30th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– by leave- I advise the Senate that on Tuesday night Senator Martin tendered her resignation as Assistant Government Whip.
To the Honourable the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That grave concern is expressed about the Government’s intention to dismantle the Australian Legal Aid Office which is providing efficient, readily available legal aid to all communities in Australia.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will undertake a full national enquiry as proposed in 1975 by the present Attorney General, as a matter of urgency.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Chaney.
To the Honourable the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned concerned citizens respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Senate in Parliament assembled, should ensure:
That the Commonwealth Government’s long-term policy should be to provide SO per cent of all funding for Australia’s roads.
That at a minimum the Commonwealth Government adopts the recommendations by the Australian Council of Local Government Associations for the allocation of $5,903m of Commonwealth, State and Local Government funds to roads over the five years ending 1980-81, of which the Commonwealth share would be 41 per cent as recommended by the Bureau of Roads. by Senator Jessop and Senator McLaren.
-I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Yesterday in answer to a question from Senator Young he said that the Whitlam Government:
He went on to name those vessels. Is it not a fact that 4 of the vessels were built in European yards, namely in Germany and Sweden, and not in Japanese yards as the Minister claimed.
– They were still built overseas.
-If the honourable senator listens to the question he too will learn something. Is it also not true that as all 4 vessels were to be in excess of 100 000 tons there was no Australian shipyard capable of building them? Was the Minister deliberately misleading the Senate by giving false information or was it yet another example of the Minister purporting to be an authority on subjects of which he has little knowledge?
-If it is a question of little knowledge Senator Wriedt should know that immediately after question time yesterday I went to two of his front bench members or former front bench members and said to them that inadvertently I had used the word ‘Japan’ when I meant ‘overseas’. I invited them to give me the opportunity to correct that error. Senator Bishop will acknowledge that that is so.
– You did not come to me; I went to you, Senator.
-No. In all friendliness, let me state what happened. Senator Bishop asked me in the corridor whether I would give him the pinks of the question and I said: ‘Yes’. He said no more than that.
-Just one moment. I advanced to him the fact that I had inadvertently made an error, without his having said so, and I said I would be happy freely to acknowledge that. In fact, I said that I would welcome the opportunity so to do and, indeed, I provided him with the Hansard pinks. That is true. It relates to the subject of Senator Wriedt ‘s question, and that is acknowledged. I acknowledged that yesterday I used the word ‘Japan’- I sought to correct my mistake afterwards- when in fact, I should have said that two of the ships were contracted to Sweden, three to West Germany and one to Japan, and I think the other one was converted in Japan. I acknowledge that against the fact that the question asked of me really was whether the Whiltam Government contracted overseas instead of in Australia.
– One of the ships was your order.
– Wait one tick. I am answering specifically what Senator Wriedt tried to do in a sharp little practice. I acknowledge that fact -
– He caught you out
-I caught myself out. I have a little habit as honourable senators would have noticed yesterday from my answer to the first question, of pointing out that I am quite happy to correct any information given on the floor of the Senate that is in any way inaccurate. That is quite clear. I regret that I used the word Japan’ instead of the word ‘overseas’. However, it does not alter in any way the thrust of the argument that the Whitlam Government in its time reduced the subsidy from 45 per cent to 25 per cent; that in its time 3 shipyards closed; that in its time it said to intending purchasers: ‘If the government subsidy plus the cost of the ship in Australia is greater than the cost overseas, the ship can be purchased overseas’; and the Whitlam Government in its time contracted out of Australia for some 7 ships. Senator Wriedt asks me whether the size of the ships was too big for the Australian shipbuilding yards. My reply is that it was not, if the Whitlam Government, solicitous for the shipyards, had been willing to increase the capital capacity of the shipyards.
-Mr President, I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport a supplementary question. Particularly m view of the latter part of his answer in which, of his own volition, he chose to enter into an argument on the matter, I ask him whether he remembers also saying yesterday:
The Whitlam Government within one year of coming to office set out to dismantle the shipbuilding industry in Australia.
He has just now said again that it reduced the subsidy from 45 per cent to 25 per cent. How does the Minister account for the fact that in the second year of the Labor Administration $31m was paid out to the shipbuilding industry in the form of subsidy, that in the third year of the Labor Administration $43m was paid out and that in the first year of the Liberal-National Country Party Government $27m was paid out- a decline in the subsidy under this Government in real terms of 45 per cent? How does the Minister substantiate his statement yeasterday and again this morning criticising the Whitlam Government for decreasing the subsidy to die shipbuilding industry when the figures show that the amounts paid were greater under the Whitlam Government than they are under this Government?
-Senator Wriedt asks, in the first part of his question, whether I was right in saying that in the first year of the Whitlam Government it reduced the subsidy paid to the shipbuilding industry and therefore set about dismantling the industry. My answer is precisely this: On 18 December 1973- so I should have said ‘one year and one week after the Whitlam Government came to power’- it reduced the subsidy from 45 per cent to 25 per cent. That in itself represented a weakening of the capacity of the industry. Equally, if the statement to intending purchasers that they could seek overseas tenders for their ships if the cost of ships built in Australia, including the Australian subsidy, was greater than the cost overseas was not an invitation to weaken the industry, then I do not understand the English language. Quite clearly also, if the shipyards themselves, faced with the Whitlam Government’s policies, found that they had to close, as was the case with three of the shipyards, then quite clearly the effect of the Whitlam Government’s policies was the dismantling of the shipbuilding industry in Australia. Three shipyards closed.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is the Minister aware that the isotope, radioactive pyrophosphate, is urgently needed at some Sydney hospitals for use in medical diagnostic procedures such as bone scans and special heart scans? Is this material available only from the Isotope Division of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission at Lucas Heights? Has the agreement in principle for the release of radioactive pyrophosphate in fact been granted since September 1976? If this is so, why has the substance still not been made available to Sydney hospitals? What is the reason for the delay and how soon can these hospitals expect to receive this substance necessary for their diagnostic work?
– The honourable senator has raised several questions and I shall respond to them in general terms. In October 1975 the Australian Atomic Energy Commission lodged an application for general marketing of technetium labelled stannous pyrophosphate for use as a bone imaging agent in radiology. The data to support this application was evaluated by the Department and was then presented to the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee for review at its seventieth meeting in September 1976. The Committee recommended that marketing approval be given for the pyrophosphate providing certain matters relating to the chemistry, quality control and product literature were resolved to the satisfaction of the Department. The Australian Atomic Energy Commission was informed of this in writing by the Department in November 1 976. The outstanding matters have recently been resolved and formal marketing approval will be issued very shortly permitting supplies to be made available to the Royal North Shore Hospital.
-I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, by referring the Minister to a quotation from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs annual report for 1975-76, as follows:
The diminishing staff levels have reduced the Department ‘s capacity to maintain effective contact with Aboriginal communities, to plan and program, and to exercise appropriate management and audit controls, despite efforts to redeploy staff in areas of the greatest need.
In view of the extremely serious nature of this comment by the Director and the appalling conditions of large sections of the Aboriginal community, will the Minister investigate the matter immediately and ensure that the staff ceilings are altered in order that the Department may meet its commitments effectively?
– The matter raised in the annual report is one of which I have no specialised knowledge. I am able to say that the Minister is constantly reviewing staff levels and the services we are able to give, particularly medical services. However, I shall draw the comment in the report to the Minister’s attention and see what further up to date information I can provide to the honourable senator.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, having yesterday informed the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Peacock, that I would be doing so. I ask: Will Australia give consideration to initiating a resolution in the United Nations and to seeking the assistance of the African states to condemn publicly the Idi Amin regime and to apply sanctions to Uganda and the Amin regime?
-My colleague in the other place has advised me as follows: Over the last week the Government has made known its concern about the situation in Uganda. The Government has deplored the fact that the suppression of civil liberties and a lack of basic human rights is fast becoming the hallmark of the Ugandan regime. Concerning the death of Archbishop Luwum the Government has stated that representations will be made to the Ugandan Government about this matter and, more generally, about the concern being felt in Australia over persistent reports of the killing of Ugandan citizens. This will be done in the most effective way open to our High Commissioner in Nairobi, who is also accredited to Uganda. As regards the United Nations and possible sanctions against Uganda, the Government’s response would be largely dependent on the type of action proposed.
-I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I remind him that I asked him a week ago what, if any, body was currently responsible in Australia for the control of broadcasting standards and procedures in relation to each of the 3 sectors of broadcasting. Has the Minister yet an answer to that question and has the Government in fact any policy on that matter?
– In answering that question I said that I would seek the information and convey it to the honourable senator. I am in the process of doing so. I shall make sure that he gets the answer within the next 24 hours or so.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to those persons in Victoria who were killed or suffered injury as fire fighters as a result of the extensive fires in the Western District on Saturday, 12 February 1977. Is the Minister able to tell the Senate whether the dependants of those persons killed and the persons who were injured in the fire fighting are entitled to any form of compensation, insurance or other payments as a result of the loss of support or injury suffered? If the answer is no, does the Minister not agree that in view of their service and sacrifice they should receive first priority in any payments to be made by the Federal Government towards the relief of victims of the fires?
-I have no direct information on that matter. I should imagine that it is a matter for the Victorian Government rather than the Commonwealth Government. From past knowledge I know that in my own State of Western Australia the State Government insures and keeps insured the official members of the bush fire brigades. I do not know whether the same cover is applied to volunteers from outside the bush fire brigade who help in fighting fires. I shall seek from the Prime Minister information about the position of the people to whom the honourable senator has referred.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. It follows the questions asked by Senator Wriedt. I refer to the replies that the Minister gave yesterday. He said that the Labor Government had placed orders in Japanese yards for 6 ships for the Australian National Line. He also said:
I also say that the story that the 4 bulk carriers which were amongst the order for the 6 ships placed in Japan and the seventh that was to be converted were too large to be built in Australia is not true. 4
Does the Minister now know that one of these orders was approved by the previous Government? This fact has been referred to previously in questions in the Senate which have been directed to Senator Cotton, and it has been complained about by former Senator Lawrie and Senator McAuliffe. Is the Minister aware that Mr Dalziel, an expert in shipbuilding and the previous manager of the Whyalla shipbuilding yard, said in special evidence and on numerous occasions that vessels in excess of 100 000 tons were too large to be built in Australia’s existing shipyards. Does the Minister also know now that his statement about the Labor Government closing down 3 Australian shipyards is incorrect? An order involving $8,500,000 was offered to Walkers Ltd in Queensland, a company whose yard was subject to flooding, by the Labor Government in order to sustain activity in that shipyard. Also, the owners of the Adelaide ship construction yard placed orders elsewhere. The Labor Government had no options in respect of those matters.
– It is an incontrovertible fact that in the 3 years that the Whitlam Government was in office 3 shipyards in Australia closed. The points I made yesterday were that the Whitlam Government had reduced the subsidy from 45 per cent to 25 per cent. I do not think that fact is challenged. The second point I made was that during the 3 years of the Whitlam Government 3 shipyards closed down. That fact is not challenged. The next point I made was that orders for 7 ships, including a conversion, were placed overseas. I believe that one of the orders resulted from the policy of the previous Government but that order was capable of negotiation. That again is a fact. The only question that remains is whether it was possible for the Whitlam Government to seek to make arrangements for the extension of shipyards to carry out the orders for bulk carriers of 100 000 tons or more. I am advised by the Minister for Transport and his Department that it would have been possible, had the Whitlam Government so desired, to arrange on a capital basis for those ships to be constructed in Australia.
– I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister reply to my question? He said yesterday:
In the 3 years it was in office it also had 3 Australian shipyards closed down.
In the light of the information and the modification which the Minister has now given does he accept that the statement he made yesterday was correct? Let me quote from what the Minister said yesterday in answer to the question from Senator Wriedt. The Minister replied:
I also say that the story that the 4 bulk carriers which were amongst the order for the 6 ships placed in Japan and the seventh that was to be converted were too large to build in Australia is not true.
Does the Minister know that when those orders were placed- one by the previous Liberal Government and the rest by the Labor Government, including two that could not be delivered by Australian shipyards- the capacities of Australian shipyards were insufficient to manufacture the ships? Why does the Minister not come out and honestly say so if those are the facts?
-It is quite clear that, as a result of the policies of the Whitlam Government, 3 shipyards were forced to close. In plain words, that is what that means. What I said yesterday was quite clear. Although the capacity of the yards may not have been at a point of time such as to take the larger bulk carriers, it was competent for the government of the day, if it so desired, to make such arrangements for help as would enable the yards to do the work.
– Last year the Minister for Social Security tabled Part I of the final report of the National Superannuation Committee of Inquiry. Is the Minister able to indicate when she will table the final report of the Committee of Inquiry and when that report will be available to senators and members of the public?
– I expect to receive the final report from Professor Hancock in the last week of February this year. I will table it immediately, I am not sure whether at that stage copies will be available to the public at large, but it will be immediately made public. At the same time, I will take the opportunity to provide information on age pensions that are paid in this country and any other matters that I think will be of assistance m understanding the report on national superannuation.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to a publication called Australian Fisheries which is put out under the auspices of the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Ian Sinclair. I have the issue for February 1977 which contains 68 pages, plus cover. It has a total editorial content of 3 1 pages and an advertising content of 40 pages. It gives a great deal of information regarding the fish that are available around the Australian coast. Because the fishing industry and I are concerned because overseas companies and overseas ships are coming into Australian waters and fishing out our sea areas, I ask whether the Minister will advise how this publication is distributed, to whom it is distributed, and at what price it is made available. Is it distributed to overseas fishing companies? What advertising rates are charged? Is tax paid on the publication because of the imbalance between the editorial and advertising content?
– In the course of Senate Estimates Committee hearings last year I think one honourable senator in particular asked some questions about this publication. To the extent that I remember, it is roughly a journal designed to do an information job for Australian fishermen and those involved in the fish processing industry. I would need to get much more information to provide an answer for the honourable senator quite specifically on what I think was a series of interesting questions. I observe once again that Australia does have a very large resource available to it in its whole access area in the fishing industry. Therefore, I think that if we could do some work on this aspect it would be useful.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Will the Minister indicate to the Senate whether money spent by members of Parliament or members of the public advertising either the Yes case or the No case in the proposed referendums will be regarded by the Commissioner of Taxation as tax deductible?
-I am not directly concerned with publishing my own material under my own name and making a claim for a taxation deduction; but this is obviously a question to which the Treasurer will have to direct his attention. I imagine that he will view it with some fascination.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister or the Minister representing the Treasurer, whichever is the appropriate Minister. It refers to the ex gratia payment of $25,000 to Senator Greenwood’s widow. Is the Minister aware that every worker in Australia is covered by workers compensation and that the widow or widower would be entitled as of right, in similar circumstances of his or her dying following a heart attack when going home from work, to a lump sum payment- in my State it is approximately $30,000- in addition to any pension paid under a contributory superannuation scheme? Why should a parliamentarian’s widow or widower have to beg the Government for an ex gratia payment for what is an entitlement as of right of every other worker in Australia? When will the Government consider the introduction of legislation which will cover members of Parliament for workers compensation? So far as I am concerned, we all ought to go out on strike until we are covered for workers compensation.
-I do not plan to go out on strike yet; but by some time tomorrow I might be joining the honourable senator. There are no formal compensation arrangements for members and senators. In 1968 Cabinet decided that there should be an ex gratia compensation cover for members and senators for death or injury by accident on the basis provided under the compensation legislation applicable to Commonwealth Government employees. The Office of the Commissioner for Employees Compensation has advised that, had the late Senator Greenwood been an employee for the purposes of the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act, compensation would have been payable under the provisions of the Act in respect of his death. The compensation that would have been payable would have been, firstly, a lump sum payment of $25,000 and, secondly, a payment of $10 a week in respect of each of his 2 children. Approval was recently given for such benefits to be paid ex gratia to Mrs Greenwood.
I should make the observation that in recent times we have had governments of a LiberalCountry Party philosophy and of a Labor Party philosophy- thank goodness we are now back to a government of a Liberal-Country Party philosophy- and that consideration is being given to this whole problem at the moment. I also make the observation that it is an area, as Senator Harradine has said, that really does bring out the problems of members of Parliament in the House of Representatives and the Senate and that some understanding of this matter in the community might make the community feel that the job is not all that good.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Am I correct in understanding that since the Minister whom he represents in this chamber issued the last unemployment figures the Australian Bureau of Statistics has issued other figures concerning unemployment which show a significant difference? If so, what is the explanation?
– I do not know that I am in a position to give a fully detailed answer to the honourable senator’s question. The Australian Bureau of Statistics conducts surveys of its own. The results of the latest one were published on 4 February 1977 and related to November 1976. It is based on the Bureau’s definition of unemployment. It does not refer to either registered unemployed or unemployment benefit beneficiaries. As to the particular definitions it adopts and so on, I would refer the Senate to its publication; but, in an endeavour to provide further details to the Senate, I certainly will refer the question to the Minister whom I represent in this chamber.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Education. Has the Prime Minister written to the Premiers about sharing the costs of all post-secondary education? Has the Prime
Minister proposed that the States will now be responsible for paying the costs of all postsecondary education in Australia?
-As to the second part of the question, I can say emphatically that the answer is no. No such approach has been made to the States. I reaffirm that I, as the relevant Minister, have been in constant contact with the States and State Ministers, particularly at the Australian Education Council in recent times, talking about the federalist arrangements as between the Commonwealth and the States in regard to both functions and cost sharing. I should make it perfectly clear that the Commonwealth has said to the States that it wants the optimum working arrangement between itself and the States consistent with two things. One clear point is that the Commonwealth does not intend in any way to move away from its present commitments, financial or otherwise, in the sphere of education. It regards a national responsibility for education as a major responsibility. Any discussions should relate to the existing institutions that are now prospectively being reformed, such as the Co-ordinating Commission in the postsecondary sphere, and, of course, the Australian Schools Commission.
As to the first part of the honourable senator’s question, since it is a matter relating to communications between the Prime Minister and the Premiers as to whether he has specifically written to the Premiers as divorced from the policy question, that is a matter for the Prime Munster to answer and I shall bring it to his attention. As to the matters of which I have knowledge- that is, the specifics of any relationship or any suggestions to the States- no such specific has been made.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security. Has the Minister seen an article in the 14 February edition of the Australian Financial Review about training of the disabled in computer services? Is the Minister able to indicate whether any assistance is being provided by the Commonwealth in support of such training? Is there any possibility of this type of training being extended/
– I did see a report in the Australian Financial Review some days ago about the training of the disabled as computer specialists. There is an organisation in New South Wales which has been assisting greatly with the training of disabled people. Training being provided by the National Association for
Training the Disabled in Office Work was approved in 1975 for subsidies under the Handicapped Persons Assistance Act. In November 1975 that organisation approached my Department seeking referral of Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service cases for training at that organisation’s premises. It was decided that there would be no objection to the referral of selected cases for assessment of their work potential on the basis that no fee would be payable to NATDOW and trainees would not qualify for training allowance. It was later decided that assistance could be given and a decision was taken to regard NATDOW as an approved training establishment under the terms of the National Employment and Training scheme. The report in the Australian Financial Review, which referred to a consortium of 12 companies combining with the National Association for Training the Disabled in Office Work did highlight the work which is being done. Most worthwhile assistance is being given to disabled people to enter the computer employment field. It is something I will encourage and facilitate in whatever way possible.
-Has the Minister for Administrative Services heard, even though he may not have read, some recent reports about the complete inadequacy of storage facilities available to the Australian Archives office in Canberra and the problems confronting the staff whenever it rains in Canberra? Does the Minister remember that some time ago I suggested to him that there should be better co-ordination in the storage of archival records and in regard to repositories between the National Library and the Australian Archives office? What is being done, if anything, to provide reasonable archival space for the Archives Office? Has anything been done about the suggestion I proffered to the Minister at an earlier time?
-I apologise to the honourable senator for not having responded formally to him and informed him about what has happened in relation to the suggestion which he put to me last year. The honourable senator may be interested to know that I received a letter from- I do not think he would mind me saying this- a very distinguished Australian historian, the Rt Hon. Sir Paul Hasluck, who saw both the question and answer in Hansard. He gave me some most useful suggestions which are along the lines the honourable senator was pursuing. I have taken up with the National Library of Australia the matter of stopping the competition between the 2 operations. As to the problems in Canberra, yes, the Government is concerned at the low standards of the archives accommodation. The honourable senator may well know that during the flooding in Queanbeyan late last year the old quonset huts were in danger of being flooded and we could have lost all the archives there. If the Googong Dam had gone and if the floodwaters had come through Canberra we would have been in serious trouble.
The honourable senator will also know that both the High Court building and the National Gallery are being built in that area. For cosmetic reasons, if for none other, those huts cannot remain once those buildings are completed. The Government recognises that the project Mitchell, formerly called the Crace project, will provide for the first time in the Australian Capital Territory facilities adequate to meet the special and generalised needs of government departments, including accommodation for machine-readable records, reasonable working conditions for staff and functionally designed facilities for the public. I inform the honourable senator that this project has already been postponed in the 3 previous financial years. The possibility of some action being taken in regard to this project next financial year is under review. The honourable senator will understand that I have a real interest in this matter. I further add for the information of the honourable senator- he is interested in the archives- that I think the Government has announced that it hopes to have both the archives legislation and the freedom of information legislation before the Parliament this year. Whether it will be introduced during the autumn session or the spring session is a matter for parliamentary programming. We regard both these measures as important. They should be brought in together so that people can see what happens in each area. The matter of the future repositories for historical information is of great interest to the community and, I think, the nation.
– My question which is directed to the Minister for Education refers to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts in relation to the education of isolated children. I refer particularly to those sections concerning allowances and taxation provisions. I ask: Is the Minister aware that some difficulties arise in the area of living away from home allowances, particularly in the case of the only child and the treatment of that allowance as income of the child? Is he also aware that zone rebates have remained static for many years and that their value has fallen considerably, and that a case is made out for the zones to be redrawn. Will the Minister again study the implications of the Committee’s report in those areas? Will the Government review the matters I have raised with a view to assisting the isolated communities?
– I am well aware of the work of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on the subject of the education of isolated children. I am well aware of the recommendations which were made in the fields which Senator Davidson has outlined. I am equally aware that the isolated children’s parents associations have been drawing attention to these matters and advocating reforms. Basically, the matters specifically referred to by Senator Davidson lie within the responsibility and field of the Treasurer. I shall be happy to bring to the attention of the Treasurer the substance of Senator Davidson’s question and those relevant matters in the report.
-Is the Minister for Industry and Commerce aware of the new budgetary strategy of the Carter Administration in the United States of America which is to increase public expenditure to create employment? Is he aware also of a United States Congressional committee report by Professor Brennan which states that unemployment is a key factor in creating inflation through a fall in consumer spending leading to higher prices? In view of this reoriented thinking overseas on the fundamental problem of unemployment, and the release by the Australian Industries Development Association survey which found that employment will not meet the figure of 2 per cent increase predicted in the Budget, is the Government considering measures to stimulate the economy in order to provide the conditions for greater employment?
-It is rather hard to remember all the details of that question but I will try to be as helpful as I can. I am familiar with what is to be President Carter’s new economic strategy because, like Senator Primmer, I have read about it. It has to be observed, however, that it has not yet been put into operation, tried and proved to be workable. I am also familiar with the work of the professor mentioned and when I read the report I put it to my Department for an analysis of his statements to see whether the factual position as presented is correct. On the evidence given to me the case is not well made and does not stand up. Nevertheless, the sorts of things raised by Senator Primmer are always taken into account in the total context of what an economic strategy should be. They are the sorts of things that are always under review. I cannot go beyond that because the honourable senator has asked me to trespass upon two things- the prerogative of the Treasurer and the whole of the Budget policy of the Government and the Cabinet.
