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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 231


Senator ABETZ (3.23 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans), to a question without notice asked by Senator Abetz this day, relating to Australia's obligations under international treaties.

It is trite and often said that the noisier and the more belittling the response the more one can be assured that one's opponent has no logical principle on his side when trying to engage in debate. The very interesting point made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Gareth Evans) in his answer was that the UN decision in relation to Tasmania's criminal laws was of only an advisory nature.

  If that is the case, I defy the government to go to the High Court of this country and assert that it does not have an international obligation to implement that decision because it is only advisory. Let the government say that to the High Court of Australia. Under the external affairs power that the government is seeking to rely on, it should really be asserting that it has an international obligation. But the interesting thing is that the Labor Party is now walking away from the comments of its former guru and leader, Gough Whitlam, who said it was:

. . . entirely anomalous and archaic for Australian citizens to litigate their differences in another country before judges appointed by the government of that other country.

The Leader of the Government in the Senate asserted that this was somehow different, that this was not real litigation. It was not real litigation in respect of the way that the United Nations conducted the hearing because every fundamental of natural justice was absolutely and utterly denied. There were hearings in private, with no right to cross-examination, and the Tasmanian point of view was not able to be put. The important point in this debate is summarised by another ex-Labor minister, Peter Walsh, who said:

I am not and never have been a monarchist, but I find it ironic that so many contemporary Australians, determined to protect us from the non-existent threat of English tyranny, fall over each other in a scramble to surrender Australian sovereignty to a ragtag and bobtail of unrepresentative United Nations committees accountable to nobody.

In relation to the Tasmanian laws, the question is not whether the laws are right, wrong or indifferent, the question is: who ought to make that decision? What we are in fact debating is a question of morality. It is just as much a question of morality to impose a law as it is to repeal a law because we have got to make a moral judgment. When we have got to make a moral judgment—and the Democrats seem to be having difficulty in dealing with the question of moral judgment—there will always be a conflicting point of view presented within the community. There will be those in favour of repeal and those against.

  The next question has to be asked: who is to make the final decision in relation to that moral judgment? I make no apology for saying that it is the people of each individual state who ought to make that determination through the ballot box, through the democratic processes. The Australian Democrats are chirping away, as they always do. The simple fact is they cannot come to grips with a fundamental issue—that is, whether or not they believe in democracy as to whether or not the people of Australia are going to be the final determiners of their laws and the rules that apply.   Indeed, if we were to have asked the question when the first state repealed certain laws, that state was out of step with much of the rest of the world and with every other state in Australia. We should not have had federal intervention then. If it is perceived that Tasmania is out of step, I say: so what? Let the people of Tasmania determine that through their democratic processes. Whilst the Labor government continues to apologise to the United Nations and people like Gough Whitlam and Peter Walsh can be quoted against it, I am sure the people of Australia more and more will support the principled stand taken by the Liberal and National parties.