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Monday, 2 December 1985
Page: 2686

Senator MACKLIN(4.36) —The Australian Democrats support these historic Bills, the Australia Bill 1986 and the Australia (Request and Consent) Bill 1985, giving effect to the agreement between the Commonwealth Government and all the State governments to terminate outmoded constitutional links between our country and the United Kingdom. These links, of course, are no longer needed, and they no longer reflect the needs of this country. Hence it is useful that this agreement has been reached between all constituent governments, be they Labor, Liberal or National Party, on this continent, to have these Bills passed and to be able to be sent to the United Kingdom for the concurrence of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Although, of course, some of the functions of the House of Lords will be taken away by this effect, we assume that the House of Lords will acquiesce in a smaller work load.

The legislation encompasses a number of new constitutional provisions and procedural arrangements. These include the termination of the powers that will remain with the United Kingdom in terms of making laws that have effect as part of Australian law. The legislative powers of State parliaments will no longer be fettered, except in relation to foreign affairs. The repeal of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865, which is no more than a relic of colonial times, will end the subordination of the States to imperial legislation. In some areas-merchant shipping is a fairly good example-this has been particularly anomalous. The continued existence of imperial legislation has been a problem for the States, and the removal of this constraint will avoid the sometimes ludicrous situations that have arisen up to now.

Of major significance is that part of the legislation dealing with the termination of all rights of appeal to the Privy Council. While some lawyers may regret the disappearance of trips to London, the arguments that might once have supported that right of appeal are no longer valid. Indeed, the prospect of forum shopping between the High Court of Australia and the Privy Council is quite inappropriate. We do not need to go elsewhere for the purpose of learning our law, and making the High Court of Australia the final court of appeal for all Australian courts is an important and long overdue step.

It should be stressed that nothing in the legislation impairs the position of the Queen as Queen of Australia. In fact, now she will be advised directly by State Premiers, instead of being advised on State matters by United Kingdom Ministers. State Governors are to be vested with all of the Queen's existing powers and functions relating to the States, except those concerning the appointment and termination of State Governors themselves. Also, of course, there is the item that Senator Durack has raised in relation to imperial awards. As has been pointed out by the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) in his second reading speech, arrangements have been made to cater for those States which still wish to award imperial honours.

I conclude by referring, as did Senator Cooney, to clause 15, which is to the effect that significant reforms contained in the Australia Bill can be set aside only by a Commonwealth concurrence of all State parliaments. The Australian Democrats continue to hope that the same sort of bipartisanship and good will that has been brought to bear in the formulation of these two Bills can be applied to the outstanding questions that exist in Australia in regard to constitutional reform. The passage of this legislation properly reflects Australia's status as an independent and sovereign nation and is certainly appropriate in terms of the bicentennial celebrations that will be held in three years time. Australia, of course, as much as possible ought to exert itself as a full and independent nation within the world community.

We welcome the passage of this legislation. I expect at this stage some tears will be shed for the passing of the empire, although given the debates that have taken place within our community I would expect that that might be slightly premature. Certainly, having regard to the recent public adulation during the visit of Prince Charles and Princess Diana it would be very premature for any tears to be shed for the passing of those parts of our constitutional arrangements which connect Australia to the Crown. Nevertheless, the changes that have taken place recognise our maturity as a nation. They are reflected in the Bills and we hope that when the Parliament assembles in the new year we will have in the not too distant future a message from the United Kingdom Parliament which acknowledges that it has also concurred with the passage of these Bills.