Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 10 May 1961

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) . - by leave - It has been urged from time to time in this House that before Australia becomes a party to a treaty the Parliament should be given an opportunity to express its views on the matter.

The making of treaties is, under the law of Australia and other parts of the Queen's Dominions, a prerogative of the Crown. The negotiation, signature and ratification of treaties are therefore all executive acts. Admittedly parliamentary action is required if legislation is needed inorder to give effect locally to the provisions of a treaty, or if a treaty involves the provision of funds. But the process of treaty-making, be it signature, ratification or accession, is a matter for the Government and not for Parliament.

Notwithstanding this, it can safely be said that the Government has, before becoming a party to any treaty of major significance for Australia, been at pains to ensure that the Parliament has been given the opportunity to discuss the matter. The Government in such cases has either introduced a billorinitiated a debate on a formal motion.

I have been considering whether further measures might be taken to keep the Parliament more fully informed about treaty matters. By way of explanation I mention that obligations under treaties may be assumed in one of three ways. In some cases a treaty may come into effect upon signature, but such cases normally occur only where the treaty is of a routine nature or is of minor or comparatively minor significance. More commonly, at least in the case of treaties involving substantial commitments, ratification is required after signature, before binding obligations are assumed. In yet other cases obligations may be assumed by accession to a treaty on the part of a State which has not signed it. There is, therefore, an opportunity in the case of important treaties to study their terms before a government commits itself formally to them.

Except in cases where a treaty will otherwise be brought to the attention of the Parliament, for example, where a bill or motion relating to the treaty is to be introduced, the Government as from the next parliamentary session proposes as a general rule to lay on the tables of both Houses, for the information of honorable members and senators, the text of treaties signed for Australia, whether or not ratification is required, as well as the texts of treaties to which the Government is contemplating accession. Unless there be particular circumstances which in the Government's opinion require that urgent attention be given to the matter - for example, at a time when Parliament is not in session - the Government will moreover as a general rule not proceed to ratify or accede to a treaty until it has lain on the table of both Houses for at least twelve sitting days.

By this means honorable members and senators will be kept informed of treaties which have been signed for Australia and, in cases where ratification or accession is contemplated, it will be possible for them, if they so desire, to draw attention to any relevant considerations prior to ratification or accession.

For the information of honorable members, I now lay on the table the texts of -

(1)   The State Treaty for the reestablishment of an independent and democratic Austria which was concluded at Vienna on 15th May, 1955, to which the Government is proposing to accede.

(2)   The International Telecommunication Convention and Radio Regulations which were concluded at Geneva on 21st December, 1959, and which the Government is proposing to ratify.

(3)   The Air Services Agreement between Australia and Iran which was concluded at Teheran on 20th December, 1960, and which the Government is proposing to ratify.

(4)   The Asian-Oceanic Postal Convention which was concluded at Manila and signed for Australia on 23rd January, 1961, and which the Government proposes to ratify provided a sufficient number of other Asian States is prepared to do so.

(5)   The Conventions on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, on the High Seas, on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas, and on the Continental Shelf, all of which were signed for Australia, subject to ratification, on 30th October, 1958. The Government is considering the ratification of these.

(6)   Exchange of notes constituting an agreement between Australia and the United States of America in relation to the sampling of the upper atmosphere for radioactivity. This exchange of notes took place in Canberra on 9th May, 1961, and the agreement entered into force on that day.

The Government, Sir, cannot undertake that it will not wish to proceed during the forthcoming parliamentary recess with the ratification of, or accession to, at least some of the treaties which I have just tabled. In future cases, however, the Government will follow the practice which I have outlined.

Suggest corrections