Thursday, 3 December 2020
Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020; Consideration of Senate Message
Can I start by saying the premise of the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020 is that Australia's national government should be responsible for our foreign relations. That's a reasonable proposition and one which Labor supports. But what we've seen throughout the process of this bill is a government which has gone about this bill in a really hopeless way. The bill has been rushed. It's been poorly drafted. It was put into the public domain initially in order to get a headline, to distract from the government's failings in relation to the aged-care system. We know all of this because those Australian entities which are affected by this bill had no idea that it was actually being drafted.
Despite the fact that the opposition has made very clear that we do support the principal objective of this bill and that we wish to engage in a constructive approach with the government to fix the flaws that are part of this bill and engage in a process of looking at amendments which would make this better legislation, we have been met with crickets from the government. There has been no attempt to consult with us whatsoever. Today the shadow minister for foreign affairs wrote to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, outlining our concerns in relation to this. We would have expected more from the government in terms of working with Labor in trying to fix the government's own bill. There is no clarity on whether the 99-year lease in respect of the Port of Darwin is captured by this bill. We regret the fact that the government did not support amendments in the Senate which would have required the minister to provide a statement of reasons when making decisions in respect of this proposed act and to have review of those reasons and that decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
We do welcome the government's agreement to the opposition's amendment in respect of requiring the production of an annual report on the exercise of the minister's decision-making powers under this act, but we will insist on the amendment which was passed by the Senate, which was moved by Senator Patrick and was identical to an amendment that was circulated by the opposition, which was aimed at ensuring that this bill, this proposed act, is not excluded from the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.
This is a moment where the Prime Minister needs to take some responsibility for our nation's foreign relations. Labor has, as I said, engaged in a constructive process which has been aimed at developing bipartisanship around the issues and the objectives which are contained in this bill. This legislation may ultimately be about assigning responsibility, but leadership—leadership on the part of our Prime Minister—is about taking responsibility, and it's time the Prime Minister did just that.