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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12916

Mr Andren asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 28 September 1999:

(1) Did the Special Minister of State and he write the text of the advertisements that have appeared in national and local newspapers informing the public about the two issues to be decided at the 6 November Referendum on the republic model and the proposed preamble.

(2) Is it a fact that the section of the advertisements dealing with the preamble states that the preamble would not affect the interpretation of Australia's laws.

(3) Is he able to state whether there is a range of conflicting legal opinion regarding the legal implications of the proposed preamble, even with proposed new section 125(A).

(4) Is it a fact that constitutional experts do not agree on how the proposed preamble will influence Australian laws; if so, why is the statement referred to in part (2) included in the public education material.

(5) Is the statement referred to in part (2) misleading; if so, what action will be taken to rectify the situation; if not, why is there divided legal opinion about the legal impact of the proposed preamble.

Mr Williams (Attorney-General) —My response to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The Special Minister of State and I were responsible for the final written form of the Commonwealth Government's public education program on the referendum. Accordingly, we were identified as the authors on all the program's written material. The press advertisements which formed part of this written material were based on a more comprehensive information pamphlet. An expert panel consisting of Sir Ninian Stephen (Chairman), Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Professor Cheryl Saunders, Dr John Hirst and Dr Colin Howard reviewed the content of the pamphlet to ensure that it was fair and accurate.

(2) Yes.

(3) While it has been the general practice of successive governments not to disclose whether specific legal advice has been provided to government for the purpose of developing government policy or making specific government decisions, I can assure the honourable member that the possibility of contrary arguments, recently expressed by some commentators, was carefully considered by the Government and its legal advisers. The Government received consistent and clear legal advice that proposed section 125A of the Constitution would have been fully effective to ensure that the preamble would have had absolutely no legal effect.

(4) The Government does not accept that there is any doubt that the proposed preamble would have had no legal effect.

(5) The Government is confident that its public education program, including those elements dealing with the proposed preamble, was fair and accurate.