– I am not sure whether I should direct my question to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, the Minister representing the Attorney-General or the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs.
– Try the lot.
-A11 right, try the lot. It has been drawn to my attention that the number of armed holdups in Australia has increased quite alarmingly and that it is estimated that twothirds of these holdups are carried out with imitation weapons. Can the Minister advise what steps can be taken to prevent the importation, manufacture or sale of imitation weapons of such quality that they can be confused with real weapons?
-To the extent that taxation could be considered an armed holdup I have some involvement, but the question really belongs to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral. What does the Government intend to do about the possibility of a Queensland Government challenge to the right of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory to be represented in this chamber? Will the Government seek to intervene if there is a court challenge along the lines recommended by the Queensland Attorney-General, Mr Lickiss. Will the Government oppose territorial representation in the Senate as it did when in opposition or will it, to use Senator Wood ‘s expression, be as hypocritical as it is now being in respect of the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill?
-Order! The honourable senator used the word ‘hypocritical’. Will you please withdraw that?
– I was quoting what Senator Wood said but I will rephrase it and ask whether the Government intends doing an about-face as it is now doing in respect of the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill. Finally, what is the Government’s attitude to the Chief Justice inviting such a challenge in a gratuitous and political manner?
– I will refer that question to the Attorney-General. As I understand the matter the challenge has only just been announced by the Queensland Government and as far as I know there has been no opportunity yet for the Commonwealth Attorney-General or the Government to consider what stand the Commonwealth will be taking in the High Court on this matter, the hearing of which of course will be some time hence.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for Transport say when the proposed list of items eligible for the southbound freight subsidy for the rural community will be made available, as many people in the farming area are keen to take advantage of the scheme?
– I will get the information and let the honourable senator have it.
– My question is directed to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs. What steps is the Government taking or proposing to take to ensure that local government councils are advised of the level of Commonwealth financial assistance prior to the preparation of their budgets and the striking of their rates in order to avoid a repetition of last year’s situation when substantially increased demands were made on local government ratepayers to maintain municipal services but which otherwise would have been avoided had the Government’s intentions been known at the appropriate time?
– Last year the Government went out of its way to make available to local government well ahead of time a very informed estimate of what would be available from the Federal Government. I remind the honourable senator that the Federal Government, before June I think or early in June, informed local government that an amount of $140m would be provided by way of revenue supplement to local government for the year ahead, that it would be a 75 per cent increase on the previous year’s amount and that it represented 1.52 per cent of tax revenue. The Premiers Conference and resulting decisions have worked out formulae whereby local government for the first time will be able to predict what ought to be the quantum of the revenue supplement available to it for the future since there is a percentage applicable to the known volume of personal income taxation. We are conscious as a Commonwealth Government of the need to assist local government in its budgeting and we are delighted to be able to do so. One of the good things that is noticeable is that the rates which have been struck in recent months over Australia have shown a substantial abatement directly attributable to the Commonwealth supplement.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations say whether any statistics are available in relation to the previous occupations of people receiving unemployment benefit? In particular, can he say whether a report that 40 per cent of present unemployment beneficiaries voluntarily left their immediate previous employment before establishing eligibility to receive benefit is correct?
– Statistics are available of those registered for unemployment showing the occupations they are seeking rather than their previous occupations. The quarterly surveys of the labour force carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to which I referred earlier in answer to Senator Wright provide information on previous occupations of the unemployed persons according to the definition that the Bureau adopts. As I explained it has a different definition of unemployment and does not refer necessarily either to registered unemployed or the recipients of unemployment benefit. The latest survey published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in February of this year and relating to a survey conducted in November 1976 showed that 38.1 per cent of persons who were looking for work and who were wage and salary earners in their last jobs in 1976 claimed that they had left their last jobs voluntarily. However, there is no such information in regard to persons who are registered for employment with the Commonwealth Employment Service or, I understand, those who are in receipt of unemployment benefit. The figure of 38.1 per cent relates to a survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and it covers a period in 1976. It does not relate to a pool of people at a particular point of time.
-I ask a question of Senator Carrick following the question asked by Senator Devitt in reply to which Senator Carrick said there has been a general abatement of local government rates in Australia as a result of Government payments over the last 12 months. I know that probably Senator Carrick and the Senate will not believe me, but I do not ask this question for the purpose of inviting an argument. The Minister will recall my citing figures to him last year in regard to this matter and his subsequently tabling in the Senate different figures, obviously from a different source. My figures came from the Parliamentary Library. Will the Minister obtain the figures showing the increases for 1976 through the Grants Commission, which I assume would be the appropriate body, and table them in the Parliament so that we may have the definitive position on just how local government rates have moved during the past 12 months?
-I accept that it would be valuable for us to have definitive figures to discuss. I do not know whether they would come through the Grants Commission. But I take the spirit of the honourable senator’s question and I will see whether I can obtain an answer. Let me say in regard to the figures tabled by me last year, lest one should think that they were not definitive, that they were taken from the report of the committee on local government in which both the Commonwealth Government and the New Zealand Government participated. That committee was set up by the previous Government. Therefore, the figures should have been regarded as authoritative and comprehensive and should have been a basic source for the Parliamentary Library. So, short of being tested otherwise, those figures ought to be the authoritative figures available up to now, unless a challenge shows otherwise. But, in the spirit of needing basic common statistics, I will take up the question.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Construction. Is the Minister aware of the hardship and suffering of the elderly and the sick, the inconvenience to housewives and workers, the losses to the business community and the disruption to schools caused by the continual power shedding, breakdowns and stoppages in Darwin over the last 6 months? Can the Minister state what action will be taken to ensure that the people of Darwin receive the same service as residents of other cities rightfully can take for granted?
– I am very much aware of the hardship which is caused by the power failures in Darwin to the residents of that area. The Minister for Construction was in Darwin on 19 and 20 January. At that stage he met with members of the House of Assembly, some union members and some other leaders in the community. The honourable senator will be aware perhaps that the Government has established an independent inquiry into the Darwin electricity supply. It is under the chairmanship of a Mr F. A. Mackay, who is the chairman of the Northern Electric Authority of Queensland. It is hoped that there will be some result from that inquiry. From our own records we know that the average electricity consumer has suffered particularly from the power failures which have occurred on 30 occasions in the last 13 months. They add up to a total of approximately SO hours. I do not think that is a fair situation for the people of Darwin.
It is interesting to note that the unions involved have rejected an offer of an increase in staff. They have opted for a 2 1 -shift week, with the twentyfirst shift being on overtime. This occurs on a Tuesday. Of course, when overtime is banned electricity is unavailable for the whole of the day. I saw the effect of this on hospitals. The Darwin Hospital was vitally affected on the day I was there. It is a most regrettable situation. The present dispute, which resulted in the banning of overtime, is between the Public Service Board and the Public Service unions and actually has nothing to do with the power house itself. For the honourable senator’s benefit, I state that my understanding is that the matter has recently gone to arbitration. I hope that the residents of Darwin will not have to endure this inconvenience for long.
-My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, follows on from yesterday’s question about the future of Vincent Teresa. I ask the Minister 4 questions: Has this man left Australia? Was any legitimisation of his documents in the jackal tradition effected or was he assisted under the Refugee
Seamen’s Convention? Finally, in view of other prosecutions for breaches of visa entry, are we going to prosecute him, mindful of all the dollars he made out of narcotics and prostitution?
– The answer to the first question is that I understand he has left Australia. The Government has cancelled the visa that was issued to him. It was based on false information which he gave. It is not necessary for us to take action with regard to the passport he held because that would be something for the United States authorities to deal with. I had no knowledge that he was assisted in any way under the refugee seamen provisions and I am not aware of what action will be taken by the Government in regard to prosecution. But my information is quite firm that he has left Australia and his visa has been cancelled.
- Mr President, I desire to ask a supplementary question. Would the Minister be able to ascertain for me whether the United States Embassy mediated on Mr Teresa’s behalf in these negotiations that obviously took place yesterday?
– I shall refer the honourable senator’s question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and, if necessary, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs to see what action was taken in conjunction with the New South Wales Police in dealing with this matter so expeditiously yesterday.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Administrative Services, relates to earlier questions I have asked concerning the training of people to maintain and restore cultural and historical materials in Australia. Can the Minister say whether any progress has been made in establishing a course in Australia to train people in the highly specialised and technical skills required to preserve items of our cultural heritage?
-The honourable senator will recall that during the course of the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1), in response to some questions by Senator Knight I informed honourable senators that I was pursuing this matter with my colleague the Mininster for Education and I had had the benefit of his views. The matter is also the subject of major recommendations by the Committee of Inquiry on Museums and National Collections- the Piggott Committee. As I have also informed the Senate, I established a working group of all departments and authorities involved to examine the recommendations of this Committee and to report back to me. I have now received and am considering the report of the working group, including its recommendations on this subject.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Last year I asked the following question upon notice:
Does the Department of Aboriginal Affairs reimburse ambulance centres for the cost of transporting Aboriginal patients . . .
In June of last year I received the answer ‘Yes’. Was I in fact misinformed by that answer and at that time had the scheme been discontinued? If it had been discontinued, why was I misinformed? What are the complete details in relation to the present state of the Ambulance Bad Debts Reimbursement Scheme?
– I shall pursue with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs the matters that have been raised to see whether the information with regard to the scheme was accurate and what is the present state of the scheme.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations: Under the policy of wage restraint, is it a firm Government policy to reduce the standard of living of the Australian work force?
-The Government’s attitude in relation to this question has been stated on many occasions. I well remember putting down some months ago a statement by the Minister whom I represent in the Senate. The general principle has been reaffirmed in the last few days by the Treasurer and the Minister whom I represent in the Senate. The Government believes that the greatest threat to the standard of living of all Australians, whether they be classified as wage earners or salary earners or otherwise, is inflation. It is pursuing its antiinflationary policies on many fronts.
– Not very successfully.
-Well, it has had more success, Senator Wriedt, than your Government managed to have. The Government has been able to get some improvement in the rising inflationary trend which commenced during the term of the former Labor Government. One of the major causes- this was identified by the Government of which Senator Cavanagh was a memberis the rise in wages and salaries which is in excess, and which during the term of the former Government, was far in excess of the increase in production. The Government will continue to pursue policies of wage and salary restraint because it has correctly identified- as I have said, it was identified also by the previous Labor Government- this matter as being one of the major causes of inflation.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. The Mayor of the Victorian city of Shepparton is reported as saying that the Shepparton City Council has been trying since before Christmas to get the Commonwealth Employment Service to supply a breakdown of the unemployment figures for the city but to date has received nothing. Is it Government practice to withhold this information? What is the justification for this practice? If that is not so, why has the material not been made available?
– I shall refer that question to the Minister whom I represent.
-Can the Minister for Social Security give a guarantee on behalf of the Government that under the legislation introduced last year to provide for automatic indexation of pensions and benefits to consumer price index increases pensions and other benefits will continue to be indexed to the full CPI increase in the future and that the Government will not introduce legislation to provide for less than the full increase for any pensioner or beneficiary?
– The Government amended the Social Services Act last year to enable automatic indexation of pensions and benefits to be made in May and November of each year. The Government has no intention to amend further the Social Services Act. The amendments the Government has made will be upheld.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for the Capital Territory aware of reports that a local radio station 2CC is advertising that a man calling himself the 2CC man will be at the Canberra Show and will give money to children who approach him and ask whether he is the 2CC man? Does the Minister agree that this kind of advertising is an open invitation to adults with dubious motives to go to the show and pose as the 2CC man in order to attract the attention of children? Will the Minister investigate these reports immediately and take any steps necessary to protect the safety of young children who may be exposed to serious danger as a result of this advertising campaign?
– I thank the honourable senator for the question. I am unaware of the publicity that has been given to this matter. I agree with the honourable senator that it is an important matter. We have seen a number of matters which are against the public interest, and this type of advertising appears to be in a similar category. I shall certainly direct the attention of the Minister for the Capital Territory to the question that the honourable senator has raised and see that an answer is supplied to her.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I refer to the Government’s policy on political refugees and political asylum and ask whether a universal policy or a policy variant is applied to these matters, depending upon our relations with the country of origin of the applicant. I refer specifically to the application of Hisham Rais, a Malaysian student whose activities and political views offend the Malaysian Government. Will his application receive the same sort of consideration as is given to applications by students from Vietnam and Cambodia who seek political asylum in Australia because of their attitude to their countries’ present governments?
– The question requires a specific answer with regard to Government policy on asylum for political refugees. I shall refer it to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and obtain an answer from him.
– Today Senator Button reminded me that I had not provided him with an answer to a question that he asked on 17 February on the control of standards of broadcasting. I now provide him with the following information: The present position is that the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal controls and administers standards in the commercial and public sectors and the Australian Broadcasting Commission controls its own standards as has always been the case. The Tribunal has simply, through the amendments of December 1976 to the Broadcasting and Television Act, taken over the functions of the former Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The licences issued under the Wireless Telegraphy Act to educational stations have a provision that they conform to the standards of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The Tribunal is currently engaged in a public inquiry into standards and the possibility of self regulation. The projected new broadcasting Bill will provide for any changes in supervision of standards that the Government may determine following the report of this inquiry.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the report of the Study Group on Youth Affairs together with the text of a statement by the Prime Minister relating to that report. Due to the limited number available at this time reference copies of this report have been placed in the Senate Records Office and the Parliamentary Library.
– For the information of honourable senators I table a statement made in the other place yesterday by the Prime Minister concerning the Queen’s visit and Silver Jubilee. Leave for presentation of this statement was refused in the Senate last night by Senator Harradine.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the text of a statement made by the Minister for the Northern Territory relating to the Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund. This statement was requested by Senator Keeffe yesterday; it is provided immediately for him.
-by leaveThis statement was delivered in the other place the day before yesterday and was the subject of a minor discussion in that House. I was disturbed that it was not presented in the Senate on the same day or even yesterday. This caused me to ask a question yesterday on the matter. Since then I have talked with the staff of the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) and the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann).
The moneys that were collected following the disastrous Darwin cyclone have been the subject of general discussion in some areas for several months. A controversial statement such as this ought to have been more complete. Further, it ought to have been presented to both Houses of the Parliament to give us the opportunity to have even only a brief discussion on it.
I understand from the Minister for the Northern Territory that a more comprehensive statement will be delivered, I hope in the first week that the Parliament reassembles. Reference is made to that point in the last paragraph of the statement delivered by the Minister m the House of Representatives. Where public moneys are involved I believe that there ought to be the utmost clarity for the public as to how these moneys are disposed of. Disclosure should be made also of any amounts that are kept in various funds and of the legal implications which may be associated with the establishment of trust accounts and the funds which go with them. I hope that, in his discussions at Darwin next Monday with people associated with relevant organisations, the Minister will be able to make some form of public statement and most certainly, will be able to give a more comprehensive report when the next statement is presented on this reference.
I believe that if these things are done they will be of help to governments in the future when allocating money in respect of disasters. Most of all, supplying this information helps those generous people in the community who want to give money to disaster funds to know that their money is being well looked after and has been or will be properly spent. I conclude my remarks at this stage on that point.
Senator ROBERTSON (Northern Territory) by leave- I was most surprised and a little disturbed when I read the statement that was presented this morning. I was a member of the Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund from its inception until, as I thought, it closed down in September of last year. I was surprised to learn that the Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund apparently is still in existence and that the money allocated at the last meeting- the September meeting- of the Trust Fund has been redeposited. I was surprised because, firstly, it was my understanding that the Trust was wound up in September 1976. Certainly the meeting at that time took all the necessary steps under section 17 of the trust deed and at that time we had a senior officer from the Department of the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) to advise us on what we should do. The second thing that concerns me a Utile is: On what authority has the Minister recalled the money allocated to the 2 groups. I appreciate that the Minister is Chairman of the Fund, but I should have thought that he would not have the power to take the unilateral action of calling back money which has been allocated.
I will not occupy the time of the Senate by giving a full history of the matter, although this is perhaps important; but there are two or three points of which I should remind it. Firstly, the Trust Fund was established soon after cyclone Tracy to distribute money given to this Fund and this Fund alone. Other funds were operating and money was given in other areas. I think that the important point associated with the Minister’s statement is the fact that the Trust was a legal entity. The Commonwealth for its part and the members of the Trust for their part signed a trust deed which set up the Trust as a legal entity and gave it certain responsibilities. I remind the Senate that the members of the Trust Fund were leading citizens of Darwin. The Bishop of Darwin was a member of it, as were other church leaders. A senior member of the Chinese community was a member of it, as were members of the Red Cross, the Aboriginal community and so on. I was appointed a member because at that time I was Chairman of the Darwin Regional Council for Social Development and Chairman of the Northern Territory Council of Social Service.
There is an implication in the Minister’s statement that the Trust has failed to take the right steps for winding up. I find that very disturbing because, as I indicated earlier, we appeared to follow section 17 of the trust deed and we were advised by a senior officer of the Department. If we are still in existence, as is implied in the document presented this morning, I find it very strange that we have not been advised of this since our meeting of September 1976. It is now February 1977. Certainly, as has been indicated by Senator Keeffe, some criticisms of the Fund were expressed towards the end of the time of the Trust. In fact, some criticisms of it were expressed during the life of the Trust, which was to be expected. An organisation such as this, which is disbursing public moneys in this way, can try to please everyone but it certainly will not achieve that aim.
I can assure the members of the Senate, as I think I did on another occasion when I raised the matter of criticism at question time, that the members of the Trust carried out their duties faithfully and to the best of their ability. The Auditor-General, who I understand is never happy but who at least was not unhappy when he looked at our books, made no major criticism in his report. Senator Keeffe has mentioned already that there will be a meeting next Monday between members of the Trust and the Minister. I certainly will seek leave in the next session of this Parliament to make further comment on the activities of the Fund.
– I table a statement made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) concerning appointments to the defence forces.
-I present an interim report from the Joint Select Committee on Aboriginal Land Rights in the Northern Territory, being a report that the Committee has been unable to complete its inquiry.
- Mr President, I seek leave to move 3 motions concerning the business to be dealt with today and tomorrow. It is my intention to speak very briefly to them. I understand that the Opposition will then seek an adjournment of the debate on them until 2. IS this afternoon so that its members may consult amongst themselves as to the suggested program.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
That, unless otherwise ordered, Government business take precedence of general business after 8 p.m. this day.
I also move:
That, unless otherwise ordered, the times of meeting of the Senate for the remainder of this week be as follows:
Thursday, until 1 1 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
That the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate have effect at the terminating time each day. 1 inform the Senate that a program has been agreed by my colleagues which they believe to be fair, reasonable and achievable over the next 2 days. This program has been given to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) so that he may consult with his colleagues. The program is not to be regarded as rigid and inflexible because we understand that the Whips will carry out their normal duties and exercise their common sense and flexibility within the program. The program provides, in any event, that after disposal of the first 2 Bills on the notice paper today, namely, the Customs Tariff Validation Bill and the Defence Force (Retirement and Death Benefits Amendments) Bill, the 4 constitutional Bills will be disposed of not later than 5 p.m. tomorrow.
– I think the proposal by the Leader of the Government, Senator Withers, that we defer discussion on these matters until 2.15 p.m. is reasonable. Therefore I move:
That the debate be now adjourned.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for 2. 1 5 p.m. this day.
The following Bills were returned from the House of Representatives without amendment:
Census and Statistics Amendment Bill 1977. Representation Amendment Bill 1977.
Debate resumed from 23 February, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a first time.
– I moved the adjournment of this debate on the motion that this Bill be read a first time anticipating the opportunity for some debate but I do not intend to proceed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill provides for the validation until 30 June 1977 of the duties collected in pursuance of Customs Tariffproposals Nos 1 to 5 introduced into the Parliament during this session and not enacted to date. The Bill essentially is a holding measure pending the introduction, anticipated in the autumn session, of a Customs Tariff Amendment Bill to enact the tariff charges contained in the proposals. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
-The Opposition does not oppose this Bill. The views of both the Opposition and the Government were expressed in the House of Representatives and anyone wishing to know them can consult the Hansard of that House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Debate resumed from 23 February, on Motion by Senator Withers:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition does not oppose the Defence Force (Retirement and Death Benefits Amendments) Bill. We give it a speedy passage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
-We on the Opposition side in this Chamber and in the Parliament welcome these amendments to the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act 1973 because they bring about a long awaited alteration to the Act which was anomalous inasmuch as there was certain delay in the introduction of pensions as other pensions were adjusted. This Bill provides for the payment of pensions to be equated to the consumer price index which will give a lot of satisfaction to many ex-servicemen who had hoped that this equation would take place. The Bill also provides for retrospectivity to apply to the first pension pay day in July of last year. It means that automatic adjustments of pensions will be made in the future. These will operate from the first pension pay day in July of each year. This amendment makes it no longer necessary for separate Acts of Parliament to be introduced each year. I raise a matter while we are debating this Bill. I hope the Government has it well in its mind. It was referred to in the last portion of the second reading speech of the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) when he stated:
It was intended also to provide in this Bill benefical amendments to section 25 of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act designed to remove an anomaly affecting certain officers who were detrimentally affected by thier transer to the DFRDB scheme in October 1972.
The Minister drew attention to the drafting difficulties and said that they had raised a number of complex and technical points which would take some time to iron out. He said that the updating provisions were being introduced and that the drafting of the amendments to section 25 of the Act was proceeding for introduction as quickly as possible. The anomaly to which I referred concerns those servicemen who were forced for economic reasons to freeze their contributions under the old DFRB scheme because of the very high rate of contributions which were required. In some cases people were contributing as much as 9 per cent of their pay instead of the 5.5 per cent which, at that time, was required to enter into the new DFRDB scheme and similar schemes. So those people who were forced to freeze their contributions have remained ever since in that frozen state. That means that instead of receiving 55 per cent or 56 per cent of their salary as a pension they receive under 50 per cent. Therefore there is a shortfall of up to 7 per cent, or up to $1,100 a year less pension, for people who are in this situation.
The matter of commutation is, I believe, under consideration by the Government. It needs rectifying because there is an anomaly there. However an assurance has been given by the Minister for Administrative Services that this matter is being looked into and I am certain that those people who have made representations to members and senators and have aired their grievances on many occasions will find that at last these matters are being ironed out. I raised this matter with the Minister recently and I would like some indication from him that this specific section of servicemen who froze their payments at that time are being cared for not only in this legislation but apart from this legislation. The Opposition supports the measure.
– My advisers inform me that the drafting of the proposed legislation is well on its way and, subject to the Government’s legislative priorities and program, there is a great expectation that it will be introduced in this Autumn session.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Withers) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 23 Feburary, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I hope that Senator Withers has at last broken his lifelong habit of not reading the daily newspapers. There is certainly a lot in today’s newspapers which might belatedly teach this self-vaunted provincial illiterate a little about the facts of life. In particular I applaud the contribution of my fellow columnist Senator Rae in this morning’s Australian and I commend it to Senator Withers’ study. I had expected to speak last night in this debate and to say some of the things which Senator Rae said so eloquently in this morning’s Australian but perhaps I can still drive home without any of the inhibitions which Senator Rae might feel as a usually loyal Liberal some of the lessons arising from this debate which he sought to give.
