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Tuesday, 22 May 1973
Page: 2367

Mr WILSON (STURT, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Is the Prime Minister prepared to give the House an assurance that the only other occasion on which he or his Government will put forward a proposal to seek legislation of the United Kingdom Parliament affecting Australia will be to achieve the amendment of the Statute of Westminster to provide that the United Kingdom will never again legislate for Australia? Why does he not now seek to amend the Australian Constitution with regard to Privy Council appeals by referendum of the people or by joint act of the Australian Parliament and the Parliaments of the States? Is his failure to discuss with the States the proposed amendment of the Statute of Westminster because of his desire to achieve a unitary system of government within Australia without consulting either the States or the Australian people?

Mr WHITLAM - Like most members of the House I would prefer a unitary system of government. I can, however, give the honourable gentleman the assurance that I do not propose in any way to ask the British Government to introduce legislation in the British Parliament to bring about a unitary system of government in Australia. This is something which, I believe, the Australian people are well able to achieve for themselves and which I am confident they will achieve. The honourable member. asked several questions. I hope he will forgive me if I do not remember all of them but I will try to answer the general questions which he has raised. I have not sought the concurrence of the States in approaching the British Government on this matter because I accept the principle which my predecessors - certainly going back to Sir Robert Menzies - always asserted and which successive British governments have always acknowledged, that the proper means of communication between Australia and Britain are through the Australian Government and the British Government. The State governments are, in constitutional terms, the governments of British colonies. The Statute of Westminster expressly prevents action under it being taken which would end the federal system of Canada or of Australia.

Perhaps it will be of interest to honourable members who were Ministers in the previous Government if I inform the House of information which I did give to the British Government about the Australian Government's attitude to another proposal, for an amendment to the Imperial Merchant Shipping Act. It was proposed last year that the Australian Government and the State governments should introduce legislation requesting and consenting to British legislation (exempting State shipping - in effect, intrastate shipping - from the operation of the Imperial Merchant Shipping Act of 1894). I told the British Government that as far as I knew none of the State governments had introduced such legislation and the new Australian Government did not propose to introduce such legislation. The reason I gave to the British Government was that my Government believed that this was a matter appropriate for determination by the Australian people at a referendum. To take the course which was proposed last year would have the very great disadvantage of substituting 7 merchant shipping codes for two. Instead of having an Australian merchant shipping code for the Territories and for interstate shipping, and a British merchant shipping code for intrastate shipping in each of the 6 States, we could have the absurd situation - the break of gauge syndrome - in which we had different merchant shipping codes, not only from this Parliament in respect of the Territories and of interstate shipping but also from each State parliament in respect of intrastate shipping along its coast. That, I believe, would be an absurd situation. I appreciate the support which the honourable member for Moreton expresses by his intervention.

I shall do nothing, and I trust my Government will do nothing, to disperse jurisdiction further in Australia. It is a great handicap to our economy, and particularly to the transport aspects of it, that we have this archaic and divided jurisdiction over shipping round our coasts. I told the British Government that in due course my Government would be seeking, through a Bill passed by this Parliament, a referendum to enable this Parliament to pass laws in respect of shipping and navigation as was recommended unanimously by members of the Australian Country Party, the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party on the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review which was set up on the motion of Sir Robert Menzies back in the 1950s.

To sum up, my Government will not proceed with the proposal last year for Commonwealth legislation which would have been necessary, and State legislation, which would have been completely superfluous, for a British Act amending the Imperial Merchant Shipping Act of 1894. This Government will proceed with legislation requesting and consenting to British legislation discontinuing the use of the Privy Council by this part of the Queen's dominions.

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