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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2161

Senator COULTER (11.39 a.m.) —We would also support the attachment Senator Watson has put before us. As I indicated yesterday, we think it is important that the passage of these amendments by way of request rather than amendment not be used as a precedent in future. I am sorry I was not in the chamber when we began this. Has the government indicated whether it is moving to refer this whole matter to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs?

Senator Cook —No. We are prepared to but we are not moving it.

Senator COULTER —In that case, I will certainly indicate that I will be seeking to put the following attachment to the motion that the report of the committee be adopted:

, and that the following matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for inquiry and report on or before the last day of May 1994: the application and interpretation of the third paragraph of section 53 of the Constitution in relation to bills dealing with taxation.

Despite what Senator Watson said on that point a moment ago, it seems to me that, even though this may have been considered in the past, what we now seek from that committee is some definitive opinion which takes into account the range of legal opinions, so that in future we do not get bogged down with debates of this sort.

  Picking up the point Senator Watson has made, if that committee does seek a wide range of outside opinions, it should be within its competence to make a recommendation which should be adopted by the government. If there is some doubt about that, I think the way to proceed in future would be to test the distillation of that opinion which would come from the committee and see whether the matter is challenged. Ultimately, the validity of how we proceed is open to challenge in the High Court; that would be the final test. It does seem to me that Senator Watson has only gone part of the way. We are not creating a precedent by passing these amendments by way of request. However, the matter does need to be resolved in some more definitive manner. Therefore, I foreshadow that additional motion going as an addition to the motion that the report of the committee be adopted.