Although I believe that their viewpoint on this legislation is wrong, let me congratulate those opposite who have had the courage of their convictions and have voted against their parties’ betrayal of their alleged convictions of 3 years ago. I exclude, of course, Senator Missen from such stricture as he has always been consistent on this measure and was not here to take part in the shameful charade of December 1973 when an almost identical Bill was being opposed, especially by Senator Withers, for a great array of phoney reasons. I hope to take the smirk off Senator Withers’ face as I proceed to examine his conduct. I especially congratulate Senator Martin on the courage she has shown in being prepared to take some setback in her party hopes m order to take a stand of principle.
– She has more principle than you have.
-What was that? Let me hear it.
– She has more principle than you have.
– I make it clear that the Labor Opposition supports this Bill for the reasons which it advanced in 1973 and 1974 and for other reasons that I shall give. But before elaborating my Party’s support for the Bill I should Uke to say something about the conduct of the Government in this matter and especially about the conduct of Senator Withers, no matter how unpalatable it may be to him. When the credibility and honesty of a government is at the heart of the ongoing political contest, as it is today, anything which throws some light on whether a government is to be trusted must surely be submitted to rigorous parliamentary examination. In the closing months of 1975 all sorts of pious reasons were given, not the least by the provincial political smarty opposite, Senator Withers, as to why the Whitlam Government could not be trusted and had to be replaced by a government which could be trusted.
Let us examine the trust which can be reposed in a government of which Senator Withers is such a prominent member. The other night during the course of the debate when Senator Withers made some smirking remark about being a very innocent person, I interjected: ‘You are the most cynical man in the Parliament’. My comment was not a sniping comment but my convinced view of Senator Withers since my first weeks in this place. That view has been greatly reinforced by the course of this debate. I submit that if honourable senators opposite were free to speak their minds some of Senator Withers’ own colleagues would speak in the same tones as I nave. Senator Rae came very close to it in the remarks published in this morning’s Australian. Senator Martin, in what I took to be an ironical little comment the other night said: ‘I bow to my Leader’s commendable concern for honesty’. If that was not said tongue in cheek I do not know what it was meant to indicate.
I should like to take Senator Withers back, if he is prepared to follow me, to what he had to say about an almost identical proposition in 1973. In discussing our proposition for a similar referendum when he spoke about the purpose of the Bill being to hold Senate elections at the same time as elections for the House of Representatives, he said:
That is a very noble aspiration. But the initial question one should ask is: Why is this necessary?
He went on to say that the proposal was nothing but an exercise in deception. He then gave us a little bit of bad law by telling us that one of the reasons that the proposal was not necessary was that it is a simple thing to synchronise the elections for both Houses. He said:
Firstly, we can have simultaneous elections at any time that the Prime Minister ( Mr Whitlam) likes to go and see the Governor-General because in section 37 of the Constitution there is provision for a double dissolution if there is a disagreement between the 2 Houses.
So the only suggestion that he had for synchronising the elections was to use the cumbersome procedure of section 57 which as he well knows is not available and has not been available for most of the life of the Parliament. It is only rarely that there has been the sort of disagreement between the 2 Houses which enables a Prime Minister to go along and ask the Governor-General to dissolve the Houses and to have a simultaneous election. Senator Withers suggested that we can sweep that course aside. He said:
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 elections-
Does he not know- perhaps he should know now; he may not have known then- that it is not nearly as simple as that. Surely he is warranted in thinking that the Governor-General would do almost anything for his Party. But the GovernorGeneral is on record, in a speech he made in India when he was on a visit there, as saying that he would not necessarily grant an early election to a Prime Minister merely because the Prime Minister wanted it and it suited him politically. When we advocated synchronisation of elections for both Houses it was necessary and it is still necessary for the reasons I shall give.
Let us turn the question back on Senator Withers. Let us ask him: Why has he now become convinced that what was an essay in deception in 1974 is now necessary? If he has any elementary honesty he would have to admit that it is not for any reasons which might have to do with political principle but merely because of the blue funk which his Government is now in about facing the electors of Australia either for a House of Representatives election or for a Senate election. It is because his Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) fears that if the Government cannot keep the Senate going longer than it was originally intended to be in being, if it has to have an election at any time as early as May or June 1978, it will get a resounding rejection from the electorate, compounded by the fact, as Senator Missen pointed out, that a half Senate election partakes of the atmosphere of a by-election. If people are not getting rid of a government they are inclined to express their displeasure more than they would if they were deciding the fate of a government.
Senator Withers and Malcolm Fraser know that if there were a half Senate election early next year the Government’s numbers in the Senate would be reduced and it would go out to the world what is now clear from the gallop polls, that there is creeping dissatisfaction throughout all sections of the community with this Government which has failed so abjectly to fulfil the promises with which it stole office. In other words his present support for a measure which he has described as being a fraud is based on fraud. He is supporting this proposition now for the basest reasons of political expediency. To their credit a sizeable number of his followers have seen through him. The second thing he put when he was opposing our almost identical measure in debate here on 4 December 1 973 was that as the Government’s referendum proposals unfolded, it was clear that the Billl was but the first step towards carrying out the Labor Party’s policy of abolition of the Senate. He continued:
As I see it, the whole purpose of this Bill is to lower the status and to weaken the independence of this chamber.
Of course he did not believe that. That was just a pan of his usual windy bluster. But if he did beeve that, are we not entitled to ask him: Why would we not be equally entitled to draw an inference from the introduction of this Bill by his own Government that it has the same sinister purpose? That is certainly an inference which some of his colleagues have drawn. Senator Sir Magnus Cormack m the debate the other night had this to say -
– Do you consider that is what it would do?
– No, I do not, Senator, and I shall elaborate in due course the reason behind our support of this measure. What I am concerned about at the moment- I think it is a necessary part of the debate- is to expose the utter fraudulent hypocrisy of the Government in introducing this Bill and in particular the fraudulence of Senator Withers, this smirking provincial smarty who has managed to wheedle and cajole his way into the leadership of his Party.
– Get your abuse all together.
-Take your hand away from your mouth and I might hear you, Senator.
– I asked: Would you get your abuse all together so I can listen and then go and do something more useful than just sitting here listening to it by the hour? I do not mind listening to it. Get it all over at once.
– I think it is a considerable service to this chamber that this fraud should be unmasked and that is the purpose of my present remarks. One of Senator Withers regular followers, Senator Sir Magnus Cormack, categorised this Bill in this way:
This is the opening attack, the opening volley, on the Senate by the government of the day.
Senator Rae said: the successful party in the 1974 referendum apparently has done a full 1 80 degrees about face.
We, like the Government’s dissidents, still await some rational, believable explanation of this about-face. Until we get one, we are justified in concluding that Senator Withers is giving us just one more manifestation of his cynical view of politics in this country. As I have said, I do not go along with the attitude of these dissidents- I do not use that as a pejorative term; I applaud their courage- that this legislation in any way threatens the dignity or importance of the Senate. Neither by the way does Senator Withers; nor did he in 1973 or 1974. It was just his usual cynical bluster that made him use words such as those. What I am charging him over is not his support for this Bill today, because we also support it, but the evidence which this support gives of the total fraudulence of his opposition to the same legislation in 1973 and 1974. He also said during that debate, in speaking of the Senate:
It was never intended that it be dependent upon the will of the House of Representatives and as far as this Party is concerned it never will be.
What rot! Who believes that Senator Withers has not got his head together with his boss, Mr Malcolm Fraser, to push this legislation through regardless of what he may believe- that is if he believes anything- in order to confer a political advantage on his Party, because that is all politics is to Senator Withers. He is nothing more than a cheap provincial opportunist. Another thing -
– I would trust the small town boys anytime. Did he rip off the unions?
– I can see that the provincials are banding together.
– Yes, that is right.
– The honourable senator cannot take it. He will get a go later. He should listen to what I have to say, because there is more to come. Another point made by Senator Withers in the debate in 1973 was this: lt - meaning the Whitlam Government- attempts to deceive the public and it is attempting a referendum fraud upon the electorate. We members of the Opposition Parties in this chamber will have no part in that deception and that fraud.
I wonder what has changed his mind? Are we to hear an explanation? Those behind him certainly are waiting for one. A little further on in his speech he said:
Senators on the Government side should stand and say whether they believe in the Senate. If they do so they will be the first to oppose this insidious measure which is aimed at downgrading it and which is the first step on the way to its abolition.
Is that what the honourable senator believes about this measure also? What was it that converted him? It sounds like the miracle of the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus. We would like the honourable senator to share with us this process of conversion. We would like to hear what it is that can get under a thick skin like him and make him do a complete somersault in such a brief period. But, as Senator Withers suggests, that is about enough time to be devoted to him. That is enough time to devote to exposing his shoddy opportunism.
– I can go now, can I?
-The honourable senator might as well never be here -
– Are you finished your vulgar abuse?
-The honourable senator might as well never even be here, as far as I am concerned. I await the day when he is not here.
– I believe that one should stay and listen to abuse from the other side.
-Yes, the honourable senator might learn something. He does not read the newspapers. He certainly does not do much rational thinking. He never gives any logical reasons for doing a complete somersault. So I suggest that he stay here for a while. He might find out something.
– I am just a lightweight who gets under your skin. Have you finished?
-The honourable senator is fleeing the battlefield.
– No; I will listen to abuse, but not to anything else.
– I know that there will come a dme in this debate when all of the rest of us in this chamber will expect Senator Withers to stand up and give some justification for his somersault. If he sticks around for another few minutes, he may find out from me some honest reasons why this Bill should be supported.
The Australian Labor Party supports this Bill, as it supported it several years ago, on these bases, and I would like the dissidents to listen to this: If simultaneous elections for both Houses constitute some sort of a threat to the democratic process and to the Senate, why did not democracy perish and the Senate wither on the vine in the first 60 years of our federation when elections always were held simultaneously?
– That is a specious one.
-We will hear from the honourable senator. I respect his views. I submit that the greatest threat to democracy in Australia is the apathy and the inertia of a large section of this very conservative country. I believe that -
– It is called democracy.
– I know it is. It is a very imperfect system, but it is the best we have to offer. We should foster it and cousin it and not try to help it to perish in the way that some honourable senators opposite do. This loathing for politics and politicians which is endemic among a large section of the populationthis week I have begun to understand this loathing a little more and to understand why the people feel this way- is fostered by too frequent elections. If people are reluctant to come out and vote and we make them vote twice as often as is necessary, by doing that we are reinforcing this apathy and this inertia. If we want to do what will most encourage them to vote, we should have elections less frequently than we have had them in the last few years.
I turn now to the matter of expense. We have been cajoled by this great frugal housekeeper, Mr Fraser, and by his minion, Senator Withers, to tighten our belts. This did not have much effect on Senator Withers personally. It did not deter him from spending a lot of money on what I considered to be the best suite in Parliament House. Nonetheless, we have listened to this advice of the Prime Minister and we go along with the idea that any unnecessary expense should be avoided. This would be one of the effects of carrying this referendum Bill. We also believe that Parliament should express the will of the people as expressed at the last general election and that this purpose is best served by simultaneous elections. We also believe that simultaneous election for both Houses will save busy Ministers and members of Parliament from wasted time in constant electioneering.
I take up a point that Senator Missen made last night, namely, that in half elections partaking of the character of by-elections all sorts of eccentrics, which was the kind word he used, are encouraged to run and people who represent nothing but some partial aspiration which happens to catch the mood of the electorate at that time are elected to the Parliament. I will tell a little story about one such person who came to the Parliament to indicate what a grasp he had on the affairs of our polity. Honourable senators will all know the gentleman to whom I refer. After he had been here for about 6 months he came to me in some wonderment and said: ‘Before I came here I thought that every member of the Senate was a member of the Ministry’. That was the extent of his political sophistication. We are likely to get more members of Parliament like that if we have elections every few months, as those honourable senators opposing this Bill would seem to want.
We certainly are not deterred in our support of this Bill on a matter of principle by finding ourselves temporarily in the bad company of Senator Withers. We support this Bill for reasons quite other than the reasons for which he supports it. For adventitious, opportunist and cynical reasons he is supporting a Bill to which he previously had expressed opposition on fundamental grounds of principle. I hope that the attention of the Australian people will not be deflected from the true reasons for this measure- a measure which was pioneered by the Labor Government- which are that it is a more rational, more sensible and less expensive way of conducting elections for the Federal Parliament to have them synchronised.
– I find it incredible that the present Government should introduce this Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill which radically weakens and undermines the powers of the Senate. I find it completely beyond belief when that decision comes so soon after the Senate, in what I think was the most worthy exercise of its powers, used the express reserve power of rejection to give the people an election. The people, by their endorsement, overwhelmingly condemned the Government to which the Senate was opposed and brought the present Government into office to perform a great program of positive development. I find it incredible that this Bill should be called a Bill for simultaneous elections when it is nothing of the sort. It was properly; branded 3 years ago as an attempt to deceive and mislead. I find it remarkable that a Liberal-National Country Party Government should produce such a Bill when it was so recently defeated by the people themselves. It is beyond my understanding that a government can now adopt a Bill which, within the last 3 years, was branded as a fraud by Mr Snedden when Leader of the Opposition in the other House, and as simply an exercise in deception by the present Leader in this House, Senator Withers.
With that indication of the disturbance of my soul, I say that the only conclusion one can draw is that the legislation has been conceived in a lack of understanding. That requires, therefore, a short reflection upon what is the constitutional structure of this chamber. There are some who have come into this House within the last 18 months, some within the last 18 years and most within comparatively recent times. Speaking for myself, my experience here is all too short to claim for me an adequate understanding even though I have been here now, I think, 28 years. I find in the second reading speech of the Bill the words of Mr Ellicott and Senator Durack stating that this legislation represents the unanimous view of the most formidable committee that has ever sat to consider constitutional revision in the 76 years of Federation. The Government attributes to me assent, a fact which shows that a body of advisers and Government exponents’ had superficially examined the report of that committee which consisted of 6 leading members of the Labor Party, including the distinguished Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in this House, Senator McKenna and Senator Kennelly, and Senator Sir Neil O’sullivan, the Leader of the Government in the House. The body of advice promoting this Bill was such as not to know that that committee on this matter was not unanimous. My dissent at that time, unimportant except insofar as an individual opinion is worth considering not because of the individual but because of the content of the opinion, was embedded in a robust denial of the general majority view which trundled forward a whole body of amendments which would have seriously eviscerated and undermined the Senate. Therefore we find that this legislation has not been considered in relation to the probable next steps of a Labor Government whose spokesmen on this debate, such as Senator Button, have avowed that this Labor Party will take every opportunity to delimit the powers of this chamber. We have seen Senator James McClelland ‘s avidity and enthusiasm in supporting this Bill. I will show that this is a Bill not for simultaneous elections, but to erode the powers of the Senate. In the wake of the victory of December 1975, we find a Government putting forward a Bill which was defeated by the people for the reasons then advanced that the Bill did undermine the Senate.
The structure of the Senate was quite clear. The first thing agreed upon way back in 1890 was that if the States were to federate, they should have equal votes in the Senate. The second thing was that those senators would have a 6-year term. The next thing foreseen by those who gave so much thought to this Constitution which some people would dismantle almost with the levity with which they would smoke a pipe, was that we had to have a powerful Senate- a Senate which Quick and Garran writing at the time said was unquestionably the most important and one of the most conspicuous of all of the Federal features of the Constitution- because if the House of Representatives were elected with numbers proportionate to the people, the great metropolitan States of Victoria and New South Wales would have a commanding domination of the Parliament unless the Senate showed an independence in its spirit to protect the States. Therefore they had to address themselves to the question of when there would be a conflict between the 2 Houses.
The provision that was hammered out on the anvil of the convention was debated for the longest time of any single section in the Constitutionso important was it to the House of Representatives proponents on the one hand and the small State representatives on the other. As we well know it provides that if there is a difference on any proposal the Government is entitled to wait 3 months and then submit it to the Senate. If it is rejected a second time, in that case only under the Constitution at present is the Government of the day entitled to get from the Governor-General a dissolution of the Senate and then only if it is simultaneous with the dissolution of the House of Representatives.
Let me say at once that in my opposition to this proposal in the Constitutional Review Committee, I made it plain- I circulated the text of my remarks to honourable senators 2 days ago- I have no objection to simultaneous elections as such; what I have objection to is using that rather superficially attractive expression to induce people to adopt a Bill, when the real effect of it ls to undermine the powers and give the go-by to section 57. If this Bill comes into effect there is not the slightest need in any conceivable circumstance for any operation of section 57 in the hereafter.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
It being 2.15 p.m., according to order, the Business before the Senate was interrupted.
– I suggest that the Senate hold a cognate debate on the 3 motions and that the questions be put separately.
-On behalf of the Opposition
I indicate our agreement to discussing the 3 motions cognately. I assume that there will not be a lengthy debate on them. Prior to the suspension of the sitting the Leader of the Government in the Senate indicated the Government’s intention in respect of general business tonight and the sitting hours for today and tomorrow. The third motion dealt with the suggested program for debating the referendum Bills. With regard to the first matter concerning general business, the Opposition is, as all Oppositions would be, very reluctant to forgo general business on a Thursday night. It is only in the most exceptional circumstances that any Opposition would be prepared to forgo that right. In the present circumstances I indicate on behalf of the Opposition that we are prepared to accept the proposition that the Government has put forward.
As has already been indicated, the Opposition supports the referendum Bills. It is keen to see that these Bills pass through the Senate within the time suggested in the program. If debate on these Bills finishes before that time that will be to our advantage. The sitting times appear to us to be a reasonable arrangement which will allow those who wish to take part in this debate to do so. Naturally, there should be some discipline on all who speak in the debate with respect to time if we are to ensure that honourable senators on both sides have an opportunity to contribute to the debate. I reiterate that the Opposition will endeavour to ensure the passage of these Bills in the 2 days, provided that we can ensure that those honourable senators who wish to speak will be able to do so. With those few words I indicate the Opposition’s position on all 3 motions.
– I should like to register my opposition to the first proposal. I think that it is indicative of the attempt by Ministers in the Government and the Opposition to railroad the Standing Orders in order to have these Bills pushed through before they can be adequately aired in the electorate. I take the same view as I did when speaking in respect of a previous motion relating to the debates taking place on a broadcast day. The public has not had the opportunity of participating in the formulation of the proposals about which they are to vote. If we can devote more time to this debate it will be beneficial to democracy in the long run. I do not wish to delay the debate at this time other than to say that I think general business is important. I am surprised that the Opposition has so readily agreed to waive the right of honourable senators to have general business of a Thursday night.
– in reply- I thank the Opposition for its co-operation and assistance in this matter. I do not know how far the suggested program has been circulated amongst honourable senators. It is a suggested program subject to normal negotiation between the Whips to maintain it. As I said this morning, the program provides for all to be concluded by 5 p.m. tomorrow. I thank all honourable senators for their help and cooperation in this matter.
Questions resolved in the affirmative.
-On the resumption of the sittings debate on these Bills was adjourned without any indication to me of interruption of the order of debating the business of the Senate. This interruption has been of advantage to the Senate inasmuch as it enabled Senator Wriedt to say that he is anxious that these referendum Bills should be passed. They will be of advantage to him. When I couple that with the reflection of my shame that in my State on Saturday the referendum campaign was opened by Mr Whitlam advocating a ‘Yes’ vote my consternation grows. Having regard to the compression of time I shall leave that aspect for the moment.
Before the suspension of the sitting I was saying that the Senate is the most significant part of the federal structure. We remember from the great crisis of 1975 how the Senate demonstrated its power to reject a money Bill. That power is fundamental and the way it is used depends upon the judgment of the Senate from time to time. It was because of that power that there has been such unanimity and sustained advocacy on the part of Labor ever since the Constitutional Committee of 1959- it continued through the term of the Whitlam Government and now in to this debate- for the abolition of the Senate. These steps represent the gradual undermining of the Senate preparatory to abolition. The Liberal Party platform states:
The Senate must be maintained as an institution for the effective and equal representation of all States and as a House of Review.
The policy of the Young Liberals states:
It should not be made mandatory for elections of the Senate and the House of Representatives to be held together.
– That is the Young Liberal Movement.
-That is right. We have a clear display of the way in which this Billoriginally a Labor Party Bill but now being adopted by the Fraser Government- is playing into the hands of those who were defeated in December 1975. We must clearly understand, that. The Bill mentions the purpose of simultaneous elections in its title. ‘Simultaneous elections’ is how the Bill has been christened and that is how it will be referred to in public. That term will be repeated. Apart from that reference, the word ‘elections’ does not appear in the Bill except once. That is in clause 3. There, whether through timidity or lack of cunning- or perhaps because of cunning- the draftsman does not attempt to say that elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate shall be simultaneous. What does the Bill say? We know that under the Constitution at present each State has the authority to make laws for determining the times and places of elections to the Senate for that State. This Bill proposes to repeal that provision and in its place say, as clause 3 provides:
Section 9 of the Constitution is altered by omitting the second paragraph and substituting the following paragraph- the Parliament -
That is to say, this Commonwealth Parliament-
This deals with one of the cardinal powers of a State in relation to the States’ House in the Federal Parliament where each State has equal representation. Clause 3 proposes that each State is to be deprived of the power for determining and fixing the times and places of Senate elections.
To show the extent to which the State legislatures have exercised those powers, I refer to one of them. I mention the Senate Elections Act 1935 in Tasmania, my own State. That Act makes provision that the Governor of the Stateunder the old regime the reference was to the Governor of the State; that is not altered- is to fix dates for the issue of the writ, for the nomination of candidates, for the polling, and for the return of the writ. The date fixed for the polling shall not be less than 7 days or more than 30 days after the day of nominations. These are substantial matters in relation to elections. There is nothing to protect them from action of this Federal Parliament, if clause 3 of this Bill is agreed to, which simply gives to the Federal Parliament the power in substitution for the State to determine the times of elections. The definition of ‘elections’ includes the issue of the writ, the nominations, the polling- most importantly- and the return of the writ. Those events are not confined to one specific day but to a period, with the polling being the most important day in the period. We are told that the timing of those events, including the polling day, is not any longer to be within the jurisdiction of the State; it is to go over to the Commonwealth Parliament.
I wonder why the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) in introducing this Bill in another place said that that was an ‘incidental matter’. After expatiating upon the Bill for simultaneous elections, the Attorney-General was good enough to say- and this was repeated by his representative in this chamber- that the fact that a State was being deprived of that power and the Commonwealth was being invested with that power was not conditioned by any requirement that the Commonwealth should provide in its legislation for simultaneous House of Representatives and Senate elections. He said that that transposition of power is an incidental matter.
When we realise what I have just pointed out and undertsand that there is not another mention of the word ‘elections’ in the Bill, I still feel strongly that we who in 1975 castigated legislation of a similar nature to this Bill as being of a misleading nature and calculated to deceive were right. It is a great shock to me that that proposal should be adopted now by the Party, 50 members of which voted in another place to alter the title of the then legislation so as to make it clear that it was not a Bill to provide for simultaneous elections but a Bill to provide for the simultaneous dissolution of the House of Representatives and half the Senate.
Next we come to a further provision in the Bill and the only other one which has any operation. All the other verbiage and provisions are designed in a most complicated way to confuse. The only other provision that is relevant to this referendum is to be found in clause 4. 1 refer to proposed new section 13(1) which reads:
Subject to this Constitution, the term of service of a senator expires upon the expiry or dissolution of the second House of Representatives to expire or be dissolved after he was chosen or, if there is an earlier dissolution of the Senate, upon that dissolution.
