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Thursday, 13 September 2012
Page: 6877

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (13:20): The Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 is a bill to correct technical errors caused by drafting and clerical mistakes, to repeal obsolete provisions and acts, to modernise language and to make other technical amendments to legislation. Bills of this nature are traditionally non-controversial and receive the support of the parliament because they are regarded as an essential tool in the process of keeping the Commonwealth statute books accurate and up to date. Of the acts to be amended, most of the proposals relate to spelling, grammatical and technical errors, and to the removal of gender-specific language. The amendments will replace specific legislative references with generic ones. This will make Commonwealth legislation easier to use.

The bill also proposes amendments to ensure consistency of language and correct technical errors. For example, clause 112 corrects a reference to the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory in the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973. This is a particular bugbear of my friend and colleague, Senator Gary Humphries, who would heartily endorse the corrected reference to the 'Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory'.

A number of obsolete acts are also repealed. Among these, I am delighted to say, is the Treaty of Peace (Germany) Act 1919. The reference to the Treaty of Peace (Germany) Act 1919 gives me the opportunity to dwell for a moment on the golden age of the Treaty of Versailles. Who would have thought, Madam Acting Deputy President Pratt, that Senator Feeney and I would be discussing the Treaty of Versailles today. Although the act is very brief, providing merely for the making of the regulations necessary to give effect to Australia's obligations pursuant to the Treaty of Versailles and for penalties for contraventions of the regulations, the regulations persist to this day.

Famously, John Maynard Keynes described the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles as 'Carthaginian' and, indeed, as pressed by Prime Minister Hughes, who suggested that the reparations sum be assessed at the then staggering sum of 24 billion pounds, it is difficult to argue that Australia did not have the Carthaginian precedent in mind. The more conciliatory President Woodrow Wilson, despairing of Hughes's vengefulness, described him as a 'pestiferous varmint'. When one considers the exchange of rhetorical insults during the course of the Treaty of Versailles, one would have to wait until John Maynard Keynes published his Economic Consequences of the Peace in 1919 for the champagne contributions. John Maynard Keynes described Clemenceau as 'dry in soul and empty of hope', Woodrow Wilson as 'this blind and deaf Don Quixote', and—wait for it—his timeless description of Lloyd George was:

How can I convey to the reader any just impression of this extraordinary figure of our time, this syren, this goat-footed bard, this half-human visitor to our age from the hag-ridden magic and enchanted wood of Celtic antiquity?

Back to the Statute Law Revision Bill 2012. The fact that heavy criminal sanctions—up to seven years imprisonment—have until this very day continued to apply for contraventions of the Treaty of Versailles provisions is a matter of some surprise. And this is one occasion when I cannot blame the Labor Party alone for dilatoriness. I must say that I am pleased that no German national in Australia has been prosecuted for the transfer or mortgage of property without the consent of the public trustee in recent years. I trust now that our German friends may visit and transact business in this country and sleep peacefully at night.

Thank you, Senator Feeney, for allowing me to conjure memories of the Treaty of Versailles and the great spirits of that age. In doing so, I commend the bill to the Senate.