28th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Magnus Cormack) took the chair at 2 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 35 citizens of the Commonwealth:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth:
That the present systems of financing of hospital and medical care in Australia are outdated, complex, unwieldy, and provide inadequate or no security against health care expenditure for a substantial proportion of the people of Australia;
That the costs associated with the present schemes fall disproportionately on people having low and middle incomes;
That there is an urgent need for a new national health insurance scheme, to which each person receiving an income should contribute an amount which is equitably calculated on the basis of that income, and which provides adequate security to each person against the costs of care for every kind of illness and injury.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the parliament will speedily pass appropriate legislation to bring the benefits of an equitably financed, universal, and comprehensive health insurance scheme to the people of Australia.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
A petition in identical terms from 36 citizens of the Commonwealth was presented by Senator Brown.
Petition received and read.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That standing order 283 be suspended so as to enable a call of the Senate to be made without 2 1 days notice in connection with the third reading of all or any of the following Bills:
The Constitution Alteration (Local Government Bodies) Bill 1974.
The Constitution Alteration (Democratic Elections) Bill 1974.
The Constitution Alteration (Mode of Altering the Constitution) Bill 1974.
The Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1974.
The Constitution Alteration (Inter-change of Powers) Bill 1974.
I also give notice that, contingent on the suspension of standing order 283,1 shall move:
That, unless otherwise ordered, there be a call of the Senate at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 March, for the purpose of considering the third reading of all or any of the following Bills:
The Constitution Alteration (Local Government Bodies) Bill 1974.
The Constitution Alteration (Democratic Elections) Bill 1974.
The Constitution Alteration (Mode of Altering the Constitution) Bill 1974.
The Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1974.
The Constitution Alteration (Inter-change of Powers) Bill 1974.
-Is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware of an interview given by Mr Charles Perkins, of his Department, on television last Sunday night? Is he aware of the comments made about the untrustworthiness of the police and the accusation against some members of Parliament that by expressing their opinions they are inciting violence? Is he aware that in the same interview Mr Perkins referred to some members of Parliament as a group of the rabble in Parliament who are of low intellect and low common sense and who ought to be Hogged out of the country for the way they are behaving? Does not the Minister believe that the question of whether public servants in senior positions ought to be saying such things in public should be resolved so that, if it is good for one public servant to speak in that way, other persons who may want to express themselves on political affairs will have a similar opportunity? Is the fact that no charge has been levelled against Mr Perkins on this occasion due to the open go which the Prime Minister publicly indicated should be given to Mr Perkins? Is it a fact that in the future Mr Perkins may speak as he believes and wants to and no action will be taken?
– Although I receive all the reports of what is stated on the wireless, I have not seen or heard of a report on this matter at all. If the honourable senator finds that the expressed opinion of Mr Perkins of politicians reflects upon him in any way, I regret that. Mr Perkins has no licence to behave other than other public servants are allowed to behave. On an earlier occasion, he was charged and because of certain circumstances that charge was withdrawn.
People are getting the idea that I do not believe in the right of public servants to criticise. That is not so. Throughout my life I have come through a very tough school and I do not think that I was very much concerned at anything that Mr Perkins said against me. I do not think that the fact that Mr Perkins said that the Country Party of Western Australia was the greatest racist party in Australia would cause me to find myself in a great dilemma. What honourable senators must know about Mr Perkins is that there was a fight in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs as to whether Mr Perkins or I controlled that Department. That was the whole question at issue. I will seek a report on the interview that was referred to by the honourable senator. I will see whether there is anything in that interview on which action should be taken against Mr Perkins, and act accordingly.
– I ask the
Minister for Primary Industry: What steps has he taken to attempt to break the impasse over meat inspections in Western Australia? Are consumers forced to pay the cost of dual inspections carried out by State as well as Commonwealth officers? Will the Minister continue the efforts of his predecessor, my colleague the former Minister for Primary Industry, to provide for a single inspection system performing both Commonwealth and State inspection requirements? Does the Minister realise that the absurdity of the present dual system has been accentuated by a recent shock decision of the Western Australian Labor Government to increase its inspection fees steeply? If no initiative has been taken by the Minister, will he immediately take action to relieve Western Australian meat consumers of the unnecessary additional costs now to be passed on to them?
-I recall that one of the first decisions I was required to make when I was awarded this portfolio over 12 months ago concerned the report which had been brought down relating to meat inspection in New South Wales and the very problems to which the honourable senator referred and which had existed in that State for some time. My predecessor had called for an inquiry to see what could be done to resolve the problems and the confusion that existed between Commonwealth and State meat inspection services. Subsequent to that, the matter was brought up at a meeting of the Australian
Agricultural Council. I must say that it would make things a lot easier if all State Ministers shared the views which Senator DrakeBrockman shares with me. There is a waste and there is an overlap. Unfortunately, it was quite obvious in our preliminary discussions that there was not going to be a single system of meat inspection in Australia because certain States strongly objected to it. The present position is that we are endeavouring to reach an arrangement whereby at least we can have a uniform system of standards but I am afraid that it will not be the single system that I would like to see and which obviously the honourable senator would like to see. If the States are not prepared to co-operate with the Australian Government in a single system of meat inspection, I am afraid that the duplication and the fairly obvious inefficiencies which have obtained over the years are going to continue.
– I address this question to the Minister for Customs and Excise. By way of preface I draw his attention to a report last week in the national Press which said that police feared toy guns. The report went on to say that high quality imitation machineguns and pistols have reappeared for sale in Melbourne toy shops and that the guns are of such a top standard that police fear they will be used by bandits in armed holdups. Did the Minister see this report suggesting that the importation of imitation guns should be banned? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether the Department of Customs and Excise proposes to take any action in this matter?
-My attention has been drawn to the report to which the honourable senator referred. As to firearms generally, their importation is prohibited unless they conform to certain safety standards and the importer is properly authorised to be in possession of those firearms. The same controls apply in relation to toy and replica pistols that can be readily modified to a form which would render them capable of being fired. Consideration also has been given to prohibiting the importation of all toy and replica firearms because they can be used, as the report suggests, in armed holdups. The difficult thing is knowing where to stop. Every toy pistol, toy rifle or toy machinegun is a replica, to a greater or lesser degree, of the real article and the question is at what stage of likeness should the prohibition apply. If we were to prohibit all toy firearms I feel that we could be accused of being over-protective. In any event, such import control would need to be complemented by controls in all the States prohibiting the sale, manufacture and possession of toy replica firearms because they can be, and are, manufactured there. This is the difficulty that arises, and there is no easy solution to it.
-Does the Leader of the Government in the Senate recall saying last week in a statement that there ought to be one Australian police force with appropriate divisions and appropriate commissioners? Will the Minister explain what he meant? Does this include all police forces in Australia?
– I was referring to the Federal police forces, of course, not those of the States. I have made this quite clear on a number of occasions. I mentioned it at the meeting held last year of the Commissioners of Police of the various States. The intention is to overcome the problem in the Federal sphere. The need to overcome it was illustrated, I think, in a question last week about which commissioner was to do an investigation. There is a problem because there are 2 radio set-ups, for example. There is unnecessary duplication of facilities, authorities and so on. I am speaking of the Federal sphere at all times; I am in no way dealing with the State police forces which the States are entitled to have and which I assume the States will continue to have for a very long time. If at the Federal level we could get some rationalisation- say an Australian police force with divisions for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, with commissioners in each of those Territories and with the force operating with an appropriate degree of autonomy and responsible to the appropriate local authority, but a part of an overall body which could be used on national questions- I think it would be very useful. I must say to the honourable senator that it is quite difficult to achieve, especially when we have something with vested interests in existence, but some progress is being made towards achieving that goal.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Now that negotiations on wheat stabilisation have been concluded, what is the situation regarding the first advance payment and delivery quota for the 1974-75 harvest? As growers will soon be preparing land to plant wheat, will the Minister give an assurance that every effort will be made to finalise the first advance payment and quota?
– At the last Australian Agricultural Council meeting the Ministers present were unable to agree on the quota for the 1974-75 season and on the first advance payment. As a result of the agreement reached between the Australian Government and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation on a wheat stabilisation plan, last Friday I contacted all State Ministers and indicated to them that stabilisation arrangements have now been agreed upon. I sought their concurrence in the first advance arrangements and the quota. At this stage the basic quota has been accepted by the Australian Government at 514 million bushels, with a contingency quota of 74 million bushels. The first advance will be $1.20. As the honourable senator said, many growers are concerned about the position at the moment. If we had reached agreement at the Council meeting 3 or 4 weeks ago, growers would have been able to plant on the basis of that agreement. However, I am hoping that before the end of the week I will have replies from all State Ministers indicating their support for the proposition which I have put to them.
– Has the AttorneyGeneral any further information to give to the Senate in regard to legislative action to be taken in respect to the microfilming of documents required to be retained by companies and business undertakings, particularly for taxation purposes, to which he referred in answer to a question by me in the Senate on 1 1 September 1973? Is he aware that many companies are eagerly awaiting the legislation to which he referred then?
-Yes, I have some information on this matter. I had it looked into in order to have the material ready. A number of Australian statutes require original records of company and other business activities to be kept for specified periods. Over a number of years the Attorney-General’s Department has had consultations with the other departments concerned about amending these laws to enable microfilm copies to be kept instead of the original documents. It has been decided that there would be no amendment of these statutes until the laws of all the States provide for microfilm copies to be received in evidence instead of original documents. At this stage only four of the States have legislated along the lines of the model legislation prepared by the Standing Committee of AttorneysGeneral. The relevance of that statement is that State laws on evidence continue to apply to proceedings under Federal jurisdiction. The particular law applied depends on the place where the action is heard. So in South Australia and Tasmania, where legislation along the lines of the model Bill has not been enacted, microfilm copies of documents would not be admissible in evidence in the same way as in the other 4 States.
I have directed work to be begun on the preparation of a Federal code of evidence to be applied in matters within the Federal jurisdiction. The drafting of this code has already begun. It will include provision for microfilm copies of documents to be received in evidence. The legislation will also deal with the process known as the computer print-out of microfilm by means of which microfilm copies are produced directly from data stored in computers. I have now directed that the Department should proceed at the same time with such legislative changes as are necessary to enable the existing requirements of the laws of this Parliament and the laws of the Territories for the retention of original documents to be satisfied by the retention of microfilm copies of those documents. They will have to be made in a manner which will satisfy the code of evidence.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Housing by saying that I am pleased to see that the Government is attempting to take action to help home owners a little by reducing home insurance rates. I ask: When will the Government take real steps to make things easier for those presently buying homes and those wanting to buy homes by reducing interest rates on housing? Does the Minister realise that high interest rates simply increase the selling price of houses because anyone who sells a house wants to get back the interest he has paid and therefore puts a higher sale price on his house? Does the Minister realise also that the high interest rates will cause an increase in council rates due to the councils having to borrow at higher interest rates?
-The first thing to be understood is that the Government does not charge interest rates on housing. There is a permissible interest rate. Some increase in the interest rate on housing loans was permitted at the time interest rates generally were increased. What the interest rates should be is, of course, a question for the Treasury to decide. The increased rates on housing loans were supported by virtue of the fact that the material-manpower situation was creating a highly inflated cost of home construction. The resultant increased prices were very drastic and it was thought better to restrict somewhat the demand for homes rather than simply to do nothing about the matter.
The third point I wish to make is that the sale price of a house is determined by the highest bidder. One will sell one ‘s home for the highest price one can obtain. That price is decided by the supply and demand. The cost of principal and interest to a person selling a home is not the deciding factor in the sale of the home. So I do not agree with the suggestion that increased interest rates are raising the sale prices of homes. I am of the opinion that there will be a reduction in interest rates on loans for home purchase. The Government is pledged to reduce interest rates. There will be a reduction in interest rates immediately such a reduction will not increase the demand for homes to the extent that the cost of homes will be increased to a figure that is beyond the capacity of ordinary people.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Media. Has the Minister seen the report in today’s ‘Australian’ that the Australian Broadcasting Commission cancelled a live broadcast of the Writers Week talk at the Adelaide Festival by John Updike? Can the Minister say on what grounds that was done?
– I have seen the report to which the honourable senator has referred. I can assure him that the talk was not cancelled, because the scheduled program that had been publicised in advance was actually shown at the time. I have been informed that the ABC was unable to establish in advance with the Adelaide Festival authorities whether it would be possible to take a live broadcast of the talk by Mr Updike. Therefore, because there was that difficulty in making that establishment with the Adelaide Festival, the Commission decided to go ahead with a 2.75-hour program on opera which had been well publicised. However, it has now been confirmed that the Festival authorities will agree to a live broadcast of the talk. I understand that arrangements are being made by the ABCbecause the talk was recorded by the Commissionto put the broadcast to air at 8 o’clock tonight.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Is the Minister aware that some abattoirs in Western Australia have been forced to stand down employees and close their export plants because of the slump in meat exports? Because of this, will he consider reducing the meat export levy and will he be prepared also to make recommendations to the Federal Government to float the Australian dollar in order to restore confidence and financial realism to this important export industry.
-This situation in Western Australia was drawn to my attention this morning but because of the public holiday in Canberra today I have been unable to get any information as to just exactly what is happening in Perth; so I am unable to comment on that situation. I will get information on the current position there and get a reply for the honourable senator. In the second part of his question the honourable senator refers to the possibility of the Government reducing the levy on export meat. I presume from that that he is talking about the meat inspection levy which was imposed last year, with, I think, overwhelming support of the industry, for the purpose of assisting in the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis in this country- eradication which is vitally important to our markets. I am quite sure that primary producers in Australia would regard any reduction in that program as a retrograde step because the future markets for the meat industry are very much dependent on the eradication of these diseases in Australia. The part of the question concerning revaluation of the Australian dollar I will refer to the Treasurer.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Does the Minister share my impression that when the Senate enacted the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill a clear undertaking was given that the State governments would fully consider environmental responsibility in such forest expansion? Will the Minister examine and, if necessary, confer with the New South Wales Conservation Minister on the apparent repudiation of the spirit of the softwoods legislation by seeking to denude the Boyd Plateau of natural bush as a prelude to pine planting expansion?
- Senator Wriedt, I do not know in what capacity you will answer this question. Is it environment?
-Forestry. This does come within my portfolio. I would say in answer to the honourable senator that he may not have quite the right picture. The position is that the only plantings for which a State is required to submit an environmental report under the legislation are those which are funded by the Australian Government. If a planting is not funded by the Australian Government, the requirement does not apply. I understand that the Boyd Plateau project is not funded by Australian Government money and that therefore the New South Wales Government is not required to submit an environmental statement to the Australian Government about it. I am pretty sure that that is the picture, but if it is not I will get further information for the honourable senator.
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON Mr President, may I respectfully and in a lighter vein than normally pervades question time direct your attention to standing orders 400 and 403. Standing Order 403 states:
Every Senator desiring to speak shall rise uncovered, and address himself to the President.
– Wait for it. In view of the impending Senate election which will doubtless bring new senators into this chamber and against the risk that some new senator, having done his homework on the Standing Orders, could on the ringing of the bells come streaking into the Senate and rise uncovered and address you, will you, Mr President, have the Standing Orders Committee look at the standing order to which I have referred?
– That is a very interesting question. As the honourable senator addressed himself to me, my mind turned back to my study 2 years ago of a very interesting account by Baroness Goodall who had been carrying out, amongst the chimpanzees, investigation and study into the primates of Southern Uganda. One of the characteristics and qualities of chimpanzees is their imitative capacity to take on suddenly a semblance of what another chimpanzee has done. The imputation may exist in what I am saying- I hasten to say that the imputation is unjust- that perhaps some of our young people in the universities have the character and quality of the primates which seem to be involved in the honourable senator’s question.
As to the verbiage of standing order 403, in the light of modern patterns of behaviour there is certainly a prima facie case that some incoming senators, not aware of the traditions of the chamber, may attempt to observe the standing order in its entirety. I would be very disturbed if that attempt were made. I can assure the honourable senator, firstly, that if the attempt is made I will use all the authority of the presiding officer, if I happen to be the presiding officer, to see that it does not succeed. Secondly, I have warned the attendants that if any such attempt is made in Kings Hall it will be met by all the severity that can be exerted. Thirdly, I shall certainly see whether the language of standing order 403 can accommodate the present generation.
– Can the Minister for the Media indicate whether the report is correct that the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Queensland is contemplating providing for its workers an equal say in management?
– It is true that the Queensland manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, with the approval of the commissioners, has introduced a scheme whereby 7 members of the staff of the Commission in Queensland will be elected from the total staff of 600 to a management committee which formerly consisted of 7 members of the executive of the Commission. I was in Queensland recently and had discussions with senior management of the Commission and also with people in the employ of the Commission. I believe that the proposal, when implemented, will be a very successful and worthwhile experiment. If the experiment is successful and works effectively, the Commission will consider introducing the same system in other States. It is a combination of executive and worker participation.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Media. Is it a fact that the Government, through the Department of the Media, proposes to spend $1,250,000 of taxpayers money on what would appear to be nothing less than blatant Australian Labor Party political propaganda in the promotion of its policies and would this constitute a grave misuse of public funds were these moneys to be so expended?
-The Treasurer announced in the presentation of his Budget in the Parliament last August that the Government, in accordance with its policies of open government and in genuine endeavour to inform the Australian people, would be undertaking an extensive advertising campaign in order to inform the Australian people of the responsibilities of Parliament, the executive and government generally and also to inform the Australian community about the rights and privileges of Australian citizens. The honourable senator will remember that this matter was raised at a meeting of a Senate Estimates Committee. It has taken some time to get the advertising campaign under way because, as honourable senators will understand, firstly the Department had to await the appropriation of the Parliament and secondly the Department being a completely new department, has had to await the availability of suitable offices. The advertising campaign is about to get under way. Recently officers of my Department have been in touch with officers of the Parliament so as to advertise and effectively publicise the functions of the Australian Parliament in the first instance.
-Has the Minister for Primary Industry noted the comments of Colonel McArthur, the Chairman of the Australian Meat Board, in today’s Press urging cattle men to put more stock on the market to avoid abnormally large yardings later in the year and a consequential price slump? Does the Minister support the Board Chairman’s views?
-I did see the comments of Colonel McArthur. I do not know what grounds he has for assuming that stock is deliberately being withheld from the market. This may be the case. I believe there is some evidence to suggest that there has been a reduction in the amount of stock coming onto the market, but whether this is a deliberate course of action by primary producers I do not know. However, I think the general words of advice offered by Colonel McArthur should be supported. It always creates an uncertain market for both the primary producer and the consumer when the supply fluctuates to any marked extent. I am sure it would be in the interests of the whole of the Australian community if that supply could be kept at a fairly uniform rate.
-Would the AttorneyGeneral, in the interests of legislative research and informed comment, and of honourable senators, care to inform the Senate whether any of the Bills previously laid down in the Senate by himself, and which were taken off the notice paper due to the prorogation of the Parliament, will be reintroduced into the Senate in their original form? In particular I refer to the Trade Practices Bill and the Human Rights Bill.
-A11 the Bills will come back in some form or other. I refer firstly to the
Trade Practices Bill. If I may trespass into anticipating what another place will do, I think the House of Representatives will probably send the Senate a message asking it to restore the Trade Practices Bill to the notice paper and to resume consideration of it. At that stage I would indicate, if the Senate permitted me to do so, what modifications I proposed to make in the light of what has been put to me over the last few months by various parts of industry and so forth in relation to the Bill. I would let honourable senators have the Bill so that they could consider it. I would try to get the Bill into the best shape for them to do so. I would give them the amendments, and the original Bill if they did not have it.
I refer now to the Human Rights Bill. I have already indicated that there has been a considerable response to my invitation for comments on the Bill. I propose to meet the reasonable objections which have been raised and even some of the unreasonable objections which have been raised and to clarify matters and so put beyond any question some of the issues which have been raised, for example, about the jurisdiction and so forth of the Human Rights Commissioner or the Superior Court as well as put beyond question some of the matters raised, I think, by the churches. So the Trade Practices Bill and the Human Rights Bill would be substantially in their original form but there would be some clarification of various matters. The response has been satisfactory. It is proposed to reintroduce the other measures in, I think, substantially the same form.
– My question, which I direct to the Minister for Primary Industry, follows the question asked of him by my colleague Senator Primmer. Is the Minister aware that considerable evidence was placed before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Meat Prices that the overseas demand for meat exports was the contributory factor in high meat prices in 1973? Is the Minister able to say whether there has been a considerable drop in overseas demand for Australian meat and that now more meat is available for the domestic market? Will the Minister institute an inquiry into the continued high price of meat in the retail market and the reasons why consumers are not benefiting from the present export position?
– The honourable senator’s question is related to that asked by Senator Primmer. It is true that there has been an easing off of demand for Australian meat on the United
States and Japanese markets. As a result prices have eased. Stockyard prices eased towards the end of last year. If the anticipated supply of meat to the market does come about in the next 2 or 3 months there could well be a lot of meat on the market and a consequent fall in prices, as was said by Colonel McArthur in the statement to which Senator Primmer referred.
The second part of the honourable senator’s question concerned retail prices and the fact that consumers were not getting the benefit of any fall in stockyard prices. The Government recognised this aspect after the Parliamentary Committee had reported by asking the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to investigate the marketing costs of meat and the reasons why retailers or consumers were not receiving the benefit of lower stockyard prices. I have received that report, the essence of which is that it is very difficult to make such a determination. From the report it appears that the main reason was that the profit margin at the retail level was being maintained at a fairly high point. Mainly for that reason no reduction in the retail price was taking place. It is not an easy matter to resolve. The obvious answer is to ensure that the supply of meat to the Australian market is sufficient to meet the demand. I anticipate that we will see that situation in the next 2 or 3 months.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of the concern recently expressed by teachers and parents, particularly at several schools in Tasmania, in relation to the withdrawal of free milk for school children and the likely effect on the health of children, particularly in lower income families? What is the latest proposal of the Government in relation to the provision of free milk for school children, or a suitable substitute?
– This matter comes within the administration of the Minister for Health and I will refer the question to him.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Science aware that the British Jockey Club which controls racing in Great Britain converted to metric measurements but the Club and punters found those units so unmanageable that the Club has now reverted to the imperial measures of yards, pounds and stones? Will the Minister take heed from this significant warning and, as with frequency modulation, conduct a second inquiry before going ahead with the colossal cost of metrication?
-I am not fortified by any material from the Minister for Science to deal with this matter but I think I can safely say that this nation is committed to the metric system. The report submitted by a Senate Committee helped to prompt the Government into taking action.
I do not think there is any turning back for us. Most of the world is committed to the metric system. We will need to pursue it in horse racing as well as in other spheres. The Australian racing community does not seem to have found the difficulty which was found in Great Britain.
– They still lose their money on slow horses.
-1 agree with what has been interpolated by Senator Poyser. It is just as easy to lose money when the horses are going slow under the metric system as it is in miles.
– I call Senator Davidson. Order! Senator Poyser, I do not need to be reminded whom to call. I began at the beginning of question time by asking for questions from my right. I called Senator O ‘Byrne. I looked over to my right several times but you were not on your feet. I have been proceeding around the Senate. I shall call you next. You have not been overlooked in any way at all. I call Senator Davidson.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Media. I refer to a Press story which appeared today and which states that a major report recommending the early introduction of a completely new high fidelity radio system has been prepared. I ask the Minister: Is this the report relating to frequency modulation broadcasting? If so, when does the Minister propose to table the report in the Senate? Will he indicate the Government’s response to it?
– I hope to table the report immediately after question time. I shall seek leave to make a short statement.
-Can the Minister for the Media advise me whether negotiations between the Victorian Football League and Victorian television stations concerning the replay of VFL matches in the forthcoming season have concluded or are they still continuing? How many television stations are involved in the discussions? As I have heard rumours that the price being asked by the VFL is extremely high, is there any Likelihood that the Australian Broadcasting Commission will withdraw from the negotiations and use some other form of football in its programs?
– I understand that agreement was reached the other day concerning the broadcasting of Victorian Football League games by broadcasting stations. So far as television is concerned, negotiations are still proceeding between Channels 2 and 7 on the one hand and the Victorian Football League on the other. Therefore at this stage I do not want to say too much which might jeopardise any of the negotiations which might be taking place. Of course this year soccer will be televised by Channel 9 in Melbourne. I understand that Channel 0 will be televising the Victorian Football Association’s games. The other day I said to my colleague that I would expect the Australian Broadcasting Commission to adopt a practical and commonsense point of view in its negotiations in relation to any price which might be asked by the VFL and which might subsequently be agreed upon. But because the negotiations are still proceeding I am not in a position to add anything further to the information which I gave the honourable senator last week.
– I ask the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs: Is the report correct that the Australian Ambassador to the Khmer Republic has not returned to his post following leave in Australia? If the report is correct, is it the intention of the Government that the Ambassador return to his post in the near future? If not, will the Minister provide the Senate with the reasons?
– I understand that the Ambassador, Mr Johnston, returned to Australia on IS December on routine leave and for consultations. He is shortly to be reappointed to another post. While the Government can envisage circumstances in which a new ambassador will be appointed, at the present time the political and military situation remains unclear. The Embassy still consists of 7 Australian based staff under the control of senior consul as Charge d ‘Affaires. Some less essential personnel have been evacuated because of the security situation there.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to a statement made in America yesterday by the new Australian Ambassador to the United States of America, Sir Patrick Shaw, which was rebroadcast in part in the ‘AM ‘ radio program today, in which Sir Patrick said that there are no ground rules for American or other foreign investment in Australia. In view of the Whitlam Government’s election promise to establish clear ground rules, why has not the Government done so?
-I am not aware of that statement. 1 think this is a very important question and, without in any way accepting the conclusion that is a premise of the honourable senator’s question, I will refer the matter to the Treasurer.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Customs and Excise. In view of the obvious attempt by at least one State to introduce a satisfactory kangaroo conservation program, will the Minister indicate whether he is prepared to reach any separate agreement with that State?
– I am aware that some changes are contemplated in the matter of kangaroo conservation by at least one State. I am by no means certain that I could describe the contemplated programs as being satisfactory. I have discussed this question with the Minister for the Environment and Conservation and I can only say that the response to the lead given by this Government for an enlightened national kangaroo conservation program has been disappointing. Little has been done in this important area during the past 1 5 months. It seems that the question whether the export of kangaroo products should be authorised, even for noncommercial quantities, should be considered.
Honourable senators might recall that no restriction is placed on kangaroo products which are taken out in passengers’ baggage, either as personal effects or as gifts, or in relation to products despatched from Australia as gifts- that is, where no commercial activity is involved. I am having discussions with the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, Dr Cass, with a view to deciding whether those exports which are approved under the circumstances I have already outlined should be terminated except where the products have been derived from kangaroos taken in accordance with a national conservation program which is satisfactory to the Government. It may be that that would afford some measure of inducement to the States which are moving towards adherence to the programs which have been set forth as desirable and that this action will give those States some encouragement, and other States perhaps might be made to realise that it is time they made some progress in relation to the conservation of kangaroos.
– I am not able to provide the honourable senator with all of the answers to the various parts of his question. The ‘Australian Government Digest’ is prepared by the Australian Government Publicity Service, which was an arm of the Public Service formed by the previous Government and which was attached to the Prime Minister’s Department. When this Government came into office that section of the Public Service was transferred from the Prime Minister’s Department to the Department of the Special Minister of State, and I think it was in last November that it was decided to transfer it from the Department of the Special Minister of State to my Department. The Australian Government Publishing Service has been producing this publication known as the Australian Government Digest’ which consists of a resume of the summaries of Acts, Government decisions, lists of Bills and matters of that nature. I understand that it is sold for about $5 a copy. From recollection I have the idea that there are about 5,000 subscribers to the publication. I will see what other parts of the honourable senator’s question remain unanswered. There is a distribution list, the details of which I am not quite sure. It is sold to the public. I will see what other answers I have to provide to the honourable senator.