When a senator is elected to this chamber, according to the provisions of the Constitution as at present the term of that senator is 6 years. If a vacancy occurs, we refer to it as a ‘vacancy’. If a dissolution occurs under section 57 of the Constitution, we refer to the ‘dissolution of the House’. The proposed new section remarkably takes up the idea that the term of each senator is to be considered. It does not deal with one term, 2 term or 5 terms; it takes the whole half of the Senate. So, I suggest that it provides for a half dissolution of the Senate every time there is an election for the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives can be sent to the country before its time by reason of a vote in the other House. This may be due to some difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate, for instance, a decision on a proposed law. But it may not. Often in the history of the House of Commons and the House of Representatives elections have been caused sometimes for political expediency. The Prime Minister sniffs the wind and he is entitled to a dissolution if he goes to Government House, simply upon his advice, for practically every cause. He can get a dissolution of the House of Representatives when it is politically favourable.
– Here it can be done by the Opposition Leader.
-I beg your pardon?
– Here it could be done by the Opposition Leader in 1975.
– Well, I take up an article in the publication Parliamentary Affairs, by 2 authors, Alderman and Cross, in 1975. The authors stated:
The British electoral system allows the Prime Minister to call for the dissolution of Parliament and the holding of a general election at any time he pleases within the 5 years that is the statutory limit of each Parliament.
The term of the House of Commons is 5 years. The authors continued:
General elections, in other words, tend to take place at the best time possible for the outgoing government.
An article in the Adelaide Law Review in 1975 stated:
A Premier who has the support of the popular House and who insists on a dissolution is entitled to one.
The dissolution of the House of Representatives in 1961- the dissolution which caused the elections for the 2 Houses to get out of kilter and since which most of the elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate have been held on separate occasions- was caused when the Prime Minister of the day advised the GovernorGeneral that it was inconvenient to operate the Parliament with a majority of merely one in the House of Representatives. We could have the situation of a row between 2 ambitious people within a party bringing about a dissolution of the House. For example, if Dr Cairns had taken umbrage at his dismissal by Mr Whitlam and if he had been supported by a significant segment of the Australian Labor Party there could have been a collapse of the Whitlam Government. Having regard to the performance of some of the Labor characters today, all sorts of fascinating circumstances could bring about a dissolution of the House of Representatives. Imagine what could happen if Mr Hawke were a member of a future government. Those illustrations are sufficient to show that elections for the House of Representatives could be precipitated in many cases by internal matters, political matters and all sorts of other matters not in the slightest degree connected with the Senate.
That was recognised in the Constitution; it provides that the term of a House of Representatives member is 3 years unless the House is sooner dissolved. Those are the express words. It also provides that the term of a senator is 6 years and that dissolution of the Senate is possible only after a sustained dealock for 3 months and repeated rejection by the Senate of a House of Representatives measure. In circumstances in which the government of the day has a proposed law rejected in the Senate I, for my part, would willingly consider the proposition that the Senate should go to the people. I stated so in the 195 8 report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Constitutional Review, saying that -
– You have forgotten it.
-I have not read it for years. I said:
I will agree to a provision facilitating the synchronisation of Senate and House of Representatives elections by providing that senators ‘ terms should be 6 years provided that if the Senate has rejected any measure on which the House of Representatives goes to the country, half of the Senate should go with it.
I went on to say that, if no decision of the Senate has precipitated the election, then half of the Senate should go if the Senate decides for convenience or cost that there should be a simultaneous election. But the provision contained in clause 4 of the Bill, which relates to the proposed new section 13 of the Constitution, says that, on the occasion of the dissolution of the House of Representatives or when the House of Representatives goes its full term and expires, the term of service of half the senators shall expire automatically; in other words, there shall be a half dissolution.
That, to my mind, is putting us in the position of being a mere echo of the executive government of the day. The fact that its decision to bring on a dissolution of the House of Representatives means that we would automatically go to the country, whatever be the cause of that election, reduces this House to a mere echo of the other place. I am strong in my conviction that this place would be better abolished than to become a mere echo of the lower House, dominated by the Prime Minister’s right to dissolve that House at any time and for any cause.
– You supported Menzies when he called the election, did you not? You did not oppose him.
-He did not attempt to bring in this stupid measure. Although 1 1 members of the Constitutional Review Committee advocated a measure such as this in 1959- an advocacy from which I dissented- Menzies had sufficient prudence not to bring in a measure which would have undermined the Senate even at that stage. But, the Senate now having demonstrated its robust performance in the realm of government and having won acceptance of the people for it, the stupidity of bringing in a proposal of this sort that was defeated 3 years ago should be manifest.
I wish to quote, in conclusion, from the work that Mr Odgers has produced, the Fifth Edition of his book Australian Senate Practice. Referring to the rejection by the Senate in 1974 of this and other proposals to alter the Constitution, he said:
It was considered that the proposals would have undermined the Federal structure and destroyed the independence of the Senate.
He went on in the preface of his book, all of which should be written in words as clearly to be understood as the Bill of Rights itself and from which, with great restraint, I forbear to quote again, except for this one brief excerpt:
Of most importance was the assertion of the supremacy of Parliament over the Executive Government, demonstrated by the exercise of the power of the Senate to withhold Supply and the dismissal of a Prime Minister who refused to advise an election or resign when denied Supply by Parliament.
Omitting much more and going to page xxi of the preface, I remind the Senate that Mr Odgers said:
Those powers are checks and balances against any concentration of unbridled power in the Executive Government, or against any misuse of power or mismanagement by a Government … In the age-old struggle between Parliament and the Executive, the Senate must continue to be vigilant in safeguarding its powers.
Having revealed the true purpose and operation of this Bill to be firstly, to take a power from the States and give it to the Commonwealth and, secondly, not to relate to elections but to relate to a half dissolution of the Senate, I say that this is the occasion when we should make ourselves clear in saying that we will be vigilant in safeguarding the powers of the Senate from erosion.
– I rise to support this Bill, as I will support the other 3 referendum proposals when they come before the Senate. I acknowledge the position of those members of the Government Parties who are revolting against their own Parties’ attitude on this question. I appreciate the difficulty of their justifying what their Parties are doing today in view of the action they took in 1974. In 1974 my Party believed in principle that it was right to alter the Constitution in the way that is proposed by the Bills now before the Senate. We had simultaneous elections until 1963. No one can justify the holding of separate elections on the basis of cost- cost to the nation and to the political parties- and on the basis of the electioneering that has to be conducted at those times by politicians who should be looking
After their constituents instead of trying to obtain a favourable vote every 18 months. Therefore, on the basis of economy and the saving of manpower there is no defence against this Bill which seeks to provide for simultaneous elections. To those who think that this Bill will erode the power of the Senate, will reduce its status or anything of the kind, I say it is time they realised that the Senate was destroyed on 1 1 November 1 975.
– The Senate was destroyed on 1 1 November 1975 and it has no purpose today in our democratic system. In fact the Senate could be a danger to our democratic system. I have had a long interest in the parliaments of Australia. When thinking about this question I recalled my immature youth. I entered politics on the first occasion with a great belief in unification of the plank of the Australian Labor Party, with the belief that there should be one parliament for one nation for one people. On one occasion at the monthly meeting of the State Council of the Labor Party in South Australia I moved that the State of South Australia should surrender its territory to the Commonwealth under section 1 1 1 of the Constitution, just as it had surrendered the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth. Surprisingly that motion was carried by the Council. When the Labor senators returned from Canberra, led by Senator Jack Daly, an eminent lawyer in South Australia, he demolished the whole argument behind the resolution and said it would not be possible constitutionally, that it would be political suicide and that it would not be desirable in public reality.
After becoming more mature in the study of politics I realised that the Senate had some value in our system of parliament. It had an important protective value particularly for a smaller State. I therefore stood for election and was successful in gaining membership of this body which I then thought was an august body. During my term I gained a reputation in the Parliament for trying to uphold the prestige of the Senate. I had a reputation for upholding the dignity and prestige of the Senate on every occasion and I saw a need for a Senate in our system of government. I recall that on one occasion I came up against my Leader in this chamber and we argued violently. The Senate had decided on one site for the new and permanent parliament house and the House of Representatives had decided on another site. My Leader proposed a joint sitting and I violently opposed that suggestion because it would transfer the power of the Senate over to the more popular House of the Parliament and therefore we would lose our prestige as a House responsible for deciding questions. I thought we should not risk that on that occasion, knowing that the majority of members of Parliament were opposed to the opinion that the Senate had expressed.
In respect of all questions that the Senate opposes, the Government of the day must find an alternative remedy to meet the wishes and requirements of the Senate. In 1974 a number of Bills were rejected by the Senate after having been passed by the House of Representatives. On a second occasion, after a lapse of 3 months, those Bills were rejected again by the Senate and a double dissolution took place. The Government was returned on those Bills and the people had answered the question relating to the attitude of the Senate as against that of the House of Representatives. The Bill were again presented to the Senate and this House was not prepared to accept the expression of opinion by the people at that election. On the third occasion that it rejected those Bills the Senate submitted itself, as a minority, to a joint sitting of the 2 Houses of Parliament and the majority will prevailed. The point is that it did not matter that the Senate would not accept the will of the people; the fact is that the Senate is unimportant as a government can rule without the Senate agreeing to its Bills. There was a feeling among some members of the Labor Party that they did not care about the Senate because Bills could be passed by means of double dissolutions and joint sittings. A government that can retain the confidence of the people can operate by that means when it has a Senate opposing all its legislation. Robert Menzies could well have done that when he was Prime Minister.
The government parties who were then in opposition took that action for political advantage. They destroyed the power and prestige that
Senator Wright upholds as being so dear and something that we should maintain at the present time. Never in my wildest dreams, Mr President, did I have the opinion that the Senate could destroy the government or that the Senate would become as powerful in electing governments as does the people’s house. In our system we have a people’s house elected by the people and I think it is an essential requirement of democracy but it can be turned out of office, sacked at will every 6 months by a State appointed house in this smaller chamber, the Senate. No one can tell me that that was ever the intention of the founding fathers. I do not accept that that is the legal opinion we would get if an appeal were made to an impartial judicial body.
Senator Wright obliged us by reading from Australian Senate Practice written by the Clerk of the Senate in order to show the importance which he places on the Senate. If we read the fifth edition of Australian Senate Practice we see how the thought of the Senate has changed. Today it has become the powerful body illustrated by the passage that Senator Wright read. However, in the fourth edition of Australian Senate Practice there is a paragraph that was deleted from the fifth edition. On page 2 of the fourth edition these words appear:
The political composition of the Senate plays no part at all in the determination of which political group shall form the Government.
The political composition plays no part in determining which political group shall form the government. That edition continues:
Indeed, it is a common circumstance for a Government to have only minority support in the Senate, particularly since the introduction of proportional representation in 1949 which has produced closely divided Senates with the balance of power from time to time being with minorities.
That was the accepted practice. While we in this House had a right to reject legislation we were not the House which decided which party formed the government. The views of the Clerk of the Senate changed when he wrote the fifth edition. He referred in page 1 of the fifth edition to the selection of the name ‘senator’ and then stated:
In addition, the name ‘Senate’ is more appropriate because the Senate’s responsibilities have become as much national as State.
Now we see the different position that the Senate has taken. The earlier paragraph I read said that the Senate had no say in determining the government of the country. That was deleted and we find these words in the fifth edition:
Lack of numbers in the Senate, however, is not necessarily fatal to a government . . .
But obviously it can be. Further, on page 1 4,:
Those developments, together with the assertion in 1974 and 197S of its power to deny Supply until a Government agrees to submit itself to the judgment of the people, have given the Senate a new look which reflects a resolve to ensure that the Upper House has a significant role in the Australian parliamentary system of government.
The Senate was the States’ House, a House of review. But now it is a House with national importance because the question of controlling the Government is involved. Today we have 2 Houses of Parliament with the same powers, doing the same job. One House cannot exist without the same political support in the other House. How long will the people of Australia tolerate having one House of the people and one House for the State representatives which must either be a costly rubber stamp for the House of the people or, alternatively, become the Government because it has the ability to defeat the House of the people. I do not think that situation will continue for a great length of time. So there is a possibility that one House will have to go at some time. If that is to happen, the question is: Which House? Those in the establishment- not the people- have views on whether it should be this House or the House of the people. Jim Odgers in his book Australian Senate Practice talks about the abolition of the Senate and states:
Rather than abolish the Senate, if unicameralism is ever seriously contemplated in the Australian Parliament, consideration should be given to the abolition of the House of Representatives.
Here is a knowledgeable man suggesting that if we are to have only one House we should do away with the democratically elected House. If that time ever comes the matter will have to be decided by some method and we will have a fight between democracy and the establishment. That is the position we are in at the present time. The establishment desires to maintain its power and glory. It has been raised up with a power superior to the power which the people of Australia have today. As a result this Parliament was destroyed in November 1975. 1 think it is a desirable and logical principle to have joint elections. As Senator Withers has said, it was a proper political exercise to oppose the referendum in 1974. As Senator James McClelland said today, with the lack of principle in the mind of Senator Withers, it is a proper political activity today to support the referendum because Fraser dare not face the people before he has to do so. He cannot have a censure against his Government this year or next year as a result of a half Senate election. While the referendum is being held for political motives, nevertheless the reason for it is there. It is a further recognition of the fact that a Senate of the same political composition as the House of Representatives is essential if a government is to continue in office. If the elections for the 2 Houses are brought together, as is stated here, we will get the same complexion, the same political affiliation reflected in the people ‘s view at the time they have to vote. We cannot apply this principle to the filling of a casual vacancy. We have lost the day when we had an independent Senate with independent thinking. We are a political House. We exercised our power cautiously and adopted a judicious attitude in the past. We destroyed the Senate in 1975. Things will never be the same again. Democracy, as we knew it before and as it had survived, is gone. Today the whole position has changed. Men’s thinking has changed. We had better get out of the situation as best we can with as little expense as we can.
– What concerns me about the proposals to hold referenda in the manner which is being sought is that it is evident that the Fraser Government considers that it will be unable to restrain inflation and to reduce unemployment by the time of the expected half Senate election in mid- 1978. Obviously that is what is behind the proposals which are being put before the Senate and, in particular, the proposal for the so called simultaneous elections. To me, this is a matter about which the Australian public should be very concerned. That is why throughout this week I have attempted to have the matter debated on broadcasting days and to ensure that the standing orders of the Senate were observed so that people would become aware of the confidence trick which is being perpetrated against them by a denial of their opportunity in 1978 to express their opinion about the performance of the Government in power without taking the final step of throwing that Government out of power.
I believe that the conspiracy between the Ministers and the Opposition is absolutely disgusting. I believe that the people of Australia will see through that charade. I come to the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill which we are discussing and I shall make some comments about it. First of all, I take some exception to the remarks which were made by Senator James McClelland. I do not think it assists in any way, shape or form to denigrate, as he did, another member of Parliament in the fashion in which he did. The Minister for Administrative Services, Senator Withers, is doing the job he has been appointed to do, and that is to attempt to get the numbers for the Government’s decision in the Senate. I would have liked to have seen the
Minister’s reasons for supporting this proposition which is currently before us, having regard to the statements of immutable principle which he enunciated when these proposals were before the Senate in 1975 and previously in 1974. 1 await to hear from him any explanation of what has happened to change those immutable principles upon which he stood at those times. I have yet to hear the explanation. Before I refer to his comments in 1974 and 1975 I simply say that the comments of Senator James McClelland about the electorate could be construed as a slight on the electorate. After all, what did the electorate do to this proposition only 2 years ago? It soundly defeated it and, in particular, it soundly defeated it in country areas. For the benefit of honourable senators who may be interested in country areas I would like to quote figures which show the overwhelming rejection by the people of Australia, particularly those in country areas, of the proposal currently before us. Let me start off with Western Australia and simply refer to a couple of electorates. In Canning only 30.4 per cent of electors voted in favour of the proposed law. In Curtin only 35.09 per cent voted in favour of the proposed law we are talking about. In Forrest only 36.18 per cent voted in favour of it. In Kalgoorlie 39.9 per cent and in Moore 34.03 per cent voted in favour of it. Let us see what the Queenslanders did, particularly those in country areas. Of the electors in Darling Downs only 32.25 per cent voted for the proposition. In Fisher only 30.3 per cent voted in favour of the proposition. In McPherson only 38.61 percent voted in favour of it.
– What about Oxley?
– I am talking about country areas. I will come to the city shortly. In Maranoa only 30.52 per cent voted in favour of the proposition. I am talking specifically about country areas for a very good reason.
– What about Brisbane?
– All right. In Brisbane only 45.3 per cent of the electorate voted in favour of the proposition. In Ryan the figure was 38.99 per cent. In South Australia in a number of country electorates the percentage of electors who voted against the proposition being debated today was even greater. Some people say that we should be able to lead public opinion but we also ought to reflect public opinion, and public opinion was declared very firmly in the constitutional referendum of May 1 974. We should not forget 18 May 1974 when the people of Australia rejected the proposition because, as Senator
Wright has said on this occasion, if that proposition were carried it would make the Senate a rubber stamp of the House of Represenatives and of the executive government. If that is what is wanted and if honourable senators want to turn this place into the best club in Australia they are entitled to try to do it, but I believe in working for my living and in order to achieve something one must have power. What this legislation seeks to do is to emasculate the power of this Senate.
The proposition has been well argued by Senator Wright, clearly and cogently. Honourable senators will be given the chance to show and in fact will be tested on their genuineness about simultaneous elections. This is not an argument about simultaneous elections at all. I could not care less whether we have simultaneous elections. Senator Missen last night suggested that not having simultaneous elections throws up all sorts of odd people into this chamber, including independents. I was elected at a simultaneous election and received almost twice the quota; so I do not mind in the slightest having simultaneous elections. However, senators will be given an opportunity at a later time to test their genuineness about whether they want simultaneous elections or whether they feel that what Senator Button and Senator Cavanagh said is true, that is, that the net result of carrying this referendum in the electorate would be the emasculation of the powers of the Senate and the significant transfer of powers from the States to the central Parliament. We in this States House should hang our heads in shame if we support that. Senator Wright is not alone in what he has stated. It has been stated time and time again by the strange bedfellows which the Australian Labor Party now seems to have in the persons of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) and senior Government Ministers.
I shall now quote from some of their remarks in 1974 on immutable principles, for that is what they were called. Before I do so I ask why the Prime Minister does not consider what the people in his electorate thought about this proposition when it was put to the people in 1974. Only 38 per cent of the people of Wannon were in favour of the proposition as against 58 per cent who were not in favour of it. Does the Prime Minister reflect the opinion of his own electorate? Have the immutable principles which he stood on at that time somehow changed or has he changed in some desperate move to stave off a Gallup poll election in 1978 which would allow the people to make a judgment on his performance as Prime Minister and the performance of the Government without invoking the ultimate sanction of throwing the Government out of office?
What did the Prime Minister say in 1974? He said amongst other things that the referendum was quite unnecessary and we have heard why the referendum was quite unnecessary. If the Government wants simultaneous elections it can have simultaneous elections and can have them by calling an election of the House of Representatives in the middle part of 1978. But no, it is attempting to do in this Bill something which would be rejected by every tribunal in this country. It is attempting to change the ground rules and extend the current term of office of persons who have been elected. If a union tried to extend the current term of office of officials who were elected the industrial registrar would reject the proposal under regulation 115 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Regulations on the ground that it was unreasonable, oppressive and unjust. However, now the Government is attempting to change the ground rules, is attempting to give to members of this Senate an extra six or eight months in the Senate for which they were not elected. Quite clearly that is the position. If it wanted to, the Government could synchronise elections by having an election in the middle part of 1978.
Let me turn to what Mr Snedden said at that time. Mr Snedden, a very eminent Queens Counsel and a man with a great deal of knowledge, was the Leader of the present Government par- ties at that time. He said:
I believe it is an unnecessary proposal. What are these referendums? To all four I urge you to say ‘no’. I do this because each of them is completely unnecessary or positively bad.
The current Treasurer, Phillip Lynch, said:
On May 18 Australians should vote ‘No’ to the inflationary Government - 0
Get that- and ‘No’ to the referenda by which that Government seeks to keep itself in power.
In the official No case publication there is this statement which was prepared by those eminent people who are now proposing the Yes case. It states that this proposition:
This is also what Senator Wright has been saying. What did Senator Button say but that we should be simply a palsied appendage of the House of Representatives. If other honourable senators want to be eunuchs I do not. I want at least to be virile and to continue to be virile for some considerable time, to have a little power for good in this community and for the protection of the people in the States of this country. What did the then Country Party say at that time? I have no doubt the Country Party was on the right tram on that occasion and reflected truly the opinion of the people in the country. What did the New South Wales branch of the Country Party say? It stated:
Protect the future of your children by voting No to all your questions on the Whitlam referendum- you won’t get a second chance!
Little did members of the Country Party know that their coalition partners, who are pulling their coat tails about this matter, would give the electorate a second chance to destroy the power of the Senate. What did Mr Bjelke-Petersen say? He said:
What Mr Whitlam really wants is to destroy the Senate, which is Labor policy.
Bob Askin, for whom a number of senior members of the Ministry have a great regard, said:
The automatic linking of the elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives would make it much more likely that both Houses would be controlled by one Party, with the danger that the Senate would be reduced to a ‘rubber stamp’. If you regard the Senate as having any important role to fulfil as a States’ House and as a check on the power of the House of Representatives you will vote ‘No’ to this proposal.
I remind honourable senators that the proposal that he was talking about is the proposal that we are discussing here today. The 4 premiers- Sir Robert Askin, Mr Hamer, Mr Bjelke-Petersen and Sir Charles Court-on 1 5 May declared in a news item in the Australian:
That is the proposal on simultaneous elections that we are discussing- was aimed at undermining the Senate, the main defence line of the States in Federal Parliament.
What has changed since then? I shall quote from one of the people who have influenced this Government to change- a so-called expert on electoral affairs, Mr Malcolm Mackerras. What did he say at the previous referendum? He said:
My ‘no’ vote is prompted by the fact that Ilike separate Senate elections.
At least he was opposed not from immutable principles but because he was in the guessing game area. Apparently he has changed his mind. Mr Malcolm Mackerras apparently has guessed -some of his guesses have gone wrong on previous occasions- that if the half Senate election is held in 1978 the Government could stand a chance of losing the numbers in the Senate. For that reason he has influenced the Prime Minister and other senior members of the Cabinet to concoct a referendum proposal for purely political purposes, disregarding the immutable principles for which those people have stood previously. I challenge Mr Malcolm Mackerras to show that his suggestion is in accordance with fact. The facts are that it would be virtually impossible for the Australian Labor Party to gain ascendency in the Senate in 1978.
Let us examine that situation. In 1978 there will be 20 Government senators coming out and 15 Opposition senators coming out. That will leave remaining in the Senate16 Government senators, 12 Labor Party senators and one independent Given that all States go against the Government except Queensland, the result of the half Senate election in 1978 would be a return of 16 Government senators and 19 Opposition senators, giving the following line-up after the half Senate elections in 1978: 32 Government senators, 31 Opposition senators and one independent. Giving all the States to the Labor Party and a break even situation in Victoria because of the casual vacancy there and giving one seat to each side in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory we would still end up with 3 1 Government senators, 32 Labor Party senators and one independent. The Labor Party could not bank on support from me automatically because I have a long memory. So Mr Malcolm Mackerras has given some interesting advice to the Prime Minister indeed. The Prime Minister has been conned by that advice. How many times has Mr Mackerras been wrong?
– He was wrong over the nexus.
– Oh, yes. Mr Malcolm Mackerras did not oppose the previous referendum on immutable principles but because he liked separate Senate elections. He could go on television, I suppose, and comment on separate elections. The more elections the better so far as he is concerned. I remind honourable senators of an article in the Hobart Mercury of 22 May 1974- that was after the referendum poll- which reported the views of Mr Bingham. It reads:
I am glad the majority of Tasmanians saw through the superficial attractions of the four Federal Government proposals as they were framed . . .
