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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 7 Hansard (18 October) . . Page.. 1779..


OATHS AND AFFIRMATIONS (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995

Debate resumed from 21 June 1995, on motion by Ms Follett:

That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General) (11.28): I rise to indicate that the Government sees some merit in the legislation Ms Follett has proposed but believes that an amendment is appropriate, and that amendment has now been circulated. Ms Follett is right to deduce that people should expect that members of parliament would be swearing or affirming their allegiance to the members of the community from which they have been elected and which, in a sense, they serve and which is responsible for re-electing them. It is perhaps surprising, to a person who looks at our present oath or affirmation, to see that there is not a provision available at the moment to have a person indicate their allegiance towards the people of the Australian Capital Territory. Members are obliged to uphold the law and to swear allegiance to the Australian head of state, as she is now designated, but are not obliged to swear allegiance to, in a sense, the interests of the people of the ACT. That is a matter that Ms Follett's Bill properly attempts to remedy.

However, there is another item on this agenda that I think is a different debate altogether, and that is the question of whether we remove reference to the Australian head of state. The issue as some would like to characterise it is an issue about whether Australia should be a republic, whether Australia should have a resident of Britain as its head of state. That is a debate this community will inevitably have, on which many of us, perhaps all of us, have strong views already, and which undoubtedly will result in some decision in the near future. If the Prime Minister has his way, a decision on this issue will be made one way or the other some time shortly before 1 January 2001.

I look forward to taking part in that debate at that time because this is a decision which, of course, is going to be made not merely by the people of the ACT but by the whole of the Australian population. I question, however, the wisdom of predetermining that debate now. Quite apart from the question of who should be the Australian head of state, the issue of whether we should remove a reference to allegiance to that Australian head of state is an issue we ought to be treating with some care. It is quite common for members of subnational parliaments around the world to be declaring allegiance to either the head of state or the symbol of the state, or the concept of the state, when they take office in a subnational parliament. My understanding is that in most provincial parliaments in Canada, in State parliaments in the United States, and so on, members swear allegiance to Canada or to the United States or whatever it might be. I think it is appropriate for us to do so as well.

Perhaps it could be argued that we should be swearing allegiance to something other than the head of state, but the fact is that traditionally in this country we have sworn allegiance to the head of state. I would argue that, even if Australia becomes a republic, it is appropriate for us to be making that declaration of allegiance. Our head of state would continue to be, for example, the supreme commander of our armed forces,


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