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Monday, 20 December 1993
Page: 5241

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —by leave—Can I just respond by saying that, at the point the advice to which I was referring was drafted, there was no provision in the bill relating to state laws of general application.

Senator Vanstone —Clause 11 must have been there.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Clause 11 was there but the issue of state laws of general application was not.

Senator Bishop —God, you're making a fool of yourself.

Senator GARETH EVANS —There is some material in that advice about clause 11. No doubt that will be utilised in the material. I am not in the business of quoting from particular documents, and I do not propose to do so.

Senator Bishop —You're not in the business of telling the truth.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Government legal advice prepared for the possible defence of legal challenge is a quintessential example of an executive privileged document. I have not looked at it and I have no idea what its content is, how interesting, uninteresting, detailed, undetailed, plausible or implausible it may be. I have no idea whatsoever.

Senator Bishop —Make up your mind.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am not responding in any defensive way about this; I am just making a point of principle, notwithstanding the chirrups from the gallery on the other side, that that kind of document prepared for that purpose is not and never was by the opposition's governments in the distant past, nor will it ever by its governments if they should ever come into office in the distant future. It is a basic point of principle. But what we are prepared to do—because a legitimate public interest issue has been raised—

Senator Vanstone —I think there is.

Senator GARETH EVANS —As Senator Vanstone says, it is in our own interests to put the most credible foot forward.

Senator Vanstone —Otherwise you lose the lot.

Senator GARETH EVANS —That is as much as I can possibly say.