Mr Bingham said that Tasmanians had shown that they were interested in federalism rather than a unitary system of government.
I remind Tasmanian senators that in Tasmania only 39 per cent of voters supported the simultaneous elections proposition. I turn to what Mr Knox said on that occasion. Of course Mr Knox is now the leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party in the Queensland Parliament. His remarks were reported in the Brisbane CourierMail newspaper of 73 May 1974 as follows:
The State Government believed it had a mandate to increase its opposition to centralism and more power to Canberra following the defeat of the 4 referendums last weekend, the Justice Minister Mr Knox said today.
All of the coalition party Premiers at that time and all of the senior people in the Liberal Party and the National Country Party said that they were standing on a principle. They said that the danger of the proposal for simultaneous elections, as it was drafted by the then Whitlam Government and as it is now proposed by the Fraser Government, was that it represented a threat to the power of the Senate and also a threat to the powers and rights of the States.
I return to deal with what Senator Withers said. I say this without any backbiting in regard to him. I can only say that in my dealings with him he has been straightforward and to the point. I would like to hear him being straightforward and to the point on this occasion, having regard to what he said when the matter was before the Senate on 13 March 1974. On that occasion he said clearly: the Senate is not meant to be a mirror of the House of Representatives. It has a different electorate. It belongs to the total electorate and not part of it … As far as we are concerned, the Senate is not going to be a spongy rubber stamp.
That cry will echo around the electorate in the forthcoming months and the people of Australia will not allow this Senate to be a spongy rubber stamp. What did Senator Withers say on 10 June 1 975 in the second reading debate on the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1975? He said:
The Opposition will oppose the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1975. The Bill falls into the pattern of attacks on the Senate which has typified this Government. Only 12 months ago the people rejected this proposal out of hand and I put to the Senate that the people have already had their say . . . I put to the Senate that it is a waste of the Parliament’s time; it is a waste of the Senate ‘s time; it is a waste of the electors ‘ time; and it is a waste of the electors’ money.
The test of this matter is whether the Government is prepared to put the proposals to a referendum at the same time as the next half Senate election. Why not do this if it is serious about the matter and if it is a matter of principle? It would save the cost of going to the people now, which one honourable senator suggested would be $5m or $8m- I am not precise about the cost. The Government does not want to go to the people on the vital issues that are affecting the economy- prices and incomes- but it will spend their money and create more inflation by going to the people separately with referenda proposals on these matters for purely political purposes, namely, to avoid the opinion of the people as it would be declared at a half Senate election.
Why not allow this matter to be decided at an election time, as I think the Whitlam Government did? At least that Government held the referendum at the same time as an election for this Parliament. It did not spend the taxpayers’ money on a separate vote. Somebody will correct me if I am wrong; but, from memory, that referendum was held at the same time as an election for this Parliament. Why does not the Government do that? Why all the rush? Why ride roughshod over the Senate Standing Orders and truncate the debate by deciding that it has to be finalised today? I will tell honourable senators why, if the Government will not: It all has to do with the Budget the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) will bring down in August of this year. It appears that the country will have to suffer raging inflation and rampant unemployment until the Government is ready to go to the people, which it reckons will be in the first half of 1979 or, at the earliest, November or December of 1 978.
As I said at the beginning, the real issue is this: The Government admits by the introduction of this legislation that it cannot get the economy going again by the expected time of the half Senate election in 1978. That is the real issue. That is the real reason why the Government is rushing these Bills through. If the Government does not have them passed this week, they will have to be brought forward again and there will not be time to hold the referendum before the Government formulates its horror Budget that will be presented in August of this year. Why do not honourable senators on the Government side admit that that is the real reason why the Government has introduced the legislation. It has not been introduced because of any matter of principle. I say that this is a very serious situation. Only 18 months ago in the Senate the present Leader of the Government in the Senate enunciated immutable principles when he said:
We oppose this legislation because it is another attempt by the Prime Minister to destroy the Senate.
He said very clearly:
If the referendum which the legislation proposes were passed by some freak mischance, it would effectively destroy the capacity of the Senate to act as it now does. It would be the first step towards placing all power into the hands of the House of Representatives and therefore into the hands of the Prime Minister for the time being. It would destroy the Parliament as we have known the Parliament since 1900 . . . He -
That was the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam- wants a rubber stamp, a lame duck and a tame dog. In fact, he just wants to get his own way.
It appears that Prime Ministers are all in the same mould. They all appear to want their own way. All of the coat pulling that has been going on in the last few days is a disgrace to the principle enunciated by members of the coalition parties that they at least are free to say what they think. We are told that at least they are not like the members of the Australian Labour Party whose Executive and Caucus determine what they do. So they are free to stand up in the Parliament and admit what coat pulling has been going on. I thought that the coalition party members were wearing overcoats when I passed them coming out of their meeting this morning. That is how long the tails of their coats were.
We have further evidence that these measures are totally unacceptable. Let me go to the comments made by Senator Webster, the Leader of the National Country Party. Again, whilst I will read them in criticism, I do not do so with animosity. Again, like Senator Withers, Senator Webster is a dedicated Minister. However, I point out that he said on 1 3 March 1974: all these measures . . . and particularly the one that is before us at the moment, have a reflection in that they will denigrate the Senate in some way.
Again, as recorded at page 260 of Hansard of 13 March 1974, he said:
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.
– Did he say that?
– Yes, indeed. I expect that he will go out amongst his electorate in Victoria and maintain that position because he went on to say, as recorded at page 26 1 of Hansard:
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.
What did Senator Missen say last night? Last night was the first time that I thought Senator Webster was in the pocket of Senator Missen. What did Senator Missen say last night? He said precisely the same thing. He said: ‘Oh, would it not be a tragedy if there were Independents in this Senate; if half Senate elections threw up Independents’. To cap it off, Senator Webster said:
If honourable senators are loyal to their House this Bill must not pass.
Then we have the comments of another front bench Minister, Senator Carrick, who, of all people in this House, is regarded very highly for his enunciation of very high principles. I respect him for that.
– What about when you changed your mind about Barry Egan?
– I will come to you directly, senator. Do you want me to talk about the Australian Labor Party because in a moment I shall come to the real reason why you are supporting this legislation. As recorded at page 266 of Hansard of 13 March 1974, Senator Carrick said:
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’ . . .
That is precisely what the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) now thinks. He thinks that the people of Australia are going to give him a kick in the pants at the half Senate election in 1978. So all the immutable principles go by the board. Senator Carrick went on to say:
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.
All these things are a perfect answer to what was said here last night by Senator Missen. Senator Carrick went on to say:
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.
I have quoted from the debate on the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1974 as set out at pages 253 to 277 of the Senate Hansard of 13 March 1974. 1 have quoted those immutable principles as enunciated on that occasion. What has occurred since? Why is there not a genuine realisation on the part of the Government that if it wants to change the Constitution let it do so and bring in matters of graver importance to the community such as inflation and unemployment if it reckons that the Commonwealth has not the power to deal with these matters. If the Government is going ahead only with these particular matters let it save money by submitting them at the next half Senate election.
What about the Australian Labor Party? Why does it not propose the same thing, because that is what it did on the last occasion. The reason that Opposition senators gave for holding the referendum in conjunction with the general election was to save on costs. Now $5m is a lot of money, particularly considering the inflation with which we are confronted at this time. But the Government will not do so. As I said, it is all about the need to get out of the road the matter of whether the Constitution is changed. This would enable the Government to have an election in the final dying hours of 1 978 or in April or May of 1979, to bring down a horror Budget this year, to allow unemployment and inflation to run rampant throughout the country and to impose upon the ordinary people of Australia the heavy burden of shouldering those problems. The Government then denies to them their opportunity of sitting in judgment on its performance without taking the ultimate sanction of throwing the Government out of office with all that entails in regard to foreign affairs and everything else.
Let me turn to the Australian Labor Party. Why does the ALP support this proposal so vehemently? Well, of course, Opposition senators supported it previously. But why do they not say that it should be held at the time of the next half Senate election? We know that 23 against 27 members of the Caucus wanted it. But it is all to do with leadership. The leadership of the parliamentary Labor Party will come up again in May of this year because of the principle of an 18- months review of leadership which was adopted by Caucus after the 1975 general election. On that basis, the next review in ordinary events will be held in November 1978. For the current Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) that is an ideal time. If the referenda proposals go through and if there is to be a Federal election in about November or December 1978, who is going to challenge his leadership one month before an election? Of course no one will challenge his leadership one month before an election. I ask Opposition senators to deny that people in the Caucus room divided on the question of leadership. Of course that is what is behind it. They are in the same cynical, political position as the Government is.
The immutable principles that were enunciated by the people whom I have mentioned must stand. Nothing has changed them; not one thing. Last night I interjected during Senator Missen’s speech and asked: ‘What has changed?’. I think another honourable senator said that there has been a Constitutional Convention. Good lord, so Constitutional Conventions change immutable principles! Who attended that Constitutional Convention? Need I read out what was said by the Australian Labor Party and the Government about the Constitutional Convention and its worthlessness? I will not bother honourable senators with that because I have only 15 minutes left in which to speak. Honourable senators well know what was said. We all know that not every opinion represented in the Parliament was represented at the Constitutional Convention. Certainly, the rank and file of the Australian community was not represented at the Constitutional Convention.
That is why I made the suggestion which came from my reading of the 1974 propositions, including a reading of the late Senator Greenwood’s speech, that there ought to be a select committee to consider these matters to allow the people to participate in the formulation of the proposals. The other night Senator Button said: ‘What a ridiculous statement. How could one sidle up to a fellow in the pub and ask him how he thought these propositions should be formulated?’ I know what people would say. I know what they will say about the formulation of the propositions at the moment. In all seriousness the people of Australia will give the answer to the Government and the Opposition as they did on the last occasion. The immutable principles have not changed in their minds. Political expedience has taken over and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is attempting to force this measure through so that the people cannot sit in judgment upon his performance. We have the extraordinary position of an Opposition allowing him to get away with it. But the people of Australia will not allow their democratic rights to be taken away. They will not allow honourable senators to extend the terms for which they were elected. No court in Australia would accept that situation. If an industrial union tried to do this in respect of its own officers it would be rejected by the Industrial Registrar. Honourable senators should take that aboard. If the Constitution is to be amended it should be done prospectively for future members of the Parliament. We should not ride roughshod over the democratic rights and feelings of the people of Australia.
-We have heard several speakers in this debate on the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill. Several of them, including Senator Wright, Senator Cavanagh, Senator James McClelland and, at great length, Senator
Harradine, have pointed out to us the great inconsistencies in what some members of the present Government said in 1974 and what they are saying now. Senator Harradine spoke at length about what they were saying then, what they are saying now and what he is saying now. The proposal for simultaneous elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives has been a part of the platform of the Party to which I belong since 1961. In 1974 Senator Harradine was a member of the State Executive of the Party to which I belong. He was a member of the Party which worked hard to try to get the referendum through in 1974. I concede that he may have done very little towards achieving that aim. We have not heard what Senator Harradine said publicly in 1974 about this principle. As he has thrown out the challenge and dared anyone on this side of the chamber to deny that Caucus voted 27 to 23 against deferring this referendum I shall deny it. The Caucus meeting did not discuss this referendum. It did not vote 27 to 23 against deferring it.
The Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1977 is one of the 4 Bills that are to be debated in the next 2 days to enable the electors of this country to vote on sensible changes to the Constitution of Australia. As occurs with all attempts in this and other countries to bring in sensible reform, whether it is legal, constitutional or social reform, there is always opposition. The more simple and sensible the proposal for reform is the more violent and dishonest will be the opposition. Many reasons will be given by the opponents to this referendum for their opposition to it but their ultimate motive is to retain the status quo in the interests of those who are protectced by it. We should remember that the introduction of pensions, workmen’s compensation, universal franchise and democracy itself were all opposed by the sorts of people who are opposing this sensible and proper amendment to the Constitution. In the last 2 days in this chamber Senator Wood has advocated a return to the days of property franchise in elections for the Parliament. We should not be surprised at this because until a few years ago his Liberal Party colleagues in Tasmania defended property franchise in local government elections and resisted the change to adult franchise for elections for the Upper House in Tasmania. Some of them are still doing the same thing.
Senator Harradine, Senator Wright, Senator Missen and everyone on the other side of the chamber who has spoken in this debate have recognised that the proposed amendment to the
Constitution is not being introduced for altruistic reasons. It is not being introduced because of a desire to improve democracy in this country or for any other reason. We realise it is being introduced for the very reasons that Senator Harradine mentioned. It is being introduced by a devious Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who achieved office by devious means and who hopes vainly that he will be able to maintain office by this sort of method. His deceit is now manifest to the whole population. I accept that the same Prime Minister whose cry 18 months ago was ‘Let the people decide’ is indirectly using this method to delay letting the people decide. The Opposition accepts that. But no matter what devious means the Prime Minister and his desperate colleagues have for proposing this and the other amendments to the Constitution now, the Labor Party has always believed- it has been in our platform and we stated this in 1974- that the long term results of this and the other proposals will be a more stable political democracy in this country. The result will be a Senate that is more representative of the current political views of the people. Senator Harradine made great play of the claim that the Senate should reflect public opinion. The simple fact is that under the present system the Senate at any time does not necessarily reflect current opinion. As elections become out of kilter and are more separated, so does the Senate even less represent the current political opinion of the public.
– That is according to the Constitution. It is not supposed to do that.
-We will come to the Constitution very quickly. But I thought the honourable senator’s Party was allegedly favouring these amendments.
– The election times were never meant to be the same.
– Perhaps you are being devious in this case as the Prime Minister is.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Order! I have been listening most carefully to the debate. I do not think the honourable senator should impute such motives.
-Do you wish me to withdraw?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- No.
– Do you wish me to desist?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Yes.
– I will do so, out of respect for you, Mr Deputy President. The second result of the carrying of this amendment to the Constitution will be that we will cease to have elections as frequently as we have had them since the early 1960s. It is admitted that these elections disrupt the government of the country. Governments in Australia already have the shortest term of office of governments in any western democracy as they are elected for 3 years only. Governments in this country do not continue in office beyond 3 years unless they are re-elected.
It may be unimportant to some that the government of the country is interrupted every 18 months or so by a half-Senate election with all the campaigning that goes on. But we believe a term of office of 3 years is the minimum reasonable time for a government to operate in this country. We have always held this belief, but we have never proposed that the Constitution should be amended to extend the term of office. We believe that the interruption of the working of a government every 18 months by the exigencies resulting from the need to go out and to campaign the way in which we campaign in this country is a bar to reasonable and consistent government performance. I also believe, as my Party believes, that it is extremely important for governments to make unpopular as well as popular decisions. Governments which have hanging over them the threat of a hostile upper House which may throw them out at any time or which must go to elections to maintain their majority in the upper House every 18 months will be reluctant, I submit, to take some of the difficult and politically unpopular decisions that they should make.
We heard from Senator Wright and other honourable senators on his side that the Senate is essential to democracy in this country, that the written constitution is essential to democracy in this country and that the States are essential to our democracy also. A few thousand miles away there is a country which has no written constitution, no upper House and no States. No one in this place is seriously telling us that that is not a democracy.
– To which country are you referring?
-New Zealand. Senator Rae, Senator Wright, Senator Sir Magnus Cormack and Senator Wood certainly in this place have always been and remain consistent in their opposition to this measure. Senator Wood, as he demonstrated yesterday, still believes in the type of political representation that we had in the last century- a form of 19th century representation of property. Senator Rae at various times has expressed the view that the Senate should be a House of review. He has expressed the view, as
I have heard fall from Senator Sir Magnus Cormack, that the Senate should not contain ministers. Senator Rae has expressed the view that we should use the Senate committee system more to make this chamber a truer House of review. On rare occasions he has crossed the floor to act independently, as he did earlier last year when his Government broke a specific promise to the pensioners of this country by its attempts to abolish the funeral benefit.
Senator Wright gave his standard couple of general reasons for his opposition to this legislation. He argued that the founding fathers were wise men. I agree that they were wise men. They thought seriously and deeply about the Constitution and they came up with a document that, I will agree with him, is a good document. But the founding fathers never suggested- and no one should suggest now as Senator Wright consistently advocates- that the Constitution is immutable and should not be changed. The founding fathers included a provision, awkward as it is, to change it. But Senator Wright consistently rises to praise the founding fathers for the great document and this great House that they produced. But there is a difference. It has been pointed out to Senator Wright a thousand times in this place- certainly many times since I have been a senator- that the founding fathers saw the Senate as a House of independents and not a party House. The Senate has never been a true House of independents and it is certainly not now. We have had some independents, some of whom were genuine and some of whom were spurious. But the Senate is overwhelmingly and always has been overwhelmingly a party House.
Even Senator Wright does not act as an independent in this chamber. Usually when his sacred Australian Constitution is threatened with reform or someone threatens to change it. Senator Wright will act independently. But this happens very occasionally. He occasionally opposes the Government and he occasionally erupts over other matters which affect various interests that he has. I point out that, when the Government which he supports deliberately and specifically last year broke a promise which had been made only a few months earlier, Senator Rae, Senator Bonner and other Government senators crossed the floor, but Senator Wright did not; he did not even speak to justify himself. He sat in his place and did as his Government told him. Senator Archer, Senator Townley and Senator Walters remember well ex-Senator Bessell who made threats and expressed concern about the actions of the then Opposition in delaying the passage of the Appropriation Bills.
– What happened to him?
– He is here no longer. Obviously they want to stay here a bit longer; they have remembered what happened to Senator Bessell. They will all be, as the Australian calls them, ‘revolting senators ‘ this afternoon.
– I do not think it is fair to reflect on absent friends.
– I respect you, Senator, as one of the senators who intends to rebel, who stays here and puts up with people like me. If other honourable senators have no desire to stay here and put up with people like me, I am afraid that I cannot remain silent in their absence.
This Bill will be a sensible measure because it will halve the number of elections held in this country and so have a stabilising effect. We will still have elections every 3 years in this country for federal governments. Governments will not be able to go on and on without elections. I sincerely hope that that will never be the case. This legislation will considerably reduce the cost of elections, as Senator Missen has said, and it will give rise to more stable and sensible government in this country. It will avoid the disruption which occurs to governments every 1 8 months or so as a result of multiple elections. More importantly, it will mean that the Senate will more clearly reflect the current view of the people of the country. Senator Harradine described it as the public opinion of the time. This, I believe, is certainly a great advance on the present situation.
Constitutional reform in this country is always difficult because of the methods that we must use to seek to change the Constitution and because people like those gentlemen who opposed the nexus referendum a few years ago can confuse the public with simplistic and dishonest arguments as were used then. I believe that Australia needs protection not from sensible constitutional reform but from the unthinking conservatism which opposes every form of constitutional reform, social reform or other type of reform that is ever put up in this country. I believe that this is not the only change that is needed in this chamber. We have had many colourful descriptions -
– What about the membership?
– Many colourful descriptions have been used in this chamber. I cannot quote one from the Government Whip, but I can quote one which I believe is used in Mr Odgers’ book, namely, that the Senate is in some way a safety valve to let off the pressure in the boiler of the House of Representatives. Another is that it is a sieve; that it sifts the Bills as they come through. The most interesting description I read of this chamber was given by Senator Carrick in the 1973 debate on these very issues, when he described the Senate as the ruminant stomach of a cow in that it is a place where we can chew things over. But valves get stuck, sieves get blocked and the ruminant stomach of a cow sometimes gets filled with foul gases and the cow dies of bloat. That is what will happen to this Parliament if the Senate continues in the way in which it has been going in the last few yearsstopping sane, sensible and stable government, provoking elections in dubious circumstances and allowing itself to be manipulated by the irresponsible Premiers of States who will not replace dead senators or senators appointed to other offices with senators of the same party.
– Sss, ss, sss!
– I hear some of that gas exploding now. The Senate could be a House of review if it did not have Ministers and if it did not act irresponsibly, as it did in 1975. 1 agree with Senator Cavanagh that that irresponsible act in 1975 will mean that the Senate always will act as a party house. Any party which wants to be in government will strive very firmly to keep its majority in this chamber. Therefore it cannot be a House of review. Any government in power will be tempted not to make unpopular decisions to maintain that majority in this chamber. This proposition deserves support, despite the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has introduced it only for his own political gain. I believe that the long term benefit to this country will be such that even the- I will not use the adjective that I was going to use- behaviour of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet cannot detract from the general worth of this proposition.
– I rise to support this Bill, which is one of four that relate to proposals to be submitted to the Australian electorate by way of referendum for constitutional reform. I shall state my attitude to this legislation at the outset because of recent media reports which have been grossly inaccurate. I support the Government in relation to this legislation and I will be supporting the Yes case in the electorate. I think that in a debate of this nature it is important for us to get the fundamental principles clear at the outset. There is a difference between the legislation now before the Senate and the ordinary, run of the mill legislation that comes before the Senate. The vital difference is that all the Senate is doing with this legislation is allowing the people of Australia to have the opportunity to pass judgment on proposed constitutional amendments. To that extent it is different.
I am mindful of the statements made by Senator Harradine to the effect that this is an attempt by the Government to change the ground rules. Nothing is further from the truth. The Constitution is not the document of the Senate; it is not the document of the House of Representatives; it is not the document of any parliament in Australia: It is the document of the people of Australia. The founding fathers set down the rules under which the Constitution could be altered and from time to time it has been the prerogative of parliaments to submit questions to the people of Australia in that day. It will not be the Government which will be changing the ground rules, if they are to be changed; it will be the people of Australia. Surely as a democratic principle it is right and proper that that should be so.
In the time allotted to me in this debate I want to say a few words about democracy in Australia. I think it is fundamental to the debate we are having that the democratic right of the people of Australia to pass judgment on this legislation should be accorded them. In Australia recently there have been tendencies to deprive people and organisations of their democratic right to make up their minds on questions for decision free of threat or intimidation. I am not suggesting for a moment that any of my friends here today are using threats or intimidation. It is useful to underline the principles of parliamentary democracy and democracy in Australia as we know them.
I think that the events during the recent conference of the Australian Union of Students should sound a warning note to all of us that the university campus, which is where one would expect there to be complete unanimity on the defence of such fundamental democratic principles as freedom of thought and freedom of expression, is not the place where one now finds it. I mention this matter in passing. I will not take up too much time on it. An article in the Australian newspaper of 29 January under the heading Phoney student thugs use spit and abuse to create terror’ supports my claim about is what now goes on. If one looks at events in the trade union movement, which Senator Harradine referred to today, one will see examples of the denial of democratic rights. I make no apology for stressing in this debate the democratic right of the people of Australia to make up their minds in this regard. I support the legislation primarily for that reason.
I turn now to the previous referenda held in Australia. It is notorious that the track record of the Yes cases in previous referenda is not good. We all know that a large number of the propositions which have been submitted to the Australian , people . since Federation have been rejected; but it is still fundamental that we should not deprive the people of the opportunity to decide. It is a very necessary part of our democratic system. I think it is right and proper that the people should decide. I also think it is right and proper that there should be a Yes case and a No case. But I do not think that this forum should be used to deny people the opportunity to vote upon the matter. In my view, much of what has been said in this Parliament ought to be said out on the hustings. I have no doubt that it will be. To pass premature judgment before the people have had an opportunity to express their views is, I think, not in the best interests of parliamentary democracy.