– Are they public subscribers or other Government departments?
-They are public subscribers.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Yesterday the Minister advised the Senate that his Department was engaged at present in 3 main surveys connected with the Australian fishing industry at an approximate cost of Sim to the Australian Government. Can the Minister say whether the South Australian Government is co-operating in these surveys? If it is, what portion of the $lm is being expended in South Australian waters?
– The one survey which would concern South Australia is the one implemented to find ways and means of overcoming problems associated with the shark industry. Last year it was determined by the Victorian Government that sharks containing a certain proportion of mercury could not be taken if they were over 41 inches in length. In view of that, a joint agreement was entered into by the Australian Government with the South Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian Governments to explore what other fishing resources were available and what industry could be developed by those 3 States. From memory, the amount of money being contributed by the 3 States is around $350,000. 1 am not sure of precisely how much South Australia contributes but I will get that detail for the honourable senator.
-My question, addressed to the Minister for Customs and Excise, follows the answer he gave to Senator Mulvihill. Are we to believe that the meeting in Western Australia between the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, Dr Cass, and the Western Australian Minister for Fisheries and Fauna in regard to the lifting of the ban on the export of kangaroo products was a lot of ballyhoo for local consumption, because in interviews with both Ministers it was stated on the media that this would lead to the lifting of the ban on the export of kangaroo products? What is the position in regard to America where I understand that last year there was a threat in regard to imports of kangaroo products into that country if the Minister here did not take action?
-It seems that the Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate has inadvertently but properly described what I am trying to overcome and that is- a ban on kangaroos. As far as I am concerned kangaroos are not going to be banned; kangaroos are going to survive. Measures are being taken by this Government to see that they do survive. The ban placed on the export of kangaroo skins in 1923 was waived by successive Governments until last year when I decided it would not be waived until such time as the national conservation programs were not only drawn up but also implemented. That remains the position. The ban on kangaroo products which was imposed early last year will not be waived unless there is some strong reason, such as the implementation of those programs, for doing so.
The position, as I see it now, is that there is no national conservation program. The working party which met- that is, a working party of Federal and State Ministers- drew up a program, and it simply has not been adopted or implemented. In Western Australia some endeavour has been made to implement this program. Some progress has been made. If Western Australia implements the program, although it is not a national one, it may well be, as I indicated, that some encouragement will be given to Western Australia. At the moment export of noncommercial quantities of products is permitted. It may well be feasible to allow export only in respect of products which come from areas which are implementing the national conservation program. If that were done- my understanding so far is that it could be done- it would be a great inducement to the States to follow what has been set out, and it would prove to be advantageous for a State such as Western Australia which is making some progress and which is assisting in the adoption of this program.
-I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate a question about the metric system. In view of the great danger associated with a cyclone off the coast, such as the cyclones off Queensland this year, and in view of the necessity for people to know the correct distance that a possible cyclone is from their area, what is the sense in telling people that a cyclone is so many kilometers away from the coast, as we are being told in Queensland, when in the main the people do not know what kilometers are? Would it not be more sensible to express the distance in terms that people knowmiles so people know just how close a danger may be to them because of the necessity to be prepared for such an event?
-I think that the intention of those who are trying to introduce the metric system is to introduce it in an area and to use it exclusively in that area. In general, there is a lot of sense in doing that. In the circumstance to which the honourable senator adverted- that is, an emergency- it is similar to a person not being able to understand a language. If he is likely to come up against some dangerous situation, the obvious course is to communicate with him in terms which he can understand. I will refer to the appropriate authorities the suggestion which the honourable senator has made.
-Has the Minister representing the Minister for Health seen Press reports referring to the increase in food borne infections by salmonella bacteria, which increase has been affirmed by a New South Wales public health team? If he has seen such reports, has he noted the statement that the increase has been linked with national and international traffic in animals and food, as well as with the increased use of ready-to-serve warm foods? Has the Department of Health given consideration to the recommendation by the team that Australia should adopt the salmonella surveillance system as now used in the United States and Britain? Will he study the reports in the medical journals relating to this matter, and will he take steps to prevent the increase of these infections?
– Order! That question is a very technical one. I suggest that it would be appropriate for it to be put on notice, unless the Minister has some information on it.
-Mr President, because of the efficiency of my colleague the Minister for Health, I have some information on this matter. I can advise the honourable senator that, according to my colleague the Minister for Health, salmonella organisms are quite often implicated as an causative factor in outbreaks of gastro-enteritis, both in adults and in children. The National Health and Medical Research Council has planned and is about to undertake a microbiological survey of certain foods, particularly ready-to-eat takeaway foods such as chicken pieces and rissoles. The survey will cover several States, and the personnel and laboratories of both Australian and State governments will be used. Salmonella organisms are among those potentially present in a number of foodstuffs which are included in the survey. The survey will produce comprehensive data on micro-organisms in these certain types of foods.
– For the information of honourable senators, I table the report of the Independent Inquiry into Frequency Modulation Broadcasting and seek leave to make a short statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
September of last year, shortly after the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts produced its second progress report on all aspects of television and broadcasting, including the Australian content of television programs, and I and officers of my Department were able to consider it, I recommended to the Government that an independent inquiry should be held into frequency modulation broadcasting. The Government agreed to my recommendation.
Acting on the advice of officers of my Department, the Postmaster-General’s Department, the members and technical engineers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the Australian Post Office, it was unanimously acknowledged that Sir Francis McLean, C.B.E., Chairman of the Telecommunications Industry Standards Committee of the British Standards Institution, and a former Director of Engineering at the British Broadcasting Commission, would be an outstanding chairman. The Government was fortunate to be able to secure the services of Sir Francis as Chairman of the inquiry and also was fortunate to be able to secure the services of Professor Charles Cyril Renwick, a Director of the Hunter Valley Research Foundation, as the other member of the independent inquiry.
Sir Francis and Professor Renwick commenced their sittings in January of this year and were asked to tender their report to the Australian Government by 3 1 March. They have now tendered their report and recommendations. The Government is indebted to Sir Francis and Professor Renwick for the efficient and expeditious manner in which they conducted their hearings and complied their report. It has been decided that the Committee’s report should be released immediately, so that members of the Australian Parliament and other interested parties will have the opportunity to examine the recommendations.
Bearing in mind the major technical and financial considerations which have to be taken into account, together with my recent statement that with the implementation of a different policy on the allocation of frequencies in the conventional radio broadcasting band many new medium frequency radio broadcasting stations could be established in the near future, the Government will closely study the details of the independent committee ‘s report and, as soon as possible, announce its decision on the method of introduction of FM broadcasting in Australia. I move:
Debate (on motion by Senator Laucke) adjourned.
-In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969-1973, I present the thirty-sixth general report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works.
Motion ( by Senator Wriedt) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to fishing boats associated with Papua New Guinea.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing orders suspended.
– I move:
Honourable senators will recall that on 27 September last year Senator Cavanagh, representing the then Minister for External Territories introduced the Papua New Guinea (Application of Laws) Bill in the Senate. This legislation received Royal Assent on 30 October, 1 973. It enabled a smooth transfer of powers to Papua New Guinea which was self-governing from 1 December, 1973. Some powers, other than defence and foreign affairs, have not been transferred to the Papua New Guinea Government as the Application of Laws Act alone is not the appropriate vehicle. Powers under the Fisheries Act 1 952- 1 973 are in this category. The Bill now before the Senate will enable Papua New Guinea to administer its own fisheries legislation and, I am informed, the Papua New Guinea Government wishes to do this as soon as possible. A Fisheries Act has been passed by the
House of Assembly in Port Moresby in anticipation of the transfer of the fisheries powers.
This Bill overcomes the problem of definition of ‘foreign boat’ in the existing legislation. Without this amendment, during the period between self-government and independence, Papua New Guinea boats would continue to be subject to Australian jurisdiction while in Australian proclaimed waters. This is unacceptable to Papua New Guinea which wishes its fishing vessels to be treated in the same manner as other foreign boats. The need for Clause 2 of the Bill arises as a result of amendments to the Principal Act not yet having come into operation. Subclause 2( 1 ) will provide the immediate transfer of powers desired by Papua New Guinea and sub-clause 2(2) will provide the permanent amendment to the Principal Act when amendments passed in 1973 are brought into operation. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Laucke) adjourned.
– I move:
There has been some discussion about this matter and there are amendments from 2 sides. We hope to be able to resolve it one way or the other or at least get to the point where there may not be much argument about it tomorrow. A proposal has come from another quarter.
– We will get over it this session, will we?
-Yes. We seem to be progressing satisfactorily. I indicate that I will later move a motion relating to sitting times. It is proposed to meet tomorrow at 1 1 a.m. and to continue this evening until 1 1 p.m.
-Well, this does not require a motion at this stage. Are there any other matters you wish to deal with in the rearrangement of business?
– My other proposal is to bring on order of the day No. 4 prior to the other Constitution Alteration Bills.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to:
That consideration of orders of the day Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 be postponed until after consideration of order of the day No. 4 and that orders of the day Nos 6, 7 and 8 be brought on forthwith.
- Mr President, in accordance with the Standing Orders, I move:
– Normally, this motion is moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
- Mr President, we oppose the motion for the obvious reason that it is not the very fine message which was proposed by the Government but one which has been altered. A matter of a purely political character has been put into the message. The Opposition cannot allow even such an important matter, on this auspicious occasion of an outstanding Government and the opening of the Parliament by Her Majesty the Queen, to take place without messing it up by attaching to it this extraneous and misleading material. Therefore, I indicate that we will oppose the motion. I do not know whether it is even necessary to divide the Senate but let it be recorded that whatever the fate of the motion, the Government is voting against it and will not participate in this distortion of proper procedures.
– I think that the attitude of the Government ought not be allowed to pass without some comment. After all, it has been a formality of the Parliament from the time we have had the Westminister system, devised and developed as it is today, that when the Monarch or her representative, the Governor-General, delivers a Speech at the opening of the Parliament there is an AddressinReply to that Speech. It has been the practice of this Parliament from the time it was established. It is the practice of every State Parliament when the Governor makes a speech opening the Parliament. The invariable custom is that the Address-in-Reply is approved, with or without amendment, and it is then submitted to the Governor-General or the Governor, as the case may be, at Government House. This is one of the conventions of our system. Last year we had an Address-in-Reply debate which was prolonged because the Government was not prepared to bring it on throughout the year. I think that it was some time in August, after the Speech had been delivered in February, that the debate on the Address-in-Reply was concluded.
– Who was frustrating then?
– It certainly was not the Opposition because the Opposition was willing at all times to debate whatever motion or legislation was brought before the Senate by the Government. It ought not to be forgotten that the Government still controls the business in this chamber. The Standing Orders sustain it in that control of the business. It determines what is debated. But we waited some seven or eight months, as I recall, before that debate was concluded last year. When it was concluded, the normal formalities were arranged by you, Mr President, and the only persons who went to Government House were Opposition senators. The Government was not prepared to accept the invitation to present the Address-in-Reply simply, as we understood it on our side, because an amendment had been moved in the Senate to which exception was taken by the Government. If that is the way in which the Government desires to give an impression to the public of its conduct of affairs, then I think it is a very petty impression which the Government conveys.
Now we come to the present occasion. The Address-in-Reply debate has been concluded within approximately a week of its having started. In those circumstances we are in a position to indicate our willingness to take the Address-in-Reply to Government House. When in this chamber today the Leader of the Government refused to support the motion that the Address-in-Reply be presented I think it indicated the pettiness of this Government. But more than pettiness is indicated. It is indicated that unless the Government can get its own way in absolutely everything it puts before the chamber it will adopt the view that it can look after its own affairs and it will take up its own bat and it will go home and not let anyone else play with the bat. This is the standard which is adopted by the Government of this country.
It ought to be acknowledged that the Government is voting against the motion for an Address-in-Reply to the Queen’s Speech to be presented to the Governor-General. After all, the conventions of the Parliament are that the Speech presented by the Queen is the Speech which is drafted for Her by Her Ministers. In this case it was a speech drafted for Her by the Prime
Minister (Mr Whitlam) and her Australian Ministers. The courtesies of the Parliament are recognised when there is a motion that the Queen be thanked, as in the terms of the Address-in-Reply, for the speech which has been delivered. If the Opposition desires to move an amendment and it is carried by the Senate, as has happened, why should the Government not be prepared to acknowledge the authority of this chamber?
The double standards of the Government are amazing. When the present Government and Senator Murphy as Leader of his Party in the Senate were in Opposition there was great insistence upon the forms of the Senate and there was a great insistence that the will of the Senate should prevail. The Government of the day, I think, was responsive to that will, as it had to be from time to time. I believe this present Government should learn to live with the fact that it must be responsive to the will of a democratically elected chamber. Let us have an end to this idea that what Mr Whitlam and Senator Murphy want the Parliament must submit to, because in that lies the essential authoritarianism which is becoming so evident to the Australian people as the hallmark of this Government. I certainly feel that this motion should be supported and the Government’s indications that it will oppose the matter should not be allowed to pass without comment.
– I intend to move that the debate be now adjourned because I wish to point out to Senator Greenwood that when he talks about the conventions -
– Order! You cannot debate the motion. You may move that the debate be now adjourned.
– I wish to speak to the substantive matter.
– There is a simple motion before the Senate.
– If we do not speak to it now we will do so subsequently.
That the debate be now adjourned.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I oppose the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Withers). I will be brief because the Senate has some urgent requirements, as the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) has pointed out. I was surprised by the vehement attack made by Senator Greenwood on Senator Murphy on a matter which is, after all, a formal matter and which should have been resolved between Senator Withers and Senator Murphy. Surely if there is a convention in the Parliament the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate should have conferred with Senator Murphy on the prospect of delivering the Address-in-Reply. As you pointed out, Mr President, the convention has been for the Leader of the Government in the Senate to move a motion in respect of the Address-in-Reply. If we are to keep to the forms of the House and the conventions of the Senate the matter might well have been discussed in a serious way with Senator Murphy. Senator. Murphy in an aside to Senator Withers, mentioned the problems which have existed.
Senator Murphy is seeking the cooperation of the Senate in relation to the referenda Bills. I am rather surprised at the amount of attention and energy devoted to the debate on this matter. I suggest that Senator Withers could have talked to Senator Murphy to resolve the matter in a friendly way outside the chamber, perhaps by setting it down for debate tomorrow.
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (New South Wales) (3.30)-I would be the first to acknowledge that there is a desire to proceed with the referendum Bills which we hope to get onto a little later. Not only as an honourable senator of long standing but also as a member of the Executive Council not under summons I feel bound to say that I find it is an extraordinary situation that in view of all the history of a parliament of the Commonwealth that I can bring to memory the Government should resist the presentation of an address-in-reply. I point out- and this is why I rose- that what the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Withers) did was to move an addition to the motion which was moved on behalf of the Government itself. To make the very essence of the point, I read the original motion of the Government to which words were added. It states:
MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN:
Wc, Your Majesty’s loyal subjects, the members of the Senate, in Parliament assembled, desire to thank you for the gracious Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
The presence in Australia of Your Majesty and of His Royal Highness the Prince Philip has once again brought the greatest pleasure to your Australian people. We, their representatives in this Senate, are grateful for this opportunity to re-affirm our allegiance to you as our Queen.
– We moved all that.
-Yes, the Government moved that. But the Government does not want to take the address-in-reply which we have passed. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is to add the following words -
– Read it out.
– Read all of it.
-This is music to my ears, because it pins the truth of this matter. The amendment which has been moved adds no reflection to the expression of loyalty to the Throne proposed by the Senate. Down through the centuries every Parliament in the British Commonwealth has gone to express those words to Her Majesty’s representative. Quite frankly, I am amazed that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) could not have said: ‘All right, if the Leader of the Opposition moves the amendment let it be carried.’ If honourable senators on the Government side do not want to go, as happened last year- and they did not go- they should settle for that. But they are going beyond that. I know Senator Murphy does not mean it this way but we could draw the inference that in a sense the Government is prejudicing the motion which it moved.
– I wish to speak only very briefly on this matter. When I moved this motion of loyalty on behalf of all honourable senators I expected that there would be unanimity. As one who was quite insistent that there be no Australian Labor Party propaganda included in the message which we were conveying to Her Majesty when we expressed pleasure at her visit and at the visit of her husband His Royal Highness the Prince Philip I am very distressed at what has happened. I deliberately eschewed any Party propaganda. I find it an affront that one should endeavour to include a political brochure in our address to our Sovereign and her gracious husband. For that reason I trust that this motion will be defeated.
– I draw the attention of the Senate to an obligation which we have to follow not only the Standing Orders and the usual practices of the Senate but also the procedures which have been handed down to this Senate from Westminster. Mr Odgers at page 108 of the Third Edition of ‘Australian Senate Practice’ states:
When the Address has been agreed to, a motion is made that it be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General by the President and such Senators as may desire to accompany him. This motion is moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate in the following terms:
I move that the Address-in-Reply be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General by the President and such Senators as may desire to accompany him.
I submit that that motion has not been moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy). Because of the objectionable addendum, amendment or however we describe the political slant of the Opposition’s motion, this motion has not been moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate as required -
– What standing order is the honourable senator quoting?
– This is found on page 108 -
– I ask the honourable senator to quote the standing order.
-Standing order 366 states:
Whenever it be deemed proper to present an Address to Her Majesty . . .the same shall be proposed, except in cases of urgency, on Motion after Notice in the usual manner.
– Read out the other one.
– I read out the other one. I think it is quite clear. The point I make is that because of the objectionable nature of this amendment, or this tag-on, and because of the political propaganda which honourable senators opposite in their temporary stage -
– I raise a point of order. I understand that an honourable senator cannot reflect on a vote of the Senate. The Senate has voted on the Address-in-Reply and on an amendment to it. I feel that Senator O’Byrne is out of order by reflecting on a vote of the Senate.
– Order! At the present moment the debate is on a motion from Senator Withers, namely, that the Address-in-Reply to the Speech delivered by Her Majesty the Queen, and so on, shall be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General. That is the motion before the chair at the present moment. Senator O’Byrne is asking whether it should be presented.
– That is the motion to which I am speaking. I clearly point out that it is the prerogative of the Leader of the Government in the Senate to move this motion. It is a practice which has been continued along the lines adopted at Westminster. The point I am establishing now is that we should follow that precedent. Unless the Leader of the Government in the Senate chooses to move this motion there is no motion before the Senate.
– Who is running this?
– Who is running this, that is what I would like to know. Is the Government running the country or are a bunch of naggers and hagglers on the other side of the chamber? They could not run a fowl house. However I submit that this matter should be cleared up now. This is the prerogative of the Leader of the Government in the Senate. If he chooses not to move the motion because of the objectionable features of the amendment then it should not be moved.
– I make a very brief point in relation to this matter because the standing orders to which honourable senators are referring are all associated with an address by the Governor-General. But standing order 366 states:
Whenever it is deemed proper to present an Address to Her Majesty or the Governor-General, the same shall be proposed, except in cases of urgency, on Motion after Notice in the usual manner.
I suggest that that has not been done. I suggest that there is no urgency involved in this matter. I think it is disgraceful that Senator Withers should have the egotism to take over the Senate simply because he has the support of a number of dissidents who have no respect for the mandate from the people of Australia. I suggest that, before any final decision is made on this matter, standing order 366 should be examined to ascertain whether this motion is, in fact, in order.
– Order! I do not uphold your point of order, Senator Poyser.
– Very briefly indeed, I draw the attention of the Senate to standing order 12 which Government supporters have been reluctant to read out. That standing order states:
The Address having been agreed to, a Motion will then be made that it be presented to His Excellency the GovernorGeneral by the President and such Senators as may desire to accompany him.
There is no qualification at all in the Senate Standing Orders that the motion to present the Address to His Excellency the Governor-General shall be moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Under standing order 12 it is fully competent for the Leader of the Opposition to move that motion. I put it to the Senate that we have before us a simple matter. An Address was delivered; the Senate debated it within its competence, amended it, and expressed the will of the Senate. The whole basis on which the parliamentary system functions is that the will of this House shall prevail. The will of the House is that the Address as amended should prevail. The motion before us is that the Address, as amended, should be transmitted to His Excellency in accordance with the provisions of standing order 12.
– Order! The matter has now reached a stage at which I think it should be resolved. As far as I am concerned, no problem arises. Under standing order 12 Senator Withers moved a motion, which he is entitled to do. The Standing Orders do not provide who must move such a motion. Before I put the question earlier, I said that the Leader of the Government in the Senate normally moves this motion and it would be proper that I should call the Leader of the Government in the Senate to address himself to the proposition put by Senator Withers. In subsequent events an attempt was made, quite properly, by motion to adjourn the debate. This was defeated. I now proceed to put the original motion moved by Senator Withers. The question now is:
That the motion moved by Senator Withers be agreed to.
Those of that opinion say aye, to the contrary no. I think the ayes have it. Is a division required?
– I have indicated the attitude of the Government. If it be noted that the Government has voted against the motion the Government will not divide the Senate.
– I declare that the ayes have it and that Government senators have expressed their opposition to the motion. That will be noted.
– What did we gain by all that?
– It is a bit like the turtle farming -
– Order! Honourable senators will understand that when the President is on his feet the Senate will come to order. That means no interjections and no crossfire of conversation. Now, as a result of that matter having been resolved, I inform the Senate that I will ascertain when His Excellency the GovernorGeneral will be pleased to receive the AddressinReply. When that time is fixed, I will advise the Senate and honourable senators.
Debate resumed from 12 March (vide page 1 96), on motion by Senator Murphy:
That the request of the House of Representatives contained in its message No. 6 for the resumption by the Senate of the consideration of the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill 1973 be complied with, that a message be transmitted to the House of Representatives acquainting it therewith and that the second reading of the Bill, the stage which the Bill had reached last session, be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
– The Opposition has no objection to this matter or orders of the day Nos. 7 and 8 being restored to the Notice Paper. The motions with respect to each of those matters are purely formal.
– That statement reflects the attitude of the Democratic Labor Party.
– I assume that is the attitude of everybody else, too.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Consideration resumed from 12 March (vide page 196), on motion by Senator Murphy:
That the request of the House of Representatives contained in its message No. 7 for the resumption by the Senate of consideration of the National Investment Fund Bill 1973 be complied with, that a message be transmitted to the House of Representatives acquainting it therewith and that the second reading of the Bill, the stage which the Bill had reached last session, be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Consideration resumed from 12 March (vide page 1 96 ), on motion by Senator Murphy:
That the request of the House of Representatives contained in its message No. 1 0 for the resumption by the Senate of the consideration of the Petroleum and Minerals Authority Bill 1973 be complied with; that a message be transmitted to the House of Representatives acquainting it therewith; and that the second reading of the Bill, the stage which the Bill had reached last session, be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
In accordance with the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution in respect of Constitution Alteration Bills that have been passed in one House- in this instance, the House of Representativesby an absolute majority on 2 occasions and which already have been rejected, have failed to pass or have been unacceptably amended in the Senate, the Government reintroduces the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill in the Senate so that it can proceed towards a referendum on the matter, a referendum that the Government intends be held concurrently with the next Senate elections. I shall not take the time of the Senate to put forward again the reasons that have led the Government to initiate this alteration. They are sound and reasoned. They were spelt out by me in my second-reading speech in this chamber, and honourable senators have them recorded in Hansard at pages 1906 to 1908 of 20 November 1973. The opportunity for a full debate was available when consideration was resumed on 4 December. I also refer the Senate to what I said when re-introducing the Constitution Alteration (Democratic Elections) Bill on 6 March 1974, namely, that I ask the Senate to deal promptly with that and the other 3 Constitution Alteration Bills that first came into this chamber last November.
Honourable senators know full well that the Government proposes that these referendums be held on the same day as the Senate election. Accordingly, there is a limited time span within which resolution must be reached on these Bills. If the referendums have to be held separately, the voters will be further inconvenienced and the costs involved considerably increased. It is for these reasons that last week on behalf of the Government I asked the Senate to deal with these Bills urgently. The Senate did not heed the Government’s request. Within the limited time available, the Government does not wish to seem inflexible or unreasonable. Nor does it want any suggestion that there has been insufficient time for the Senate to deal with these matters. But assuredly, failure to complete consideration in the Senate this week will be treated by the Government for the purposes of section 128 of the Constitution as failure to pass.
The reality of this measure and the other Bills is that similar Bills were before the Senate on a previous occasion. The Senate dealt with those Bills in such a way as not to pass those measures. These Bills are simply being re-presented, having been passed again by the House of Representatives. The attitude of the Opposition Parties is known. They will not pass the Bills. The Opposition parties will adhere to their attitude. They will probably enter on some device today, as they have on other occasions, to ensure that the Bills are rejected or in some other way fail to pass. I think it would be better for everyone concerned if the Opposition was straightforward in its attitude to this legislation. Let us get down to business and let the people of Australia make the decisions themselves. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
- Mr Deputy President, this Bill is probably the most important piece of legislation that this Government has put before the Senate. This Bill vitally affects our Constitution. It also vitally affects the parliamentary system. As such it vitally affects the Senate and the relationship that it has with the House of Representatives. It vitally affects the relationship between the Australian people and their Houses of the Parliament.
This Bill was brought before the Senate last year. It was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on 4 December 1973 for report back to the Senate no later than the first day of sitting after 1 February 1974. What the Senate did with that Bill then was nothing new. Examination of Bills is part of the legislative role of the Senate, and a necessary role of any house of parliament. The Senate has, through its Committee system, extended this aspect of its activities, an extension, I may add, that was greatly supported and agitated for by the senators who now form part of what passes for the Whitlam menagerie. Yet this action by the Senate was taken by the Government as a failure to pass. The Government decided that, because the Senate wanted to scrutinise what the Government desired, the Senate had not passed the legislation.
I have stressed repeatedly that the Senate is part of the legislature of this country and is entitled to scrutinise legislation. Of course, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) does not like such scrutiny. No government does. No government likes having its activities held up to public scrutiny. We wanted to make sure, if I may refer back to the incident at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, as an analogy, that this gun too was not loaded. It is obvious from that incident and many others that the Government does not seek to establish the truth unless the Opposition insists on it being dragged out. The last time that the Constitution alteration Bills were before the Senate the Opposition parties rejected two, amended one, and this present Bill was referred to one of the Senate committees. The Opposition parties wanted this Bill studied by a Senate committee because of the great implications the Bill had not only for the Senate but also for the whole Parliament. Our intent was to examine the implications of the Bill and seek information. Sir, this was no breach of duty by the Senate. I claim that we were fulfilling our constitutional obligation and our obligation to the Australian people.
The committee to which this Bill was referred should have had its report available and ready to present to the Senate as soon as that committee had been reconstituted. The committee had a reference but it failed to meet because the chairman, a Government senator, as I understand it did not call the committee together. The committee should have acted on the Senate’s direction. No excuse has yet been presented to the Senate as to why the commute did not meet. After all, the Parliament was not prorogued until 14 February 1974. The committee was required to report back to the Senate, as I stated earlier, no later than the first day of sitting after 1 February 1974. One would have thought that the report would have been completed by that time.
When Parliament reassembled the Government could have restored the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill to the notice paper, as it is doing with the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the National Investment Fund Bill.
I ask: Why is it that the Senate’s action in referring those 2 Bills to a Senate committee is not regarded as a failure to pass? Sir, I repeat: Why is the Senate’s action in referring the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the National Investment Fund Bill to a committee not regarded as a failure to pass? They are in the same category as the Bill under discussion but it suits the Government not to regard them as a failure to pass. I say that this is typical of the double standards of this Government. There is no doubt why the Government did not do it with this Bill. The Prime Minister and the Government have made it very clear that they wish to downgrade the Senate. In fact they wish the Senate to be sunk without trace. After all, I remind honourable senators that it is part of the Australian Labor Party platform that the Senate be abolished. I must say that its members do not propound that very often in this place, but it is part of their policy.
