Submission to Senate Committee on agreements of less than treaty status

AHRCentre Chair Prof Andrew Byrnes has made the following submission to the Senate  Committee on agreements of less than treaty status:

This submission addresses the current state of Parliamentary and public access to the texts of formal arrangements between Australia and other countries that are of ‘less than treaty status’. It argues that many of these arrangements are of considerable practical and political significance to the relations between Australia and the other countries which are parties to those agreements. At present the publication of such documents is sporadic and unsystematic, and the text of many such instruments is not available to the public on government websites. This submission argues that some of the reasons that led to the systematic approach to the publication of treaties and related information and to enhanced Parliamentary consideration of treaties also apply in relation to many of these instruments.

This submission draws attention to the current state of Parliamentary and public access to the texts of formal arrangements between Australia and other countries that are of ‘less than treaty status’, in particular those designated as memorandums of understanding (MOUs). It has argued that MOUs can be of considerable practical and political significance to the relations between Australia and the other countries which are parties to those agreements, and that they should be available to be subject to Parliamentary and public scrutiny.

Based on selected examples, Prof Byrnes has argued that at present the publication of such documents is sporadic, and the practice inconsistent and unsystematic. As a result, the text of many such instruments is not available to the public on government websites when they should be. Many of the reasons that led to the mid‐1990s reforms to the treaty process, in particular the need for adoption of a systematic approach to the publication of treaties and related information, apply to many of these instruments.

Prof Andrew Byrnes urges the committee to consider recommending that a review of the current practice relating to the publication of instruments of less than treaty status be undertaken, with a view to the adoption of a more systematic approach to the collection and publication of such instruments, with a presumption in favour of publication.

You can download the submission by clicking here.