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Wednesday, 13 November 1974
Page: 2309

Senator DURACK (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - My question is directed to the Attorney-General. I refer to the answer he gave to a question I asked yesterday concerning the delay which seems to be occurring in the High Court of Australia, particularly in its consideration of the Seas and Submerged Lands Act and other major constitutional Acts that are being challenged in that Court. Although I appreciate the efforts that the Attorney-General has made in the matter, I ask whether he can see any other avenues which he may take in order to expedite hearings. Can any further appeal be made to the High Court to hear these cases at an earlier stage or can action be taken to increase the size of the Court or something of that sort? Failing any ability to achieve early hearings of these cases, will the Attorney-General advise his colleague, the Minister for Minerals and Energy, of the delays and endeavour to persuade that Minister to renew permits under the existing petroleum and submerged lands legislation?

Senator MURPHY - I agree with the honourable senator that the position is very serious. It is plainly unsatisfactory that the 7 governments in Australia are unable to have a legal resolution of their problem by the highest tribunal in Australia as quickly as its importance dictates. As I indicated yesterday, the 6 State governments and the Australian Government joined in the approach to the High Court of Australia seeking to have the seas and submerged lands legislation question determined expeditiously. It is not satisfactory when great national questions remain undecided. I will give consideration to the 2 matters which the honourable senator has raised, that is, a further approach to the Court and whether there should be an increase in the size of the Court.

We know that for quite proper reasons, sometimes one or more judges may have to be absent and this may be a factor on occasions in the delay in the Courts dealing with matters. We all accept the fact that the Court controls its own affairs and it in no way is the wish of this Government, nor has it been the wish of any other Government, to intrude upon the special sphere of the Court. I can only share the concern expressed by the honourable senator, and it has been expressed very widely throughout the Parliament, at the delay in the determination of this extremely important litigation concerning an Act of this Parliament and also at what will undoubtedly be serious delays in other matters. I am not to be taken as in any way expressing any criticism whatever of the Court. Undoubtedly there are various factors in relation to each of these matters, not all of which are by any means within the sphere of the Court. But it is something which very much troubles me and all who are concerned with these issues. I assure the honourable senator that immediate and deep consideration will be given to the questions he has raised.

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