What might the Australian people expect in the future if the Opposition meekly accepts the Government’s assertion that if a Bill is referred to a Senate committee it is a failure to pass? If that should come to pass, Parliament would become the tool of the Executive. If we accepted the Government’s claim, it would not be long before the Leader of the Government in the Senate -in fact any Leader of the Government in the Senate- would introduce a Bill into the Senate and state, as Senator Murphy did last week, that if the Bill is not passed today, this evening or tomorrow it will be regarded as a failure to pass because the Government has decreed it to be a failure to pass. I ask: Is that parliamentary democracy? 1 answer: It is not, but that is what the Prime Minister wants. He wants a Parliament to rubber stamp all his intentions without discussion or examination. I take this opportunity to remind the Prime Minister, as I also remind the Leader of the Government in this place, that it is not the Prime Minister’s prerogative to decide what is a failure to pass. The Constitution clearly gives that discretion to another; it does not give it to the Prime Minister. The Opposition for its part denies and rejects any assertion that this Bill has yet failed to pass.
We intend to vote against this Bill. As far as the Opposition is concerned, this is the first time that this Bill has been dealt with properly in this chamber. It is the same Bill. I say this because the Senate is not meant to be a mirror of the House of Representatives. It has a different electorate; it has a State wide electorate. It belongs to the total electorate and not part of it. The Senate has powers under the Constitution which make it an equal House of Parliament with the House of Representatives, and as far as we are concerned the Senate is not going to be a spongy rubber stamp. The independence of the Senate in the last few years has given real meaning to the parliamentary system and I say that in this role the Senate now continues. For example, with the Constitution Alteration (Mode of Altering the Constitution) Bill the Opposition in the House of Representatives wished to move an amendment in that place, but because of the application of the guillotine the Opposition there could not move the amendment and make clear its intentions. However, in this chamber the Opposition will be able to move that amendment and fully discuss its implications.
Bills that come before the Senate continue to be examined in detail. Bills do go through the Committee stage in this place, and in that stage many useful and worthwhile amendments have been put forward and accepted by previous governments, and occasionally even by this Government. Parliament is meaningless to this Government and that is why it does not want the Senate. The trouble for the Government is that the Senate gives meaning to Parliament. The Labor Party, however, takes all its orders and instructions from its Party organisation. It takes no account of this institution. I say that if the Prime Minister could, he would do away with the House of Representatives as well as the Senate but I assure honourable senators opposite that he will not succeed in either wish. There would be no point in maintaining the Senate if it were to be a rubber stamp for the House of Representatives.
Since coming to office this Government has attempted to downgrade the Senate. It has abused and interfered with the committees of the Senate. Labor Party senators take their directions and orders from the Prime Minister and from the Executive Government. The Senate committees no longer operate to seek information and make recommendations for the benefit of the Australian people because they are bound by the Labor Party’s Caucus decisions. In that Party the pledge must be obeyed. The wishes of the Australian people are of no account when Caucus runs riot. The Labor Party members of a committee cannot be swayed by logic or by the facts, so what can be expected from people who have no independence of thought, who can only mouth the collective decision like a group of robots and who have a conscience only when Caucus permits it?
The present Leader of the Government in the Senate established a reputation as the champion of the Senate. It was claimed that he lifted the status of the Senate through his support for committees of the Senate. Sir, I think that is a false claim. I say that the status of the Senate and its committees was lifted by Liberal and Country Party senators and others on the Opposition side now who, with their independence of thought, were able to seek out information and listen objectively to those presenting evidence. It was because of the now Opposition senators that the committees were able to bring in objective reports which were not cleared by their Government or by their parties. The effectiveness and stature of the committee system owed nothing then, and owes nothing now, to robots who sit on the Labor Government benches. It is because of the way that the Labor Government has denigrated the committees of this Senate, scorned and reduced them almost to impotence, that the Liberal Party has decided that there is no point in again referring this Bill to a Senate committee chaired by a supporter of the present Government. The committees on which the Government has a majority and which are chaired by members of the Labor Party no longer act as committees of this Senate. They are but appendages of the Caucus and of the Prime Minister. It is for this reason that we will vote against the Bill. We believe that, as I stated last December, the Bill should be examined more closely for its effect on the Senate and this Parliament, but obviously this is impossible if the Government will not permit committees to act as they should.
This Bill is not all about whether the 2 Houses ought to come together for election on polling day. This result can be achieved by other means. The Bill has greater depth than that presented. The Bill has very long term implications for the Senate and for the Constitution as such because it deals with something which will be written into the Constitution, which will be permanent and which will remain, if carried by a majority of electors in a majority of the States until, if thought necessary, another referendum is held to change it. I do not believe that the people of Australia ought to be asked to vote upon a matter of this substance without their having a proper opportunity to realise the implications contained in this referendum proposal.
This Bill, like the other referendum proposals we are asked to consider, is unnecessary. There is no need for a constitutional referendum to ensure that simultaneous elections are held. They may be held by 2 other means. Firstly, we can have simultaneous elections at any time that the Prime Minister likes to go to the GovernorGeneral because section 57 of the Constitution contains a provision for a double dissolution if there is a disagreement between the 2 houses. I put to the Senate that there has been ample opportunity for the Government to request the Governor-General to grant a double dissolution since’ August last year.
A double dissolution would bring about simultaneous elections of the whole of this chamber and of the House of Representatives. It is not even necessary to hold a double dissolution to bring the elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives back to the same date. The Government could, if it wished to do so and if it had the courage to do so, take out the House of Representatives at the next Senate election- that is, when those honourable senators who are due to retire at 30 June 1974 have to face their electors. There is no constitutional or legal reason why the Government should not take out the House of Representatives at that time.
I should point out that it is not the Senate which is out of step with the House of Representatives but rather the House of Representatives which is out of step with the Senate. In 1963, as the Senate will recall, Sir Robert Menzies called an election for November or December that year, although the House of Representatives need not have gone to the polls until about that date in 1964. The Senate did not cause the House of Representatives to go to the polls one year early- in 1 963. Therefore, it is not the fault of the Senate that there is this present imbalance between the 2 chambers.
It was for these reasons that the Senate sought a closer examination of the Bill. Without the detail that would have been forthcoming from such an examination, and as we cannot make a proper assessment without that committee’s examination, we must vote against the Bill.
I have said previously, and I repeat that it is the Senate and the Senate alone which stands between the complete arbitrary power which is being sought by this Government and the individual rights and liberties of the Australian people. Therefore, any attempt to destroy the Senate’s independence as a chamber, or any attempt that may appear to do that, should and must be closely examined for the good of the parliament and the Australian people. If such study is not permitted, there is no choice but to reject any Bill which attempts to alter the Constitution in such a fundamental way. We, in the Liberal Party, will vote against the second reading of the Bill.
-On the previous occasion that this Bill was before the Senate it was referred to a committee of the Senate, and that action has been interpreted by the Government as a failure to pass. The Bill has been returned for consideration. To be consistent, we should vote again for its referral to a committee to ensure that the committee did the job which it was asked to do, and that is to examine all the ramifications of the proposition which it to be placed before the people as an alteration to the Constitution. But that course does not seem to be logical now. We recognise that the Government will be able to refer to the representative of Her Majesty, the Governor-General, this proposition and seek the right to put it to the people in accordance with the Constitution. The Government has the constitutional right to do so. The decision that the referral to a committee was a failure to pass is arguable but unimportant now that the matter has reached this stage. The Government’s action is another of the rash mistakes which it has made in the very short term of its office and which it may come to regret.
Speaking as a representative of a State, the things which we should consider to be important are the reasons which the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) has given the Senate as the reasons we should not consider these propositions. He has implied that the Senate has no right to consider them. He has said that because the matters will be put to the people in a referendum we must automatically agree, without having an opinion of our own. He has become very tender about the costs involved- as if the costs involved in altering the Constitution are important compared with the right of the people to have the proposition properly presented to them and to understand fully the alteration which the Government proposes to make to the Constitution. That is the point with which I wish to deal firstly.
Is it possible, in the time available between now and the date of the Senate election, for this proposition and, I understand, four others, if the Government has its will, to be placed before the people and for an explanation to be given to the people at large about precisely what they are votting on? Is it the will of the Government that the parties should have no time to campaign for the return of their senators, or does the Government believe that in a fortnight’s campaign 5 propositions to alter the Constitution can be seriously debated for the understanding of the public, most of whom have not read the Constitution or understood what it means, and at the same time the functions which politicians have a responsibility to fulfil- that is, in an election campaign to place before the people their ideas, their programs and what they stand for- can be fulfilled? Politicians, irrespective of the Party to which they belong, have a responsibility in a democracy, unless they reside in one of those privileged nations which has either a fascist or a communist dictatorship. But this Government says that in the space of perhaps a fortnight, which it proposes to allow for a Senate election campaign, the whole ramifications of these proposals shall be discussed and fully explained to the people who will be expected to give an intelligent decision on the Government’s propositions. Is that the Government’s idea of democracy?
The Government says: ‘Expense will be saved if the referenda are held at the same time as the Senate election’. Is it more important to save expense than to get from the people a considered and proper decision on questions of importance? I do not remember the Government being so tender about the question of costs when a referendum on prices was put recently. In fact, it was so tender about costs that half the Government campaigned in favour of the proposal, and the other half of the Government campaigned to defeat it. The result of the exercise was that the money which was spent on the referendum was wasted because the people became completely confused by a government, half of which was campaigning one way, and the other half of which was campaigning another way. That was another rash attempt to place before the people a matter for their serious consideration. The people gave this Government an answer to such an approach to a serious question of that character.
It is an insult to the Senate for the Leader of the Government to say: ‘You have had these things here before. You had better put them through. They shall be put to the people anyway. You do not need to express an opinion on them’. We are expressing an opinion on them. The Government’s action is not the right way to do the serious things of government. It wishes to fiddle with the Constitution which took years of consideration by the fathers of Federation to compile and which gives us the whole basis on which the democracy of this country has functioned. The Government wishes to alter the Constitution in this cavalier fashion because it is the
Government. No real arguments have been advanced as yet as to why the Senate should pass this Bill without due consideration. It should not be asked to do that. There are serious considerations involved in this matter. It is true that the continuity of the Senate could be broken. The continuity of the Senate is something which the founders of Federation were very careful to preserve.
I warn the Government against persisting with its attitude of proceeding with great haste in relation to matters of such importance. We are now faced with the proposition that half the membership of the Senate should be altered in this disgraceful manner because of the cowardice of the Government. If the Government had wanted to save money it could well have held a Senate election in conjunction with the prices referenda. The prices referenda were held at about the usual time that a Senate election is conducted. But the Government failed to do so. I suppose it was acting with its rights. It was not a judicious time for it to face the electors for judgment on its policies and the things that it has done. The raids on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation were too fresh in the minds of the people. In a cowardly fashion the Government run away from such a proposition.
I warn the Government that a situation is approaching which could get completely beyond its control. The raids on ASIO are nothing compared with the situation that might be created in the very near future by the actions of the Government. We are now in the month of March. It has been rumoured that in the month of May there will be a Senate election in conjunction with 5 referenda questions. I want to remind the Government of what the Constitution says about Senate elections. It states that the election to fill vacant places shall be made within one year before the places are to become vacant. The Government has had a whole year in which to hold an election but is going to wait until less than 2 months before the positions become vacant before it allows the decisions to be made that will ensure the continuity of the Senate.
In recent years requests for recounts have been granted. Not all requests have been granted. I remember being the subject of one request that was rejected because the closeness of the numbers did not constitute a reason for a recount, but 3 years later when Senator McManus was in an unbeatable position a recount was granted because the numbers were said to be close. He finished up winning after the recount by some 200,000 votes, which was a much as he was going to win by after the first count. Has the Government forgotten how long it took to conduct that recount? If that election had taken place only 6 weeks before the expiration of the terms of service of the sitting senators the State of Victoria could have been without 5 of its representatives until such time as the Constitution was legally interpreted on this question. The Constitution says more than that the election to fill the vacant places shall be made within one year before the places are to become vacant; it goes on to say that the term of service of a senator so appointed shall be taken to begin on the first day of July following the day of his election.
That introduces serious implications. What would be the position if an election were held only 6 weeks before the expiration of the terms of service of senators and if the writs have not been returned by the first day of July because of a recount? According to the Constitution the term of service of a senator who is elected at such an election cannot begin until the first day of July of the following year. One could not interpret 1 July 1974 as being the first day of July following their election if their election does not in fact take place until 2, 3 or 4 July. There is another provision of the Constitution that says that the Senate may proceed to the dispatch of business notwithstanding the failure of any State to provide for its representation in the Senate.
– When were you called to the Bar?
-Senator McAuliffe will have an opportunity in a moment to stand up and give his interpretation of the situation. He is a clever man. I am not professiong to say that what I am putting will inevitably be found to be right; I am reading the Constitution as it is. It should be remembered that I am now quoting from a document which the Government is going to ask the people to alter in 5 different ways and that it is going to ask them to do so during the period of a fortnight while it is conducting an election campaign. Does Senator McAuliffe consider that to be democracy? He says that one has to be a Queen’s Counsel to understand what I am putting.
– To understand you.
– All right. I think that the people will understand me, because I am speaking in simple terms. I am reading the qualifications set out in the actual document itself. If Senator McAuliffe can put any other interpretation on the words ‘the first day of July following the day of his election’ than a date that follows the date of a senator’s election he is a genius because no one else in the world could put such an interpretation on such a provision in the Constitution. I ask the Government to give serious consideration to this matter. It is even more inportant than the raid on ASIO. The Government can rush around smashing in doors and knocking on doors at 3 o’clock in the morning and arresting people, and get away with it, but it cannot get away with fiddling with the Constitution on which this very parliamentary system is based.
Because of its political cowardice the Government has not already got the election out of the way. It could well have got the election out of the way, but it has postponed holding it until almost the last minute. With most Senate elections it takes 2.5 months before the final conclusions are reached, but this time the Government will be allowing only 6 weeks. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) is, of course, above common sense. I know that he has been called to the Bar. It is a matter of which bar he has been called to. I understand that he has legal qualifications. Despite that he says that the words ‘the election to fill vacant places shall be made within 1 year before the places are to become vacant’ means as long as the election itself is conducted before then. The voting procedure is only a small part of an election. An election is the actual election of the person concerned. In my view that occurs on the day on which the returning officer declares the person elected and returns the writs. That cannot happen on voting day. I note that the Prime Minister has suggested that, according to his legal mind, so long as it is conducted before 30 June everything is all right. I do not have a legally trained mind, but I question whether he is right in this respect. I am suggesting that the Government should have at least provided qualified opinions as to whether what the Prime Minister has put is correct before it came forward with all this malarkey about democracy.
One of the subjects of the referendum proposals is the subject of democratic elections. Despite that the Government is trying to conduct its affairs in this manner and is saying that the Opposition has no right to oppose it in the Parliament and that Opposition senators have no right to do the job that they were sent to this place to do. The Government is not prepared to hear argument from those who were democratically elected by the people to represent them here. Let me say to the people of Australia that the members of the Opposition would be very deficient in discharging their duties to them if they were not to place before this House first the arguments as to why the Government is wrong in suggesting that these propositions should be put in this manner. The Government is wrong in demanding the right to put them in this manner.
The Government is entitled to avail itself of the terms of the Constitution and to place referendum proposals before the people, but will it have the opportunity in the time available to it to put to the people the arguments for and against the 5 questions involved? Will the political parties that are charged with the responsibility of performing this task have an opportunity to do so at the same time as they place before the people the campaigns for the election of their candidates? Will they be able to do that inside a fortnight? I have heard that it has been proposed that the election campaign should go on at the same time as the Parliament is sitting. Does the Government call that democracy? What about the democratic rights of members of Parliament? I know the background of most senators opposite. I know what they said when in Opposition. If a Government had attempted to do to them what they are doing to those in Opposition now, they would have done what I would have expected the great Labor movements of Curtin and Chifley to do. But now they have lost it- they have lost their ideals and their courage. They have increased interest rates for the poor. They have done everything that they should be ashamed to do- and they will not get our acquiescence in this. We think they are wrong, that they are doing it the wrong way and we will not vote that way. We will vote to prevent this proposition passing the Senate.
-The Senate is debating the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1974. This is the first of 5 Bills which the Senate will debate over the next few hours. All these Bills are particularly important; they are the mode by which a point for consideration by the people can be put at a referendum to decide whether the Australian Constitution should be altered. The alteration of the Constitution is a major matter, but it appears to me that the Government takes it very lightly. The Government appears to think that it can rush into the House of Representatives a number of ideas that have been formed, I understand, in the mind of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), with the assistance perhaps of some of his Ministers, but which are opposed, in general, by most of the Labor movement. We do know from public reports that leaders of the trade union movement and others spoke out vehemently in the early stages against the proposals put forward by the Prime Minister. We see the discussion in the House of Representatives as one in which debate on Bill after Bill was restricted and guillotined unmercifully. An attempt to do this was made in the Senate also, that the Bills should be brought in and hardly debated. I think it is worth noting that the only speaker on the Government side on the Bill has been the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Murphy, when presenting his second-reading speech. I think that the people of Australia should be alert to that fact. Whether it indicates that no senator apart from the Leader is willing to support and argue the case for the passing of this legislation, or whether it indicates- and I hope it does not- serious division in the Government ranks in the Senate at present, I do not know. However, all these measures that I have mentioned, and particularly the one before us at the moment, have a reflection in that they will denigrate the Senate in some way. One would imagine that honourable senators who have the opportunity and the responsibility of acting as senators in this House and as representatives of their States would be anxious to stand up and make known their views on these Bills, and particularly on this Bill regarding simultaneous elections.
– But it is the way the Government regards this Parliament as of no account.
-Senator Greenwood, I take your point. I believe that to be true. But it is interesting to note that no Government senator has risen in his place to debate this measure. We have heard a speaker from the Liberal Party and one from the Democratic Labor Party, and I represent the Country Party- and I understand that there will be no further speakers from the Government side. That is regrettable because this is an important matter. This is proposed as an appeal to the public, and it is an attractive appeal. Surely in this country where at various stages State governments have State elections, municipalities have municipal elections, the House of Representatives has House of Representatives elections, and the Senate holds elections, there should be some movement to bring about simultaneous elections, whatever that may mean.
– What about the cost?
– I take the point made by Senator Mulvihill. What about the cost? I hope to deal with that point shortly because the honourable senator certainly does not believe what he says about costs in relation to this matter. I will take that point up later, Senator Mulvihill, because it is completely false for you to mention costs when last December your
Government spent $2m of the Australian public’s money on some stupid referendum proposal with which you personally probably disagreed. That is the proposition that we have. It is just humbug for you to interrupt and say something like that.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown)- Order! Senator Webster, please direct your remarks through the Chair. Senator Mulvihill, will you please refrain from interjecting continuously?
- Mr Acting Deputy President, you can see that such an interjection upsets me. I can see that it certainly will not come again from the same quarter- or so I should hope. The Bill before the Senate and the related Bills, I believe, indicate that the Government is attempting to trick the people into approving the greatest plunder of the Australian Constitution ever attempted. One need only look at the facts surrounding this matter. One can agree with the stature in physical terms of the Prime Minister but from the attitudes that he has adopted from the time the election speech was delivered prior to December 1972 until today one can see that the Prime Minister has ranged over a great variety of subjects and put forward a great front but that, in fact, in many instances his actions have underlined the fact that achievement of the things that he wishes to do is impossible.
Senator Carrick in his speech on the AddressinReply debate- and I hope the public will read that speech- brought out 25 promises that the Prime Minister in his election speech said a Labor Government would fulfil for the public of Australia. Among other things he promised low interest rates. This promise to the public has never been fulfilled. This Government has produced the highest interest rates ever known in Australia.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTSenator Webster, I am sorry to interrupt you but I would ask you to limit your remarks to the subject matter before the Senate; that is, the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1 974. 1 think that you will agree with me that you are ranging very wide of the subject matter that we are discussing.
-Mr Acting Deputy President, I bow to your ruling. But you will recall that when the Leader of the Government in the Senate made his second-reading speech he referred to costs, and you may recall that he referred to the fact that he hoped to have incorporated generally in his speech the one that he made on 20 November 1973. If one reads that speech one sees that it roamed over a fairly wide area. I think it is important to note that for over a period of some 15 months we have had assurances of what would happen under the Labor Government, and that it has not been able to deliver the goods. It has taken action which has been against the promises laid down in the policy speech. I note that Senator Murphy says that this is something that Labor promised in the policy speech. It is quite easy to see how the matter can be tied up. I was making the point that Senator Carrick in a magnificent speech laid down item by item points that no Labor man can object to or deny as fact- promises given by this Government that were never carried out. One of the Labor Party’s most important promises was to reduce inflation, but what has happened with interest rates? What has happened with pensions? Mr Acting Deputy President, you would be aware that today the buying power of the basic pension is less in percentage terms of average weekly male earnings than it was when Labor took office.
Senator Murphy says that this Bill represents another election promise. If so, it needs to be looked at to see what in fact the Labor Party is promising the electors by seeking to change the Constitution. I believe that the Prime Minister, if he could, would get rid of State governments- he has indicated that; it is on record- and he would abolish the Senate. We all know that that is Labor Party policy. Why does he introduce this great number of Constitution alteration Bills? Each one of them is directed towards the denigration of the Senate, and honourable senators on the Government side do not utter as much as a word in objection.
– They are frightened to speak up.
-That may be correct. Why does not the Prime Minister ask the people for the right to move for the abolition of the Senate immediately? Obviously, he knows that he cannot do this because it would be political suicide for him to do so. Such a move would split his Party. It would turn away those honourable senators who are in the Government at the present time. They certainly would not vote for the abolition of the Senate. So I believe that the Prime Minister is moving step by step to remove first one, and then the other, constitutional objection hoping that the people will not see his real object until it is too late. I believe that the Prime Minister is doomed to disappointment. One can take some courage from the result of the last referendum. The Prime Minister decided in a great flurry that he would hold a referendum on 2 particularly attractive and important matters that would attract some people to vote for them. But it was wonderful to see the way in which the people of Australia evaluated the wisdom behind the move. Both referendum proposals were rejected, just as I believe that all these 5 referendum points will be rejected.
Just over a year ago the people gave to Mr Whitlam and his Party by democratic vote a mandate to govern responsibly. The mandate is nothing other than that, namely, a mandate to govern responsibly. But I believe that neither the Prime Minister nor Senator Murphy accepts that. On every occasion that a Bill is introduced, no matter what it is, the Prime Minister and Senator Murphy claim that the Government has a mandate from the people of Australia and that the particular measure, whatever it may be, has to be passed. Senator Murphy says that the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill is another of the Bills which the Senate should press through immediately.
– They used to say: ‘We will have a double dissolution’. They do not say that any more.
-That is so. The Prime Minister has said that Labor has prepared itself for the great business of making the democratic system work once more. That is utter rubbish. Yet, that speech, and that is the Labor Party case to the people to which I referred, gave no hint of Labor’s plans to launch, with unprecedented intensity, an attack on the very cornerstone of democracy, namely, the Austraiian Constitution. The Government was not given a mandate to fiddle with the Australian Constitution. This Bill goes to the very heart of that matter. That the Labor Party proposes to do so is a deceit of the kind that has characterised Labor, I believe, since it came to office. To emphasise this, I refer to those points that I made previously.
This Bill that we are debating proposes that the Constitution be altered to ensure that, in future, elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate will be held at the same time. My Party’s attitude to the proposal was expressed clearly when the Senate debated this Bill last December, and our views have not changed. We see it as an attempt to downgrade the Senate and to weaken its independence. A point was raised by Senator Mulvihill in relation to expense. In moving around the State of Victoria which I represent in the Senate, it is always notable at Federal election time that a great deal of expense is associated with an election. We were given an indication that in the vicinity of $2m would be spent on the election. I wonder whether Senator Mulvihill would say that the Prime Minister was attempting to relieve the public of that expense if, in actual fact, a double dissolution were held in May of this year. I have some hope that this may be the case, and my hope would be only for the welfare and the well being of Australia and its citizens.
But if, after such an election were held, the House of Representatives was placed in a very delicately balanced state and that House had to go to another election in 3 months time, would the Prime Minister say again that the Senate, under this proposal, would come out for election again? We would have all the instability that this proposal is attempting to avoid. There should be a House of review in which half the senators go to the people for election every 3 years and in which there was that continuing base of knowledge. But the Prime Minister attempts to overcome that. I believe that he attempts to incur greater expense on the people. It would not be for me to say that the Prime Minister has ever indicated that he wants to save the people expense. That is just utter rubbish if one looks at his trips around the world, at the great growth in the Public Service and at the promotion of various departments. How stupid it is for any man to say that this is a government which has attempted to save the people money.
The proposition is often advanced that the election of senators involves a complicated system of voting, which it does, under the proportional representation system. But attempting to impose on the people 5 referendum subjects will make it a most complicated election. If an election is held in May this year the average citizen in Victoria, for example, will be asked to look at the names of fifteen or sixteen Senate candidates and at the same time cast a responsible vote on another five or six constitutional matters. The Prime Minister continues to talk of the inconvenience occasioned to the people. But the Prime Minister was not reticent last December in drawing the whole of the Australian community into an election on 2 referendum points. His arguments that there should be simultaneous elections for both Houses of the Parliament do not hold water.
The Senate ‘s great strength and value lies in its independence. Its major roles are to review legislation and to protect the rights of the States. Its fulfilment of those roles in the past 1 5 months is a classic demonstration of the exercise of restraint on Government when restraint was sorely needed. I believe that every senator was elected to help carry out the Senate’s function of review and protection. I hope that no senator would be a party to change that threatens the status of the Senate or, in the long term, its very existence as this political Party which is in government at the moment states as its long term objective. Labor stands for the elimination of the Senate. If honourable senators are loyal to their House this Bill must not pass.
– Today the Senate is debating one of the proposals that the Government has put forward for the alteration of the Constitution. This proposal is that in all cases hereafter when the House of Representatives goes to the people for election there should be held a Senate election simultaneously, irrespective of the circumstances that have brought on the election and irrespective of the essential elements of the constitution of the Senate. I think it is dangerous to speak in superlatives on a matter of this sort. When we speak of houses of parliament we are inclined to eulogise all the abstract virtues of democracy. One only has to be a practitioner in politics for a few years to know that there is no more virtue in people who are representatives in parliament than there is in people outside. They continue to carry with them their deficiencies. It is for that very reason and to safeguard stability, responsibility and faithfulness to the people in some measure, that a constitution has been framed.
We know that this country would never have unified to the state of nationhood that it has attained under the form of a federal constitution unless a common basis had been found to enable the 6 colonies at the time to agree upon a constitution to establish this Parliament. The very first foundation for the establishment of this Parliament that was agreed upon and without which there would have been no progress in the erection of a federal nation of Australia was the agreement that each of the 6 States should be equally represented in the second chamber of the national Parliament, that is, the Senate. There were some unique features in the Senate at that time. It was one of the few upper houses in European democracies that recruited its members by direct election from the people. Other houses were nominated, others were appointed and others were elected from a restricted franchise. But this Senate ever since its inception has been elected directly by the people upon adult franchise.
– Adult universal franchise.
-I do not know what that adds to it. I accept that.
– Anyhow that is only to help you.
-Well, it does not help me. I was saying, if I could maintain a simplicity in my presentation, that one of the unique features of the Senate was that it was elected directly by adult franchise. The very same voters who voted for the Senate voted for the House of Representatives, but when they voted for the House of Representatives they voted in divisions of their States whereas when voting for the Senate they voted as a whole State electorate.
