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Wednesday, 10 May 1961

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) - by leave - The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has outlined a very wholesome procedure for the future in regard to Australia's treaty obligations. There will no longer occur the position that has occurred regrettably in the past - and for which the Prime Minister has expressed regret - where a treaty obligation has been entered into and the first that the Parliament has known of it, although it has been sitting at the time, has been a press release. That happened in August last year, for instance, in respect of the Mutual Weapons Development Programme Agreement with the United States, which is presumably a matter cognate to the sixth text which the Prime Minister has tabled to-day.

Some honorable members have occasionally wished that this federation had to follow the practice of the greatest federation - the United States of America - where the President negotiates treaties, but where treaties enter into force and become the law of the land only by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, provided two-thirds of the Senate present concur. But we follow a parliamentary system which differs from the United States congressional system.

We shall henceforth know promptly the subjects of the increasing number of important matters upon which governments contract with each other. Hitherto our procedure has varied. For instance we have, in the last decade, made a number of treaties or arrangements overseas concerning the raising of loans. In some cases we are told the arrangements because they are the subject of legislation as, for instance, the loans which were raised in Switzerland and Canada and from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. There have been, on the other hand, at least a dozen other loans raised overseas and we have been informed only incidentally of the terms of those loans. These are arrangements between our government on the one hand and foreign corporations on the other. There are a great number of treaties which we can ratify or to which we can accede and which are not necessarily covered by the Prime Minister's statement. The most numerous class comprises the conventions drawn up at the annual conference of the International Labour Organization. Australia has ratified only 25 of 120 conventions drawn up by this organization. The Prime Minister, as I understand his statement, proposes to table the text of International Labour Organization conventions which the Government contemplates ratifying. However, it is not clear whether the House will have brought to its notice the text of conventions which, under the rules of the organization, the Government is obliged to consider ratifying, but which in fact it may decide not to ratify.

Mr Menzies - I will be very happy,I may say, to table the lot.

Mr WHITLAM - Thank you. Then there are instances in which Australia shares in the framing of a treaty in international organizations such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the International Maritime Committee. I hope that the Prime Minister will agree to table the text of any convention drawn up at a gathering where Australia is represented; that is, I hope that the House will learn the text of those conventions which the

Government has not signed and to which it is not yet contemplating accession.

Quite apart from these international conferences where Australia regularly attends and participates in the formulation of treaties, there are a number of ad hoc international gatherings, diplomatic and governmental, at which conventions are drawn up. Some of these conventions are of the greatest moment to a trading country such as Australia. I will give two instances. One is the International Convention for the Prevention of the Pollution of the Sea by Oil, which was drawn up at an international conference in 1954, which Australia attended. The convention was not brought to the notice of this Parliament or any of the other parliaments in Australia until a bill was introduced to ratify it in 1960. Another such convention outstanding is the International Convention relating to the Limitation of the Liability of Owners of Seagoing Ships, which was drawn up at a conference in 1957, attended by Australia. I do not think that Australia signed the convention or has yet decided how and when it can accede to it, either after action by this Parliament or after action by this Parliament and complementary action by the six State parliaments.

Then again there are many matters which are of increasing concern to Australia as, unhappily, international disputes approach our shores, or the parts of Asia closest to us. There are also treaties concerning an increasing number of citizens or residents in Australia in these days of large-scale migration from Europe to Australia. Some relate to industrial property, some to property in the event of warfare, and some to human liberties in general. Here again there are some conventions which have been outstanding for ten or eleven years. I feel that all these conventions come within the general classification of conventions drawn up at conferences at which Australia is represented. I hope that the Prime Minister will extend his proposed practice to cover any document which flows from a conference at which Australia has been represented.

I might also suggest, Sir, that at some appropriate time the Prime Minister should consider informing the House of agreements which are made with one or more States from time to time. There is an increasing number of matters in relation to which governments in Australia must consult with each other. This need does not arise only in financial circumstances; it also arises in a very great number of administrative circumstances where no finance is concerned but where the laws of the Commonwealth, the States and the Territories can be effective only if they are dovetailed.

The Prime Minister's proposal is, as I commenced by saying, a most wholesome procedure. Members of Parliament will be able to do their jobs better in the future because of this procedure and members of the public will be able to see that we do our jobs better because they too will be more promptly and fully informed on the increasing number of subjects where countries deal with each other and where the Commonwealth Government is the only Australian government that has international standing and right of audience.

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