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Monday, 3 April 2000
Page: 14990

Mr HARDGRAVE (12:46 PM) —I am very pleased as always to rise in support of the tabling of yet another report from the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties—our 30th such document in a little under four years. It is probably, as committee work goes, some sort of record that has been set as far as the number of items we have looked at and reported to the parliament on.

It is always important to restate the general principles under which we are operating as a committee. The notion of `What's in it for Australia and why are we signing this?' is the raison d'etre of the committee on an everyday basis. At every particular juncture when we are inquiring into matters—be it something as controversial as the draft MIA through to review of the Convention on the Rights of the Child through to some of the more mundane and everyday matters—we are still, nevertheless, applying that same general criteria on behalf of all senators and members in this place and of course, through them, the people of Australia.

What is important to know on the tabling of this document today, though, is that, as a result of almost four years work, I believe the committee has achieved a change of culture amongst a lot of the government departments of this country. It is interesting to reflect upon some comments at this morning's hearings from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the level of consultation that they are now undertaking. The departmental official said to us this morning—and I think I am paraphrasing it correctly enough to report it to this place—that consultation now opens them up to a wider community opinion.

The Department of Family and Community Services, who copped a fair old shellacking from the committee a few months ago because of their failure to consult, have learnt a valuable lesson. They are now saying that they have learnt a lot as to what they can gain from the consultation process, that they are now factoring consultation with the community into their long-term planning of their activities as a department and that consultation is now a matter of course. I think that is a tremendous thing that has occurred over the four short years of this committee being in existence, because it is important, as our laws are governed not just by what we aspire to in this nation but also by international linkages, that the people of Australia feel very comfortable with what is put before them as a result of treaties and other matters that are negotiated by people within the public sector on behalf of all Australians.

It is worth also reflecting on the 48-hour trip that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties took to New Zealand last week at the direct invitation of the New Zealand parliament and at their cost, I should add too, Mr Speaker. We thank your opposite number in the New Zealand parliament, the Speaker, the Hon. Jonathan Hunt, for his generosity in making it possible for eight of us to venture over. We found that the New Zealand parliamentarians are in fact in awe of the process that we have been undertaking as a committee.

Graham Kelly MP, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee of that parliament, hosted the trip, but it was the conversations with a couple of distinguished jurists that stuck in my mind about just how important the processes are that the Australian parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties undertakes. We spoke with the Rt Hon. Sir Kenneth Keith, a landmark jurist in New Zealand, and also the President of the New Zealand Law Commission, the Hon. Justice Baragwanath. He made an observation that is worth repeating here: that laws are being made more and more often overseas and that, whilst judges used to make their own assessments based on the local criterion of a particular nation's values and sets of laws, now all criterion are not exactly always local and, as a result, we can get some inconsistency between international agreements and local laws. That in itself justifies the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

We have to maintain a deal of faith—or perhaps in a lot of instances restore faith—in key institutions in this country. The people of Australia must be comfortable with the laws that we create in this place and in state parliaments, because if people are not in support of the laws that are created they may find it impossible or at best difficult to adhere to them. So the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties is proud of its record of exposing the processes of the bureaucracy that were in the past hidden. I think it is one of the great achievements of the Howard government to bring this process into place, but I must add that members on both sides of the chamber of all political parties and representatives in this place and in the Senate are very supportive of this consultation process, of this exposure process, brought about by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

Mr SPEAKER —The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Wentworth wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?

Mr Andrew Thomson —I do. I move:

That the House take note of the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

Mr SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 102(b), the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting, and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.