It is quite obvious from that statement that there was an identity between the House of Representatives and the Senate from the point of view of the electorate. So the assumption grew that elections should be held at the same time if possible, but there were cardinal considerations with regard to the Senate that made that assumption quite unreal and quite subversive to the Constitution. The Senate is based upon a 6 year term for its members. The House of Representatives is based upon a 3 year term for its members. That difference was established so that there would be a continuity of membership in the Senate as well as from the length of the term, a strength in engendering an independence of outlook on the part of senators not necessarily echoing their own Party members or the other House in matters that came before the Senate.
It was realised that with that structure of the 2 Houses essential differences would develop from time to time between the 2 Houses. Section 57 of the Constitution was therefore formulated. When the Constitution was being debated, that section engaged the delegates’ attention far more than any other single section in the Constitution. I emphasise that fact because that is the only section that provides for the dissolution of the Senate. The situation is that if there is a deadlock and the Senate, after 3 months, registers a rejection of a House of Representatives Bill that has been rejected 3 months beforehand, it is competent for the Governor-General to dissolve both Houses of Parliament, the unique feature being that it is competent in those circumstance to dissolve the Senate. That is what we call a double dissolution. That circumstance has arisen in this Parliament. If the government of the day wished to be democratic and, on questions upon which the 2 Houses are divided, to take the verdict of the people it is competent for the Government to ask the Governor-General to dissolve the House of Representatives and the Senate and to have an election for the entire membership of both Houses. It is only in that case that Constitution provides any authority for the Governor-General to dissolve the Senate.
Far different is the case with the House of Representatives. It is not a 6 year House. It is not a representative of the States; it is not a house of review. It is the House of Representatives and of government. A unique feature that was implanted into the Constitution in 1900 was a continuance of the British system of responsible government as against the American presidential system that was talked of at some time. It is essential in that system that if the Government is in a situation where it cannot command a majority in the lower House, the House of Representatives, the only way to get a responsible government is to send that House to the people. We may therefore get a dissolution of the House of Representatives not merely upon the effluxion of its term but in a case where several parties in the House change their allegiance. A majority government today could be converted into a minority government tomorrow. That may simply occur because of personal considerations. Where the margin of the government’s majority in the House is small, the alterations of allegiance of three or four group members in detaching themselves from the Government and moving over to the Opposition could withdraw the confidence of the House from the Government.
Any of those circumstances may occur incidentally at any time. The proposition that Mr Whitlam whimsically puts forward in a display of his passion for constitutional alteration is that on each occasion when a casual dissolution takes place in the House of Representatives there is to be a dissolution of half of the Senate, and that half should go to election just so that the elections of the 2 chambers can be synchonised. I hope that thought will be given to whether there should be a Senate, whether there should be a Senate of independence, now that independence should be maintained and whether the Senate is to be looked upon simply as an echo of the other place.
From time to time we witness here presumption and impertinence when Government supporters say in this chamber that the Senate is obstructing the House of Representatives, that it is delaying the business of the House and that unless it does so and so the Government will take action. The sole question is whether it is worth while to have a 2-chamber system, whether it is worth while to maintain the Senate in its present form. If so, I stand for the view that a 6-year term in the Senate is essential and that the Senate should be dissoluble only in the case of deadlock for which section 57 provides; that is essential for the strength of the Senate. When I came to the Senate in 1949 I came to a chamber which had been constituted for the previous 3 years of 3 Liberal-Country Party members and 33 Labor members. The Senate had been exploited for over 30 years by a manoeuvred system of elections that assured predominance for one party or the other; whichever achieved the narrowest majority was assured of the 3 vacancies that went to the people in that time. Now it would be five.
The absurdity of that system dawned upon even the Labor Government. Even the Labor Government saw that that was a travesty of the Senate and brought in the system of proportional representation. That has been one of the factors which has caused the strength of the Senate to grow immeasurably since 1949. Why? Not only because there were spirits of independence in the government parties who were prepared not to echo the Government at every stage but also because there grew up on election by the people minority parties and independent senators. The result is a Senate constituted so that neither of the major parties has a majority as of its own right.
It is that degree of flexibility in the political outlook represented here that has recuited to the Senate one of its strengths. When I came here a story was current through the Parliament that on the occasion of a wartime secret session someone observed a group of senators in the corner set aside for senators in the House of Representatives chamber. A gentleman on the floor called the attention of Mr Speaker to strangers whereupon the wit leading the Liberal Party at the time said: ‘Mr Speaker, I think that senators are strange but I draw the line at categorising them as strangers.’ That was a jest about senators in those days. Is there any single proposition in the parliamentary program advanced today that does not take into consideration the opinion that will be formed in this chamber and its attitude to that proposition? Not only proportional representation has caused that development. In the time of heroes before Agamemnon, in the time before leaders who so mislead the Senate now, committees of the Senate were gradually building up. In recent years we built a committee system which this House directly to contact the electorate, to gather information and to formulate a point of view for the information of Parliament. That procedure has given the Senate greatly added strength.
In fulfilment of that system we have our Estimates Committees. The fact should go on record that the examination, inadequate through it is and curtailed as it is by the impatience of Ministers since this Government came into office, now made of the Parliamentary Estimates is much more extensive and comprehensive than is the examination of the Estimates made in another place. All these things have convinced me after 24 years of sedulous attention to the business of the Senate that the Senate is discharging a major role in the parliamentary proceedings of the national Parliament What have we now? We have a Labor Government headed by an intelligent man, a most arrogant man, a most conceited man.
– I rise to a point of order. Personal reflections are being made against the Prime Minister who is a member of another House. It is contrary to the Standing Orders. It is unnecessary to descend to this practice. It does not do anything for the stature of the Senate when that kind of reflection is made. I appeal to the honourable senator to put his argument, which is interesting even if fallacious, without entering into personal reflections upon a member of the other House.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Order! A reflection on a member of another House of Parliament is not in order. Senator Wright, you may moderate your remarks and continue.
– Observations of that sort can be commented upon only by silence. We are in a parliament and some comment must be made upon every one of us. Mr Whitlam has the honour of being the only remaining member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Constitutional Review still in the Parliament other than myself.
– What is the moral of that story, Senator?
– I am just letting it sink in that I am conceding the Prime Minister one honour. But the fantasy of these proposals ought to be displayed. The Senate has grown in strength and become much more representative of the States and of the people. We see the present Government led by the Honourable E. G. Whitlam, Q.C., in all his humility. We see him directly attempting to bring the Senate into the Labor Caucus where all the people behind the Government go herding themselves. They come under the Caucus vote of a majority. In one proposal which is cognate to this we see a pattern of referenda designed to subvert the States and to alter the constitution of the States. In another Bill it is proposed to create regional organisations which are to be the recipients of Federal finance for the very purpose of dwarfing the States and enlarging the provinces which are approved of by the central Government. That purpose is so obvious that it would be superfluous for me to attribute it to anybody who is either intelligent or arrogant, lt is so obvious that even I can see it.
What is being put forward here is that the Senate should become an echo of the House of Representatives by going to elections every time the House of Representatives finds it proper in accordance with constitutional practice- to which I have referred- to go to the people. Mr Deputy President, within the ambit of your ruling I am compelled to say that the author of these proposals has a direct purpose, which is to subvert the States and to undermine this chamber. So this is a great danger to parliamentary democracy in this country. Do I make myself clear? In parliamentary language sometimes it is essential to comment upon political participants in Parliament. Through the good offices of a colleague of mine I had the opportunity to see an article in the Australian Government Digest’ under the heading The Honourable Edward Gough Whitlam. Mr Deputy President, this is printed at your and my expense. It states that Mr Whitlam during his parliamentary career played a major role in drawing up the report of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review of which he was a member from 1956 and from 1959. I wonder who was the author of that? I wonder which other member of the Committee attributed to him a major role?
But these things aside, it is an obvious purpose of the present Government to subvert the States and weaken them. It is an obvious purpose of the present Government to subvert the States House and weaken it. One of the means by which it seeks to do that is by synchronising the elections. That has an advantage from the point of view of economy and convenience. But from the point of view of constitutional values it weakens the Senate to a significant degree. Not only does the Government put forward the proposition but also it is not content to put it forward in a constitutional way. The Government must force it through with heavy pressure. We had this referendum Bill before us within the last few months. In 1959 the proposition had been examined by the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review to which I have referred. Even though I gave great attention to the subject for the two or three years that that Committee was sitting, yet I like to learn from contemporaneous thought. A committee of the Senate was set up for the purpose of getting constitutional scholars, professors, students of political science and noted parliamentarians to deliver views of their experience and knowledge as to the value of the elements of the Senate which this Bill threatens to destroy. That committee of the Senate has never sat, due to the prorogation of the Parliament and to the fact that the Government chairman was so preoccupied with other matters that he could not spare the opportunity for the Senate committee to sit upon the question.
This Bill is not in order from the point of view of ordinary constitutional processes, because the people who accepted the Constitution in 1900 laid down with great particularity and emphasis the means whereby the Constitution should be amended. Section 128 is specific in saying that firstly a proposal for a referendum should be agreed upon by both Houses of this Parliament. Honourable senators may ask why. The answer is, because people in the Houses of this Parliament are daily involved in political matters in which the Constitution is the guide. But if agreement could not be reached between the 2 Houses on a referendum it was provided that on the first time a Bill were rejected, passed with unacceptable amendments or failed to pass, then the Government could bring in the same Bill after an interval of 3 months. If it met the same fate here again- that is, it was either rejected, passed with unacceptable amendments or failed to passthen it was within the judgment of the GovernorGeneral to refer the referendum proposal to the people. Senator Murphy asserts that when we referred this Bill to our Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee in December, we failed to pass it. Of course, in one sense the glib of tongue will say: ‘Well, it failed to pass.’ But anybody who studies the matter in context and who sees what is meant, having regard to the careful processes of section 128, will realise that to regard reference to a committee for the purpose of greater consideration, gathering of information and opinion as failure to pass would just stultify the careful provisions of that section. For these reasons I wish to submit to the Senate that this is presumption on the part of the Government. The proposal to weaken the Senate by simultaneous elections should not be entertained either here, elsewhere, or in the country.
– Most people in Australia today, whatever their politics were before, are saying one thing: ‘Thank God for the Commonwealth Senate’. In the convulsive economic climate of Australia today- the strikes, the industrial anarchy, the roaring inflation, the squandermania of a luxuriating Government that calls itself a workers ‘ Government- people -
– The country has never been more peaceful.
-It is worth noting that the Leader of the Government says that the country has never been better off. Let me say to the people of Australia- the pensioners, the people on fixed incomes, the people that the Leader of the Government has robbed of their savings, the people who are paying off their homes and the little people who are buying television sets and washing machines; let them all know- that Senator Murphy, who will be No. 1 in the Labor team for the New South Wales Senate election, joins the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in saying: ‘You have never had it so good’. The Opposition says: ‘You have never had it so bad ‘. I therefore thank the Leader of the Government in the Senate for his interjection. Having said that -
- Mr Deputy President, it might be convenient to inform the honourable senator, although he has stated something which is, in itself, correct that I said -
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Order! Are you raising a point of order, Senator Murphy?
– Yes, I said that the country has never been more peaceful. However, I thank the honourable senator for attributing the other remark to me.
– I repeat that for many reasons the people of Australia, irrespective of their politics, are saying: ‘Thank God for an Opposition majority in the Senate- one that can temper the rashness, the brashness and the extravagances of the Whitlam Labor Government’. I make one point to the people of Australia so that they can understand the legislation before the Senate today. It is a very simple point. If this power that Senator Murphy’s Government is now seeking were at present in the Constitution no Senate election would be held in 2 months’ time. The people of Australia would be denied the right to sit in judgment upon the Whitlam Labor Government. That, of course, is the reason why the Government seeks this kind of power. In fact, if no Senate election were to be held in 2 months’ time the Government could drift on from agony to agony for approximately a further 2 years. Of course the Government wants this power; it does not want mid-term elections; it does not want the people of Australia to sit in judgment. I think that is a fair interpretation of the Government’s attitude. We are being asked to write into the Constitution a power which would, in future, prevent any kind of mid-term elections. This would prevent a Senate election being held between elections for the House of Representatives. This would mean, as I said, that the people of Australia could not have the chance to sit in judgment on the Government, to give the Government a nudge, to give it a kick in the pants or to say to it: ‘No, we think you have gone too far’, as indeed the people of Australia will have this chance in 8, 9 or 10 weeks’ time. I think, and my Party thinks, that the people of Australia should have ample opportunity to sit in judgment on governments, whatever the political colour of a Government. To say that these opportunities should not be made available to the people is to deny democracy.
Let me look further at the Commonwealth Constitution. The aim of the Government, in introducing this legislation, is to bring elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives permanently into a parallel relationship, so that a separate Senate election can never be held. The founding fathers of the Commonwealth Constitution were wise people, even though Senator Mulvihill thinks that they, 74 years ago, lacked the wisdom that he has today. If one examines how the founding fathers put the Constitution together, it will be noted that they saw that the concentration of power in one man or in one group was bad. Lord Acton’s dictum, ‘All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’, was clearly in their minds and they said: ‘We will hedge our bets; we will decentralise; we will devolve, so that the people of Australia will have a brake on intemperate power’. How well they knew their Labor Party; how well they knew the socialists in this community in putting these brakes, these governors, upon centralised power.
When Federation was achieved and the 6 States came together, the 6 States said: ‘A condition on which we will come together is that there shall be a Senate- an Upper House- that it shall be a States House and that it shall be equally representative of all 6 States. This is the condition on which we come together. ‘ When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution they made 2 quite significant points. Section 7 of the Commonwealth Constitution states in an unqualified way:
The senators shall be chosen for a term of six years . . .
However, section 28 of the Constitution provides:
Every House of Representatives shall continue for three years from the first meeting of the House, and no longer, but may be sooner dissolved by the Governor-General.
Basically, they wrote into the Constitution the idea of the need for continuity in the Senate over a period of 6 years, recognising that in the popular or lower House there could be convulsion, that the term of office might be shortened, that a Prime Minister might well choose to hold an election for the House of Representatives before the 3 years laid down in the Constitution had expired. The founding fathers said: ‘Yes in the lower House a Prime Minister may seek to dissolve that lower House after one year or two years of office if he wished and therefore cause elections for that House to get out of line with elections for the Senate. The lower House can go to the people but the term of the Senate should be continuous for 6 years because we want it as a House of review, as a House of second thought, which will have a continuity of review and will not just simply reflect the turbulence of the lower House’.
They then put 2 methods into the Constitution which are available to a Government of the day if it wants to rectify these matters. If the Government of the day, under the existing Constitution, wants to bring elections for the 2 Houses into line it can do so now without seeking any more power at all. The people of Australia should understand that in the whole of the 5 referendum proposalsthe whole of the 5 questions being put to themthe essential point is that the people are asked to give more power to the Government of the day. The Government is asking for the power to prevent the Senate from in any way reflecting upon the judgements of the lower House. It is seeking to take away the power of the people. Each of the 5 referenda is seeking more power for the Government. Each of these 5 referendums- just as in past referendums that have been defeated -is seeking to give to a central government centralisation of power and, as much contains the essential dangers and the essential evils. But under the present Constitution it is competent for a government at any time to bring elections for the 2 Houses into conjunction. It is perfectly competent for the Whitlam Government to bring elections for the 2 Houses into line by one of the 2 devices available to him.
The Government, if it wants to, can dissolve the lower House in the weeks immediately ahead, and bring about a twinning system by having a lower House election and an election for the half membership of the Senate due to retire . Elections for two Houses would them be brought together in the normal way. The power lies, at this moment, within the Commonwealth Constitution to do so. But if the Commonwealth Government wants to go further, it has specific power under section 57 of the Constitution to seek a double dissolution and to bring out simultaneously the whole of the lower House and the whole 60 senators in a joint dissolution of the Parliament. If the Whitlam Government believes that the Senate has wilfully frustrated it, if it can establish this as a fact and it it believes that it can convince the people of this, it can go to the Governor-General and get a double dissolution. The grounds for a double dissolution exist at this moment. It is competent for the Whitlam Government to do this and it does not need the power it seeks in this Bill.
I come now to the next essential point I wish to argue. It is stated frequently that we should not have separate Senate elections, that they are too costly and that they are annoying to the people. There are 2 concepts that I want to examine. What a strange thing it is for the Whitlam Government, with its Rabelaisian tastes, a Government which will spend millions of dollars to race around the world in chartered aircraft, taking 70, 80 or 90 people along, including family, relatives, and loads of champagne, to suddenly say that we must not have elections because they cost money. We can have all sorts of jaunts and junkets around the world, and we can spend tens and hundreds of millions of dollars on expensive public relations and propaganda campaigns for this Whitlam Government, but it is wrong to spend money on an election which would ask the people what they think of the Whitlam Government. It is all right to buy a couple of Boeing 707s from Qantas Airways Ltd to carry the Prime Minister and his staff around the world, but it is not all right to have an election in mid-term because that costs money. This is an outrageous concept.
If the Whitlam Government wants to save money we will tell it how to save money. Indeed, the Auditor-General has just told the Whitlam Government that it is disgracefully extravagant and wanton in its lack of supervision. Its Ministers have committed complete dereliction of duty, as evidenced by the report of the AuditorGeneral tabled in this Senate, not in providing $lm or $2m for a referendum of the people but in squandering literally hundreds of thousands of dollars around this country. So let no-one on the Government side talk of expense. The simple fact is that this House of the Parliament, and this democracy, exist in the belief that sovereignty lies in the people, and that power lies in the people. It is a good thing from time to time, frequently, to ask the people what they think. What arrogance, a word that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) is tender about, for the Government to say that we should not have elections; in fact that we should have fewer elections. The Labor Patry’s claims that we should not annoy the people with elections is fundamentally to denigrate the system of democracy.
We need to ask the people what they think, and we should take the people’s advice and accept their review. To say that the people are annoyed and irritated with elections is really to argue for a dictatorship. It is really to argue for the destruction of democracy. If you do not have elections, you do not have democracy. The essence of democracy is that the power which resides at present in the 2 Houses of this Parliament should be reviewed as frequently as possible and as desirable so that the people in Australia can sit in judgment. Let us throw aside this idea that cost or the irritation involved in an election is the thing to be considered. The people of Australia will express their irritation in 2 months time in the ballot box. They will express their irritation of a Government which virtually has broken every promise upon which it sought a mandate.
I come now to the essentials of this question. We would not be having a Senate election in 2 months time if the power sought in this Bill were now written into the Constitution. We could not have a mid-term election. We could not be having it if it were written into the Constitition. The founding fathers wanted a continuity of thought and they wrote it into the Constitution. They also wrote into the Constitution the devices by which the Government of the day could bring the 2 Houses into line after they got out of line. Therefore there is no need for the power sought in this Bill. What the people of Australia should understand is that the Government wants the Senate to be always a mirror image and therefore an automaton reflection of itself. It does not want any opposition. It simply wants to mute the Senate so that the Senate can rubber stamp its own decisions. This is the whole idea of trying to bring elections for the 2 Houses together. Nevertheless the aim of the Senate is to review, to reflect, to amend, to defer, even to reject. The Senate committee system is based on this. All this is under challenge.
The people of Australia who find it hard to understand the complexities of the election of the Senate, the upper House, should keep in their minds that in every country where there is a democratic system, whether the Westminster system or the Congressional system, in almost every Parliament there are 2 Houses of Parliament. The idea of having the House of review, the ruminant stomach, as it were, to chew things over and to reflect, is to have a break of time after something is rushed through a lower House so that it can be exposed in the Press, so that people who have an interest in it can come forward, and so that the Press, the Fourth Estate, can play a vital part as an extension of the review processes. All these things are the very reason for the existence of such a House.
The people of Australia should understand that those who are talking today of reforming the Constitution with regard to the Senate are pledged to the abolition of the Senate. They want to abolish the Senate; they want to abolish the State Parliaments, all six of them; they want to abolish almost all local government so that they have all the power in one House in Canberra. The seeking of the centralisation of power is tied up in the 5 questions involved in the proposed referendums. 1 reject it. I believe that in a world in which democracy is shrinking; in a world in which violence and anarchy are growing; in a world in which freedoms are under threat, we should do everything we can to preserve the decentralisation and diffusion of power. In every way we should do everything in our power to put a brake upon centralised uncontrolled government. This idea of centralisation is the obsession of Mr Whitlam, the present Prime Minister. Under the Constitution the Senate stands as a brake upon such an obsession. I ask the Senate and the people of Australia emphatically to reject such a proposition.
-In my opinion this debate brought forth a magnificent contribution from Senator Wright. I think it is fair to say that in the 24 years that I have sat in this chamber with Senator Wright he has been a strong upholder of the Senate. It is because of the actions of senators such as Senator Wright that the Senate today is a more highly regarded chamber than it was before he came here. I feel that his contribution this afternoon was on a very lofty basis and I think it is on that basis that we should consider legislation such as that before us. This is not a question to be decided on a political party basis but on the basis of what is best for the Senate and for the nation. For some years the elections for the 2 Houses of this Parliament have been out of gear with each other. It is easy for people to say: ‘Why should the Senate have a separate election?’ and so on for the purpose of disregarding the Senate or of downgrading it. It is well known that the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, hates the Senate. There is no question about that. He would like to see it got rid of. I think it is fair to say that the personal views of many Labor parliamentarians today are contrary to his, but they are opposed to the Senate.
I think it is well for us to remember that the Constitution is not wrapped around the House of Representatives, it is wrapped around the Senate. If a Senate had not been created there would not have been an Australian Parliament. The States would not agree to an Australian Parliament unless they had equal representation in one chamber. Therefore the Australian Parliament owes its genesis to an agreement to create the Senate. I think that we should remember these sorts of things. We should not think that the Senate is in an inferior position. Elections for the 2 Houses, through a set of circumstances, parted. For some years Senate elections have been at different times to House of Representatives elections. At the beginning of this period there was a feeling that the departure was costly and unfortunate. Looking back now over the period, I feel that the Senate elections being at different times to the House of Representatives elections is for the betterment of the Senate and of the people of Australia. I believe sincerely that a separate election for the Senate means that the purpose and the rights of the Senate are more clearly brought forth in the minds of the electors, which is important because they decide who represents them in this chamber and in the other place.
When the elections for the 2 Houses were held simultaneously, the practice was for the Prime Minister to deliver his policy speech, and the whole focus was upon the House of Representatives. The Senate was looked upon as an appendage. Senator McAuliffe can turn up his nose, but I am telling him that was my reaction at the time. The election for the Senate appeared to be an appendage to the election for the House of Representatives. I do not think that that idea is good from the Senate’s point of view. As time has gone on, with the elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives not being held at the same time, I think that the Senate has been given more prominence in the public mind, and the public has a clearer assessment of the Senate, its working and its people.
– You do not believe that.
– I do not say things that I do not believe. Throughout my life one thing has been said of me, even from your side, and that is that I am sincere. I would not have spoken those words if I did not believe them. I believe that they are true. Understanding something about public reactions, I believe that separate elections for the 2 Houses is for the betterment of the Senate and for senators. As a consequence we emerge as personalities and we get much more publicity and much more focus in public than we did when the Senate election was an appendage to the House of Representatives election.
Under those circumstances 1 cannot see the great fuss and stampede of the Prime Minister and others in wanting to bring in this change to the Constitution so that we will have simultaneous elections. There are other aspects which such a change will affect and which I think Senator Wright set out clearly in his very fine contribution to the debate. Looking at the whole situation from the Australian point of view, from the parliamentary system and from the Senate’s aspect, I feel that the proposed amendment to the Constitution is one which we should not support. If it is eventually put to the people, after the process of going to the Governor-General, I sincerely hope that the people will oppose it strongly. I agree with honourable senators on this side. We oppose it. Having heard Senator Wright’s contribution, I hope that his magnificent mind will be brought forth to play a very important task, and that is to help make the people of Australia realise that this move is not to the benefit of the country, it is to the detriment of the Senate, and it should be opposed. I take strong objection to Mr Whitlam ‘s recent veiled threats to the Senate in an attempt to frighten us. It is a wonder that he does not grow up.
– You have a phobia about him.
-I know that he thinks that he is God. At the same time he must realise that we in this chamber are grown up. We know when people are trying to put over a bluff. Talk by Mr Whitlam or by anybody else will not frighten me. I will carry out the duty which I think is right. I hope that if this proposal to amend the Constitution goes before the people they will reply to it in similar vein to the case in which I think I played some part when the people rejected a recommendation of the previous Government when it wanted to break the nexus between the Houses, which would have affected the Senate. I fought strongly against that proposal. Senator Wright, Senator Gair and a few others- about ten of us- fought it. I said then that we would win and that we would beat the Government which was stupid to bring forward the proposal. What did we do? We gave the Government such a kick in the neck that it was not game to mention the subject afterwards. I hope that when this proposal goes before the people the Government will get the same reply.
Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) .36)- This Bill proposes a referendum on a constitutional amendment. If one examines the proposals, I think one finds that 2 significant arguments must be raised because they are the answers to the suggestions. The first is that the proposal is unnecessary. The second is that, because it is unnecessary, it is dangerous or it has dangerous implications. Why is it unnecessary? I think that one should look firstly at the reasons which are advanced for putting this proposal to the people. The simple place to which one goes to get that explanation is the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) or the speech of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy). The speeches are substantially the same. The only reason advanced by the Prime Minister and by Senator Murphy is that over the last 13 years we have had 8 elections. It is said that the only time that elections for the Senate and for the House of Representatives coincided was 1 96 1 . From that proposition it is argued that probably 8 elections are unnecessary, that they are expensive and that they are in effect abusing the electoral processes.
I am one who believes that we should have elections each time an election can determine an issue or can determine who shall govern the country. One can make a fetish of referring to the representative principle and to involving the community, but I am not one who believes that it is a fetish to refer to those things. I believe, for example, in our judicial system and that we ought to have far more jury decisions on issues which go before the courts, not because judges are incompetent or inadequate to make decisions but because juries represent a community judgment on issues which must be decided. The involvement of people in our jury system has been over the years one of the reasons there has been a trust and a belief in the efficacy of our system of justice. Let us acknowledge now that in our electoral system the greater the opportunity which is provided for people to vote and to express judgments on issues, the greater satisfaction there will be in our electoral processes and in our whole system of government.
I know that there is a tediousness, a tiresomeness and a sense of futility occasionally expressed when people must vote. I know the arguments which are raised. One year there is a House of Representatives election, another year there is a Senate election, and in between there is an election for possibly both Houses of a State Parliament. But if one examines that, why should there not be those elections? If one reflects upon why those elections are held, why ought not the justification to be readily expressed and readily accepted and why ought we not to say that this is the means by which we govern ourselves.
I would say that an end should be put to the idea that there are too many elections. After all, those who have the power of government recognise that if people are asked unnecessarily on too many occasions, too frequently, to express an opinion as to which Party should be in power there will be a reaction against them because it is generally accepted throughout the community that governments have an obligation to govern and if they must race to the people from time to time, either to have a issue determined by way of a referendum or to put their own authority on the line, there is a likelihood that the public reaction will be that some other government will get on with the job and will not require such frequent commendation of what it is doing.
The Prime Minister, as I have indicated, has used the argument that there are too many elections as the sole justification for this proposal. He believes that we should bring into line the elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate. He postulates as a sound principle that every 3 years there should be a House of Representatives election and that at the same time- at the same election- there should be an election for that half of the Senate for which an election is required at that time. I simply say that if that be the principle and if that be the objectivecertainly it has been the general position over the greater part of our history- it is very easy for the Prime Minister to achieve that objective without having to resort to a referendum.
As Senator Carrick said and as other speakers said before him, it would be the easiest thing in the world for the Prime Minister to have a House of Representatives election at the same time as the coming Senate election. That would achieve the objective of bringing about the synchronisation which is desired. If, at some stage in the future, it should be the desire of the Prime Minister of the day to have a House of Representatives election at some time other than when the half Senate election would be held he would be able to do so. That flexibility is part of the Westminster system. It is a flexibility which is from time to time justified by the Prime Minister. One consequence of this amendment, if it were submitted to the people and carried, would be the denial of that flexibility. I think it is readily apparent that this Bill is not necessary to meet the objective which the Prime Minister set out as the objective for the holding and passing of this referendum.
