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Tuesday, 22 May 1973
Page: 2366

Mr SHERRY (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that certain State Premiers and their deputies are now gathering in London on an abortive and unnecessary mission? Does the Prime Minister agree with the comment in some sections of the Press that there was no consultation between his Government and the States on these various issues? Finally, does the Prime Minister not agree that decisions affecting the future of this nation ought to be made here and not by a remote body some 12,000 miles distant?

Mr WHITLAM - I take it that the honourable member is referring in particular to the Government's proposal to introduce legislation to abolish appeals to the Privy Council from State courts or from them through the High Court. The Labor Party's policy to abolish appeals to the Privy Council has been in force, I should think, for at least a generation and probably longer than that. We regard it as anomalous and, in fact, objectionable that legal matters between Australian citizens should be determined by a court sitting in another country, composed of judges appointed by the government of that other country and delivering its judgments in the form of advice to the head of state of that other country. I would have thought that this was a proposition to which persons of all parties which can form governments in Australia would subscribe and would have subscribed for many years past. My predecessors in this post and earlier Attorneys-General have taken steps to limit appeals to the Privy Council. The Constitution enables the Parliament to pass, of its own motion, legislation to limit such appeals. The Parliament has, on the initiative of the Leader of the Opposition when he was Attorney-General,I think it was - was it not?

Mr Snedden - No. It was my successor, the honourable member for Parramatta.

Mr WHITLAM - I thank the Leader of the Opposition. It was the honourable and learned member for Parramatta who introduced legislation, which was supported on both sides of each House, to limit appeals to the Privy Council as far as it was thought proper to do so. There was one exception. The legislation permitted appeals to the Privy Council from the High Court where those appeals had gone to the High Court from a State court. That exception was made because it was thought that by removing the possibility of an appeal from the High Court in thai circumstance one would encourage appeals directly from State courts to the Privy Council. With that one exception, the preceding Government did all that it could under the Constitution to limit such appeals.

What the Australian Government now proposes to do is to act under the Statute of Westminster to request and consent to legislation in the British Parliament, to be introduced by the British Government, to discontinue appeals to the Privy Council from the State courts, whether directly or through the High Court. The provision of the Privy Council to act in those matters is a service which the British Parliament permits and the British Government provides. It is, we believe, appropriate for the Australian Government and the Australian Parliament to ask the British Government and the British Parliament to end that service. We are the largest of all the Queen's realms in the Commonwealth where such appeals still persist. Nobody, I believe -

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - At that early time, we did consult with the States to determine whether they would join in abolishing the appeals.

Mr WHITLAM - I do not know whether or not that was so. I do not remember that matter arising in the course of the debates or in the honourable gentleman's second-reading speech. But to take up the matter which the honourable gentleman has mentioned by way of interjection, it is known that it is impossible to get all the State governments to agree at any one time on any such matters. It would surely be absurd to ask the British Government to introduce legislation to abolish appeals to the Privy Council from the courts of those States whose governments at any one time wanted to abolish those appeals and then to leave the right of appeal to the Privy Council available from the courts of those States whose governments at the time did not want to abolish appeals to the Privy Council.

It ought to be understood by Australians and it ought to be a matter of pride to Australians that the judges of the Australian High Court have been of calibre equal to any of the judges who sit on Australian appeals to the Privy Council That is no disparagement of the capacity and status of members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. But I believe that everybody in the House would acknowledge that Australian High Court judges have been and are the peers of any of the judges who, in our time, have sat on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Mr McMahon - Hear, hear!

Mr WHITLAM - I appreciate the fact that the right honourable member for Lowe concurs in the proposition that I have put.

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