Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 August 2021


Freedom of Information

1:51 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Freedom of navigation is a customary international law under which ships flying a flag of any sovereign state shall not suffer interference from other states, except in exemptions allowed by international law. Connected to this law are freedom-of-navigation operations, which are carried out by navies, including the Royal Australian Navy, to exercise the right of freedom of navigation and assert it in circumstances where it is resisted by a sovereign state. One might wonder how that might relate to the Senate. Hear me out.

In my first speech, I quoted President Woodrow Wilson, who said:

It is the proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government and to talk much about what it sees. It is meant to be the eyes and the voice, and to embody the wisdom and will of its constituents. Unless Congress have and use every means of acquainting itself with the acts and the disposition of the administrative agents of the government, the country must be helpless to learn how it is being served …

This has relevance to recent events in this Senate, where we've been unable to get access to information or documents, whether it be an answer to a QON, an OPD or information requested by a committee. We must recognise, as navies do, that, occasionally—from time to time—we have to enforce our rights. We have to exercise the right of freedom of navigation, if you can draw the parallel. If we fail to do so, like what happens in the international domain, we will simply lose the right to transit through what would otherwise have been international waters.