If the election is unnecessary, what are the dangers attending the holding of a referendum and what are the problems which may arise if it is passed? I suggest it is dangerous because it will mean that the independence of the Senate and therefore its ability to play its proper role in a 2- chamber system will be impaired. I appreciate that in putting forward this argument it may seem to ring somewhat hollowly against the proposition that if we were to have the elections together, as the Prime Minister may bring them together, it would be difficult to see what particular independent role of the Senate may survive.
– Only half the senators will come out.
– I appreciate that only half the senators come out at any given time, but that will be the position irrespective of whether a referendum proposal, which requires that the synchronisation of elections should be a constitutional requirement, is carried or whether half the Senate comes out at the time that the House of Representatives election is held, which has been the general but not universal pattern of the elections which have been held since we have had a federation. My simple proposition is that if the practice can be departed from and if there is from time to time a separate Senate election the ability to have a separate Senate election is worth preserving. It is worth preserving because it can enable the Senate to have a different composition from that of the House of Representatives. That is the position which prevails at the present time. In our democracy the Senate should not be in the position of being a rubber stamp for the House of Representatives. To tie the Senate to the House of Representatives in the manner proposed by this Bill tends to make it a replica and would therefore tend to weaken its independence. One cannot assert in a positive way in politics that certain results must ensue or will ensue, but the tendency certainly will be there, if this amendment is carried, for the Senate to be a rubber stamp for the House of Representatives.
– How can you get that when only half come out at one time? It will not completely change the Senate.
– I think the tendency is very easily demonstrated, taking up Senator Cavanagh ‘s point. If, for example, the Australian Labor Party, having been elected to power in 1972, were to be elected to power a second time in 1 975 and there were to be a half Senate election on the occasion of each election one would imagine that the Senate, at the end of the 1 975 election, would represent the view of the Labor Party as expressed at each election.
– Half the Senate would.
-Each half would reflect the popular will at that time. In a sense that would not be an unreasonable thing because it would show over a period that that was the prevailing sentiment of the Australian people. Of course the question would then arise- which in the case of the Government at the present time might have its problems- as to what independence there would be among senators to indicate that the Senate would perform the watchdog role which, I remind Labor Party senators, they urged for the Senate when they were in Opposition. I say that it would be difficult for the Labor Party senators to fulfil that role in government because the Caucus system and the iron discipline which the party system imposes on the Labor Party would tend to prevent that independence from developing. It is evident from past experience and from the approach and style of the different parties that the Labor Party’s discipline and control over its senators is infinitely stronger than any sense of discipline which exists among Liberal and Country Party senators. On any issue upon which the Labor Party has fixed a policy line- that includes every issue except where the new and permanent parliament house is to be sited and the Standing Orders of this chamber- I have never seen a Labor Party senator break ranks from his colleagues in all the years I have been in the Senate; yet I have seen, I think, almost every Liberal Party senator cross the floor at some stage on an issue which he regards as being important and be in the uncomfortable position of having to look at all his colleagues on the other side of the chamber. That reflects the style of each Party.
The Labor Party is a monolith party in which every member must adhere to the Party dictum and the Party line or else his endorsement is in jeopardy. That is demonstrably not the position with the Liberal Party. That is why I say that there is a problem about maintaining the independence of the Senate, the watchdog role of the Senate, the essentially independent review role of the Senate if the Labor Party has the numbers in this place.
- Senator Wood was sent to Coventry in 1961.
- Senator Wood, who preceded me in this debate, is one of the examples to which I have referred of an independent minded Liberal senator. Senator Mulvihill has reminded me that Senator Wood did something in 1961 for which, according to Senator Mulvihill, he was sent to Coventry. I was not here in 1 96 1 . All I will say is that Senator Wood has at all times been a member of the Liberal Party. He was re-endorsed by the Liberal Party in 1964 and in 1 970. That he did something so wrong, as Senator Mulvihill has suggested, and his position within the Party was not thereby prejudiced proves my point. That is an interesting digression somewhat from the point I wish to establish, that is, that if this referendum proposal were to be submitted to the people and were to be carried the tendency would be to weaken the ability of the Senate to fulfil an independent role.
The third reason why it would be dangerous to accept this proposal is that the removal of the independence of the Senate and the reduction of its effectiveness would have the tendency to make the Senate redundant. I know that Australian Labor Party policy is that the Senate is redundant. I know that it is still part of the platform of the Australian Labor Party that the Senate should be abolished, and I do not doubt that one night Mr Whitlam will go to bed and it will be part of his dream world that this again is one of the planks of the Labor Party platform to which he ought to give expression, and that on the following morning a Press statement will be issued to the effect that he is going to have a referendum on this subject. Of course, the Labor Party caucus will just have to accept it and the Labor Party senators will not be able to do anything about it. Perhaps it is to create that situation that this referendum is proposed. That is getting into the realms of speculation, but all I am saying is that once the Senate’s independence has been reduced the tendency would be to make the Senate appear redundant. It would simply be what it used to be in the early days, a rubber stamp of the House of Representatives.
The justification for an effective upper House in our bicameral system is that it should not be dragged along behind the lower House. It did happen some 30 to 40 years ago that the House of Representatives went to an election only 7 months after an election had been held. If the pattern were to be that senators were to have a term of office equal to only two House of Representative terms, one could find half the Senate being required to submit to an election whenever the House of Representatives was called to an election. As Senator Wright indicated, the reasons why half the Senate would be called to an election would not be based upon the Senate’s performance or on any sound or established constitutional criteria, but simply as a reaction to, an inevitable result of, what was happening internally within the House of Representatives. It would make the Senate a replica of the House of Representatives, being dragged along to do whatever was required in the House of Representatives. That again, I believe, is a tendency likely to flow from a constitutional requirement that the 2 Houses should be elected at the one time.
The fourth reason why I think it is dangerous to the Senate is that the Senate would cease to be as effective a check on the authoritarianism of government as the Senate has been in recent years and as I believe it can be in the future. The Senate is the watchdog of government. It is a protection, as it has proved on numerous occasions, of the fundamental rights and liberties of all citizens. To weaken the power of the Senate is to destroy the Senate’s capacity to act in this vital area. If the Government sees the Senate as a frustration, an annoyance, an inconvenience- as undoubtedly our authoritarian Prime Minister of today does regard the Senate- then this is part of democracy, and I believe democracy is worth it. One ought to recognise that under our present system the Senate is a useful means whereby if there is a radical, a definite, change in thinking reflected in the House of Representatives elections, there is time for a pause; there is time to consider whether the change which is effected is to be made permanent- and we in Australia are going through that at present. The House of Representatives elections in 1972 demonstrated clearly that there was to be a change of government. Now as a result of that change of government we have had a number of changes effected in a number of ways. The impact is being sorely felt by a number of people in a number of places. Those who made the changes claim that in the long term they will be beneficial. They seek to justify in a variety of ways what has occurred. We who oppose so much- not all- of what has been done say that what has been occurring is not in Australia’s interests.
In a short time an opportunity will again be available to the Australian people to decide whether the changes which have been occurring will reflect the pattern and the tenor of development into a longer period or whether they want to have the sureties, the certainties and the stability which did characterise the government which they had known for 23 years. The Senate has been able to ensure that the changes which are occurring are not changes which must be taken and accepted by the Australian people over the long term. It has permitted a pause- and when the next Senate election takes place there will be an indication for the Australian people as to whether of not they want the changes to be permanent. This can occur. It has occurred when the Senate and the House of Representatives were elected at different times. I say that it is fortunate for the workings of democracy that now they are able to be elected at a different time, because the role of the Senate which I have just mentioned as an independent body reviewing legislation is aided by that fact- and notwithstanding that it is seen by some as an annoyance and an inconvenience, the way the Senate is functioning is part of democracy and it aids the democratic processes.
Equally, if the Senate is regarded as excessively frustrating, if its activities are such that a government is unable to maintain its legislative program because of what the Senate is doing, then a government is not without its remedies. A government can achieve a double dissolution which has the effect of putting the whole of the Senate as well as the whole of the House of Representatives to the people. It has happened, and when it last happened, in 195 1, it achieved for the government of that day the mandate in both Houses which the Prime Minister of the day sought. When the Prime Minister first sensed a rejection of legislation by the Senate in early 1973 he threatened on numerous occasions a double dissolution. The Senate was cautious of the matters it rejected but it did eventually reject matters a second time, and as from August of last year the Prime Minister has had the opportunity to seek a double dissolution if he chose. He has not sought to have that double dissolution and one can only draw the conclusion that the socalled obstructionism, impairment and frustration which he is experiencing is not of such a character that he must face an election because of it
When one examines and reflects upon the number of Bills which the Prime Minister claims were passed throughout 1973, and the record of achievement that he claims for his Government, one must acknowledge that his plea of obstruction would be a hollow one if he sought to establish it. All of this, I believe, stems from the fact that the Senate in the role that it has performed has served democracy and has not frustrated it. It will continue to serve democracy so long as it is not tied to the elections for the House of Representatives in a way that cannot possibly be broken. Because if it must be elected at the same time as the House of Representatives, the tendency- and I put it no higher than that; but in politics that tendency is so often borne out- will be for the Senate to be a replica of the lower House.
Reference ought to be made to one or two other matters. This Bill has been introduced as a Bill by means of which the Prime Minister seeks to put to the Australian people a referendum question at the same time as the Senate elections. We in the Opposition challenge the right of the Prime Minister to ignore the constitutional provisions relating to putting questions by way of referendum in the way he is doing it. We have maintained- and the point has been emphasised on occasions throughout this debate and I again reiterate it- that for the Prime Minister to be able to put a question to the people he must show, firstly, that a Bill for a referendum was placed before the Senate and was either rejected, amended unacceptably or was not passed. Then, after 3 months, he must place that matter before the Senate again.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Before the suspension of the sitting I was concluding what I had to say upon this Bill which the Government has introduced seeking a referendum to ensure that under all circumstances, notwithstanding what the situation might be, quite inflexibly, when an election of the House of Representatives takes place there should always be an election of half the members of the Senate. I was saying that this Bill could not be introduced and put to the people of Australia in the form of a referendum unless the Senate concurred, and the Senate has not concurred. I hope that the Senate will not concur. In those circumstances, the only other way in which the Government could introduce the measure would be to regard the first occasion when this Bill came before the Senate last December as an occasion upon which the Senate failed to pass it.
On that occasion the Senate, for reasons which were advanced at the time, referred the Bill to a Senate committee. That procedure is consistent with the development of the Senate committee system and with the practice which the Senate has followed on other occasions. We believe in the Senate- on this I am sure that we have the unspoken support of a majority of Government senators- that the Senate committee system works well for the function of the Senate as a legislative chamber and as a House of review. Therefore we believe, notwithstanding what happens to this Bill tonight, that if the Government should ask the Governor-General to put this question to the people at a referendum, the Governor-General- of course it is a decision for him to make- ought not to regard the referring of a Bill by the Senate to a committee last December as a failure to pass.
I conclude by saying that the Senate has performed in recent years a vital role as an independent chamber, as a House of review as a bulwark against authoritarianism and against the tyranny of numbers which exists in the House of Representatives, in preventing the domination of the legislative chamber. I am sure that this is the way in which the people of Australia view this matter. We have seen a guillotining of this Bill through the House of Representatives by the ruthless use of numbers in that House. We have seen the limitation of the time allowed for debate. We have seen in the Senate, admittedly not in regard to this Bill but in regard to other Bills, the most ruthless guillotining that this nation has ever seen in the history of the Parliament. We have seen on this second occasion that the Bill has been introduced a guillotining once more through the House of Representatives with, I think, one Opposition member only being allowed to speak to it.
Tonight we have the Bill before the Senate. Apart from Senator Murphy who introduced the Bill, not one Government senator has been prepared to speak up and indicate why this Bill is necessary. This is typical of the authoritarianism of the Whitlam Government. Whatever Whitlam and the Caucus decree, so should the nation accept. There is absolutley no justification for the way in which the Government senators have sat silent, not inside the Senate chamber but outside in their rooms. There have been only two or three of them here in the Senate chamber most of the afternoon whilst this Bill has been debated. The way in which the Bill has been presented is, I think, sufficient condemnation of it, quite apart from the solid arguments which can be advanced against it.
– It is interesting for us and I suppose that it must be interesting for those people throughout the nation who are listening to this debate to hear what has been said. Here is the Opposition speaking about the terrible Government in the Senate that is guillotining measures and dealing in the most authoritarian fashion with everything that comes before the Senate. We are told that the Government is standing over the Senate and that we are trampling upon the rights of Opposition senators. We are told that we are managing things in the most shocking way since the time, I suppose, of Genghis
Khan or Nero. I suppose that those people outside who are listening to the broadcast must be wondering: Is this really the Government which has only 26 members in a House of 60 members, whose legislation is being knocked over time and time again and the House in which we have had the program of the Government frustrated and obstructed?
– Tell us how many times you have been frustrated.
– I am pleased to see that Senator Little is showing pangs of conscience. He asks how many times has the Opposition frustrated our program. The important parts of the program, such as health -
– Only 10 times out of 200 pieces of legislation.
– Yes but how important were those pieces of legislation not only to the Government but also to the people of Australia? The Opposition would not deal with the trade practices legislation and the consumer protection legislation.
– Tell them about the Bills they knocked back.
-There were the other Bills, including the Electoral Bill.
– There was the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill.
-Yes, there is a whole host of other measures in regard to which the Government has had the conduct of business taken out of its hands so that the program which it put to the people and which was accepted by the people has been obstructed, delayed and defeated. What has happened now? Here is the Government of Australia in the position of having made promises to the people in December 1972 that it would put certain measures to them for their decision. Whether the people want to vote for or against the proposals, the Government said to them: ‘We undertake as part of the program upon which we ask you to vote for us that we will put to you certain proposals so that you may decide whether you want to alter your Constitution’. We introduced the measures in November of last year and what happened? The Opposition senators in this chamber- I will label them together, the Liberal Party, the Australian Country Party and the Australian Democratic Labor Party senators- combined together and had a majority. They just took over the Senate and refused to allow the Government to carry out its undertakings and its promises to the people. Yet they talk about us as if somehow or other we are running the Senate, whereas every educated child in the community knows that there is a temporary defect in democracy in the community in that the Government, elected by the people, is being frustrated in its will by those senators opposite who are yelping out and not letting me speak freely. Not only do they want to use their numbers, they also do not even want to have the Government heard in the Senate.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Order! Honourable senators on both sides of the chamber will come to order.
-There is the Deputy President. There is another instance of the absurd statement that the Government controls this chamber and the nonsense of this talk about authoritarianism. Why, the Deputy President himself was elected only a week or so ago. He is not the Government nominee. The nominee of the Opposition parties was elected Deputy President in this chamber.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- You may be wise to address yourself to the Bill, senator.
– When I ask for a little quiet, he does not tell the Opposition to keep quiet but he expresses himself as he deems proper.
A lot of wrong things have been said in this debate and perhaps the most important was a reflection upon the parliamentary committees and the Government’s relationship to them. I think everyone on the Government side would know well that there is no instance that any of us can recall where the Caucus has directed the members of a parliamentary committee. I reminded my own colleagues of this fact today before this debate started. The suggestion was made today that in some way parliamentary committees had been subject to Government direction. They have not been subject to direction. The Parliamentary Labor Party has to this stage taken the view that the committees have acted and should act independently and the Labor Party has not given any direction that any member of the Labor Party can recall. As I say, significantly, I have reminded my colleagues of this today.
I turn now to the other matters which are contained in this Bill. The proposed law concerning simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and of the Senate was transmitted to the Senate on 20 November last and received its first reading on that date. The second reading was then moved and the debate adjourned. I moved that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting. The Leader of the Opposition requested an interval of some weeks before the Bill was brought on for debate. This was acceded to following the acknowledgement of the Leader of the Opposition that the several Constitution alteration Bills must be dealt with before the Senate rose. The Bill was considered by the Senate again on 4 December. It was resolved, contrary to the clear wishes of the Government as expressed by me, that the Bill be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs for inquiry and report to the Senate as soon as possible but not later than the first sitting day after 1 February 1974.
I put in unequivocal terms the Government’s view that the proposed law ought not to be sent to a committee but ought to be sent to the people. I then stated specifically that if the proposal was not put to the people immediately, because the Senate declined to do so and accepted the proposal to refer the matter to the Committee, the Government would treat this course as a failure to pass in terms of the Constitution, and would at the earliest opportunity bring it forward again in such a way that the provisions of section 128 could be availed of and the proposed law put to the people without the concurrence of the Senate.
– It would not be your judgment as to a failure to pass; it would be the Governor-General’s judgment.
– I am not here to debate with the honourable senator what the position of the Governor-General was. I have put to the Senate what the view of the Government was and significantly, as I said at that time, the Leader of the Opposition had said, when asking for time, that he accepted the proposition that the Bills should be dealt with before the Senate rose.
– And they were dealt with.
– In the event the Bills, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Greenwood, interpolates correctly, were dealt with. Some of the Bills were rejected and the particular Bill in question was dealt with in such a way by the Senate that it failed to pass.
Senator Greenwood correctly says that the Bills were dealt with. I agree with him. We are ad idem on the matter. The Committee to which the proposed law was referred did not meet to consider the measure before 14 February 1974 when the Parliament was prorogued. It was by that date quite clear that there was no intention of the Committee’s considering the matter before
Parliament met in February. Parliament was summoned to meet for its next session on 28 February and both Houses met on that date. In my opinion the Senate’s action in sending the proposed law to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on 4 December 1973, particularly when construed in the light of the failure of the Committee to meet to consider the matter, constituted a failure to pass the proposed law within the meaning of section 128 of the Constitution. The House of Representatives on 5 March 1974- after a lapse of 3 months from the Senate’s failure to pass the proposed law and in the next session of the Parliament- debated the proposed law in the identical form in which it was when earlier passed, and on 6 March 1974 passed it by an absolute majority.
The proposed law was transmitted to the Senate for the second time on 7 March 1974. The Bill is clearly before the Senate for the second time. I was about to address myself to the ladies opposite. It may not be consistent with the forms of the House to do so, but there is quite an array of them here to see what is happening. No doubt those ladies are here in the role somewhat of those mentioned in the old book who watched what was being done by the rulers of the day and admitted it into their affairs then and produced it at good time. Perhaps they would be recalling what those who are temporarily and very temporarily in control of this place have been endeavouring to do. It is pleasing to have such observers here. The Senate will appreciate the force of what has been put here this evening. I think the situation really was put elegantly by Senator Greenwood when he interposed. I accepted what he said and no one has any doubt about it. On 4 December the Senate dealt with the Bills. No one has any doubt that the Bills were dealt with. It may not be necessary to advance this argument but I think it should be understood that there is a theme which runs through the speeches of members of the Opposition, that is, that the provisions of the Constitution in regard to referenda as well as dissolutions upon deadlock somehow postulate some breach of duty by the Senate. I have noted this suggestion in some of the opinions that have been written in the past, but I think it is a very curious suggestion that the Senate has to be in breach of its duty before an occasion arises which can be dealt with under the deadlock provision or under section 128. I am surprised that those who are the defenders of the Senate would tolerate this concept for one instant. As far as I am concerned it is entirely within the province of the
Senate to reject a Bill, to fail to pass a Bill or to pass a Bill with amendments which are not acceptable to the House of Representatives.
– Then why do you suggest that is frustration?
-Whether it is a frustration of some one external to this House, to the House of Representatives or to the Government, nevertheless it is within the province of the Senate. No breach of duty is involved in a rejection by the Senate of any measure. No breach of duty is involved in any amendment in such a way that it is unacceptable to the House of Representatives. There is no breach of duty involved in the Senate’s failing to pass a measure. The Senate is within its constitutional province if it does any of those things. The suggestion is made that an examination of the constitutional provisions shows that before it may be said that those provisions are invoked a breach of duty by the Senate must be found. That is an extraordinary proposition and I believe every senator would reject that suggestion which has been put forward here. If the Senate rejects, fails to pass, or passes with unacceptable amendments it exercises its province. From the point of view of the Government and the House of Representatives undoubtedly there is frustration, obstruction and delay in the use of numbers in an undemocratic way, but to suggest that it is a breach of duty and somehow it must be established that the Senate has broken its own Standing Orders or has done something outside them is complete nonsense. If the Senate so decides it can waive its Standing Orders. It can move in the way it likes to reject, to fail to pass, or to pass with amendments unacceptable to the other House. In no way is it required that there be something which is called a breach of duty.
– Who suggested that?
-I thought I heard it suggested here.
– I do not think anybody suggested that.
– If the honourable senator reads the record of the debates this afternoon I think he will find the references to it. There is nothing involving the requirement of a breach of duty by the Senate.
– Nobody suggested that.
- Senator Byrne is a man of great erudition. I suggest that if he applies his mind to only a limited extent he will find that those suggestions have been made. If the Senate, without involving itself in any breach of duty, rejects, fails to pass, or passes with unacceptable amendments, it establishes the first of the steps under section 128 or under the double dissolution provisions. When a measure is brought back 3 months later, as here, and the Senate is again faced with the proposition, again it either passes, fails to pass, rejects or amends in some unacceptable fashion, and that is the way the procedure operates. I regret that in a number of areas and in this chamber the suggestion has been made that before those provisions are invoked the Senate must do something which internally and according to the practices or procedures of the Senate is wrong. I am pleased to hear Senator Byrne reject that motion.
As I understand the sense of the Senate, coming on all sides, vehemently from the Democratic Labor Party and from Senator Wright, and even from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Greenwood), it is entirely to reject the concept that one must show a breach of duty on the part of the Senate before a failure to pass can be shown.
– You must have been listening to idle gossip. It was not said in here.
– I thank the Opposition Whip for that observation. He has helped to emphasise the point I am putting. It is accepted on all sides in the Senate. Having established that, it is sufficient to say that this is a measure which ought to have the endorsement of the Senate. After all, it reflects the promise which the Government made to put to the people the proposition: ‘Let us have no more separate elections of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Let us go to the people together. When there is a dissolution of the House, let there be also a dissolution of the Senate’. We could have had it the other way. We could have said: ‘Let there be a 3-year term. Let the House of Representatives go at fixed terms’. But the decision has been made to operate more in accordance with established patterns. 1 believe that there is a heavy public demand for it, but irrespective of whether that is right the Government’s proposal is merely to let the people say how they want their own Constitution to operate. Any man who votes against allowing the people to vote on the proposition which the elected Government wishes to put to them can hardly claim to be a democrat. It is not as if it were a frivolous proposition or one which was supported by a few per cent of the people. The elected Government has its policy. The elected Government undertook to the people at the last election that it would put this proposal to them. Those people who call themselves democrats and those who are members of the Opposition are trying to prevent the Government from putting it to the people. They are in opposition not only to the Government; they are also in opposition to the people of Australia when they want to deny them an opportunity to vote on their own Constitution. Whatever the transitory position may be in the Senate I ask honourable senators, if there is any decency left in them, to vote for this proposition.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- During Senator Murphy’s speech he implied that the Chair had been partial in calling for order. Order was called for on both sides of the House and I believe that Senator Murphy’s remark was unfair and unjustified. I ask honourable senators to be careful not to reflect upon the Chair. I think the Senate will agree with me that at that time both sides of the House were unruly.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from 6 March (vide page 1 10), on motion by Senator Murphy:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This Constitution Alteration (Local Government Bodies) Bill is the second of these infamous referendum Bills which the Government is proposing before the Senate and on which I express the viewpoint of the Opposition. I sense from the way in which Government senators are responding that they recognise the fraud which is being perpetrated on the Australian people because of the way in which the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has advanced his arguments in support of these proposals. For example, we heard during the course of the last debate- and I do not desire to transgress the Standing Orders by referring to it- that the Opposition was denying to the people of Australia the chance to vote upon these referendum proposals by advancing an argument against them in this chamber. To that proposition, which is not to the credit of those who advanced it, I say this: In the first place, unless opposition is expressed no one has the right to put out the case against the referendum when the opposing views are circulated to the people of Australia. Secondly, irrespective of what happens in this chamber, whether the proposal is carried or lost- and the Prime Minister has made this point abundantly clear- the Prime Minister may go to the GovernorGeneral and, under the Constitution, he may ask the Governor-General to put this proposition to the people.
So in this chamber, when we hear from no less a person than the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) that the Opposition is seeking to deny to the people of Australia an opportunity to vote on this matter, by simply voting and arguing against it, he is denying that which he should know and, I believe, that which he does know, and that is that there is a right to put this question to the people irrespective of how the vote ensues in this chamber. I sense that because I am putting my view somewhat forcefully a strange view is coming from the Government. There is noise from the Government side. We have sat here the whole afternoon. We have looked across at the Government side. We have seen one, two, three or four Government senators occupying benches which may be occupied by 26 or more of them. So few of them have been here. But tonight- obviously the noise reflects what I am saying- they are here in abundance. To me it is surprising that for the first time this year Government senators have attended to support a Government measure. I am not persuaded that any one of them will speak in support of the Government’s measure. That would be asking too much. I do not think we have heard from a Government senator, except for Senator O’Byrne who last week on the Address-in-Reply debate spoke for an hour and 10 minutes to make up for the deficiencies of his colleagues. Apart from Senator O’Byrne and Ministers who have had to introduce Bills this year we have not heard one Government senator speaking in support of Government measures. If ever there is an indication of lack of real support for the Government in its own ranks it is this sort of conduct.
What is the Bill we have? It is a Bill proposing a referendum which is that the Constitution be amended in 2 respects. Firstly, it is proposed that the Commonwealth Government be given power to make laws with respect to the borrowings of money by the Commonwealth for local government bodies and, secondly, to grant to the Commonwealth power to make grants of financial assistance to any local government body on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit. These are new powers which the Government wants inserted in the Constitution. Of course, the Government seeks to have the Constitution amended so that these may be inserted. We of the Opposition consistently objected to this course when the Bill was before us last December. We shall vote against this proposal on this occasion. We will vote against it because it is one of those devices for which this Government is becoming quite infamous. It seeks to assume unto itself, to arrogate unto itself, a power which will make it the only power in this country. Thus it purports to give assistance to local government bodies. In fact what it is doing is shackling local government bodies so that they will lose their character as governments in local areas and instead become the machinery of the power which resides here in Canberra.
– What about interest rates? They are very good at that.
– I am indebted to Senator Little. The honourable senator has talked about nothing else this year. He has talked about the way in which interest rates have risen. I do not know why he does, but he does. It strikes a responsive chord with me because I remember that before the Labor Party became the Government Mr Whitlan promised that if elected the Labor Party would reduce interest rates.
– It is not interest now. It is usury.
-Maybe that is the reason why it is on Senator Little ‘s mind. I just do not know. But it is quite obvious that this is a touchy matter with the Government. The Bill which we have before us seeks to amend the Constitution. It is a Bill which will shackle local government to the bureaucracy which is found here in Canberra. It is a Bill which is orientated in the wrong direction. It will not advance local government; it will set back local government. It will promote a centralised direction from Canberra of all the activities with which local government is concerned and which local government desires to control and should control. What Canberra is seeking is the power of the purse so that by the exercise of that power local government will do what Canberra wants. I believe that after the initial enthusiasm which a host of local government bodies felt for the promise which the Prime Minister made that money would be made available to local government bodies, they are now realising what is involved in that promise. They realise that if they accept money from Canberra they will have to accept the terms and conditions which Canberra lays down. If Canberra lays down the terms and conditions that local government must act in the provision of any of its facilities in accordance with the administrative directions of Canberra, and to make the alterations which Canberra wants, local government will realise one major matter, that is, that it will no longer be local government but will simply be an instrument by which the bureaucrats in Canberra have worked out what is to happen in the local area.