The Government has been influenced in its decision by the widespread support accorded to these 4 proposals at the Australian Constitutional Convention held in Hobart towards the end of last year. Senator Harradine and Senator James McClelland, neither of whom is in the chamber at present, have said that certain people on this side of the chamber said certain things in 1974 and now they are not being consistent. Senator James McClelland attacked my Leader. I share with him what is obviously, in the eyes of Senator James McClelland, the doubtful affinity of being a provincial lawyer. There are some other provincial lawyers on this side of the Senate. I remind Senator James McClelland that in 1974 Gough Whitlam made one of his several blunders. He went to the people with a referendum before holding a constitutional convention. We all know that the recent history of constitutional conventions shows that in their early days they were not accepted by the people but I do not think anyone can deny that that is not the case today.
I was sorry to hear Senator Harradine denigrating the Constitutional Convention held in Hobart last year. What we have to remember, despite what Senator Harradine said about the people wanting an opportunity to have a say, is that all sections of the community were represented at that Convention in Hobart. There were representatives from local government, State governments, the Federal Government, the Federal Parliament and the State parliaments. I say to my friends who are opposed to this legislation that that Convention represented as good a cross section of the 3 tiers of Government in Australia as you could get. A strong recommendation came forward from it supported by people of both political persuasions. You can call them socialist and anti-socialists if you like but there was strong support at that Constitutional Convention, on both sides of the political spectrum, for this proposal and the other three proposals.
I support the Government’s view that the people of Australia should be given the opportunity to pass judgment on these questions. It is fair to say, in this context, that when we are looking at questions of constitutional reform they ought to be above party politics. I have referred before to the poor track record of ‘yes’ cases in the past but it is fair to say that when people on both sides of the political spectrum are prepared to support proposals the Government is under a duty to give the people an opportunity of passing judgment.
I want to stress that point particularly because I think it is of fundamental importance to the Government’s case. I think the Government’s case has been misunderstood in a number of areas and the media are not doing much to correct that misunderstanding. The Constitutional Convention of 1975 will be a hallmark in the history of Australia. There is great need for constitutional reform in a number of areas and hopefully this will be one of the first instalments. I hope that in the future we will see co-operation on both sides of the political fence to achieve amendments to the Constitution which the passage of time since Federation has made not only desirable but necessary.
I want to spend a few moments on the Bill we are discussing which relates to the question of simultaneous elections. I have referred already to the differences between the situation in 1974 and that of last year. The question of saving expense has been mentioned by Senator Missen and I will not traverse it again. However, if we look to the future and see what the present constitutional provision could require if there is no amendment to it we find that there could be as many as 4 elections between 1978 and 198 1 and as many as 14 elections in the 20-year period from 1961 to 1981. One only has to move around the Australian electorate to find out that the people of Australia are heartily sick of elections, that they think that there are too many of them, particularly separate elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives. If we look at the number of Senate elections since Federation we find that of the 28 Senate elections, 24 have been simultaneous elections, which is just over 80 per cent of the total, and there have been 4 halfSenate elections at times different from House of Representatives elections, and 4 elections as a result of double dissolutions. It is interesting to note that the 2 Houses of Parliament got out of kilter in the early 1960s and I think that almost all of those separate elections have been held in the period since then.
– It was Mr Menzies who put them out of phase.
– I do not care who put them out of kilter; we are looking to the future, not to the past. It is trite to say that simultaneous elections will make for more stable government. A government will know that it will have a 3-year term to serve. That is important in an age and era when strong, positive government is required to solve the complex problems which face the nation. It has been a practice in the State houses to have simultaneous elections.
– Not in our State.
-No, not Queensland. You cannot pull up your socks if you have none, Senator Colston. I suppose that that is a further reason why this proposal should be supported. I realise that there are divergent views in the Senate and people who have been in this chamber for much longer that I hold very strong views about the immutability of some of the provisions relating to the power of the Senate. I concede that point. I concede the democratic right to put the ‘no ‘ case. However I feel that in 1 977 in Australia the Australian people should be given the opportunity to pass judgment on this question, particularly as it was supported by such a wide spectrum of responsible elected representatives in the 3 tiers of government at the Hobart Convention in 1976. 1 support the legislation and commend it to the Senate.
-A great deal has been said about the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill and I expect that a great deal more will be said. Some remarks expressed concern about whether people, organisations or parties have been consistent or, alternatively, inconsistent in their approach to this question. I make it clear that ever since I have been considering this type of legislation to amend the Constitution I have been consistent in my approach. I first considered this question well before 1974 when legislation similar to that now before us was first introduced. I formed a view favourable to simultaneous elections when the matter was being debated before
I came here and before we first had a referendum of this kind.
I support this legislation to amend the Constitution, so that if it is passed by the people, we will have simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and for the Senate. I supported this view actively in 1974 when such a proposition was placed before the people and I shall be supporting it when this referendum is held later this year. The party I represent has been consistent in saying that it will support this type of legislation so that the House of Representatives and the Senate will be elected at the same time. I admit that only half the members of the Senate would be elected each time that the House of Representatives is elected. Nevertheless in such a case we would have removed the sorry situation that we have at the moment and that we have experienced in recent years whereby we have elections for the House of Representatives and later on .have an election of half the members of the Senate, with a continuation of that pattern.
It is unfortunate that some people have not been consistent in their stand. Of course, consistency is by no means a virtue in itself. However, when we consider the fact that certain people put up a ‘no’ case against the referendum that we had in 1974- and were so insistent that there should be a ‘no’ case- and subsequently there was a ‘no’ vote in respect of this simultaneous election proposal, and then find now that they are advocating a ‘yes’ case, we might wonder at their motives. It is unfortunate that the Government has now introduced a Bill to provide for a referendum to alter the Constitution so that the House of Representatives and the Senate can be elected on the same date, not because of the principle involved but because of political expediency. I shall come back to the Government’s motives shortly. Before I do that let us look at the No case which was proposed in 1974. In the main the No case was proposed by many of the people who are now proposing the Yes case. In the booklet which was sent to every elector at that time there were comments about the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1 974. The No case stated:
This referendum will make the Senate a rubber-stamp of a socialist, centralist Labor Government.
If that is the case, would it not do so in the future? Would it not make the Senate the rubber stamp of a tory, conservative, centralist Liberal government? The No case also stated that the Government was being deceitful. Is this Government not being deceitful if it made those claims last time? I think it is now being deceitful but for reasons different from those proposed in 1974. Let us have a look in more detail at what was said in the No case. It stated:
The dishonesty of this referendum question is that it says this is the only way to get Senate and House of Representatives elections held together. That is simply untrue.
Would it similarly not be untrue nowadays if that was the case for a No vote then? The argument in the pamphlet went on:
The Constitution, the law and Parliamentary practice allows each Prime Minister to have a House of Representatives election on the same day as any Senate election. He can have the House of Representatives and Senate elections on the same day simply by his own decision.
That is probably over stating the case a little, but if that were the case then should it not be the case now? Finally, the pamphlet stated:
The fact that this Prime Minister does not do so, exposes the fraud of this referendum.
If that were the case then, why does not this Prime Minister choose to do so and bring the House of Representatives and the Senate elections together by calling them on the same date? Let me make it clear that I believe that the No case was an incorrect case. But if the No case which was presented then was the correct case, how can the present Government suddenly turn around and make a yes case? It seems most illogical to me. If we have a look at the real reason I suppose the Government’s motives are not so illogical. Earlier mention was made in the debate to some of the remarks of the present Leader of the Government (Senator Withers) when these Bills were being debated in 1974. Let us reflect and see what remarks the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, made in 1974 when he was in Op- position. Of course, he was not the Leader of the opposition at that time. He stated:
The first Bill concerns holding simultaneous elections between the House of Representatives and the Senate. The referendum would be 2 things, it would reduce the average term of every Senator and secondly, it would make sure that the 2 elections are held concurrently for the Senate and the House of Representatives. The referendum is quite unnecessary if Mr Whitlam wants simultaneous elections all he has to do is to pull out the House of Representatives with the Senate some time before June. We would welcome it.
Why is Mr Fraser now saying’ that we should have a referendum to alter the Constitution, following the will of the people, so that we will have simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate? All the minor conditions which he mentioned in that paragraph which I read still hold. The proposal will reduce the average term of every senator after this transitional period because ‘senators will not serve for terms of 6 years. They will have terms equal to 2 terms of the Parliament which will undoubtedly, in the long run, mean that their term will be less than 6 years. The same principle also holds good here. If the Prime Minister wants simultaneous elections all he has to do is take out the House of Representatives with the Senate sometime in the next financial year. We, of course, would welcome that. But that is the very reason, why this Bill has been brought before the Senate and the House of Representatives at the present time. Mr Fraser does not want any type of election before the end of 1 978.
If we were to have a single Senate election it would have to be held as late as the last Saturday in June 1978. In practice this would probably mean that the latest time we could have it would be about May 1978. This being the case, the Government would be in something of a dilemma. Would it, in fact, hold a House of Representatives election at the same time, that is in May 1978, or would it wait and have the House of Representatives election some 6 months after the Senate election? I do not think having 2 elections so close together would go down too well with the electors. But, of course, the Government thinks that the longer it continues in office the more chance it has of holding some of its seats in the House of Representatives. So it is determined to go as long as it possibly can. That is the main reason why this Bill has been introduced at this stage. The last thing the Government wants is a Senate election prior to the end of June 1978. It knows that if it had a Senate election and a House of Representatives election simultaneously then it would be not only defeated, it would be slaughtered.
If the Government were genuine about its proposals to bring elections for the 2 Houses together it could propose a date not in May but some time after 1 July this year. This would provide the opportunity for a Senate election to be held. Of course, initially, it is not up the Commonwealth Government or the GovernorGeneral to call a Senate election. If this referendum proposal were put down not for May but for some time in July or after that it would allow some of the States at least to call a Senate election. The Government could have done this. It would then have acted within the 6-month period which is allowed for the holding of a referendum. But the Government decided that the vote on the referenda proposals had to be held in May because, at that stage, there would be no possibility that the Government would have to face the will of the people at a Senate election.
I am pleased that this Bill has been brought forward. I look forward to the proposal being passed by the people so that the Constitution can be altered and so that we can have the House of Representatives election and the Senate election on the same date. However I am displeased at the motives which suggested to the Government that it should not only bring this Bill before the Parliament but should do so now so that it will not have to face a Senate election later this year or in 1978.
Prior to 1 96 1 there was not much need to think about the necessity for the elections for the 2 Houses to be in line. I know that many people did, and certainly the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review looked at this question before 1961. Those people who looked at it must have been fairly far seeing, even those who had a dissenting view, because after that review it was revealed what a cumbersome situation could prevail when the elections for the 2 Houses became out of line. However prior to 1961 only one Senate election had been held by itself and not in conjunction with a House of Representatives election. That was in 1953. If we look at the circumstances in 1977 we will see that they are somewhat the same as were those in 1953. In 1953 the 2 Houses became out of phase because of the double dissolution in 1951. In 1929 and 1954 House of Representatives elections were held by themselves and not in conjunction with a Senate election. However 1953 was the only time when a Senate election had been held not in conjunction with a House of Representatives election up to 1961.
In 1961 we had a Senate and a House of Representatives election but following that an early election was called for the House of Representatives in 1963. The Prime Minister at the time had a very narrow majority in the House of Representatives. Political life was quite uncomfortable for him. He could see that at the end of 1963, especially if he sent someone overseas to put in an order for some F111 aircraft, he might be able to secure a better majority if he called the House out early. This is what he did. However, he could not call the Senate out early because the Constitution quite clearly states that senators shall be chosen for a term of 6 years. So in 1964 there was a necessity for a Senate election. There was no need to bring the House of Representatives out because the Prime Minister at that stage had a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives. So we had a Senate election by itself and the pattern continued. In 1966 there was an election for the House of Representatives. In 1967 there was an election for the Senate. In 1969 there was an election for the House of Representatives. In 1970 there was an election for the Senate. In 1972 there was an election for the House of Representatives. Each election was for one House only.
The people in the electorate were becoming heartily tired of election after election because not only did they have to elect people for the House of Representatives and the Senate but also they had to elect their State representatives and their local government representatives. Many of them found that there was just one long run of elections, and the pattern would have continued if it had not been for the double dissolutions in 1974 and 1975. If we had not had the double dissolution in 1975 the pattern would have continued after the 1974 double dissolution because the senators’ terms would have been backdated and there would not have been the necessity to hold a House of Representatives election at the same time as a Senate election. Of course, that did not happen because we had a further double dissolution in 1975.
What has happened now? We have the case again where the two will be out of line unless something is done because the Senate election must be held by the last Saturday in June 1978 or, more correctly according to the Constitution, on the last day of June 1978. 1 mention Saturday because that is the day on which the Electoral Act says we shall have our elections.
The House of Representatives has a 3-year term and could go to the end of 1978 or, more precisely, until the early part of 1979. So if we have the House of Representatives going for its full term the 2 Houses will again be out of line. This sorry state will continue for some time in the way it continued after 1 96 1 when we had a series of House of Representatives elections followed by Senate elections. I believe that if that process continued democracy in Australia would be harmed because elections would not have the same impact. They would not have the same importance to the electors as they would if we had fewer elections for the 2 Houses and if the elections for the 2 Houses were held together.
It was mentioned earlier that if we had fewer elections the cost would be much less. This is an important consideration not only for the major parties who contest the elections but also for the people, who, through taxation, have to fund the elections each time they are held. The cost of holding a House of Representatives election in conjunction with a Senate election will be much less than if they were held at different times. Too many elections are not good for government whichever government might be in power. Mr Fraser realises that. He wants to bring the 2 elections into line so that he does not need to have a Senate election in 1978 and can continue with his unpopular policies for longer than he normally would have been able to.
Let us look at what the 1958 Joint Committee on Constitutional Review said about having too many elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate out of line. Among other things it said:
It is not conducive to sound Government that the future of a recently elected Government should depend upon the eventualities of elections for senators which take place during the normal life of the House of Representatives … If separate elections for senators are held, work of the Parliament is completely disrupted. Members of the House of Representatives, as well as senators, must devote their energies to the task of obtaining the best possible results for their respective parties at the elections.
That was said in 1958 and today it holds as good as or even better than it did in 1958.
I support wholeheartedly this legislation which will allow the people of Australia to decide whether they want the House of Representatives and the Senate to have simultaneous elections. When the time comes for the points to be put before the people I shall be putting forward as cogently and vigorously as I can the case for simultaneous elections because I believe that it is in the best interests of the 2 Houses and of the Commonwealth Parliament. It is with deep regret that I say that this Government has introduced this legislation at this stage not to secure the principle of simultaneous elections but to solve the practical problem that it would have to face the people earlier than the end of 1978 if it did not do so. My Party and I accept that if the referendum is passed the Government will not have to face the people before the end of 1978. We should like it to face the people but we believe that the principle is too strong and too great not to support this proposal simply because of political expediency- a principle that the Government is using at the moment. I support the proposal for the referendum; I shall be supporting the referendum when it comes before the people. I am hopeful that the people will pass it because if it is passed it will be to the betterment of the whole of this national Parliament.
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) (4.45)- I am rather interested in some of the observations that have been made by honourable senators in which it has been claimed that such a senator as I has been wilfully obstructionist, for example, in announcing as I did last week my clear attitude towards the proposal to bring down these referendum Bills. My attitude to that was clear; that is, that this is the place where arguments have to be adduced as to why there should or should not be a referendum. That is basic. Contemplate the events in the other place where all 4 Bills were debated cognately. They were voted on separately, of course. Being referendum Bills they had to be. They were not considered in the Committee stage in the other place. In other words these Bills were steam rollered through the House of Representatives and no opportunity was provided by which the chosen representatives of the people in the House of Representatives could force out into the open reasons which would lead the Government to bring down these referendums. Slowly and remorselessly here in the Senate over the past 2 days some of the reasons have been coming out, but not all of them.
In speaking to the Constitutional Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill- the one we are considering at present- I first wish to add strongly and emphatically opposition to the manner in which these Bills came before this House. In common with all other honourable senators I assume, my first intimation of the existence of these Bills was last Tuesday on an aircraft when I picked up a newspaper and read that these constitutional alteration Bills were to be brought in. That was the first knowledge any honourable senator, except for some favoured people, knew of them. No one else had any information. We got no explanation from the ministry as to why the date for this referendum was plucked out of the air, why these Bills must be accepted as dogma by the Government. No reason was given why the deliberative processes were not followed and the interests of the people who have been quoted extensively here today have changed. All was unexplained by the Government. An inexplicable timetable was presented.
– Why do you say ‘favoured people ‘Senator?
-I understand from corridor gossip that some members of Parliament had a preview of these Bills. I do not begin to understand what was happening. I am beginning to understand what is happening now. The claim has also been made that honourable senators should have been alerted to this move because of the events that took place in the Hobart conference. I have taken the trouble to look through the transcript of the Hobart conference. I am not impressed with some of the arguments that evolved there. The proposal was not carried with anything like the degree of unanimity as was claimed and is being claimed. When we deal with the next referendum I shall startle the Senate with some of the views expressed in the relevant committee dealing with the particular Bill.
I shall not take much time of the Senate. Some of the matters my colleagues and I began to bring out are coming out. The Senate has rejected, not for any improper reasons or for reasons of its own status in the sense that honourable senators would have their terms of office shortened, the concept of simultaneous elections 4 times and the people have rejected it once. Yet in it comes again. Last week I was left with a sense of deep dismay because all the answers I could get indicated that the attitude of the Government was based at the very least on sophistry. When that flowed into my mind I went back to see who was the great proponent of sophistry as a method of argument. I found without much difficulty that the original sophist claimed that right is what is beneficial for the stronger. That is the essence of the argument. In numerical terms the other place is stronger than the Senate and what is right for the stronger group is right in terms of argument.
I do not care what anyone says. The simultaneous election Bill is designed to weaken the power of the Senate. All sorts of explanations have been given about the Senate being out of phase with the House of Representatives. We know it is out of phase with the House of Representatives. Senator Colston demonstrated how it became out of phase. The option has been before governments since 1963 to bring it back into phase. All a government would have had to do was bring the House of Representatives out a little earlier than it was expected. The real reason that the Opposition is supporting this Bill was let loose by Senator Button the other night. I quote the Hansard record of the debate on the constitutional alteration legislation. In the first column of page 261 Senator Button- I admire his franknessis recorded as saying:
Of course, the real importance and significance of this proposal from our point of view in the Opposition is that it does what many of its critics say it will do. It limits the significance and influence of the Senate. That is something which I would have thought is desirable in the interests of good government in this country.
I look back at the events of 1975 and the ‘scandalous and reprehensible actions of a government’. I am quoting the present Prime Minister who said that. The Senate had every right to take action to deal with the reprehensible action of government. In 1975 there was an inescapable obligation on the Senate to take the action that it took. There is no apologist anywhere in this Parliament or anywhere else who can condemn the Senate for the action it was forced to take at that time.
By way of interjection this afternoon Senator McLaren said that as far as the Australian Labor
Party is concerned its concurrence in these proposals is designed to lead to the ultimate truncation of the Senate, its withering away and its final disappearance. A curious situation that has disturbed me is the growth of central government all over the world. I remember sitting on Committee D of the Constitutional Convention. A distinguished member of the Australian Labor Party with whom I was sitting turned to me and asked: ‘Are you in favour of this?’ I said: ‘No, nothing will persuade me to accept it’. He said: Nothing will persuade me to accept it’. I asked: Why?’ He said: ‘Because the whole of my life in politics and in law has demonstrated to me clearly and conclusively that big government is dangerous government’. Then he went on to say: I hate big government’. And I hate big government in psychological terms because I am fearful of big government.
I am no iron clad conservative. I have had a reputation in this Senate on and off for the last 20 years in my Party as being a howling radical. But as the years have gone by and I have witnessed the events that have taken place I have come more and more to the conclusion that the Senate is a chamber that has to be maintained. I have not agreed with all the actions that have been taken in the Senate. I did not agree with the events that took place in 1974 and I said so when I sat across from where I sit at present. I think that the Senate has a responsibility to be very careful about what it does in terms of the House of government. It has an absolute right to delay legislation. It has an unqualified right to reject legislation. It can give attention to legislation to which the other place, in fact, does not give attention.
For example, we all know what happened in relation to some of the Bills which originated in the House of Representatives and came into this place or which originated in this place. They were sent away to Senate committees and were found to be so badly drafted that they had to be amended. This was carried out by honourable senators from all parties sitting on the Senate committees. Finally, the legislation became better law. That is the role of the Senate. It is a particular role. It also has a role in terms of committees. I do not think that there is an honourable senator present today or an elector in Australia who is not indebted to the hard work of the Senate committee system. The Senate is a committee House. It is a review House. The House of Representatives is the House of government. All the arguments I have heard this afternoon about the events of 1975 go completely over my head. I will not accept any of those arguments because the action mat was taken then was the action that was required by the Australian people, and they upheld it. They upheld the referendum that was placed before them, because they were frightened of big government. They upheld the action of the Senate in the election of December 1975 because they realised that the government had to be changed
I said earlier that I was disturbed and distressed at the growth of big government. There is an interesting observation that I must make before I sit down. It sounds a warning to every elector in Australia and to every honourable senator. From 1933, after Mr Roosevelt became President of the United States of America, there commenced the growth of presidential power. It has continued right though the various administrations. It was modified under President Eisenhower, reasserted under President Kennedy and totally reasserted by President Johnson. Finally, under President Nixon the growth of the Executive power reached such a stage that the staff in the White House surrounding the President numbered over 5000 people. The ability of the Congress to control the Executive power reached the stage where finally the Congress, although it was loath to attack the 2 Democratic Party presidents who occupied that office before President Nixon-the Democratic majorities were in control of both Houses of the Congress- decided to assert the congressional power against the power of the Executive, against President Nixon. It was only under the threat of impeachment by the Senate of the United States of America that President Nixon finally met his Waterloo and had to resign.
No one can claim that there is not beginning here in Australia- certainly we saw it for the first time under the Honourable E. G. Whitlam when he was Prime Minister- an enormous growth in the Prime Minister’s power. In all the formative years that I spent here in the Senate, the Prime Minister was primus inter pares, that is, first among equals; but there began in 1972 a new phenomenon that all other Ministers were less than the Prime Minister and the power of the Prime Minister became more enhanced and he became more powerful. The reorganisation which then went on in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and which is still continuing means that there is imbedded in the Prime Minister’s office all the paraphernalia that in the last 20 years normally was found in the office of the President of the United States of America. As long as I sit in the Senate I will not accept that I am compelled to accept the dogma of the executive government, whether it be its administrative component or its political component. I am opposed to this Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill because I believe that it is the first downward step in a move by which Parliament will become a mere adjunct of the executive of the day.
I conclude with one observation to show honourable senators how ludicrous it is to say that the Senate has to go to the people whenever the House of Representatives goes to the people or that whatever the contrivance is the House of Representatives goes to the people and drags the tail of its cart- half of the Senate- with it. In the year 1929 the government of that day, as a result of intrigues amongst its members, was in office for 7 months. It then went to the GovernorGeneral and complained that the House of Representatives was unmanageable. A dissolution of the House of Representatives was given. It would be an interesting experience for the younger honourable senators sitting in their places today if in a few years ‘ time- the nature of man being what it is, this possibility exists- a gross disagreement amongst the parties occurred in the House of Representatives. If that government had been elected for 6 months, a guiltless Senate would be dragged out to go to the people merely because the members of the House of Representatives could not agree amongst themselves. That is what is being projected. That is what will happen. Therefore, I will continue to resist this Bill and its march through the Senate. I know that the numbers are against me and any colleagues who care to support me; but we are providing an opportunity for the people, who quite rightly have been lauded this afternoon as the source of all power, to make a judgment. I hope that they make the correct judgment. They have not been very wrong yet. With those concluding remarks, I ask that as many honourable senators as feel able to do so to support me in the referendum.
