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Wednesday, 8 December 1976
Page: 3492

Mr ELLICOTT (WentworthAttorneyGeneral) -in reply-One wonders why the Opposition is not prepared to accept the fact that the Government and I are prepared to look at legislation so that this Parliament produces the most effective legislation possible. That is the reason why this debate is taking place today. I listened to the debate on the last occasion and I took into account what was said. As events happened that night it was not possible to accept any amendments, having in mind the processes of this House and of the Senate. I considered and investigated the matter at the time and, even though I felt that there was some merit in some of the matters that were being raised, it would not have been possible to accept any amendments. It was for that reason that Senator Durack, with my approval, indicated to the Senate that we would take these matters into account.

I hope that while I am Attorney-General I will approach legislation on the basis that the Parliament should produce the most effective legislation possible. For that purpose I personally am prepared to take into account what members of the Opposition say as well as what honourable members behind me say. So, that is the reason why we are debating this legislation and that is the reason I give to the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) as to why the matter could not be dealt with on the last occasion. I was troubled by those who took that point of view, and it seemed to me that in the long run this was a provision that could be left out. The justification for it was to place beyond debate a matter which is a peculiar consideration for a Minister of State- namely, the public or national interest -and to leave it beyond the examination of a court which is not appropriate to deal with it. However, the views of honourable members opposite and those behind me and in the Senate indicate that that sub-section might best be left out. It is for that reason that the Government is minded to leave it out.

There has been some suggestion that the legislation was invalid or unconstitutional. I do not regard the legislation in its existing, unamended form as unconstitutional. As I said on the previous occasion- I repeat it now- if section 4 (2) is left out it will improve it as a piece of legislation insofar as it confers on an Attorney-General- not just this one but also future AttorneysGeneral a power which might be regarded as being excessive. The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) made a suggestion. When I first considered the suggestion I thought it was reasonable. He said that m a case such as this where an Attorney-General makes an order the Parliament that produces the legislation ought to be able to review the order. It is for that reason I felt it was appropriate for the provision to go in.

Senator SteeleHall said that he was troubled by the fact that the words ' foreign tribunal ' could include the Privy Council. There again it seemed to me to be reasonable to exclude the Privy Council where it was exercising jurisdiction by way of appeal from a court in this country. It is unfortunate that these appeals to the Privy Council continue. I remind honourable members opposite that 3 State Attorneys-General are of their political colour and I invite honourable members opposite to say to those State Attorneys-General: 'Why do you not take the step of removing that right of appeal?' I have said this in a public speech to one AttorneyGeneral while he was present. If the right of appeal was removed, this question would not arise.

I refer now to the reservation that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith has. I do not have the same trouble. The Privy Council is taken out of the definition of 'foreign tribunal'. When the Privy Council is exercising jurisdiction on appeal it is not likely to be in a situation, as a foreign tribunal, where it is requiring evidence from persons in Australia which would possibly be against the national interest. It would be dealing with a matter within the purview of Australian law, albeit that the Privy Council, as some would see it, is a foreign tribunal. I invite honourable members opposite to go to the State Attorneys-General and see what they say.

Some other matters were raised. I do not feel any threat from my rear, but it was suggested that I had no sense of urgency, that I had interrupted a defence debate. Let me say that since that occurred proceedings have come before the Supreme Court of New South Wales and an order was made by me as I have already indicated to the Parliament. Those proceedings have since been adjourned as a direct effect of the order made under this legislation. I say that simply to indicate that the passing of the legislation on that night was necessary. The letters of request themselves were executed according to my information by a judge of the United States District Court in Virginia on 21 October 1976. The honourable member for Hawker apparently knew- the facts were not easy to discover; it is a pity he did not tell me- that the proceedings came before the Supreme Court of New South Wales on, I would imagine, 7 November. According to the honourable member it was Tuesday, 7 November. That only indicates that this matter was considered in some sense of urgency. On the morning of 1 8 November I said to him- I refer to this matter perhaps to defend myself to some extent:

The matter of whether such evidence should be produced is under consideration at the moment.

I meant that. The question of whether legislation should be introduced that day was determined that day. The final form of the legislation had to be determined that day. I thought I expressed regret- if I did not I do now- that such legislation has to be introduced as a matter of urgency. I do not apologise to the House or to members opposite or behind me for the Government 's seeing fit on that night to introduce that legislation.

Perhaps if I deal with the amendment now it may save time at the Committee stage. The Government is not prepared to accept the amendment that this Act operate only until June 1977. The legislation is regarded as satisfactory in its amended form. The point is this: The Parliament is protected because the order has to be laid on the table in each House of Parliament. We are deleting sub-section (2 ) from section 4 of the Act. I say to honourable members opposite that if they indicate to me any matter which troubles them about this legislation and its operation in ensuing months or at any time while I am Attorney-General I will certainly take it into account and give it careful consideration. I would think that that is the way in which to deal with the legislation. It is not opposed by either side of the House. We both see its merit in order to protect the situation of Australia, Australian companies and the like. The honourable member for Hawker says that he wants a marketing authority. That was his party's view when in government. His party wanted to take over the mining and marketing of uranium through the Petroleum and Minerals Authority. That is a form of nationalisation which honourable members opposite adopt. We do not adopt it. There is no ment, from the Government's point of view, in what the honourable member for Hawker suggests. I thank honourable members for their comments and I simply again commend this Bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

The Bill.

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