I live in one of the finest municipalities in Victoria. I am sure that there is a host of senators who can talk about their own municipality in the same way. I am pleased to live in that municipality because the local councillors- I know pretty well every one of them- are people who are concerned about the local area. They are constantly concerned about the lack of money to do the things that they want to do, but, my word, if they were told that what they must do is governed and directed from Canberra, they would prefer their autonomy, their independence and the ability to make their complaints about the lack of money rather than to take the money and have to do what a bureaucrat, who has never been to Camberwell, thinks is right for that area. That example, I am sure, can be reproduced throughout the length and breadth of Australia.
Local government ought to preserve that autonomy and ought to be concerned to fight to preserve that autonomy, which is the essence of local government. It should be prepared to fight to maintain its independence. It ought to seek to maintain the present power which it has of making decisions in the local areas with which it is concerned and about which it knows, for the people who live in the municipality to whom local government is responsive. That is the heart of local government. It is the reason why it always has a prominent and important part in our affairs. May it always have that part. We know from statements which the Prime Minister has made over the years, such as the statement, emanating from 1957, in which he said that members of the State Parliament had an obligation and that obligation was to vote themselves out of power, that what he is looking for is the centralised control from Canberra.
This provision under which the Prime Minister seeks to give money to local government bodies on terms and conditions which he will fix is simply a ruse, a device, by which the central Government in Canberra will be able to exercise over local government bodies the power which, so successfully, it has exercised over State governments in the last 20 years. This is consistentI notice a silence descends upon Government supporters- with what is in the Labor Party’s policy. It is consistent with what Labor Government spokesmen have professed from time to time. Local governments ought not to yield up that which makes it responsive to people in favour of a money promise which will tie it to the hands and to the dictates of the moneylender. That is what Canberra is seeking to become- the moneylender for local government. If local government is taken in and becomes subject to the dictates of the moneylender, it will go the way that all the victims of moneylenders have gone over the years.
Let us examine what this Bill provides. It has 2 limbs to it. The first is that it seeks to give to the Commonwealth the power to make laws with respect to the borrowing of money. When the power is given to anybody to make laws with respect to the borrowing of money, power is given not only to determine what the interest rates will be but also to determine what will be the conditions upon which the money is lent. If a local government body is to receive the money only on condition that it does what the Commonwealth Minister determines, the local government body has to accede to that condition or not get the money. Is this what local government wants to put itself into? Is this the sort of subjection to which local government is prepared to submit? Maybe there will be a government which will not make those conditions. But is it realistic to believe that anywhere in this country, amongst any of the political parties, there will not come the temptation at some stage to impose such a condition? Of course it is not. That is the risk which local government takes.
For all that one reads of the various reports from Mr Justice Else Mitchell and Mr Louis Voumard in Victoria in which the need for Commonwealth Government assistance is recognised, and for all that one knows of the condition of local government and the need it has for more money to achieve objectives in the area of local government- for all of those things, is it worth while to accept money on conditions from the Commonwealth which will tie the body which spends the money simply to do what the central government of this country requires.
– You know that is not true.
– If we reach that situation, local government will not be local government. It will simply be the instrument of the central government.
– You know that is not true.
– I hear interjections from Senator Cavanagh that that is not true. I challenge him to justify on any other grounds the Grants Commission Bill which was passed by this Parliament at the instance of the Labor Government early in 1973. The Grants Commission Bill requires that local government bodies should set themselves up in groups, put in their applications, and they will get the money. How can 900 local government bodies throughout this country expect that their needs in their local area could be determined for them by a group of bureaucrats in Canberra better than they could determine those needs themselves?
In this issue we are at the heart of the distribution of power in government throughout any country. If we are to let this country develop in the future on a basis that Canberra will determineas the Labor Party wants Canberra to determine- what will be the facilities available in local areas right throughout the land, let us vote for this proposal which is now being considered in the Senate. But if we believe that wherever communities exist they ought to have a voice to say what they want in their own area, and that if they are not given what they want from their representatives in the area they can vote them out and put in a different group of local representatives, we will vote against this proposal and, believe me, we will keep a Liberal Government in power in Australia. That is really where the difference lies. All of this stems from the power which is being sought by the Federal Government to make laws with respect to the borrowing of money for local government. Once a government has power to make laws with respect to the borrowing of money for local government, there is no limit to the character and the conditions which it can impose, or the type of bonds which it can impose, on local government if it wants to accept that money.
– What is the second limb?
– What is the second limb? The second limb of this Bill is that the Commonwealth should have a power to make grants of financial assistance to local government bodies on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit. This is a power which has been exercised by the Commonwealth Government with respect to the grants of money which are made to the States. We all know that most of the money which the States expend in their area is money which comes by way of grants from the Commonwealth. To that extent the autonomy of the States has disappeared. The autonomy of the States in a limited area is confined to the money they can raise by their own money-raising activities. But for the greater part they are tied to the usage of money by reason of the conditions which are imposed from Canberra. Since the Labor Government came to office the conditions which are imposed on the expenditure of money have increased significantly from what they were immediately prior to the Labor Government taking office. A hamstringing effect is imposed upon the States. What the Government proposes by this -
– Would you abolish the Grants Commission?
– I intervene at this stage only to say that all interjections are highly disorderly. I would be grateful if an honourable senator who transgresses Standing Orders by interjecting would at least introduce a new note of interjections.
– We will do our best, Mr President.
-Mr President, we have seen over the years the way in which this power to make grants of financial assistance, which is vested in the Commonwealth Government, has been used to control the States and to direct the States in the way in which they spend their money. The amendment involved in the proposed referendums seeks to give to the Commonwealth Government the same power over local government. I hope that local government realises what is involved in it. Local government will get money and will be delighted to have it. It will have money for road making, for health centres, for libraries, for social workers and for every one of a host of activities which local government bodies are concerned to promote; but every grant will have conditions imposed by this bureaucracy in Canberra. How can anybody, particularly the local government councils, expect to be able to influence the bureaucracy in Canberra to make special exemptions for special requirements in the host of regional areas throughout the 900 or more municipalities which are to be found throughout Australia? That is the danger in this Bill. That is why local government has to be informed. That is why I hope that a host of people in this chamber will speak and indicate the disadvantages in this proposal.
Let no one suggest that this Opposition does not have the willingness to fight for a cause in which it believes. The newspaper commentators throughout the country can preach that if they like because we know that they do not listen to anybody but the Press secretaries of the Ministers of this Government. But we believe in those things which are characterised by our development as a Party and which, I assure the Senate, will stimulate us to action in the future when we are returned to government. In this year we believe that this measure has to be opposed. If the people give to the Commonwealth Government the power to make grants on conditions which the Parliament lays down, it means that there is given to the Commonwealth Government the power to make grants on any conditions which the Commonwealth thinks fit. Power will be given to the Commonwealth to make loans or to make absolute money grants and to impose whatever rates of interest it wants. The Commonwealth will be given power to impose any conditions whatsoever.
– Where is that in the Bill? What is that clause?
– I hear Senator Cavanagh ask: ‘Where is that?’ If he looks at the Law Reports of the High Court of Australia, where this same power has been interpreted with respect to grants of money which are able to be made to the States, he will know that there is that similarity, and identity which must be acknowledged as a part of this provision when it is applicable to local government. Implicit in all these proposals is control from Canberra, albeit a control which is supposed to be for the benefit of the 900-odd local councils. Who knows how many regions those 900 councils might develop. But how is the assessment of need to be made? How is the assessment of the priorities of all these councils and regions to take place? How can Canberra hope to be able to work out effectively the needs of these areas? Even if we get, as we are getting at the moment, a stimulus for the regions which have a host of objectives they would like to realise and for which they would like money provided, where is the money to come from? I have heard from a few local government bodies that when the immense sums which are involved in the present Grants Commission proposals have been mentioned to the Prime Minister he has positively blanched, and to get the Prime Minister to blanch is one of the great achievements of this decade. But he has done so because involved in this scheme is a sum of money which it is not within the competence of even this spendthrift Government to satisfy.
– One would think that the States have been starved.
– I heard what Senator Wright said. Local government can be provided with the money from the Commonwealth if the Commonwealth is prepared to put the priorities in a sane perspective. It could be provided with the money through the State government departments. There are local government departments in the States which for a century or more have grown up with local government bodies in each of the States. They are the bodies which are more knowledgeable and best suited to arrange for any financial allocation to local government bodies. We, for our part, as a matter of policy believe that that is the way in which is should be done.
We are concerned at the moment with a Bill which seeks to give authority to place before the people of Australia a question suggesting that the Constitution should be amended. If the referendum were to be supported and these new provisions were included in the Constitution we would be sounding the death knell of local government. Maybe we would not be sounding the death knell of bodies which administer local areas but we would be sounding the death knell of local bodies which have autonomy, independence and the ability to make their decisions for their own people and for their own areas and that, believe me, is what people in this country are crying out to have. That is why I hope this Bill is resoundingly defeated. If this question should go to the people of this country I hope that the vote will put an end to such nonsensical proposals in the future.
-To illustrate to the people who have been listening to this debate the nature of the fatuous outpourings of Senator Greenwood in regard to this matter, I would like to read from the Fortieth Report of the Grants Commission. In the introduction to that Report the Commission said:
The year 1972-73 has been a significant one in the history of the Grants Commission. Following the elections of 1972, the new Government of Australia moved to give effect to an election undertaking related to the Commission’s activities, namely that local government authorities should have direct access to the Grants Commission to enable them to apply for special grants of financial assistance, in much the same way as States have access to the Commission for the past forty years.
In the Autumn Session of 1973 the Grants Commission Act 1973 was enacted by the Commonwealth Parliament, repealing the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1933-1957 and providing for a new Commission to inquire into and report upon applications by States and by approved regional organisations of local governing bodies for special financial assistance.
This simply is the proposition that is incorporated in the Bill before the Senate. The introduction to this Report goes on to state:
The Grants Commission Act 1973 provides for the continuation of the Commission’s traditional role of inquiring into applications by States for special grants of financial assistance. The Commission’s role in relation to local government bodies will carry its investigation into new dimensions of public finance which will undoubtedly pose many problems in determining the principles and practices to be followed in assessing the relative needs of the very diverse local government regions throughout the Australian States.
There are very distinguished people on the Grants Commission. The chairman is Sir Leslie Melville, K.B.E., whose term of appointment is for 3 years ending on 30 September 1 974. Mr W. R. Lane has continued to serve on the Commission. Sir John Goodsell, C.M.G., was appointed to replace Mr H. J. Goodes, C.B.E. These are the people to whom Senator Greenwood referred as ‘these bureaucrats’. This is an autonomous body. What I have said illustrates the degree and the depth of political depravity that can be plumbed by people in order to try to fool the electors of this country into believing that this is a sinister Government. Senator Greenwood is piqued because he is no longer Attorney-General, the man born to rule, the young pretender who was the big dark horse who was coming in to dominate the Parliament. He found that the people judged that his Government was inadequate. He now finds himself in Opposition and having to justify his political existence. Those who read history will judge after reading some of the clap-trap that he uttered tonight and comparing it with the events of history. Senator Greenwood ‘s time passes by. When he looks back I wonder whether his cheeks will be as pink as his shirt. He must become red-faced after sitting down and contemplating what he has tried to push out tonight for pure political propaganda purposes.
Senator Greenwood has accused very great citizens of being Government dominated bureaucrats. One would think that he did not have close experience of some of these very distinguished members of the Australian Public Service. I resent some of the charges which Senator Greenwood has made against the Public Service. Its members are dedicated people who are politically neutral. They are carrying out a job in the interests of the people of Australia. They must feel insulted when a supposedly responsible man with a classic educational background tries, for passing momentary political advantage, to degrade them. I speak firstly in their defence and secondly in defence of the right of a government which has a mandate from the people to be able to ask the people to judge. In this legislation we are doing no more or no less. Senator Greenwood said that we will put the dark hand or the dead hand of bureaucracy on local government. We are saying to the people: ‘Do you want us to carry out the mandate which you gave us? We need constitutional power to do it. We are asking you at the same time that we are having a Senate election, so we can minimise the costs involved in holding the referenda. We are giving you the prerogative of making up your mind *. That is the democratic process. That is all that is involved in the legislation- no more, no less. We are asking the Senate to confirm the decision of the House of Representatives to allow the people to decide their destiny.
One would think that the destiny of this nation is in the hands of this rag tag, rump, lame duck Opposition which, for a temporary period of a few months, is strutting the stage of power here and which thinks its word is more or less the ever lasting testament. We challenge this attitude of the Opposition, and we say that Opposition members know very well that if democracy prevails in this country so many of the old, worn out shibboleths, the old bone rattlers of the last century, the old horse and buggy mentality which has been astride this country for so long will be gone, that their days of philandering will be over and that there will be new era in Australia in which we are prepared to go straightforwardly to the people and say: ‘In a democracy the majority of the people’s will will prevail’. That is all that we are asking- to ask people at a referendum and to ask the Parliament to give people the right to judge. I do not think that Senator Greenwood, after the display which he gave tonight, could fool anyone who had recourse to logic. They would know that he could not find anything on which to base his argument and that he was merely bringing out the old shibboleths to frustrate and obstruct the course of government in this country. He knows very well that we asked the people for the mandate to do what we are doing. We are honouring our promise by putting this matter to the people on the first possible occasion after the 1972 election. At the forthcoming Senate election we wish to put it to them. If that is not a fair and democratic process, I have never known one.
I rise especially to defend the members of the Grants Commission who, in my view, are dedicated men. They are quite acceptable to the State governments. As a matter of fact, the State governments, particularly in my home State of Tasmania, have every reason to be thankful to the Grants Commission. We in Tasmania have been treated most generously. We get per head from the Grants Commission nearly twice as much as the other States. So we have nothing to complain about the black hand of bureaucracy of the Grants Commission. We have every reason to admire Sir Leslie Melville and his other commissioners. This attack on them and on the Public Service generally ill-becomes a Queen’s Counsel, an ex-Attorney-General and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I believe that the people of Australia should see him in his true colours.
-Senator O’Byrne, who has just resumed his seat, talked about the lame duck, rump of an Opposition. He is an expert on this subject because he served for 23 years in such an Opposition. He should know, if anyone knows. The honourable senator read us a portion of the Grants Commission’s report. He named the members of the Commission.
– The ones that Senator Greenwood would not name.
– All honourable senators know their names. Senator O’Byrne did not read out how much money the Grants Commission has made available to local government authorities in the various States.
– What power did it have to do so?
– I do not know, but Senator O’Byrne did not tell us. I know that in my home State of Western Australia members of the local government association and members of the shire councils association have been very disappointed at the Grants Commission legislation. In fact, many of them have said that they would not join the regions. That is how they felt about the legislation. Further, they held a special conference in Perth. No Australian Labor Party member attended, although an invitation was issued. The Opposition had the privilege of having Senator Sim there to explain the situation to them.
– He would be a great asset.
-It was a great advert, yes- a very good one indeed. The result of that conference was that they felt that the whole setup of the Grants Commission was wrong. They want Western Australian members of Parliament and senators to move amendments to that legislation because they believe that the money which is made available to local government authorities should be made available to the States for distribution by the States according to a formula which has been agreed to by representatives of local government authorities and State authorities. That is the kind of amendment which Opposition senators moved in this place when the legislation was debated. That is what local government wants.
Senator O’Byrne said that the Government is doing a great thing and that it was given a mandate to do so. Before the 1972 election the then Opposition made great play about local government. Local government was fooled by the policies put forward by the then Opposition. It is waking up now. All we are saying about this Bill is: ‘Do not be fooled by the Government again’. That is what we are saying. I think that a lot of shire councillors and municipal councillors are aware of what the Government is trying to do, and they will look very carefully at this legislation. I was very glad to hear Senator Greenwood drag out tonight some of the problems, and he had to drag them out because the Opposition did everything that it could to prevent Senator Greenwood being heard. I am sorry- the Government did.
– You said ‘the Opposition ‘.
-It was a slip of the tongue. People on that side have made the same slip many times. I am sure that honourable senators on both sides of this House will agree with me when I say that the easing of the burden of local government ratepayers and the improving of municipal services is a worthy objective. The Australian Country Party recognises it as being a worthy objective and has always attempted to achieve it whenever and wherever it can. I have only to ask honourable senators to recall the election policies that have been put forward by the Country Party from time to time in regard to the helping of local government authorities with the provision of Federal finances.
Notwithstanding that my Party is opposed to this Bill because it claims, without apologies, that the Government has introduced this measure with an ulterior motive. We believe that it will not bestow the benefits that local government has been led to think that it will. It is not necessary to alter the Constitution to alleviate local government’s worsening financial position. Senator Greenwood made this point. The Federal Government needs only to make more money available through the States. This it has the power to do under the Constitution. That is what I said local government in Western Australia wanted.
– But the Government of which the honourable senator was a member would not do it for 23 years.
– It is not a case of the Government of which I was a member not doing anything, because it did. It is a case of the present Government not doing the same thing because it thinks it has a better idea, but that better idea has not worked out. The local government authorities are waking up to this. I think all of us will admit that the local government bodies are the creation of the States and are bound by State laws. How they are financed is a matter solely for consultation, communication and agreement between the 2 levels of government within the State boundaries. My Party believes that that is the right forum for the consideration of local government’s loan commitments, its financial programs, the burden of rates on the community and ultimately the drawing up of priorities in accordance with the needs and the funds available from the States with Commonwealth assistance.
It is obvious that this can be done without the Commonwealth Constitution having to be changed. So one has to look for the reason why it is sought to change the Constitution. What is the hidden motive behind this Bill? I submit that it is more than just a phobia that is possessed by the Government to rewrite the Constitution. My Party sees it as another move by Labor towards the socialist goal of nationalising the means of production, distribution and exchange. Is it a bid to take over the powers given to the States at the time of Federation? Is it designed to undermine the authority of the States? Is that undermining essential to the success of the overall plan? If we permit the plan to continue and develop we will find sooner or later that we no longer have States or local government bodies in the form that we know them now. That is what I believe is behind this move. Despite their mounting financial difficulties, I am quite sure that the local government bodies and groups do not want a system under which they could be worse off than they are now. Very many of them have looked beyond the immediate financial attractions of the Government’s proposals and have reviewed the proposals in the light of Labor’s record on matters related to the rural sector and they do not like what they see.
– Who is ‘they’?
– The local government bodies and groups. Local government is suspicious of the intentions behind the Bill. In many cases it is openly hostile to it, particularly in the State of Western Australia. One part of the Bill states that the Commonwealth Government will be able to make money available to local government on such terms and conditions as the Parliament sees fit. I ask all local councils and ratepayers not to overlook the words ‘terms and conditions’. One has only to reflect upon some of the conditions that have been already imposed by the Government in its grants to the States to realise the stout stringsprobably choking strings- that will be attached to the grants made to local government. Even if there were no hidden traps in the Government’s overall plan, local government bodies could not be advantaged by that part of the proposition which says that applications for financial assistance would be made on a regional basis. We believe- for Senator Cavanagh ‘s information, that is my Party- that regionalisation of councils would create problems, not solve them, because of the wide variation in the particular financial problems which confront individual councils at any one time. It would be a complex problem for regions to sort out the priorities and just as great a problem for the Department responsible for the consideration and determination of applicationsthe Canberra-based Department of Urban and Regional Development. It is for those reasons and the reasons I outlined in response to the remarks of Senator O’Byrne that my Party believes that the Bill is unnecessary. My Party believes that the proposals are not only unacceptable but also in part unworkable. For those reasons my Party will oppose this Bill.
– The Senate is debating a series of Bills that are designed to give the Australian people an opportunity to express an opinion in respect of a number of matters which were dealt with by the House of Representatives during 1973. They relate to promises which were given in the policy speech by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in the election campaign of 1972 when he was Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. Each of the proposed referenda questions was referred to in the policy speech. In case anyone has any doubts about that I shall refer to what was said in respect of the matter that is currently before this chamber. On page 6 of the policy speech the Prime Minister said:
We will give local government full access to the Loan Council and Grants Commission . . .
On every occasion on which the Senate has dealt with matters relating to referenda we have had conjured up in this House by the wild thinking of Opposition senators bogus suggestions of all sorts of dire consequences to the people of Australia if the Constitution is amended.
Government senators have been chided by Senator Greenwood on numerous occasions that we do not propose to debate these important matters. The fact is that it does not matter whether we debate them because the temporary majority that exists in this chamber has already made up its mind that it is going to deny to the people of Australia the opportunity of expressing an opinion on matters that were clearly placed before them and supported by their majority vote in 1 972. It is argued by the Government that the mere adoption of these propositions by the House of Representatives and by this place does not in any way commit either House of the Parliament to the issues in question as they would automatically go forward in a referendum form to the Australian people. The Government has been chided by Senator Greenwood and other Opposition senators for not wasting the time of this Parliament by endeavouring to convince the Australian people about the merits of its arguments and policies. The Government will take the opportunity when the date for the holding of these referenda is set to explain to the Australian people the reasons why it believes these important changes should take place.
What is involved here is an attempt to change the Constitution as it relates to financial arrangements by giving local government direct access to the Loan Council, acting in concert with the States and the Australian Government. This, it has been suggested by the speakers for the Opposition, represents some form of conspiracy, some endeavour to reduce the powers of local government and to create some new situation with respect to local government and its access to the Loan Council. The Labor Party is very deeply committed to strengthening the whole structure of local government and has been able to convince the local government bodies throughout Australia of its motivations in this respect. It is sheer fantasy and wishful thinking on the part of Opposition speakers to suggest otherwise. Not one responsible local government personality in Australia has made any public statements other than in support of the general line that the Government is taking of giving greater access to local government to Commonwealth funds, through either the Grants Commission or the Loan Council. I take as my authority the New South Wales representative on the Australian Council of Local Government Associations, which is the national body concerned with the affairs of local government in this country. It consists of a representative of each of the State branches of the local government associations. One of the New South Wales delegates who is a former president of the local Government Association of New South Wales- an independent member who, however, in the majority of cases supports the Liberal-Country Party Government in New South Wales- Mr Harold Coates, said in Hobart in November last:
Local government has been battling a long time Tor assistance, and for the first time the Commonwealth has come to the party. It should be a backward step if local government did not show support for the Commonwealth in what it was trying to do.
I spent 15 years in local government, during which I toured Queensland and other States. I can assure honourable senators that local government authorities throughout Australia all regard the moves which this Government is making as a means of alleviating the financial problems of local government in their States as useful and helpful. It is an historical fact that every Prime Minister since 1949 was visited every 2 years by representatives of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations for the purpose of getting some financial assistance for local government and recognition of the need to apply Commonwealth funds to augment rates in order to carry out their public works responsibilities. And the fact is that every Prime Minister except the present Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, refused to give local government access to Commonwealth funds. The previous Prime Minister,
Mr McMahon, only some 18 months ago actually refused to meet a deputation from the Australian Council of Local Government Associations to discuss the very question which we are now debating in this House.
– That is not true. I myself took the deputation to Mr McMahon.
– On the second occasion Mr McMahon did accede to a request to meet the deputation- but it was the same story of refusing to meet any of the financial demands that were being made upon the Commonwealth by the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. Last year the Australian Government introduced a scheme to widen the powers of the Grants Commission. I think that even the former Premier of Queensland will agree with me that the whole purpose of the Commonwealth Grants Commission over the years was to bring about a certain equality in the distribution of Commonwealth funds to those States which can be described as claimant States. That has been largely a successful arrangement, though not always to the satisfaction of the claimant States. That very principle was of course the cornerstone of the scheme introduced last year to enable the Grants Commission to assist local government. So we have carried out what we said we would do as shown at page 22 of the Prime Minister’s policy speech. I quote:
We will require the Commonwealth Grants Commission to promote equality between regions, as it has been traditionally promoted between the States.
We are now debating the proposition that this financial assistance should be extended to grant access to the Loan Council. I think that honourable senators ought to look at the problems which are besetting the States and local government when they talk about financial arrangements and better deals for these bodies. The Commonwealth, as we have said many times in this place- it has been said by both Opposition and Government speakers though, I think, mainly by Government speakers- is very concerned about the very favourable indebtedness position of the Commonwealth, the very deteriorating position that exists in the States and the very alarming position of loan indebtedness in local and semi-government authorities. In the period from 1949 to 1970 Commonwealth debts increased by only 5.4 per cent, State debts by 323 per cent and local and semi-government by 845 per cent. It might be argued therefore that we should not allow local government access to the Loan Council. The fact is, of course, that many semi-government and large local government bodies which have had access to Loan Council funds find that their revenue is now considerably affected by the degree of their indebtedness. The Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board and the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works allocate about 55 per cent of their rate income to repayments on loans. Again because of the restrictive financial policy pursued by the Commonwealth in this whole area of public sector expenditure in the post-war years we had the ludicrous situation in all States of the Commonwealth that every local government body was restricted to a borrowing of only $200,000 irrespective of its size. That was subsequentlyabout 7 years ago- raised to $300,000 and is currently $400,000. However, that increase only covers inflationary effects and in no way represents any sort of sizeable recognition of the financial plight that exists in local government.
Senator Drake-Brockman had a great deal to say on this subject. He said that if this Senate, firstly, and, subsequently, the Australian people are persuaded to change the Constitution this will change local government bodies and the structure of local government. Who does Senator Drake-Brockman think that he is fooling? How can any constitutional change which seeks only to affect access to loan funds change the structure of local government bodies? The honourable senator went on to say that these local government instrumentalities that exist in all States are in fact creations of the States themselves. It is just not true to say that the Labor Government is in any way concerned with altering the structure of local government. We want to extend the role of local government. We do not want to restrict it but to make it even more powerful. If local government gets funds through the Grants Commission, which will be an equalising grant, and can get unrestricted access to carry out some of its major responsibilities then of course it will be a much more viable organisation. There is no doubt that the restriction on public sector expenditure over many years has had a very disastrous effect on the quality of life and the facilities of the ordinary people out in the various localities.
I find nothing unusual in the 2 questions about which Senator Greenwood spoke somewhat hysterically. He was followed, perhaps in more measured terms, by Senator Drake-Brockman. But both senators indicated that there is something sinister about the Commonwealth’s suggesting that when it makes funds available this should be done at the terms and conditions that the Government thinks fit. After all, these are matters coming before the lower House and before the Senate to be amended, rejected or in some way improved if they are not up to the thinking of the majority of members of either of the Houses of Parliament. I see nothing different from what the States have done over the years. I am sure that Senator Gair will agree with me that this practice of putting terms and conditions upon loans has been followed by the Commonwealth since Federation. One has only to read the report of the Grants Commission to see that terms and conditions have been supplied in respect to additional moneys that have been made available. The State governments themselves, in their unanimous representations to the Commonwealth in 1965, were very critical of the Commonwealth’s endeavours to put terms and conditions on the funds that were made available to the States for their public works responsibilities. So there has been a united front on these questions by the State governments. But the position has been accepted nevertheless because the Commonwealth has taken the view that Commonwealth funds are involved and the Commonwealth intends, therefore, to place some conditions on how this money can be spent. There is nothing new about that, and there is nothing wrong about that. For instance, if an ex gratia payment were to be made to some local government body it may decide to build an olympic swimming pool for the prestige of those who happen to be running the council at that particular time, whereas there may be need for a better road system, for the establishment of a library or for some such thing in order to bring about equalisation of facilities in a particular municipality. Can any honourable senator show me any statement that any of the councils on the outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne have been complaining about the $ 15m that has been made available to them already as part of our equalisation program? In fact, this provision of funds has been hailed as a major breakthrough and as a big step forward in endeavouring to catch up with the backlog of public works responsibilities in those areas. Only this week the councils on the north shore of Sydney- let me say that there are no Labor Party councils in that area; those councils represent people on middle class and above middle class incomes- submitted a claim to the Commonwealth to the tune of $141m. There was no criticism about the Commonwealth; they merely put out their hand for the sorts of funds which they say are needed to bring some equality of public facilities in those regions. Let me say that those regions are far superior to the great majority of local government areas throughout New South Wales. In other words, -they are regions that were developed earlier than were many other parts of Sydney.
