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Tuesday, 21 June 1994
Page: 1799

Senator HARRADINE (11.28 p.m.) —I want to enter this debate very briefly to comment upon what Senator Schacht said. I am not defending the opposition at all, but he appeared to accuse it of reversing its public stance on the constitution by pointing to a supposed flaw in the constitution which prevents the parliament from exercising its authority in respect of treaties. There is nothing in the constitution which would prevent the parliament from determining this issue. In fact, there is a notice of motion under my name that there be established a Senate committee to consider treaties prior to their signature by the government and to enable the parliament—

Senator Schacht —So what?

Senator HARRADINE —I am saying so what.

Senator Schacht —No matter what the committee recommendation is, the government will not take any notice of it.

Senator HARRADINE —The government will take notice of the committee. If the government does not take notice of the committee, any action that the government takes to implement any decisions pursuant to articles of a convention or a treaty would be overruled by parliament, if it had the numbers.

Senator Schacht —By parliament, not by the Senate.

Senator HARRADINE —By the parliament. In other words, if the government brings legislation in, utilises the external affairs power, points to an article of a particular treaty for that purpose and ignores a decision of a Senate committee which had been previously tabled in the parliament in respect of that article, then we would not expect to get that legislation through the parliament.

  I am saying that there is nothing in the constitution which would prevent a proper discussion by the parliament and the public of matters relevant to international treaties prior to their being signed. That is all very good. I am not suggesting that the executive prerogative should be overruled by parliament because we would then diminish parliament's proper functions of audit and control. But what I am suggesting is that the parliament should have more say over treaties and international instruments of this nature.

  The process should be a lot more open than it is at present. As a member of the human rights subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I need to advise the Senate that we did consider this report, but we also expressed concern that the report was developed prior to any consultation with us. The human rights subcommittee of that Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade was not consulted prior to this document being developed. We expressed that view.

  Having said that, I do not think anyone is putting a blanket condemnation on the work that has been done in this document. Much of this work has been very worth while. I think there is something to be said for Australia taking a lead on human rights issues for its own sake and as an example for other countries to follow. Nevertheless, I do make the point that it is important that the department and the government openly provide opportunities for the parliament and the public to consider matters relevant to treaties prior to their being signed or agreed to.