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Monday, 9 September 1996
Page: 3059

Senator ELLISON(4.25 p.m.) —This is indeed an historic day with the tabling of the first report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. As Senator Abetz mentioned earlier, the committee has its origins in the recommendations of a committee of this Senate which recommended that such a committee be set up. That was a unanimous recommendation, I might add.

Senator Harradine —What year?

Senator ELLISON —Last year. The Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee gave a unanimous report in 1995. One of its many recommendations was that this committee be set up. I compliment the government on adopting the majority of those recommendations.

We have here a report which details the joint committee's work and the recommendations it makes. One of those recommendations relates to the national interest analysis, which will be tabled with each treaty. That analysis will include the discussion of economic, environmental, social and cultural effects of the treaty where relevant, the obligations imposed, its direct financial cost to Australia, and how it will be implemented domestically. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties recommends that the national interest analyses also include a discussion of the legal effects and potential areas of conflict with state and territory laws, which I think is a thoroughly sound recommendation.

The committee also has outlined its approach to dealing with treaties. It states that it intends to advise the minister as early as practicable after each tabling whether it proposes to comment on the specific treaties within the group which has been tabled, whether it expects to table a report commenting on a treaty or other treaties in that group on a particular date and, most importantly, whether it is not possible to report within the 15 sitting day period that Senator Abetz mentioned. I think it most appropriate that Senator Abetz tabled this report as he was on that Senate legal and constitutional committee, which I mentioned, and also sits on the joint committee.

I also note Senator Kemp's presence in the chamber. He has had a longstanding interest in the Commonwealth's exercise of its power pursuant to section 51(xxix) of the constitution, which deals with external affairs. I would take issue with Senator Carr that it is a perceived concern. I would say that it is a substantial concern that exists in the community, across the wider community, as to how the Commonwealth, by executive action, has increased its powers pursuant to that section of the constitution.

I believe it was a concern of the Senate committee, which was expressed unanimously, that there should be more scrutiny. Indeed, the government's acceptance of most of the recommendations—such as the setting up of a treaties council, the setting up of this committee, wider dissemination of treaty information, more consultation with community groups and also the requirement that treaties be tabled at least 15 days prior to ratification—answers a good many of those concerns. Hitherto, the practice has been that treaties were tabled twice a year. In fact, I recall one occasion last year when over 100 international instruments were tabled in the Senate with little or no time for debate. That, indeed, was an unacceptable state of affairs.

It is an historic day in the Senate with the tabling of this report. This report mentions a number of treaties which Senator Abetz has touched on and I will not go into. Senator Abetz has mentioned other hearings which the committee plans to hold in relation to a number of treaties dealing with a variety of issues.

I compliment the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties on its first report, especially in relation to the two recommendations it makes and also on the work it has done to date. I also note Senator Harradine's presence here. He has also had a longstanding interest in the way Australia has bound itself to international treaties and instruments. I think this report will no doubt be greeted by Senator Harradine, although I will not speak for him, as a positive measure in parliamentary scrutiny and the result of positive work by yet another Senate committee.