They are regions in which the rate structure has enabled the councils to collect funds more readily than they have been able to in the new working class areas in the outer suburbs of Sydney. Yet those councils have seen fit, despite their political complexion, to ask the Commonwealth to make available this tremendous sum of money. Probably, the amount requested exceeds what the Government is giving to Tasmania during the current year.
– What is the total claim for all municipalities and local governments in Australia?
- Senator Wright asks me what would be the total claim. I do not know. But I would say that thousands of millions of dollars could be spent in local government areas throughout Australia to bring them up to the required standard. Surely this is the challenge that the Whitlam Government has accepted in its desire to bring about an equality of public facilities between the various regions. We are taking steps to do precisely this. One of the ways to do it is through the Grants Commission. This is now law. Let us face the position. That body is less than a year old and the officers have been appointed. The bureaucrats we heard so much about in this chamber are now examining the establishment of the regions and examining the claims of those local government bodies throughout Australia that have come together spontaneously for the purpose of considering a problem common to their regions. The Commonwealth is quite right to adopt this attitude because there would be countless regions throughout Australia to which it would not want to give money at this stage of the development to a particular local government council but to a group of councils to carry out say, a major drainage scheme, a major road scheme or to be used or for the establishment of a community facility such as an olympic swimming pool or a library which would be shared not by the people in one municipality but by the people living in a particular region. I want to draw attention to the fact that local government has been campaigning since the end of World War II in regard to the 2 questions that are in the process of being implemented by this Government. For many years they have had to fight against the parochial attitude of the State Ministers for local government. Honourable senators should be aware that it was not until 1963 that the State Ministers for local government for the first time agreed at a conference, again held in Tasmania, to make a united representation to the Commonwealth
Government. The Ministers for local government from the 6 States had met for many years but there was always a disagreement about the degree of responsibility in regard to Commonwealth funds. For the first time in 1963 those Ministers- Labor Party, Liberal Party and Country Party Ministers- meeting in Hobart agreed that the time had arrived for Ministers for Local Government to make a joint submission to the Commonwealth Government for financial assistance. That was refused by the Commonwealth. So with all the formats and procedures that local government has had at its disposal, it had to convince the various State levels of the local government association and their respective Ministers of their claims throughout the whole of the post-war period. It was not until 1963 that unanimity was reached. It has taken another 10 years from that point of unanimity between the 6 State Ministers for Local Government before the Commonwealth involvement has been effective. That has arisen because a Labor Government was elected by the Australian people with a Prime Minister, a leader, who has consistently advocated that this should be the position. I urge honourable senators to read his speeches ever since he has been a member of the national Parliament. He was one of the first political leaders to be invited to the New South Wales Local Government Conference. He attended that Conference for the first time in about 1966 or 1967 at which he stated that a Labor Government would do just these things for the improvement of finance for local government. So we are asking the Senate to consummate the promise he made during the election campaign of 1972.
– But it is a fraud.
– It is in our policy and in our platform. This Bill has been through the House of Representatives on 2 occasions. It is before this obstructionist House for the second time because the Opposition has taken the view that we are not entitled to present this question properly to the Australian people for them to vote on the matter. The Opposition has taken the view that this Government has something up its sleeve whereas, in fact, it has followed a consistent policy. That policy is in tune with the needs and wishes of local government right throughout Australia. It is very interesting to find now that Senator Greenwood, Senator Drake-Brockman and Mr Anthony, the honourable member for Richmond in another place, who are no longer Ministers in a Government, have to say. I wish to quote what Mr Anthony said in the debate on this matter in the other place, but what he said has been repeated almost word for word by honourable senators representing the Opposition parties. He said:
The Country Party’s approach is positive and logical. We recognise the compelling nature of the problems of local government, but emphasise that financial arrangements must serve and strengthen the Constitution, not undermine it.
What sort of poppycock is that which Mr Anthony speaks about and which is repeated in this House- that access by local government to local Council undermines local government. There is nobody in local government who believes that. I ask honourable senators to produce the personality who holds office in any local government association who believes that to be the case.
Only a fortnight ago I travelled on an aeroplane with the Secretary of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations who happens also to be the Secretary of the New South Wales Branch of the Local Government Associations. Those associations are very happy with the Government’s approach and the positive way in which the Government is endeavouring to recognise the financial plight of local governments. I served for many years on the executive of that local government association. I can assure honourable senators that they are offside with local government opinion. I was one of four or five Labor Party members who served on that executive, and I assure the Senate that in these sorts of matters there was complete unanimity, and there still is to this very day, at local government association meetings, at conferences and at councils throughout Australia. We have established commissions to deal with this matter. The Department of Urban and Regional Development has staff to do something about the problems of land prices which Senator Little chides us we should do something about. We set up organisations to deal with these matters and then we are criticised for establishing bureaucracies.
Do honourable senators opposite think that computers can be organised to acquire and generally to deal with procedures and the detailed examination of the plans, thoughts and programs that are put forward? Of course a bureaucracy is needed to deal with them. This is not something that ought to be criticised. It is something that ought to be applauded. If members of this chamber would only rise out of their party political prejudices and start to examine this program in a much more positive way they would come to understand the position in much the same way as we revolutionised our thinking about the changed situation in local government.
Until World War II local government was the preserve of the landlords. It was not the preserve of the ordinary home owner. How many people owned houses in those days? The average man rented a home, so the man in the street was not concerned with local government. In any case, the cities were much more compact. There was not the great urban sprawl. There was not the motor car problem with which we have to contend today and there were not all the pollution and other new questions with which we have to concern ourselves. In this revolutionary situation parties have to adapt. Just as honourable senators opposite were behind the times in 1971 and 1972, when their attitude caused them to lose the election, they are behind the times on this issue.
It might well be that honourable senators opposite will convince the Australian people not to support this proposition in the referendum. It is clear that honourable senators opposite intend to raise bogies and to capitalise on people’s fear of change. But the articulate people in local government are not worried about it. They cannot see how a local government council in Woollahra in Sydney, which at the moment is restricted to a loan budget of $400,000, would in any way have its structure or its authority undermined by having loan access to $lm. In fact the serving members of local governments will be very happy because they will be able to carry out their responsibilities.
Let us look at the Constitution. It was framed 73 years ago. It was framed before motor cars, before radios, before television, before home ownership and before a whole host of other modern amenities that we have come to accept as commonplace were introduced. I say that the great change that has come over the local government scene is that the man in the street is now directly involved in local government. For heaven’s sake, certainly in Sydney and Melbourne the average man in the street is now paying $3 or $4 a week to his local government authority. Local government has become a very pertinent and relevant question and yet the man in the street is still living, in the real sense of the word, in squalor as far as local government facilities are concerned. He is living in areas which could have hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to them to bring them up to an acceptable standard in the latter half of the twentieth century. I cannot conceive why honourable senators opposite adopt the stand they do unless it is just to score mean political points. I am sure that that is the motivation of some of those who have taken part in these debates.
We are wearying of Senator Greenwood’s consistent endeavours to whip up a bogey and to chide the Government because its members are not constantly on their feet following every Opposition speaker. We wish to have the matter resolved. The Opposition has made its position clear. We know the Opposition has the numbers. We know its members have made up their minds. No matter what arguments we produce they will not change their opinion. Do honourable senators opposite wish to degrade even further the whole parliamentary process by our just talking our heads off for the sake of talking. We are quite happy for the Opposition to make a decision on the matter because we will then go out on the hustings and tell the Australian people what we seek to do. Honourable senators should be aware that when we do go out on the hustings hundreds of people from local government bodies will be supporting- even if they do not understand all the other issues that will be placed before the Australian people- the endeavours of the Australian Labor Government to alter radically the whole financial relationships that exist between the Commonwealth, the States and local governments and semi-government bodies.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
-Before I address myself to the provisions of the Bill before the Senate, I should like to say that I am grateful to Senator Gietzelt for having corrected some of his colleagues who expressed the view that what the Opposition was trying to do was to prevent the people of Australia from exercising their vote on this matter. Senator Gietzelt knows, as well as I and any other thinking person in the community, that irrespective of the results of this debate and irrespective of whether the Bill is passed or is rejected this question will go to the people in the form of a referendum. But to suggest, as some members of the Government have done in their speeches here tonight, that we are trying to prevent the people from having a say is wrong. I am grateful to Senator Gietzelt for correcting his colleagues in the false understanding of this matter.
In my long political career in Queensland naturally I had a good deal to do with local government authorities, particularly during the period that I was Treasurer of the State. I have learned to appreciate very sincerely the great work that learned governments, in the main, do. I have learned with appreciation too that local governments form a very particular part of the government of Australia, notwithstanding the fact that the Constitution of this country makes no reference to local government at all. The Constitution speaks of the central governments- the Commonwealth Government- and the States, which proves that the local governments are the creation of the States. They function with the approval of the State governments. They are guided by the department which deals with local government matters in each State. Over the years the States have built up a very effective and efficient branch of government in their local government departments. The State Governments keep these councils directed and informed of the requirements. Councils, like individual human machines, vary in the degree of efficiency and in their operations. Some are not nearly so good as others. Some have a peculiar order of priorities and works that are urgently required are neglected for others that could be left in abeyance. In the main I speak of councils in the highest terms, but there is always a sick sister or two. I often feel that local government authorities would be more efficient if there were less party politics in our local councils. Often the political influence destroys a proper and conscientious discussion of the needs of a community.
– You could not say that about the Brisbane City Council.
– I could say many things about the activities of the Brisbane City Council, now and over a period of years, and they would not all be laudatory.
– You would have to be laudatory now. It is a good council.
– I do not have to be anything of the kind. Do not taunt me or aggravate me or I may say something that I will -
– I would not regret it so much but it would be out of order because it would not be connected with the Bill. Local government bodies depend on rates for their revenue and the loans that State governments make available to them. They have a right that the State governments do not have under the present financial arrangement between the Commonwealth and the States; that is, with the approval of the Loan Council they can go on the loan market, a right which the States do not have today. When Loan Council meetings are held loan moneys are allocated to the States and there is provision for local government in the allocation. In my time in government we made available to local government the surplus profits of the State Government Insurance Office. When private companies were entering into competition and investing their money we were giving it to the local authorities at the minimum rate of interest.
– You also subsidised local government.
– I am grateful to Senator Wood for that remark. He has had a long and very creditable record in the field of local government in the city and district of Mackay. We encouraged local government authorities by giving them heavy subsidies to sewer their districts and to provide electricity reticulation. We gave them big subsidies to help them to do that. Where people were dependent on kerosene lamps in many areas, for many years now they have had electricity. We have done everything to help. Whilst I am prepared to commend the Federal Government for intimating its willingness to help local government financially, without knowing what conditions are to be laid down I feel that the methods proposed and the planned manner of lending the money to local government are not correct.
– How is it proposed to lend it?
– Direct to the local authorities. I think it is in the interests of local authorities and the Federal Government to make the loans through the State Department of Local Government. There would be a greater measure of efficiency and a more accurate recording of the financial position of local authorities than would follow direct contact between the Federal Government and the local authorities. I repeat that local authorities are the creation of State governments and not of the Federal Government. Whilst I commend the Federal Government for intimating its willingness to find money for local government I think it should be supplied through the State departments.
– Does that not set up another bureaucracy?
-How could it? It is one that exists now. In the field of mining the Commonwealth Government is prepared to concede recognition that State Departments of Mines have a greater collection of data and knowledge of mining than the Commonwealth Government has because those departments have been in it since the States have been States. The same applies to local authorities. The State governments have had local authorities within their jurisdiction and they have a greater knowledge of the work of those bodies.
– Are you saying that the Department of Local Government should distribute the money within the State?
– The local government authority would apply to the Federal Government. It goes to the State and it is allocated to that particular local authority. Furthermore, the State would be in possession of information regarding every local authority. Some of them would not be worthy of financial assistance ahead of others. They could intimate to the Commonwealth that the money could be better spent, that greater value could be obtained if the money was directed to another local authority.
– Would that information not be available to the Federal Government?
– It could be, but if there is to be an operation between the Commonwealth and the local authority to the exclusion of the State, how on earth can the State have any knowledge of the matter? The State would not be able to supply information unless asked for it. In the main my objection to the Bill is the proposed method of distribution of the money. I hope that it is not just an attempt to subvert the authority of State governments and an attempt to centralise further powers in Canberra. If it is, I deplore that motive. I would hate to think that the Commonwealth would be concerned about doing that when the State governments with all their knowledge and experience are better fitted to control local governments than the Commonwealth could hope to be. If the Commonwealth has the money to be made available to the local authorities, let it be done through the State departments. It probably would be found that it would work more satisfactorily and more efficiently and would provide greater benefit to the Commonwealth Government and the local authorities.
– At first glance the Bill in some ways looks quite good. It states in the heading.To alter the Constitution to enable the Commonwealth to borrow money for, and to grant financial assistance to, local government bodies’. One gains the immediate impression that the Commonwealth Government is merely interested in giving more financial assistance to local government bodies. That is not the case. On looking deeply into the Bill one finds what it is really all about. I am greatly concerned to discover on going into the Bill in depth that its real purpose is to obtain more power and control for Canberra. Further, it seeks completely to bypass State authorities. Eventually this would cause erosion of the authority of the State bodies. That is no idle statement. We have seen continually that through a centralist approach to legislation this Government is trying to erode the power of the States and their authorities and to take more power unto itself in Canberra. This is another shining example of this. We have seen it in the areas of the misuse and abuse of section 96. It has been spelt out very clearly this afternoon by Senator Greenwood and I shall mention it again a little later. This Bill is another Bill under which section 96 can be used but not in the way in which the fathers of federation intended it to be used.
Tonight we have heard an honourable senator from the Government side say that local governments need more money and that the Commonwealth is prepared to give them more money. He said that the reason for this legislation is to enable the Government to have the ability to give more money to local government. It is very interesting to hear Government senators say that. But when we realise that the Prime Minister has stated in clear terms that the Commonwealth now has the power to make grants to local governments, but via the States, one questions why this legislation is necessary. Why is it necessary to put a referendum proposal to the people? I repeat that it is purely because the Commonwealth wants more power unto itself. It is reaching a stage where it is getting power hungry. It just wants power.
I agree that local government needs more finance. None of us disputes that. But why is it necessary to do this in the way in which this Government proposes it should be done? If the Government is genuine in its desire to give more money to local governments then it could do that under the system which already exists within the Constitution. All this Government has to do is to make more money available to the States. They in turn can allocate this money to the various local governments in their States. To me this is very important, because one of the great problems we are facing in this country is the continual development of a centralised bureaucracy in Canberra. It is a Canberra orientated bureaucracy. The people who know their problems best are the local people. The State Government is much closer to local government than a Canberra bureaucracy can ever be. So this is in itself a great danger. But this Government does not see the situation that way. One can look to so many other pieces of legislation in which it is a case of power, power, power and centralism. We have seen the build-up of the Public Service in the last 12 months. We have seen the allocation in the Budget for increased Government expenditure. What is this for? I suggest it is for one basic reason only, and that is to centralise as much of the power as the Government possibly can in this place. Centralisation of power can mean only one thing, and that is erosion of authority of the States.
Last December we saw the results of a referendum. I am certain that again the people will be wise enough when these referenda are put to them in May. Today people are becoming very concerned because of the policies of this Government, particularly in relation to centralism, because of the erosion of the powers of the States, and because of Government expenditure and the automatic wastage of revenue when Parkinson’s law really applies in the monolithic growth of the Public Service. This is what is happening. One can look at what used to be an annual event- the Premiers Conference. What has happened to the Premiers Conferences today? Where are Premiers Conferences? Basically they are a thing of the past. One might ask why. Is it because the Premiers do not want to come any more, or is it because they are not wanted in Canberra any more?
– I think they were a bit of a charade.
– Thank you very much, senator. There is the criticism already. What is happening in this country today is not a spirit of co-operative federalism, compromise and team spirit between Premiers and the Commonwealth, but something that is becoming a directorship. I repeat that there is a complete abuse and misuse of section 96. For the sake of the record I repeat what section 96 is all about. It states:
During a period of 10 years after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions-
I suggest that honourable senators take note of those words ‘on such terms and conditions’ - as the Parliament thinks fit.
In other words, under section 96 of the Constitution the Federal Government, when it makes a grant, has not only the power to say what money will be allocated but also how that money will be spent. When the Constitution was written and when section 96 was put in it was never intended to be used in this way. Section 96 was included in the Constitution purely to help the development of this country and to help the poorer and less populated States with specific grants. But today we see it used as a vehicle of direction and control from Canberra. What will be the situation if the Government gets its way and we have a section 96A? What would be the position then for local government? The proposed new section still states: ‘on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.’ So when we start talking about being very generous and giving more grants to local government, let us spell this out clearly and say what goes with those grants? We have the situation whereby the Government can say, firstly, yea or nay and how much. Secondly we have the situation where the Government has the constitutional power to say to any local government or, as they are now called regions, how it will spend that money. Tonight an honourable senator on the Government side said: ‘You know, local government might want to spend the money on a swimming pool whereas it should be spent on a road’. He admitted that the Federal Government would have the power- - more than the power- and would take advantage of this power and use it in this way. I challenge any Government based in Canberra to know the local problems as well as the local people. For the life of me I cannot see why any Government should want this power unto itself when it can already make all the necessary finance available to local governments through the States. But the Federal Government does not want it this way. It does not want the authority localised; it wants it centralised. I cannot see a local councillor being satisified with some bureaucrat and Government direction from Canberra telling him how the money is to be spent in his local shire because the Government thinks it knows conditions better than the local boy. We have situations where a local government or shire might want to build a new library somewhere but Canberra says no, that there is a priority somewhere else.
– It does not.
– Canberra can do that and the Minister should not say that it cannot. It has been done. Let us not start on other things such as Canberra controlling the pipeline authority. We have seen how far the Government will go with its legislation, and that is to the extreme.
– This Bill does not give the Government that power.
-Section 96A will give the Government all the power it needs and the Minister knows it. It is spelt out. It states: ‘on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.’ That is all the power the Government needs. It can do it and it would do it.
– That is in relation to additional money.
– Yes. Give local government the money now via the State parliaments.
We have a system and the Prime Minister admits that it can be done that way. But he does not want it that way because the Government wants the power unto itself in Canberra. To me this is a very retrograde step because it will mean a directorship from Canberra. I say again that it will be the complete abrogation or the beginning of the abrogation and erosion of not only State powers but also local government powers. We will reach a situation in which local government and local government councillors will become not much more than puppets for the Canberra- based government. This is what will happen because local government will have to jump when Canberra calls the tune as Canberra will control not only finance for local government but the direction in which this finance will be allocated and spent. The Commonwealth Government will have this power. In such a situation local government would lose its old identity and would virtually become the puppet of a Canberra directorship. If the Government is genuine when it says that the Constitution needs to be altered- as one Government senator said the Constitution is 73 years old and it needs to be brought up to date- we do not disagree with that. An Australian Constitutional Convention has been operating and holding discussions for more than 12 months. But what is happening about the work of this Convention? The Convention which seeks to review and revise the Constitution is attended by representatives of every political party in every State parliament and the Commonwealth Parliament, and local government representation from every State of this Commonwealth.
– The subject of local government has been discussed.
– Local government and the allocation and redistribution of finance are two of the issues that are being discussed by that body. But this government will not wait for the outcome of that Convention. It does not believe in the democratic process of sitting down to discuss, review and revise. The Government wants to force legislation through this House to establish its own bureaucracy in its centralised headquarters in Canberra. Why, if the Government is genuine, does it not wait until the Convention presents its findings? What is the purpose of the Convention if the Government is not prepared to wait for its findings? A lot of wise and sincere people throughout Australia have been wasting a lot of time and finance if the Government completely ignores what is taking place at that Convention. When Government supporters rise in this place and try to drool words of sincerity I cannot accept this action on two counts. Firstly, the Prime Minister has made an open admission- it is in the Hansard recordthat today Canberra has the power to increase financial grants to local government via the States. Secondly, I cannot accept the Government’s sincerity because the Australian Constitutional Convention has not, as yet, reached any conclusions on local government. The Government is not prepared to act on the power that it has already and it is not prepared to wait for the results of the Convention. One can only reach one conclusion which I repeat: The Government is power hungry. That is what this legislation is all about. I can only say to the people of this country that we have had a 3-tier system of government involving local government, State governments and the Federal Government. This sort of legislation, if it were carried through to the ultimate and the power was situated in Canberra, would completely destroy the 3-tier system of government. We would finish up with a single Parliament in Canberra, with the destruction of the State parliaments, and we would have puppeteers and not councillors in local government areas.
– I am sorry that tonight Senator Greenwood felt that he should behave like the lady of whom it was said on one occasion: ‘The lady doth protest too much’. All he did was protest. He produced no facts whatsoever in support of his argument. In fact, he became so hysterical that, with all the cynicism at his disposal, he criticised the members of the Grants Commission. He said that they were plutocrats who were really unworthy of being part of the Australian nation. He said these things about those gentlemen. Let me remind honourable senators of the persons who comprise the Grants Commission. The Chairman of that body is Sir Leslie Melville, K.B.E. Would Senator Greenwood say that Sir Leslie Melville is an undesirable character? Silence is golden. The second member of the Commission is Mr W. R. Lane. Is Mr Lane an undesirable character? Again, silence is golden. Is Sir John Goodsell, C.M.G., an undesirable character? Senator Greenwood would have us believe that these people are unfit to do the job for which they have been appointed.
– If you read the report, you will notice that Sir John Goodsell is not a member.
– I have never heard such scurrilous talk for a long while from one who is supposed to have an eminent position in the legal profesion.
I now turn to the Australian Country Party. As a matter of fact I think only one member of the Country Party is in the Senate tonight. That is the Chairman of Committees, Senator Webster. The other members of the Country Party all belong to old types of organisations. Honourable senators heard what the Leader of the Country Party in the Senate (Senator Drake-Brockman) said tonight. He said that the Country Party always had a deep interest in local government. I ask honourable senators to listen to the deep interest that the Country Party displayed in its policy speech for the election in 1972.I challenge any honourable senator to ask me- I hope someone will- to table this document because it is very enlightening. The document titled ‘Australian Country Party, Policy Speech, Federal Election 1972’ was prepared for the Press. I ask honourable members not to forget what Senator DrakeBrockman said of all the great things that the Country Party believed in for local government. On page 9 the Country Party policy document states:
We believe it is unacceptable that local government should be allowed to remain in a position of serious financial inadequacy.
This is after 23 years of their maladministration. The document continues:
Local government itself should have wider powers to raise money.
– Who said that?
– The Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) said that it should have greater responsibility for the spending of money- precisely what we want local government to do. The document further states:
The Country Party- and the Government-
That is, the Liberals: believe it is essential that local government should be properly represented at next year’s Constitutional Review Convention. Not merely to observe- but to play a full part in the discussions and in the making of decisions. We hope this historic Convention will lead amongst other things, to the kinds of changes that will give local government access to the funds it must have if it is to meet the increasing demands the community is making on it.
That is the sole contribution to local government in the 1972 policy speech of the Australian Country Party. I remind honourable senators that there are perhaps 2 points of importance that were made by the Country Party. One point was that local government should have representatives at the Australian Constitutional Convention. I shall read the names of the delegates to the Convention in a moment. But I ask honourable senators: Who gave local government representation at the Convention? It was the
Whitlam Government that gave local government representation at that Convention.
What did the Country Party mean when it proposed in its 1972 policy speech to give local government access to the funds it must have if it is to meet the increasing demands that the community is making on it. Members of the Country Party could not tell us. I do not think they knew that section was contained in their policy speech. The Country Party said that the Liberal Party embraced this policy proposal. I do not know whether it had the approval of the Liberal Party to claim that. I do not know whether the Country Party has the approval of the Liberal Party to run separate tickets in the next Senate elections in certain States. But this is the way in which members of the Country Party are behaving today.
I have here a list of the representatives of local government who attended the Australian Constitutional Convention in 1973. I ask for leave to incorporate in Hansard that list of those representatives from the various States.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown)- Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION 1973
Australian Capital Territory
James Harold Pead, Esq., M.B.E.
James Willoughby Leedman, Esq., M.A., LL.B.
New South Wales
Ald. the Hon. Robert Gavin Melville, M.L.C.
Ald. Harold Gregory Percival
Clr Charles Napier Yabsley
Ald. Harold Brennan
Ald. John Norman Nelson
Clr Harold Garfield Behan, C.M.G., M.B.E.
Ald. Clem Jones, B.Sc, A.S., M.I.S., F.R.G.S.
Clr Frederick Arthur Rogers
Robert Wyndham Clampett, Esq.
Clr Roy Joseph Guerin
Ald. Alexander Donald Noblet
Wrdn Raymond Robert Duff
Wrdn Laurence James Mooney
Ald. Ronald George Soundy, A.A.S.A.
Clr Stanley Arthur Hawken
Clr William Thwaites, O.B.E.
Clr Alan Douglas Whalley
Ernest Clark, Esq.
Ernest Henry Lee-Steere, Esq., C.B.E.
Clr Arthur Andrew Mills
– I thank the Senate. Much has been said tonight about what the Australian Government is trying to do. Senator Greenwood said that his local government authority was a good one and that it did not want any change. I asked him how he knew and whether he had spoken to his local authority but of course he did not deign to reply. Obviously silence means consent. Of course he had not spoken to his local authority. He mouthed words that might have been appropriate for his own Party room, his own Caucus room, but not for this debate tonight. I say to Senator Greenwood and to other Opposition senators that we have proof positive that before the election this very proposal was discussed at a meeting in Brisbane with all local authority representatives throughout Queensland. At the conclusion of that meeting all the representatives of local government stood and said that it was one of the most ambitious things that had happened for local government for many years. They were tired of the handouts that had been coming from State governments and they wanted direct representation. They now have it as a result of this notwithstanding all that honourable senators opposite might say.
I refer Senator Greenwood to the most pertinent part of the debate which took place in the Senate on 20 November 1973. On page 1910 of the Senate Hansard Senator Murphy is reported as having said:
In October- just a month ago- at a meeting with the heads ofgovernment of the States the Government took new initiatives on behalf of local government. We made 2 proposals. One was that elected local government should have both a voice and a vote in the Loan Council. The other was that the Australian Government be empowered to borrow on behalf of elected local government. The meeting was abortive. There was no consensus to enable the Australian Government to proceed without delay.
Senator Greenwood is interjecting. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, Senator Greenwood. Place yourself in whichever category you like. I know in which category we place you. Senator Murphy continued:
This Bill, therefore, is designed to deal with one of those proposals- that is, to add a new placitum to section51 empowering the Commonwealth to borrow on behalf of local government- and at the same time to add a new section 96a empowering the Parliament -
I said ‘the Parliament’. What did we hear about the rights of Parliament this morning? Did we not hear from honourable senators opposite that Parliament was supreme? Of course we did.
Now, tonight, they are trying to denigrate Parliament. They are trying to say that Parliament has no authority whatsoever. That is a fallacious argument and it does no credit to members of the Opposition. I repeat what Senator Murphy said on 20 November 1973. He said that the Bill under discussion at that time was designed to: . . add a new section 96A empowering the Parliament to make grants of financial assistance direct to local government. It will take us another step along the road towards giving local government its rightful place in our affairs.
