Resolving Australia’s treaty-making ‘democratic deficit’

Australia’s treaty-making process completely bypassed the Commonwealth Parliament until the 1960s, when Prime Minister Menzies committed to tabling in both Houses of Parliament treaties that were signed but not yet ratified. Reforms in the 1990s attempted to involve Parliament more, but it has for the most part retained its lame duck status and Australia continues to suffer a democratic deficit.

Negotiating, entering into and ratifying treaties is the prerogative of the Australian Government. The signature of the Foreign Affairs or Trade Minister is a gesture that the Australian Government intends to commit Australia to obligations under international law. When the Government ratifies or accedes to an agreement, it becomes binding on Australia, confirming that Australia will comply with those obligations.

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