitution to the covering provision-namely, the one to which I have referred, the Constitution Act-is a matter on which there are differing views amongst distinguished lawyers. Having drawn attention to the legal difficulties involved, I remind the Senate of the practical consequences which could possibly occur. For example, members of this Government would be buoyed up by the absence of withering attacks on the capacity of our Government from Senator Sheil, Senator Boswell and Senator MacGibbon. On the other hand, I would personally miss Senator Bjelke-Petersen in this chamber. There would be even graver consequences than that, because if the proposal for Queensland to secede from the Commonwealth of Australia were put to a referendum, I remind the Premier that there is a distinct possibility that most Queenslanders would not vote for it, but most people in the rest of the Commonwealth would.