Not one member of the Opposition has tried to refute any of the statements made in this House on that occasion but they have carried us all sorts of tales and made all sorts of suggestions to indicate that the Australian Government- I point out that all honourable senators form part of the Australian Parliament- is trying to do something dastardly to local government. Was not all this laid out before the Australian Constitutional Convention of 1973? I invite honourable senators opposite to read the record of the debates which occurred from 3 September 1 973 to 7 September 1973. At page 236 of the record the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, is reported to have said this:
On Monday I pointed out that direct representation on the Loan Council could be given to local government in two ways. The seven heads of government here could agree to amend the Finacial Agreement. Alternatively, and particularly if the seven heads of government cannot agree, the Australian Parliament could sponsor a referendum to insert the words ‘or elected local government bodies’ after the word States’ wherever that word occurs in section 105A of the Constitution. I am happy to report to the Convention that as a result of the heads of government meeting last night, I hope that the seven heads of government can agree to amend the Financial Agreement, and I expect that we shall meet within the next few weeks to consider that course.
This took place. The local government people had this to say in their submission to the Australian Constitutional Convention:
Local government appreciates the opportunity to participate in the Convention to review the Australian Constitution. In making this submission to the Convention, local government has as its objective changes which will allow local government authorities throughout Australia to make a greater contribution to the well-being of the Australian people. The suggestion made will have the effect of removing or minimising some of the serious difficulties under which local government now operates.
That is what the local government people said, yet honourable senators opposite tonight are trying to suggest that local government wants to run away from the proposition contained in this Bill. I say to them that they cannot show that by word or in documentary form. I see that Senator Greenwood is shaking his head. It will not rattle because there is nothing in it to rattle. The fact remains, that many suggestions in this direction are set out in this document. I read again from the local government submission to the Australian Constitutional Convention. Local government said this:
Amend section 105A of the Constitution to read as follows:
1 ) The Commonwealth may make agreements with the State and with elected local government bodies-
I shall repeat that:
- Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise to take a point of order relating to relevancy. Senator Milliner is referring to the Constitutional Convention and proposals to amend the Financial Agreement. I know, having been there, that that matter was raised. I do not question that that is fair enough if the honourable senator wants to talk about it, but the question of the amendment of the Financial Agreement, section 105 A of the Constitution, is not involved in any form in the constitutional proposal contained in this Bill. This proposal seeks to amend sections 5 1 and 96 to make laws with respect to borrowing and with respect to financial assistance. I do not know whether Senator Milliner wants to tie these up at some time in the future but he has referred to this question of the Financial Agreement in all his quotations from the Constitutional Convention. They are 2 separate issues and I submit that they are not relevant to this Bill.
– Speaking to the point of order raised about relevancy, I would have thought that this was very relevant for the purpose of debate. While one deals with section 105 A and the other with sections 96 and 51 of the Constitution, those who were considering the Constitution referendums at that time advanced arguments why there should be alterations to apply the very things that the Bill now before the Senate seeks to apply. It is not just a question of honourable senators taking part in the debate on this matter. Higher authorities have argued this and Senator Milliner is quoting them. I would say that this is possibly one of the most relevant things put to the Senate during the debate tonight. He is associating those remarks with this particular Bill and is putting them forward as reasons why the Senate should act on the Bill and why local government should be given the opportunity to borrow. He is speaking on behalf of local government and is quoting higher authorities. I think this is relevant to the Bill.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown)- It would seem to me that most of
Senator Milliner’s remarks have emanated from the Australian Constitutional Convention. I was anticipating his linking those remarks eventually with the subject matter of the Bill. I do not uphold the point of order, but I suggest that Senator Milliner link the comments which he has made to date with the Bill.
– Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Let me read the submission of local government. It stated:
Local government appreciates the opportunity to participate in the Convention to review the Australian Constitution.
Does this Bill deal with the Australian Constitution? Of course it does. Let me read the statements of some of the local government delegates at that convention. Sir Charles Cutler, New South Wales, said:
I accept the privilege of making a few brief comments on two or three of the items before the Convention. The first, of course, is the question of the acknowledgment of local government in the Australian Constitution. I understand, and I am sure that we all understand, the wish of local government to be recognised in the Constitution.
What does this legislation do? It gives effect to Sir Charles Cutler’s statement. All the speeches at the Convention are in the same vein.
– He is an eminent member of the Country Party.
- Senator Greenwood is being rude when he makes those types of attacks. I can always remember when he, as AttorneyGeneral, had a home raided on Christmas Day in an endeavour to pick up some youth who refused to serve in the filthy war in Vietnam.
– What rot.
– Is not that the truth? Of course it is the truth. At the Convention Mr Baldwin, Queensland, said:
I support the proposal before the Convention. Since 1901, according to the delegates handbook, there have been 6 previous attempts- one by royal commission- to review and change various parts of the Commonwealth Constitution. The most important and forceful was made in 19S9 by the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review. Yet even as late as that, no important direct mention was made of action to assist with the fast deteriorating financial position of local government.
– He is a Labor member of Parliament. What else would you expect?
– I thank the honourable senator for his inane contribution by way of interjection. He said that Mr Baldwin belongs to the Party of which I am a member. I am proud to say that he does. But others who do not belong to the Australian Labor Party said precisely the same thing. They said that the previous Government gave them no opportunity, in 23 years, to have direct access to the Australian Constitution. Yet Senator Greenwood grins that inane grin which does not disturb me in the slightest. It makes him look just as stupid as the words he utters. That theme continues all the way through the speeches at the Convention. I have referred in this chamber previously to people in local government who have done so much work on behalf of local government. I defy any honourable senator to name anybody who would measure up to Mr Jensen, M.L.A., New South Wales. He said precisely the same thing that others at the Convention said in that regard. The delegate from South Australia said: 1 support the recommendation that the working committee should take note of item No. 7, but in doing so I utter a word of caution, as other speakers have. Mr Rogers -
He is the Chairman- emphasised strongly that it was not the intention of local government to cut across the activities of other governments.
That is precisely what Senator Greenwood said tonight and what he has continued to say in an attempt to mislead the people of Australia in that direction. Now I come to the statement made by the Chairman, Mr Rogers. I think Senator Greenwood would agree with me that Councillor Rogers would be one of the most respected men in local government in Australia. Again there is silence from the honourable senator, and that means agreement in his legal language. That suits me.
– Do not be childish.
– You just keep talking back. Mr Rogers, one of the most important men in local government in Australia today, said: 1 emphasise again that it is implicit that if local government is to play its part in providing the services required of it, it must be an established arm of government recognised by the Constitution. That is what we aim at- not to be a level in place of any other level of government, or to take away from any other level of government but to become properly established throughout the nation as a third level in a 3-tier system.
That statement was made by one who has done a lot for local government and who has just been recognised in Queensland as one of the most outstanding people in local government. He has been appointed by a Liberal-Country Party Government to a very important position in local government in Queensland. If Senator Greenwood challenges my statement, he should make representations to his colleagues in that State. I am sure that they will not display the same political ignorance and bias that was displayed by Senator Greenwood. They will say that Councillor Rogers is one of the most respected persons in local government in Queensland today. There are many others.
Why should we want to do anything to destroy local government? Over the years we have tried to do everything possible to assist local government. Again there is a stupid, inane chuckle from someone who perhaps would not know the first thing about local government. Tonight he said that he has a wonderful local authority in his area. I question whether he knows anybody outside members of his Party in that local authority. I believe that the legislation is directed towards improving the lot of local government. It will do immeasurable good to the people who work so hard on behalf of the community. Therefore, I commend the legislation to the Senate.
– I thought that the Government wanted this Bill passed tonight. We are prepared to assist its passage. We have been treated to 30 minutes of irrelevancy by Senator Milliner. Perhaps the kindest thing that one could say about bis speech is that he made no contribution to the debate. There is no argument about the need to assist local government. We admit it. We recognise the need for the Australian Government to provide financial assistance to local government, but we challenge the need for this legislation which seeks a referendum to enable the Australian Government to provide this necessary need. Under section 96 of the Constitution power exists now for the Government to make to State governments certain grants. I quote section 96. It reads: the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
This power gives the Federal Parliament the authority to make to State governments grants to reimburse local government. Therefore, I think that we are entitled to challenge the sincerity and the motives of the Government. There is no question that the power exists now. 1 have risen to speak tonight only because we have heard a great deal about mandates and about the Opposition challenging the Government’s mandate to introduce this legislation. I pointed out yesterday that the Government may be able to argue that it has certain mandates. I also said that it has no mandate to do certain of the things it is doing. It has no mandate to diminish the responsibilities and powers of the State governments. It has no mandate to reduce our defence capacity to almost nil. It has no mandate to attack our rural industries. So let us be very careful when we talk about mandates.
I will vote against this legislation not because I wish to deny to the people of Australia the right to decide on the issue involved but because I want to make it clear that I am not giving the seal of approval to the Government to bring in legislation, no matter how it is presented and for what motives it is presented, that will further diminish the powers and responsibilities of the State governments. I have just said that the local government authorities should be assisted, but they are best assisted through the State governments, which know the requirements and needs of the local government authorities within their State boundaries far better than would any centralised bureaucracy that is based in Canberra. If we suspect that the Government, which has demonstrated that it is power drunk, is using back door methods to diminish further the powers of the States we have complete justification for doing so. One has only to recall to mind that the platform of the Australian Labor Party quite clearly states that its objective is to abolish the State governments. One has only to recall the speeches in which the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has invited State Labor governments to destroy themselves to assist in the attaining of the Labor Party’s objective.
I pay tribute to the honesty of Senator Wheeldon who, during a television debate in Western Australia several months ago quite clearly, quite categorically and in a most honest manner said that he supported the Labor Party’s platform concerning the abolition of the State governments. If the Opposition is suspicious about the motives of the Government, it is because we have every reason to be suspicious. If the proposed referendum were carried and the amendment to section 96 of the Constitution by the addition of the proposed section 96a were to become a feature of the Constitution, what would be the position of the local government authorities? We know what the position of the State governments is today under the present Government. They are being continually threatened and coerced to carry out the will of the Government that is based in Canberra. The proposed amendment states that the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any local government body on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit. We know what is the objective of the Government. It is one House of Parliament for the whole of Australia. That is part of the Labor Party’s platform. Of course, not many members of the Australian Labor Party are prepared to go to the people and seek a mandate for that proposal. It is only people like Senator Wheeldon who are honest enough to admit that this is the situation.
– We are all honest.
– I invite Senator McLaren to go out and proclaim that to the people of his State of South Australia during the forthcoming Senate election campaign. I also invite my Labor Party colleagues from Western Australia to stand up during the forthcoming Senate election campaign and proclaim the true objectives of the Labor Party. I challenge them to do it. I know that they have not got the guts to do it. If the Government were to achieve its objective and were to make grants to local government authorities on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit the local government authorities would become the creature of the centralised bureaucracy in Canberra. I think it was Senator Milliner who said that the whole objective is to grant to the local government authorities greater responsibilities for the spending of money. In view of the platform of the Labor Party I say that that is arrant humbug. He knows very well what are the policies and objectives of his Party.
Senator Drake-Brockman was generous enough to say that at the invitation of the Local Government Association in Western Australia I went to one of its meetings to answer questions concerning the Government’s proposals. The Government was asked to send along representatives, but they were conspicuous by their absence. After I had explained in, I think, simple and truthful terms what Mr Whitlam had said and what the policies of the Labor Party were there was immediate opposition to the whole of the Government’s proposals. The local government authorities saw quite clearly that they would be formed into some great regional body which would be the creature of Canberra. That was clear to them all. As greater awareness develops, as it is developing now, of the real objectives of the Government there will be no possibility of the people of Australia accepting this proposal.
I am prepared to assist the Government in getting a decision on this legislation tonight, despite the wasting of half an hour by Senator Milliner, but I wish to place on record my complete and utter opposition to this proposal on the grounds that I have stated. If it is put to the people as a referendum proposal it will not have my seal of approval.
-Now that the snow storm has cleared I hope that the sun will shine through enough to let us have a little bit of clarity on this matter. I wish to ask a simple question of the Government. I ask: Why is it necessary for this question to be put to the people of this country? It is good to know that the
Government is keen on helping local government finance its affairs. As one who served for over 30 years in local government- for 15 years as Mayor of my city, for 6 years as State President of local government associations and a term as Australian President of local government organisations- I can honestly say that I am very keen on assisting local government. It is good to know that the Government is of the mind to help local government with its financial affairs. But, having stated that it is prepared to do that, why does the Government not accept the simple method of providing this assistance to local government? At present the States control local government. As Senator Gair, a former Premier of my State of Queensland, said, local government is a State instrumentality.
If the Commonwealth Government’s referendum proposal were put to the people and passed what would happen? As each representation for assistance was put to the Federal Government from all parts of this very large continent of ours investigations would have to be made, engineering problems would have to be overcome, the cost would have to worked out and so on. Can honourable senators imagine the number of staff that the Commonwealth would have to employ to work on the various propositions that would be put forward by the local government authorities throughout Australia?
– Unnecessary duplication.
– Yes. As one who comes from north Queensland which is far removed from the city of Canberra, I look at the proposition on the basis that the remote areas of the Commonwealth probably would be on the outer as far as the Commonwealth department doing the work is concerned. To me it is a very simple matter; if the Government wants to help local government it has every avenue open to it to do so now. The State governments have their local departments and the engineering setup to ascertain whether propositions are suitable. They have the administrative, clerical, accounting and whatever other procedures are necessary. The States are close to the area and as a result have a better contact with the requirements of local governments of their States.
– And with the Department of Main Roads.
– Yes- with the Department of Main Roads and all the other instrumentalities. Senator Gair was not only Premier of Queensland but also Treasurer during part of the time during which I was mayor of the city of Mackay. I can say that I always recognised that his government- it was a Labor governmentplayed a very important part for local government by initiating subsidies not only for water and sewerage but also for projects such as mosquito control. I believe that the State government has this complete set-up ready for the Commonwealth Government to channel these funds to local government. I am all for local government getting as much money as it can because of the great difficulties it has in financing its requirements. However, I do not believe that we need to change the Constitution of this country to bring this about. To indicate what happens as a result of remoteness of control- I want it to be clearly understood that I make no reflection on the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh), who is at the table, because, as I have said, I have a high regard for his ability and administrative capacity; but we are talking now in general terms of the Federal Government controlling and giving out funds for distant areas- we recently had a story revealed to us by the Auditor-General’s Department, in particular details of turtle farming away up in the northern part of Australia. What a financial mess has been made. This perhaps is a result of the remoteness of control and other inefficiencies. Can honourable senators imagine what would happen if all the local government bodies of Australia were to put their requests through the Commonwealth Government for assistance for their requirements? I well remember from my earlier years in local government that the Federal Government did pass out money to the local authorities for certain specific reasons; if I remember rightly it was for projects for the unemployed and so on. That was worked in the way that I have suggested, the Commonwealth passing the money to the States, the States, because of their closer opportunity for investigation, setting out the requirements of each community. The whole thing went off very well indeed.
– They do it in the education field, too.
– Yes. This has been worked in this very way and to me it is as simple as can be. We have the set-up now- the Commonwealth with the money, the States with the instrumentalities to find out where it is best allocated and for distribution of the money, and the local government authorities to spend it and get the results to the people. What a perfect set-up. Why do we need to change the Constitution? It is all there. There is no need for a change. Therefore let the Commonwealth Government in its generosity now say: ‘All right, we will pass it through the States to the local authorities’. I think we would all be very happy about that. Therefore I do not believe in troubling the people of Australia to vote when there is no necessity to do so. There is no necessity to change the Constitution in this regard, and in those circumstances, to save the people the trouble and the Commonwealth the expense, I propose to oppose the legislation.
– Although I was not the mover of the motion, I think that having listened to the debate I should say a few words about the Government’s attitude to this proposition and about what has been said by honourable senators. They will have to be very brief because it is desired to put the matter to a vote before 1 1 o’clock. Firstly, on what Senator Gair said, the question will go to the people whether it is carried here or not. It is a referendum Bill and of course this is a vote on whether we favour the question going to the people. Honourable senators opposite may vote against it, possibly for the reasons which Senator Wood has just given. The honourable senator does not believe that there is any necessity to put it to the people. Honourable senators opposite are not prepared to put the question to the people whether they themselves agree with it or not. The opposition Senators do not agree with the substance of the matter because, they say, it is centralising control and they do not want control of local government in Canberra whereby Canberra can dictate to local government. This Bill does not mean any such thing. Yet Opposition senators have carried on in this manner all night because the proceedings are being broadcast in order to get this attitude across to the local government bodies. They cannot sell their opposition to the measure to local government and they have to perpetuate this lie for the sole purpose of currying favour with the local government bodies.
The Bill seeks to alter section 5 1 of the Constitution by inserting after paragraph (iv) the following paragraph: (ivA.) The borrowing of money by the Commonwealth for local government bodies.
We have no such power today. It is not intended to control the operations of local government. It is a question of how we can borrow money for the purposes of giving it to local government bodies. Opposition senators speak of their desire to help local government bodies but in fact are opposed to giving the Commonwealth power to borrow money to assist them. The alteration is not designed to control local government bodies but to borrow money on their behalf- and the Opposition refuses the power to do so. The second proposed alteration states: 96A. The Parliament may grant financial assistance to any local government body on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
Senator Young has said tonight that we dominate the States with section 96. That section has been in the Constitution since Federation; it is a section that applied for 10 years after the establishment of the Commonwealth or for such additional time as the Parliament decided. For 23 years the Liberal-Country Party coalition government never saw fit to remove it. It does not need a referendum but a vote of the Parliament to remove it. That government retained the section but now the Opposition says that for the 15 months for which we have been in office we have dominated the States with this section. It is not a question of giving money from the central body. It is additional money which we are prepared to give for certain projects which would be determined by the local government body. Since honourable senators opposite say that we are abusing section 96 and would likewise abuse section 96a, I challenge them to say that any application of section 96 since this Government has been in power has been rejected by this Senate. The Senate has approved every advance that we have made under section 96. So it is not a fault of this Government and it is not a question of grants as the Government decides, it is a question of grants as the Parliament decides.
The Opposition is opposed to the concept of letting the people decide these questions. It is opposed to giving the power to the Government to raise money for local government. Opposition senators have eulogised local government but are opposed to the Australian Government being able to give money to local government bodies which they have said are unable to carry on their activities because of their impoverished condition. All the things that the Opposition spoke of are the very things that we are trying to rectify and which the Opposition will not permit us to rectify. I commend the Bill for the approval of the Senate.
– in reply- Now that we are about to vote on the Bill I suppose the great questions which surround this issue have become crystallised. I am pleased that the Senate has been prepared to bring the matter to a vote instead of delaying it further. The Government wishes the issue to be put to the people. The Government brought it in in November last and asked then that the Senate agree to it being put to the people. The Senate did not agree and the Government had to wait 3 months and then bring the matter again into the Senate to get its view on it, whether it was for or against it. Irrespective of whether it is for or against, the issue may be put to the public because the Constitution provides for that kind of obstructive attitude which the Senate had hitherto displayed. It provides that even though one House refuses to agree to the proposition of the other, the matter nevertheless may be put to the people if that proposition is passed by the one House twice within an interval of 3 months.
A great philosophical issue about centralism is involved here. The Australian Government has taken the view that we ought to move closer to local government and that local government bodies ought to have more say in the Administration. I believe that throughout the world there is a development of ideas along these lines, namely, that the legislation in many ways ought to be by centralist governments, certainly, in countries such as ours. We see this development in the United States of America, Canada, Great Britain and elsewhere. The general laws ought to be made by the central legislature. This is reflecting the views of the people as a whole. It is reflecting democracy. But the Administration ought to be brought closer to the people. In the legislative sphere, there ought to be, in a sense, more centralism in countries, but in the administration there ought to be more decentralisation. It is quite consistent that a general law might be made and the administration of it put as close as possible to the people. If we can provide that the local government bodies have more say in administering even the laws that are made by this Parliament we will be making an advance. Let us get closer to local government bodies. Let us be able to provide them with finance and raise moneys for them. Let us decentralise in administration in that way. I think that this is the way in which not only Australia but also the world is developing.
My studies of the most advanced speakers in the world over the last generation, and especially now, indicate that this is the way the world is moving. It is moving towards a centralisation of law-making, of the great general rules. But against that, there is a very distinct movement towards administration at the local government level and as close as possible to the people who are affected. This is a reasonable solution to the problem that faces us. It is quite distinct from the simple and, I think, erroneous test that has been posed in this chamber and elsewhere from time to time: Are they centralists or decentralists? Are they standing for power towards the centre or away from the centre? That is a simplistic solution that does not meet the problem. I will tell honourable senators, for my part, that I would favour the law-making close to the centre on the great general questions. But I would favour the administration being as far away from the centre as possible and as close to the people as we can possibly manage it. There is nothing inconsistent about that. I would ask honourable senators to reflect upon this instead of posing quite simple questions all the time confusing the issues on who makes the laws and who administers them. We really ought to say that those are 2 different questions.
Honourable senators opposite who are interjecting should listen, as we listen to them, despite the fact that they sometimes, because of their temporary majority, tyrannise the Government in the Senate and endeavour to pursue their authoritarian methods. Nevertheless, I suppose that it is probably reasonable in a democracy that even the Government is entitled to be heard. Let me suggest that even in the Senate it is not beyond question that the Government might be heard even in reasonable silence.
– You were no shrinking violet when you were in Opposition.
– The great Senator Gair, who was one of the leading Labor Premiers for many years in the great State of Queensland, introduced many important measures during his time in office. I am pleased to hear his assistance in support of the view that the Government ought to be heard. This is a very simple measure. The Government wants to assist local government. It wants simply to put a measure to the people. It wants to ask them to vote on a matter to enable the Australian Parliament to provide finance for local government. We may not provide finance; we may provide finance. Governments will come and go. But surely it is a reasonable proposition that a government may be able to provide finance for local government either by way of grants or by supporting loans. But we are not even doing that. We are not even passing a Bill to do that. This is what is so dreadful. We have reached the extraordinary position where some Opposition senators will defy the Government in its endeavours to ask the people to vote on whether they want the Australian Parliament to be able to provide finance. Somehow the notion has arisen that this Opposition wants to arrogate to itself the right to prevent the Australian people from voting to change their own Constitution. The Australian Government says: We want to ask the Australian people whether they want to empower their own Parliament to send money directly to local government’. But some honourable senators opposite say: ‘Oh, it is a dreadful tyranny that the Australian Government is imposing upon us. It wants to put to the people a vote on whether the Australian Parliament can directly finance local government’.
– If I got a Constitution Bill through here, would you persuade the Government to put it to the people?
– Every Australian is entitled, I would think -
– No, you would not. If I put up a Constitution amendment Bill, would you tell the Government that it should put it to the people? Answer my question.
-I will put this proposition to the honourable senator, and I will ask every person in this chamber to say whether he dares to negate the proposition. If an Australian Government elected by the people wishes to put a proposition to the people to vote to change their Constitution, will any person in this Parliament deny the right of the Australian Government to go to its own people and say: ‘We ask you to change your own Constitution and we want you to vote in a free and regular election on whether you choose to change your own Constitution’? These men opposite want to deny the right of the Government to go to its own people and say: ‘Are you willing to change your own Constitution?’ That is what this debate is about. Now these men who are anti-democrats are denying the rights of their own people- they are doing it here day after day- and are using every device to prevent their own people from having a say in changing their own Constitution. I do not care how honourable senators opposite put up their arguments and try to shout us down. The Australian Government is simply wishing to approach its own people and ask them whether they will say yes or no to a change of the Australian Constitution.
Somehow members opposite wish to arrogate to themselves the right to say that they will not do it. I would understand them more better if, when the Australian Government came in with the proposition, they said: ‘We will accept your right to do this. We will agree to your proposition to put these proposals to the Australian people. But we do not agree with them. We will go out and we will ask the Australian people to vote against them because we do not agree with them, but never would we deny the right of a government elected by the people to go to its own people and say ‘We, the Government of Australia, ask you to vote to change your Constitution in such and such a manner’.
What has happened here is one of the greatest negations of democracy in that those opposite with their temporary majority are daring to arrogate to themselves the right to prevent the Australian Government from going to its own people and asking them whether they will say yes or no to an amendment of the Australian Constitution. Even the democrat on the other side of the House, Senator Wood, would find it hard in his own mind to deny us the right to go to the people.
– I do not think there is any need. It is already there.
– The honourable senator agrees that we should be able to go to the people. Other members opposite have prevented us from doing so for more than 3 months and their time, I think, is short. Nevertheless this is the obstruction, the delay, the arrogance -
– You should not use that word- not arrogance.
– Yes, the over-reaching of a temporary majority in this place which dares to intervene between the Government elected by the people and the people themselves when the Government simply desires to seek their vote on whether they would change their own Constitution. It is the ultimate in the negation of democracy. Many times before in history honourable senators opposite have lectured us on how wrong we are and how we have done all sorts of things that we should not have done. They say that had we listened to their advice we would have done better.
– We would not have inflation.
– Yes, many times honourable senators opposite have told us that. But somehow the Australian Government thinks, the Prime Minister thinks and we think that it is not wrong for us to consult the people and simply to put to them a vote.
– You will learn.
-We might be right in the view that we put to the people or we may be wrong. But no man, I think in all history, can sustain the proposition that anyone is entitled to deny the representatives of the people their right to go to the people and ask their viewpoint on a proposal to change their frame of government. Honourable senators of the Opposition arrogate to themselves a right to vote against this Bill. They have already done it on one occasion and no doubt they will do so on many more occasions. The people are not the fools that honourable senators of the Opposition imagine them to be. People may or may not agree with our propositions. I hope they will, because we believe that the propositions are in the interests of the people. But if honourable senators of the Opposition think that they have the entitlement to deny our going to the people they are going to find that the people will see through what they are doing.
– You are not simple. You know the Consitution does not give that right to anyone.
– The representative of the Democratic Labour Party, who will be putting himself to the people in a month or so, in response to my statement that the Government had the right to go to the people to seek the people’s views on whether they wanted the Constitution changed, said: ‘You know you do not have that right at all’. That is what he said. That is his view of the relationship between the Government and the people .
– It is not my view at all.
-I am pleased that the people will be able to understand and judge this relationship between the Government and the people. It is pleasing to understand that the view of the DLP is that the Government has no right to go to the people; the view of the Australian Country Patry is that the Government has no right to go to the people; and the view of the Liberal Party is that the Government may be frustrated in going to the people. I would suggest that the more honourable senators of the Opposition put forward this view the sooner the people of Australia will realise that the Government that they elected is going to carry out its program, that it is going to put its propositions to the people and that it will not be deterred in any way by the manoeuvring, the rationalisations and the shabby tricks that are put up by the Opposition. We are going to press on. These referenda are going to be put and whatever honourable senators opposite do, whether this legislation is carried now or not, these referenda ultimately will be carried by the people of Australia and they will become part of the Constitution of Australia.
That the Bill be read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to:
That the Senate at its rising adjourn until tomorrow at 1 1 a.m.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I shall detain the Senate for less than a minute or two. I object strongly and I place on record my protest that, when an arrangement is made between a Government Minister and the Opposition leader who is in charge of the chamber that arrangement should be adhered to. For Senator Murphy to come in tonight and speak for a further 20 minutes in breach of that arrangement does not invite co-operation from the Opposition. I record that on behalf of the Opposition.
Senator MURPHY (New South Wales-
Leader of the Government in the Senate) ( 1 1.23) - I do not know anything about what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator
Greenwood) has said. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) has indicated that he does not know anything about it. As neither of us knows anything about it I think that either the Deputy Leader of the Opposition ought to consult with the Leader of the Opposition before he enters into these before he probably ought to cease to usurp the position of his Leader- or else may I say with respect that it would be better for him to keep quiet on such matters.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following answer to a question upon notice was circulated:
(Question No. 7)
With which nations does Australia have extradition agreements.
Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, Iraq, Italy, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United States of America, Uruguay, Yugoslavia
The Agreement with Austria which was signed on 29 March 1973 is to come into force on ratification which has yet to take place.
Senate adjourned at 11.24 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 13 March 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1974/19740313_senate_28_s59/>.