– I find it a little ironic that Senator Sir Magnus Cormack, who has just resumed his seat, should have chosen to comment upon the monolithic, authoritarian empire that President Nixon built up around himself in the White House in Washington. For 4 years, without demur, to the best of my knowledge, Senator Sir Magnus Cormack supported the conscription of young Australians and the dispatch of young Australians to fight in Nixon’s war in Vietnam. So I think it is rather late in the day for Senator Sir Magnus Cormack to begin to develop moral reservations about ex-President Nixon and the supporters of ex-President Nixon. However tainted the Government’s motives might be in introducing this Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill- terms such as political expediency, deceit, cynicism and hypocrisy, among others, have been thrown around by members of the Liberal Party of Australia and in my view the motive is quite clearly and incontestably the desire of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to protect half of his senators from the wrath of the electorate 12 months hence- the Bill provides an opportunity for significant constitutional reform. That the motives, so far as the Government is concerned, are so reprehensible, if I may borrow the word, should surprise nobody who has watched the performance of this Liberal-National Country Party coalition both before its seizure of power and ever since.
My Party, the Australian Labor Party, has consistently supported this proposition, in government and m opposition, whether or not we saw short term political advantages for the Labor Party in that support. However, the fact that the Government is motivated by cynicism and hypocrisy provides no support for the arguments mounted by honourable senators who are opposing the Bill. Without exception their arguments are spurious or obsolete or both. The major points in opposition have been put by Senator Wright. He expressed great concern for the rights of the people. What Senator Wright seeks to do in opposing this Bill, if he could get the numbers- fortunately he will not- is to deny the people the right to vote upon this proposition. Let us be perfectly clear on that. Senator Wright, in opposing this Bill, far from upholding the rights of the people, seeks to deny the people their most fundamental right, namely the right to vote in a referendum on a proposal to amend the Constitution. He claimed that the referendum, if ultimately carried, would reduce the power of the Senate. Whatever merit there may be in reducing the power of the Senate- and in my view it is substantial- the only power which this Bill and this referendum seek to take from the Senate is the power to force an election in the House of Representatives without any members of the Senate having to present themselves to the electorate. The referendum, if carried, will remove the scope for capricious or malevolent misuse of power by the Senate without responsibility.
Since the Ellicott-Barwick-Kerr doctrine was proclaimed in 1975, the situation has changed fundamentally and in a manner not envisaged by Senator Wright when he wrote his 1959 minority report. Under post-November 1975 practice or perhaps even law, the Senate can force the House of Representatives to an election every 6 months by stalling- not even by rejecting- Supply or Appropriation Bills. Unless by sheer coincidence there are other Bills which fulfil the requirements of section 57, no part of the Senate faces the electors to be judged on its actions; that is, unless this referendum is carried. It is simply not true to assert, as most of the people opposing this Bill have asserted, that simultaneous elections can be secured without carrying the referendum. Simultaneous elections can be guaranteed only if the Bill and the subsequent referendum are carried.
The spurious argument that the Senate is an independent body was most convincingly refuted in 1975. If those honourable senators who oppose this Bill and were here in 1975-1 realise that not all of them were here in 1975 - really wanted to display some independence, dignity or integrity, they had the opportunity then. They were tested and found wanting. Senator Sir Magnus Cormack claimed that the people had upheld the decision of the Senate. On what evidence Senator Magnus Cormack bases that assertion, I do not know. I presume that because the Liberal Party and the National Country Party were successful in the election which ensued, Senator Sir Magnus Cormack is claiming on very tenuous logical grounds that the people thereby endorsed the actions of the Senate. The people decided that they would elect a LiberalNational Country Party coalition government. They made no decisions and were asked no questions about whether they upheld the actions of the Senate or whether they opposed the actions of the Senate at that time. The opinions of the people were scientifically measured by polls which were conducted prior to the dissolution of parliament and they showed quite convincingly and overwhelmingly that the people were opposed to the actions of the Senate. Although it is no longer possible to test directly whether the people supported the Senate’s action at that time, putting forward this Bill does provide some opportunity to test, albeit indirectly but more directly than the test of a general election, whether the people do support the action which the Senate took at that time. I have no doubt that the judgment of the people will be warped, distorted, and poisoned by the sort of propaganda that was issued by the Liberal and National Country parties when this question was last put in 1974.
Several speakers who preceded me in this debate quoted quite extensively from this particularly deceitful document on the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1974 and the referendum document, the Case/or No. I shall mention just two of the points raised. This specious, deceitful Case for No put forward by the Liberal and National Country parties in 1974, among other things states:
The dishonesty of this referendum question is that it says this is the only way to get Senate and House of Representatives elections held together. That is simply untrue.
The truth is that it is the only way to guarantee that Senate and House of Representatives elections will be held simultaneously. There may have been some argument in 1974 as to whether it was the only way; there can be no argument now because the doctrine has been proclaimed and apparently accepted, that the Senate can withhold Supply and force an election in the House of Representatives without any part of the Senate having to present itself to the electors. This deceitful Case for No continued:
That is, the Senate and the House of Representatives- are established under the Constitution as equal . . .
Section 53, 1 think it is, specifically denies to the Senate the right to originate or to amend money Bills. I have no doubt that the same sort of emotional campaign supported by patent untruths will be mounted by those honourable senators in this House who are opposing this Bill and by their supporters outside the House.
Senator Sir Magnus Cormack also asserted that the factor which had motivated the senators to defer the appropriation Bills in 1975 was their desire to allow the people to judge what was claimed to be the reprehensible and extraordinary behaviour of the then Labor Government. Unfortunately for Senator Sir Magnus Cormack and for all his colleagues, their present Leader, Senator Withers, was indiscreet enough on 9 April 1974 to put into Hansard the real reasons why the Liberal and National Country Party senators- every one of them- forced the 1975 election. On 9 April Senator Withers said:
Eighteen months ago we embarked on a course to force an election in the House of Representatives.
It could not have been expressed more clearly that what motivated the Liberal and National Country Parties in 1974 was cynical, political opportunism- precisely the same motivation they displayed in 1975 and which the present Liberal-National Country Party Government has displayed in introducing this Bill.
It has been asserted- and it is a tedious and repetitious assertion- that the Senate is a States House; that it protects the interests of the smaller States. Senator Wright cited with some authority the book by the Clerk of the Senate, Mr Odgers. I recall reading Mr Odgers’ book wherein he asserted that the Senate was a States House which protected the interests of the smaller States. To support that assertion he produced remarkably slight evidence. He referred to a situation in 1 9 1 8. 1 suggest that it is highly significant that he went back to 1 9 1 8 to find an example. He said that on that occasion 2 Tasmanian senators, I think they were, had crossed the floor on a Bill which would have disadvantaged financially the State of Tasmania. Ipso facto Mr Odgers argued that that proved that the Senate was then and by implication still is a States House. It would have been equally logical to argue that because New South Wales senators did not leave their parties to cross the floor and vote against their parties on that measure which would have advantaged the electors of New South Wales, the particular incident proved that the Senate was not a States House.
We have been subjected to many tedious and repetitious harangues in this chamber about the dignity, the status and the integrity of the Senate when it is a well known fact that the Senate is a consolation prize for people who cannot win seats in the House of Representatives.
– I welcome this opportunity to add my contribution to this debate, particularly in view of the speculation and distortion that has occurred in the last few days as to what my attitude to the referendums will be in the Parliament and when they are put before the people.
– What will you do, Senator?
– If Senator Cavanagh would like to listen he might learn something. I have expressed my concern about the methods used by the Government in bringing this measure before us without adequate consultation in the proper places; I do not mean in the media but in the party rooms. I believe that a matter which concerns honourable senators as much as this matter does should have been discussed with us before a decision was made. There are certain provisions in this Bill about which I am not happy. They have been canvassed by those who are opposing the Bill. I do not go all the way with them. I have an open mind in these matters. If someone can prove to me that the argument I am using is not correct and that he has a better one I will be happy to change my mind.
I believe that there should be simultaneous elections. I have always believed that. Our founding fathers intended that in the Constitution. I believe that the public wants the elections for the 2 Houses of Parliament to come together. If it is good enough for the Senate to send the House of Represenatives to the peoplethat is what it did in 1974- it should also face the people. In the present situation we could send the members of the House of Representatives to the people and they would have to face the people. We could then remain in the Senate without having to face an election. We could have done that in 1974 but on that occasion a half-Senate election was due. I do not agree with the former Prime Minister (Mr E. G. Whitlam) on most things but on that occasion I thought he had something when he said that people who had been elected in 1967 and in 1970 were able to make a decision to send the people who were elected in 1972 to 2 elections without going to an election themselves. I thought that remark had a lot of merit. I agree that if it is possible we do not wish to take away the powers of the Senate, particularly as it is the forum for the smaller States. That is why I have always had difficulty in coming to a decision on a provision such as this. I had that difficulty in 1974. However, that is a decision I shall have to make if and when these referendums appear before the public.
That is not what we are arguing in this chamber today. We are arguing whether a decision made at the Constitutional Convention should go to the people. That is the decision that we have to make. Whatever we may say about the Constitutional Convention and however many of us may like or dislike it, the fact is that the Federal Government, all State governments and local governments are represented on that body. They have accepted that body. I had hoped that they would scrap the Constitutional Convention. It is unfortunate that it was resurrected on the suggestion of my State Parliament. I have always believed that if one belongs to an organisation like that one must accept its decisions. In this case there was an overwhelming decision that these matters should be placed before the people. As the Federal Government is really the only instrumentality that can implement the decisions of the Constitutional Convention we have a responsibility to act on its behalf. I wish to make it quite clear that that is the main reason why I am voting with the Government on this occasion. If I had to make a decision on the merits or demerits of the provisions of the Bill itself I might be taking a different stand.
The other matter that has been thrown backwards and forwards across this chamber concerns the Government’s principles and what it did in 1974. I can assure everyone in this chamber that I have no qualms about what I did in 1974. I had the same reservations then as I have now. I campaigned the way I did in 1974 because this provision was mixed up with a lot of other provisions which I regarded as dangerous. It was practical to tell the people that they were better off voting against all the proposals than to single out one or two. It did not worry me whether this provision was defeated. That is the way I campaigned against the proposals that time and that is probably the way I will campaign on this occasion. Someone asked me what I am going to do when this matter comes before the people. I have not yet seen the Yes case or the No case. I will make up my mind when I have seen them. I wished to put the record straight and that is the only reason for my entering this debate.
– It is not often that I follow Senator Maunsell in a debate and find myself to be mainly in agreement with him. I am glad that I am in agreement with him today. I support the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill. I supported it strongly in my State in 1974. 1 am pleased to say that the people of New South Wales saw fit to pass that issue in 1 974. 1 shall deal briefly with a couple of remarks that have been made by previous speakers. This afternoon Senator Harradine made a spirited attack on the Bill. I wonder what his attitude was when this issue was put up in 1974 when he was a member of the Australian Labor Party.
– The Labor Party in my State did not support it.
- Senator Harradine says that the Labor Party in his State did not support it. In other words he did not support the decision of the Australian Labor Party that was made at a national level to support the referendum. I was more interested to hear the remarks made by Senator Sir Magnus Cormack. He said that he hates big government. This statement was met by cries of ‘hear, hear’ from honourable senators on the other side of the chamber. Senator Sir Magnus Cormack went on to say that in 1933 President Roosevelt established big government in the United States. What he did not say was that President Roosevelt established big governmentI prefer the term welfare programs- because of the failure of big business in those troubled times to deal with and care about people. He said that the result of the setting up of big government by Roosevelt in 1933 had carried through until the excesses of the Nixon regime. What he also did not point out was that President Nixon too ignored the people. President Nixon and, to some extent, President Ford ignored social issues with the result that now President Carter is promoting what Senator Sir Magnus Cormack would call big government, that is government spending as an attack on unemployment. It looks as though President Carter will be supporting the Hawkins-Humphrey Bill which is aimed at creating Government spending to help lower unemployment in the United States. If that is big government I certainly support it.
So far there have been 12 or more speakers in the debate on the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill. I shall not try to canvass any new ground. I hope to summarise some of the arguments that have been put forward. Under the existing constitutional provisions it is possible theoretically for elections for both Houses of Parliament to be synchronised by holding elections for the House of Representatives whenever half Senate elections are due. Because of political realities that synchronisation is difficult to maintain. At present it would be disastrous for this Government to follow that course because of the number of seats it would lose in the House of Representatives. In fact, elections for both Houses have been out of phase since 1963 when, as has been said, for reasons of political expediency, to obtain a short term political advantage the Menzies Government called an early House of Representatives election. The result has been that, in the 9-year period from 1963 to 1972, 7 national elections have been held. If the Constitution is not altered and the status quo continues, there can be as many as 4 elections over the next 4 years and that would mean that 14 elections all told would have been held between 1961 and 1981. In view of this, the Bill aims at altering the Constitution by an amendment to ensure that the elections for both Houses are brought together. We support that proposition.
The amendment specifies that half Senate elections are to be brought into line with elections for the House of Representatives whenever those elections may occur. The aim is to ensure that the popular will is reflected simultaneously in both chambers. The Government is arguing that it will provide a more satisfactory basis upon which the government of the country may be based. Indeed, it is difficult to argue with that proposition. We on this side of the House would not argue with that proposition. But it should be pointed out at the same time that this amendment is in accord with the unanimous recommendation made by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Review in its 19S8 and 1939 reports. In addition, as has been mentioned, a great deal of support was expressed from all parties at the Austraiian Constitutional Convention held in October 1976 in Hobart.
If the Bill eventually becomes law, senators will hold office for 2 terms of the House of Representatives instead of 6 years as at present under the Constitution. I think this is a great improvement. This was pointed out last evening by Senator Missen in relation to the situation that arises when an election is held in late November or early December. Following such an election, some senators may unfortunately lose their seats but they continue to sit in this Senate until 1 July of the following year. The result is that the Senate does not have the continuity that would exist if this proposal was passed.
I ask: Why has it taken the Liberal and National Country Parties nearly 20 years to act on the recommendation of a parliamentary committee? This proposal is substantially the same, to use the words of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), as the one that was submitted to referendum by the Federal Labor administration in 1974. This proposal was endorsed, as I said earlier, by the electors of New South Wales but failed narrowly to obtain the required national support. I think that the Australia-wide vote in 1974 in favour of this issue was 48.3 per cent. One can be forgiven for drawing from this fact the conclusion that the Liberal and National Country Parties believe that they have something to gain by bringing the elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate into synchronisation now, for this is a proposal that they vigorously opposed in 1974 as being a sinister move by the centralist socialist Labor administration to entrench itself in power. That proposal has suddenly become, a mere 3 years later, a desirable move and one which, again to use the words of the Attorney-General, ‘should find general support amongst our people ‘.
The political reality is that by bringing elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate back into phase this Government can hold off a half Senate election until, at the latest, March 1 979. This would allow it a further 2 years in which to right the economic mess that it has striven so strenuously to create since it was elected to office. It is almost certain that, if a half Senate election were held in the middle of next year, the Government would lose 3 Senate seats in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. The Labor Party would certainly hold the 3 Labor seats which would be up for election in New South Wales. This would reduce the Government ‘s numbers in this chamber to the point that, if the Labor Party was successful at the 1981 half Senate poll, it could well be that this Government would be faced with precisely the dilemma which confronted the previous Labor government continually and incessantly from 1 972 to 1975- that is, a hostile upper chamber.
I have listened to Senator Wright and other honourable senators speak in this debate on this Bill. I have listened to a lot of humbug being talked about the Senate as the States’ House, the House of review or the independent House of review. This is nonsense. We all know, especially as a result of the events of November 1975, that the Senate is a party House. It votes on party lines and it votes that way for party reasons. Because of what happened in November 1975 1 believe that it will continue to do so in the future.
To return to the legislation before us, the Opposition sees much merit in the Bill. It does not oppose it. However, it should be remembered that the Labor Party has always been consistent on the principles in the Bill which is about to be given legislative effect. The same cannot be said of the parties presently in government which repeatedly opposed the introduction of such a measure when they were in opposition. I support the Bill.
-Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise to ask for leave to make a personal explanation.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Young)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
- Senator Sibraa invited me to state my position in 1974. For the information of the Senate, I was a member of the State Executive of the Australian Labor Party in Tasmania in 1974. My recollection is- and I do not say that it is perfect- that we were not requested to authorise any expenditure on the referenda matters. Presumably expenditure on that subject would have come from a national source. I was not requested to take part in or support the proposed referenda campaign, nor did I. We were engaged in a general election at that time in which the Tasmanian Labor Party, of which I was a member, returned 5 seats in the
House of Representatives in 1974. It is only since then- since the Left have gained control- that these seats have been wiped out for Labor.
- Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask for leave to make a personal explanation.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Is leave granted?
– No. There is no misrepresentation.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-
Order! Leave is not granted.
-We are under some time constraints in this debate. We are limited, because of the mechanics of the Senate and because of the mechanics to which this Parliament must subject itself in the next few days in order to prorogue the Parliament, in the time that we can spend on the Bill. Therefore, my time is necessarily limited. Most senators have adhered to a voluntary restriction on their speaking time. I hope that in the time available to me, I will be able to outline the factors that are the basis of my opposition to the Government’s Bill on so-called simultaneous elections.
The opposing cases, as I see it, are that on one hand this Bill is being presented as a convenient adjustment of the mechanics of the election provisions of the Constitution; on the other, it is being opposed in my case on the grounds that enactment of this legislation would result in a substantial and radical change in the nature of the Senate and in the distribution of political power in Australia in a way which I believe would be to the long term detriment of this country. In the ultimate, the proposal can enable simultaneous elections but does not, as suggested, ensure them.
The challenge to the Senate which is contained in this legislation is profound. It is a fond pastime of political scientists and political journalists to discuss whether the Senate is indeed a States’ House, in the light of the rise of the enormous and very powerful political parties in this country. It is argued that, because those parties have risen to such pre-eminence and because they have overwhelmingly been the basis of representation in the Senate, somehow or other the States nature of the Senate has been lost. I reject that assertion.
It never ceases to amaze me that those who earn their living from observing the political situation overlook some fundamental factors in the operation of the whole system. In fact, they choose to look only at the structure and the superficial effects of some operations of the system and to draw a conclusion which is not true for the total picture.
If the Senate is composed of members who, for the main part, represent the major political parties, that reflects a fact of deliberate political choice by the Australian people. It is a fact that the Australian voters choose overwhelminglyindeed, almost unanimously- to vote for one of the major political parties in elections, be they Senate or House of Representatives elections. If the voters choose that means, notwithstanding the fact that they have alternative candidates in Independents and minor parties, then I think we ought to accept their verdict. I suggest that their verdict is that the 2 major political attitudes in Australia are, on the one hand, a proposal for socialism as embodied in the Australian Labor Party and, on the other hand, a proposal for a system of government and society which believes in the individual. If the voter chooses to direct his activities in that way, that affects the Senate but it does not negate it. If the voters of Queensland choose to vote in such a way that the final ballot box result shows that 60 per cent of them believe that the propositions put forward by the Liberal and National Country Parties are the sound ones on which this country should proceed, and if 40 per cent of them hold the opinion that the policies of the Australian Labor Party are the ones that should be supported, it worries me not at all if, when the Senate is voting on a Bill affecting my State of Queensland and the issues in that Bill are as defined by the political philosophies, the vote on that Bill affecting Queensland results in 6 of the 10 Queensland senators- that is, 60 per cent- sitting on one side of the chamber and the remaining four, representing the minority viewpoint in that State, sitting on the other. In those positions they are reflecting the deliberately and specifically expressed opinion of the electorate of Queensland.
No honourable senator would be honest if he suggested that the political party system entirely overrides his State representation considerations. It is unfortunate that the important debates in relation to which this is an issue and a factor, take place basically in confidence- that is, in the confidence of the respective party rooms. Every honourable senator- certainly every one on this side of the chamber and I assume every one on the Opposition side of the chamber- has been in the situation in a party room where he or she has found it necessary to rise to his or her feet and express a point of view on either Government or Opposition policy in the light of the effect that that policy would have on his or her State. I have done that and, in the brief time that I,have been here, many other senators have done that, and I have seen that action change Government and Opposition policy.
– It is fantasyland, and you know that.
-Senator Button, who comes from the State of Victoria, claims that it does not happen. He can speak for his Party. I said that I only assumed it to be the situation in the case of the Opposition. It certainly has been the situation on the part of the coalition Parties, both in Government and in Opposition, in the 3 years that I have been here.
Much is made of the fact that the Senate took the form of a States House in order to protect the smaller States. I think that a couple of the facts in relation to the current day situation ought to be mentioned. Some people argue that the Constitution should be changed for the sake of change, simply because it has been in a certain form since 1 90 1 , and that the reasons which obtained in the 1890s are no longer necessarily relevant. I shall quickly point out a couple of facts. Seventy-nine of the 127 seats in the House of Representativesthat is, a substantial majority- are drawn from the States of Victoria and New South Wales. A substantial majority of the members of the House of Representatives come to this Parliament representing attitudes and conditions which obtain in only 2 States. They do so because there is a majority of voters in those 2 States. I suggest that we should consider carefully all the theories that have ever been put forward on the tyranny of the majority before we say that those facts alone negate the right of the Senate to exist.
I also mention that it is a fact that more than 80 per cent of the actual operating head offices of public companies- the actual operating head offices as distinct from the registered head offices- are located in Sydney and Melbourne. Eighty per cent of our public companies are centred on those 2 cities.
– That is an admission of failure on the part of Queensland.
– It is an admission of many things. As a member of the national Parliament, there is one thing of which Senator Button ought to be aware if he is performing his national duty; that is, that the sheer size of our country tends to lead to a concentration of certain activities in the cities of Sydney and Melbourne for reasons of convenience and economy. Nevertheless, that form of political power- economic political power- is exercised overwhelmingly from those 2 cities. While we do not need to be paranoiac and we do not need to be over-parochial, we do need to be realistic and we in this Parliament should be realists in terms of the effect that numbers and economic political power have on the system. The existence of the Senate balances that concentration of power and it is a balance which does operate for the benefit of our nation. The brake is necessary for the national good.
I again remind the Senate that in 1961 the Menzies Government went to an election, which it all but lost and which many people would say it richly deserved to lose- one of the reasons being that its policies had had a very detrimental effect in the State of Queensland. We had then a very poor economic situation. The State, in terms of its economy, was not as soundly based then as it is now and the Federal Government’s policies had harmed the voters of the State of Queensland. That was pointed out to the Federal Government repeatedly and forcefully. It chose not to take any notice of that State, which held only 18 of the, I believe, 123 seats- I may stand corrected on that- in the House of Representatives. It was because of the displeasure of the voters in that State with the disregard which the Federal Government had for that State’s interests that Mr Menzies, the then Prime Minister, came within a handful of votes of becoming Mr Menzies, the Leader of the Opposition.
