International law and the external affairs power
The Federal Government has the power to introduce legislation such as the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 on the basis of section 51(29) of the Commonwealth Constitution, which allows it to make laws with respect to external affairs. This power has been used a number of times to give effect to Australia's obligations under international instruments such as treaties and conventions of the United Nations.
International instruments signed by Australia do not automatically become law within Australia. Rather, the Commonwealth Parliament must pass legislation that reflects the provisions of the treaty or convention. Once passed by Parliament, the law becomes paramount, under section 109 of the Commonwealth Constitution. Therefore, if a State Government passes a law that is inconsistent with the federal law, the state law will be invalid to the extent of the inconsistency.
The Racial Discrimination Act, which was introduced in this way, gives effect to Australia's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. This Convention contains prohibitions against discrimination and provisions for special measures similar to those in the legislation. The legislation makes reference to the Convention, in which the types of discrimination are more specifically, although not exhaustively set out. They include, under article 5, the right not to be discriminated against in relation to the right to own and inherit property, whether alone or in association with others.
Keywords: Canberra, constitution, International Convention, Racial Discrimination Act , 1975 , United Nations
Author: Strelein, Lisa