I well remember that in April 1963 Mr Menzies, accompanied by Dame Pattie, visited Queensland for a public meeting in the Festival Hall. It was written up in all the newspapers as a toe-in-the-water exercise’. Mr Menzies’ advisers had told him at that time that the situation in Queensland had improved and that if he wanted to go to an election to increase his majority he might well consider calling an early election because he could increase that majority in Queensland. Mr Menzies came in April. He was persuaded on that occasion by his advisers in Queensland, in contrast with the earlier occasion, and we had an early election which put the Senate and the House of Representatives out of step. That is the source of the subsequent difficulty in House of Representatives and Senate elections being out of step. It came about by the exercise of the power that a Prime Minister has, a very great power, to take the House of Representatives to the people. Taking advantage of that short term political situation Mr Menzies was returned to government with an increased majority.
We have had debates on many occasions in a number of different contexts here on what is the right of the Senate in a bicameral system as a
House of review. I would like to quote the words of one of my colleagues in an earlier debate in this Parliament in April 1976 because in essence I agree with them, although at that time I disagreed with him on the matter at issue. He said:
I believe that we must be a House for all seasons. Some of our colleagues opposite have suggested that the Senate would be a House which would review legislation only when they were in government. I believe- I said this in a much unreported speech on the Address-in-Reply- that this is our duty: To be a House of Review at all times, at all seasons, no matter who is in government. Governments are not infallible.
Those words, were spoken by Senator Missen when he undertook a particular pilgrimage last year on a particular issue. He was right in his sentiments although I believe that in applying them on that occasion he was wrong; but that is his right. That is the right that we all have- to take that principle and to apply it. To give the Prime Minister the power to take the Senate to an election at any time would be a divisive and intimidatory tool in the hands of whatever man or woman might hold that office in the future. The Prime Minister would have that power and it would lead, indeed, to the diminution if not the extinction of the power of the Senate to dissent from government decisions.
Mr President, I have here a letter which appeared in the West Australian newspaper on 1 April 1974. It had been my intention originally to read it to the Senate and to comment on some sections of it. However, it is a very long letter. I will read it if need be, but in the interests of time I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard and then to comment on certain sections of it.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The letter read as follows-
The simple argument used by the Government in favour of the referendum on Senate elections is that as things are now there are too many elections, which are costly and time consuming, and that it is less bother to everyone to hold both Senate and House of Representatives elections on the same day.
On the score of cost and convenience few will deny this simple proposition. But there are many other considerations which should be argued and thought about before leaping in to vote Yes or No.
What has not been plainly stated is how the objective is to be achieved. Senators are now elected for six years (subject to the rare chance of a double dissolution), with half the senators retiring every three years. Members of the House of Representatives are elected for a maximum of three years, but may face an election at any time.
At present in a senator’s six-year term there may be three or more House of Representatives elections instead of two.
The Government now proposes to change the term of a Senator from six years to the possibility of something less, namely, two terms of the House of Representatives- so that half the Senate retires at each House of Representatives election.
Making House of Representatives and Senate elections coincide for all time is only one consequence of reducing the term and security of tenure of a senator. Nothing has been said about the other possible consequences. The first is the reduction of the power and authority of the Senate to carry out its function in a bicameral system. The second is the possibility of more frequent elections, not fewer as suggested. These propositions ought to be argued and considered, not ignored as they have been so far.
Why do we have a bicameral system? In democracies it has been generally accepted that the rule of the majority can denegrate into an oppressive tyranny unless there are some checks.
A house of review, composed of people chosen in a different way to represent a different point of view, is the most usual kind of check. But if a truly democratic voting system operates with the same people who vote for the Lower House also voting for the Upper House, its function in representing a slightly different point of view is surely diminished by providing that voting must occur on the same day.
More importantly, the Australian Senate has another function. It was part of the bargain of Federation-to give the smaller States equal representation with the larger States. It is true that most of the voting in the Senate is on Party lines, but at least there are ten voices from each State among the parties.
In many cases in the last 20 years political pressures on senators from their own States nave caused them to raise their voices and even vote to override party affiliation.
It is not unusual to find that governments once they are elected, being human, resent having to submit to this review and possible adverse criticism It is not too much to suggest that one of the reasons behind this proposed referendum might be to try to reduce the power and authority of the Senate, thus giving this or any future government a much freer rein, With a Federal government which believes that States should play a relatively minor role, anything which may reduce the effectiveness of the equalising protection given to the States in the Constitution should be eyed very wanly.
The first diminution in the power of the Senate arises from giving a senator less than the security of a six-year term. This security in theory should enable him to exercise a more independent judgment on legislation sent up from the Representatives.
The second diminution comes from the power it will give the Prime Minister of the day to threaten the Senate by saying that he will call an early election, thereby shortening the term of all the senators. The recalcitrant senators causing him most problems, however, may not be in that half of the Senate which has to face the people on that occasion. The term of these recalcitrants would also be shortened by putting forward their next election but this would be up to three years later, when the issues could be very different.
The third consequence is that elections could be more frequent and not less frequent as intended. Imagine the case as in December 1972, when Labor won a convincing victory in the House of Representatives but faced a hostile Senate. Flushed with victory and riding on the crest of the wave of enthusiasm that followed a new style of government, the
Prime Minister would have almost certainly sought a new election within the first six months. If half the Senate had been elected at the December election, the remaining half would have been subjected to the surge towards Labor with every prospect of giving the Whitlam Government control of both Houses.
If this were to be followed by a strong political reaction, giving the Liberals a win at elections three years later, they too would find it easier to purge the Senate by holding another election quickly. So in four years there would be four elections for both the House of Representatives and the Senate. If indeed the real object of the change is to achieve fewer elections, someone has blundered. If the real object is to make the Senate conform to the Lower House- that is another matter.
The double dissolution procedures are complained of as being long drawn out and cumbersome- and they have only been used twice since Federation. But they were made difficult in order to protect the Senate and to ensure that there was plenty of opportunity for negotiation, compromise, the exercise of skilful political management and above all the testing of public reaction, a process that takes time, but one which is a most important element of politics. The new proposals will tend to sidestep the double dissolution procedures.
If people decide that the Senate is an important chamber protecting States and individuals alike from possible oppressive use of a majority in the Lower House, then they should vote No. As a member of the governing coalition for many years, I felt that at times the Senate was a most frustrating body. When I look at the whole of the bundle of proposals now put forward for constitutional changes I find the Senate proposal much less attractive than I would have a few years ago.
– The letter is headed Altering Senate election system’. I apologise for not mentioning before I sought the incorporation of this letter that it was written by Mr Gordon Freeth, a former Minister for External Affairs in a Liberal-Country Party Government. He made many sound points in relation to the referendum in 1974 on whether there should be a ‘Yes’ or No ‘ vote on this very issue when it was then put to the people. I would like to draw attention, in particular, to the second last paragraph. In commenting on the fact that the double dissolution provisions are necessarily slow in their application he made this comment:
But they were made difficult in order to protect the Senate and to ensure that there was plenty of opportunity for negotiation, compromise, the exercise of skilful political management and above all the testing of public reaction, a process that takes time, but one which is a most important element of politics. The new proposals will tend to sidestep the double dissolution procedures.
I recommend the sentiments of those words of a former Minister, a Liberal Minister, to this Government- the sentiment of the importance in the political process of abandoning haste in times of real conflict in favour of negotiation, compromise, skilful political management and the testing of public reaction. If this Government had followed that advice we would not be in the dilemma in which we find ourselves at the moment over this proposal. In other words, the Senate is a factor for the operation of reason and cool political judgment in Australia and that is to the benefit of all of us. That is not an argument for conservatism for its own sake; that is an argument to let sanity prevail in our system.
I want to say a few words about the effect that this proposal will have on the distribution of power in Australia. Some people have suggested that if the Senate has a very particular power over the House of Represenatives to send it to an election, which it obviously does have at the present time, that it is only right that the House of Representatives ought also to have that power over the Senate. That is a spurious argument to put forward in support of this case. It might have some superficial appeal; it has no real substance.
Our system of parliamentary government is based on the principle of separation of powers and in the evolution of that system it had been decided in the past, and it is reiterated time and again, that it is essential that there be some proper separation of the functions of the Executive and the legislature. Increasingly, under our system, that dividing line has been blurred. In fact there is enormous power in the hands of the Executive over the legislature and it is fatuous to say that this allows power to the House of Representatives. As the system presently operates there is only one group of people with real power in the House of Representatives and they are the members of Cabinet. Of those people there is one person who has real and overwhelming power and that is the Prime Minister. The proposition now before us would give to the Prime Minister power over the Senate which he has never had before and was never intended to have. That proposition was rejected by the people in 1 974 in response to our ‘ No ‘ case.
It also has been suggested by some members of the House of Representatives, and, indeed of the Senate that senators are afraid of ‘facing their makers’, as they put it. It is suggested that we are afraid of being taken to election by the Prime Minister and facing the verdict of the voters because that will lessen our degree of independence, will make us toe the line, and will ensure that the government of the time has an easier passage than many governments in the past have had.
I suggest, Mr President, in view of some of the things I have detailed already, that it is the House of Representatives which has fears about facing its makers. At the moment we have no choice about when we go to the people. We go to the people under a fixed arrangement set in the
Constitution. That is the position of the Senate. But the Prime Minister has a power to take the House of Representatives to an election at any time. Prime Ministers have done it in the past, and undoubtedly will do it in the future, at tunes that suit them, at times when they think their political makers, the Australian population, are most kindly disposed towards them. That is what Mr Menzies did in 1963 and that is what many Prime Ministers have reserved the right to do. We in the Senate face our makers on a regular basis, on a basis which we cannot affect unless it is under the double dissolution provisions.
It is interesting again to look at the sort of reaction that this proposal has met, coming from this Government. Overwhelmingly in the public eye the reaction must be one of cynicism. In attempting to define my own thoughts on this matter over the weekend I turned to a number of books and a number of authorities on the political system. I found it impossible to find a book on the Australian political system which dealt with the subject in which I was interested. Australian political scientists are not notable for their power of generalisation or of political theory. I read some British text books and I would like to quote one piece to illustrate the point I am trying to make about the situation of the real power of the Prime Minister in Australia. This is a comment on the British Prime Minister. The book is by F. W. G. Benemy. I believe it is a text book. It is called The Elected Monarch. By that the author means the British Prime Minister. He states:
Is dictatorship in itself evil? Only if it is brutal and based on force and fear of force, and it deprives the common man of his liberties. The British Prime Minister is in a practical sense a dictator but a benevolent one. He has been trained to behave in accordance with the conventions of the constitution . . . Some might say that in suggesting that no Prime Minister would conduct himself in such an unconstitutional manner as to flout the liberty of the citizen an immodest claim is being made for the superiority of the British politician; yet this is not necessarily an egoistic attitude. It is possible to believe in the virtue of an institution without being vain. It is possible- indeed, it is very proper- to believe in the virtues of character. The Constitution is based on the unwritten principle that all those concerned with working it will honour its spirit. That is why it remains technically an unwritten Constitution. That is why the benevolent dictatorship of the Prime Minister can be accepted with relative equanimity. He can be depended on to do the Right Thing at the critical moment . . .
In the Australian context, as a comment on the Prime Minister, one can only say: ‘How quaint’. Yet that is a comment which is relevant in the British system. Let us not delude ourselves for one minute that that sort of provision obtains in Australia.
Elections do many things, but one thing they do supremely within a political party is enforce party discipline. The enforcement comes through the sanction of the possibility of losing a party endorsement. It comes through the possibility of losing one’s seat at an election- as long as there is no election one has an infinitely better chance of keeping one’s seat. There is, of course, always the overriding sanction of the possibility of losing government. Those sanctions can be brought to bear with very real effect- and have been- for the sake of responding to a temporary electoral advantage. I say to the Senate and to those who may read the Senate Hansard to find out what this is all about: Can you imagine what would have been Mr Whitlam ‘s position in 1973 if he had had this power? Without a doubt he would have taken the Senate to the people well before May 1974. Without a doubt he would have done better than he ultimately did in May 1974 when the temper of the electorate, within only a few months, started to change dramatically. The tyranny of the majority, which was one of the very real practical fears of the founding fathers, was something which our founding fathers attempted to avoid in the Constitution. The last time on which we in the Senate were consulted about our attitude to this proposal was 10 June 1975. There has been no consultation with the Government parties since then. On that occasion we voted unanimously against the proposition. Now we who oppose it are running the risk of the tyranny of the majority.
One cannot say that it is only a matter of putting the proposal to the vote; this is the proposal which the Government has deliberately chosen to put to the vote. How can giving the Prime Minister further power to call elections ensure that the number of elections will be reduced? A number of Australian Labor Party senatorsnotably Senator Cavanagh and also Senator Walsh- have said that it is right that this proposal should go to the vote and that in the interests of a principle, therefore, this proposal is one which they will affirm. A number of amendments are to be proposed. This is no secret to any member of the Senate. These amendments provide alternative means of having simultaneous elections under particular situations but would not have the dramatic and deleterious effect of this proposal. Opposition senators who have said that they want to see the situation cleared upsimply in terms of avoiding any inconvenience in the present Constitution- will be put to the test when they vote on these amendments.
I conclude my speech in the interests of time. There will be some comments which I shall want to make on those amendments which detail the advantages of simultaneous elections and which should not be confused with the current Bill.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– I rise to speak briefly in this most important debate to express my determination to support the Bill for a referendum on simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and half the Senate. Before I present the arguments for and against which have brought me to this decision, I shall comment on one or two things that were said by Senator Harradine earlier today. He suggested that one of the main problems was that this Bill was being rushed through the Parliament and that the people would not have an opportunity properly to air and consider the basic arguments for and against the proposal. I would agree that if that were so it would be a bad thing, but quite clearly there will be about 3 months in which this country can debate the cases for and against. So the people when they cast their view on the referendum certainly will have had an opportunity to consider all the matters referable to it, both for and against.
Senator Harradine also suggested that it is not for the Government to change the ground rules. Of course it is not for the Government to change the ground rules and in this instance it does not intend to change them. All the Government proposes to do is to carry out an instruction from the Constitutional Convention to see whether the people are interested in changing the ground rules. It is as simple and direct as that. I think it is somewhat mischievous to suggest, as though it were the fact, that it is the Government which seeks to change the ground rules. Following the same line of logic, if one can call it that, Senator Harradine went on to say that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) had concocted the referendum. That is not true either. I presume that it was the Constitutional Convention which suggested that the referendum be placed before the Australian people; it was not the Australian Prime Minister. In fact, if the Convention, which was a cross-section of virtually all the governmentslocal, state and Federal- had come down with a view that was in any way different from the view presented by the Government and the Opposition this proposal would never have arisen. So it cannot reasonably and honestly be said that the Australian Prime Minister concocted this referendum.
I abhor the measure of hysteria and emotion which I have seen in this debate from time to time from honourable senators on both sides. This is not something in which emotion, hysteria and invective should have any place at all and I thought it was a great shame that at the beginning of this debate one who has so much to contribute to this chamber as has Senator James McClelland should have seen fit to spend most of his 20 minutes, or whatever time it was that he spoke for, on nothing more or less than a personal attack on the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers). I do not believe that it did Senator James McClelland justice. I am sure it did not do the Opposition justice because Australians have indicated on many occasions that they are not impressed with the hysterical, emotional approach. They are not impressed by people who say ‘get out into the streets’. They are not impressed by people who take an unrealistic view about the things which are really a threat to democracy. The real threat to democracy is when Australians become subject to emotion and not reason, and I hope that in the months that precede the vote on these referendums there will be an unemotional and reasonable approach to the problems which confront the people over their most important constitution.
On balance and having looked as carefully as I can at least at some of the reasons for and against this proposition I have come down in support of it for a number of reasons. For instance, I am mindful that similar but not identical propositions were put to the people once before, but they had a different line through them. If we are to examine anything which occurred at an earlier time surely we have to examine it in the context and the circumstances of the time. So I do not think that the constant reference to and analysis of what happened when these somewhat similar but certainly not identical propositions were put to the people is of importance at the present time. There is in this country another very great danger to democracy, and I mention this only because Senator James McClelland indicated his great fear for democracy here. In my view another enormous threat to democracy lies in the extraordinary and large emotional ideological gap which separates Australians and we of this chamber must do all we can, inside and outside it, to lessen that gap and to lessen the use of emotion in place of reason. It is of extreme importance that Australians make their decision on a reasonable and well-informed basis. There is every reason for having a case for and against the proposition and there is every reasonindeed, it is essential- why every Australian should look at the whole picture before deciding.
As I looked at the cases for and against I came to a decision. In considering the case for simultaneous elections it seemed to me that in some sense it was giving to the House of Representatives a capacity which this chamber already has, and I trust always will have, and there is no threat to the power that this chamber has. Quite clearly the obvious advantage in the proposition lies in the fact that Australians will be confronted with fewer elections and consequently less cost. These may not be massive reasons but they are important reasons, and in a country where the Parliament lasts for only 3 years they are reasons of much more significance than they would be in other democracies around the world. Perhaps the answer is not simultaneous elections but an extra year in the life of the Parliament, although I suggest that in the present circumstances fewer elections and less cost are attractive reasons.
The other reason why I am in favour of this Bill is that it reflects the clear indication of the Constitutional Convention that this proposition, having been agreed to in large measure by that Convention, should be put to the people. I also believe that the proposal for simultaneous elections in this Bill does not contain within it any real and significant reduction of the power of the Senate. If it did I would be diametrically opposed to it. I do not believe it contains any direct reduction in the power of the Senate. The power of the Senate over money Bills, over Supply, the power that is held by Senate committees, is not under threat.
The powers of the Senate will remain basically as they are. Indeed, only half the Senate will be elected every 3 years. Consequently the Senate will not be swamped one way or the other. Indeed, when an election is held for the Senate simultaneously with an election for the House of Representatives it may be that the Senate election would indicate a slide if there were a slide one way or the other in the House of Representatives election. But it may also be- I think there is an equally strong argument to suggest this-that there would not be a similar slide because Australians have grown to value the Senate as a second House and as their only brake on the House of legislature. Consequently they may be loath to go around the bend, as it were, in both Houses at the one time. So it could be that a measure of stability would be retained.
The argument against this proposition is suggested only if there is a real possibility of diminution in the power of the Senate. Not only do I believe in the importance of the Senate but I also believe that in recent years Australians have come to recognise the real significance of the
Senate in the Australian parliamentary scene. If I feel that there would be a denigration of the power of this House, of its capacity to act as a responsible House of review, I certainly would not be supporting this sort of legislation. After all, the legislation we support here today merely proposes that the Australian people be given an opportunity to decide at a poll on certain proposed changes to the Constitution. If there is no increased threat to the significance and power of the Senate, to me it seems on balance that there is a good proposition that simultaneous elections may have more advantages than disadvantages. The proposal has the capacity to reduce elections in our community, which would be popular and good from a point of view of competent government.
Separate elections for the Senate have been supported. Indeed there is reasonable support for them on the grounds that they allow the people to make judgments on a government. The people can say that a government is doing well or equally they can say that it is not doing well. That may or may not be the case. The people could well take a Senate election as one that does not really matter all that much, that will not be significant in the immediate future government of the country. They may not take the sort of serious view that they should, and mostly do, take. The simultaneous elections that occurred in 1974 and 1975 seem to lend emphasis to that view. Honourable senators will recall that in 1974 the Australian people returned the Whitlam Government in the House of Representatives and in a simultaneous election for the whole of the Senate they failed to give Mr Whitlam control of the Senate. I thought that was not only evidence of the intelligence of the Australian electorate but also justification of the view that one election for one House will not necessarily be a mirror image of an election for the other House.
As time is precious I conclude my remarks by saying that I believe, on balance, that this legislation should be supported and that what it actually does is to throw the ball into the court of the electors of Australia. On them will be an immense responsibility. I am not one who assumes or in any way would believe that the electors would have a bar of frivolous elections. If any honourable senator can imagine an election called by the House of Representatives involving half the Senate and then 6 or 9 months later the calling of another election being acceptable to the Australian electorate his imagination goes further afield than mine and I trust that his imagination is wrong. I support the Bill.
-In rising to speak tonight I find myself in complete opposition to the Constitutional Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill before the Senate. It contains a proposal which was brought to the people by the Labor Government in 1974. It is a Bill which seeks to undermine the stability and power of the Senate and by so doing undermine the stability and power of Australian people. This afternoon Senator McLaren admitted this when he agreed that this measure is the first step in abolishing the power of the Senate, the sooner the better.
– Because of the way you people have abused the power of the Senate.
-The Senate is a States’ House and I believe that even Senator McLaren would agree with that. It is a House whose prime object is the protection of the States, the smaller States in particular. That is why each State has equal representation. Each State has 10 senators and each senator, in normal circumstances, is elected for 6 years. Without the Senate there would be no Federal Parliament for the States would never have agreed to join in federation. When I mention the small States in particular it is to stress the reliance the States put on the Senate. New South Wales and Victoria have the numbers in the House of Representatives and their voices are heard clearly in that place. Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia desperately need the Senate to ensure fair play, to ensure that their voices are heard. If at any time the 10 senators of one State are forced to vote in a block on a piece of legislation which they consider is detrimental to their State there would be no way their voice would not be heard.
Having established this fact- for indeed it is fact- I turn to the independence of the Senate and the necessity for this. To date the Senate has had all the independence that it has needed to be an effective House of the Parliament. It is the stabilising influence, the House of review. It is the House where time is given, where we can have a second look. Since I have been a member of this Parliament I am more convinced than ever that that second look is essential. At times legislation has passed the lower House without the public having had time even to think of the Bill in which it may well be vitally interested. The fact that the Bill must be sent to the Senate not only gives the public time to consider the Bill in which it could be interested, time to make representations to the senators from their States, but also gives the members of the Senate time to look at such Bills, to give them a second look and to be sure that that legislation is the wisest possible to meet the occasion. I stress again that it must be the wisest legislation in the interests of all the States.
What happens if the Senate in its wisdom sees danger in the proposed Bills? It then has the power either to reject those Bills or to amend them. This is the purpose of the House of review. In fact, that is what happened under the Labor Administration. Socialist Bills detrimental to the small States were sent to the Senate from the House of Representatives. The Senate, when reviewing those Bills, rejected them. At that time, people all over Australia were saying: ‘Thank God for the Senate. Thank God for the Constitution and the wisdom of the fathers of Federation’. I could not agree more because, if the power of the Senate had not been upheld and if this legislation that is before the Senate today had been in force, history could well have taken a different road. This is the main reason why we have Opposition senators voting so gleefully for the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill today. As they have said in the past, it is the first step in the destruction of the Senate.
Let me express clearly the course that history could have taken S years ago if this legislation had been in force. In 1972, when there was a swing to the Australian Labor Party both the House of Representatives and, under the new legislation, half the Senate would have had to face the people. With the swing that then took place there is no doubt that that half of the Senate would have contained a majority of Labor senators returned -
– And why not? It would have been the will of the people.
-Just let me finish. In that half -
– Why do you complain about that? It would have been the will of the people.
-No, I have no grizzle with that. It would have been the will of the people and I have no grizzle with that. However, if the majority after that election had not been sufficient to give Mr Whitlam a majority in the Senate, if after that election the majority still had not been with the Labor Party, during the early part of 1973, in that euphoric stage through which we passed when he was handing out all the goodies, when the damage was not obvious to the people and when he had not shown his true socialist colours, he could have again taken the House of Representatives to the people and under this legislation, the second half of the Senate automatically would have gone to an election with Mr Whitlam and the Labor Party. There would have been no need for the protection of rejected legislation or the protection of any time lag. It all could have been accomplished in the first few months.
With the Labor record of rapid change and, as I have said, of handing out large sums of money to whomever asked for it, before the damage to the economy and the unemployment were evident and while Labor’s true colours of socialism still had not been made apparent, the possibility existed that the people could have been fooled by that rogue Government because of its temporary popularity. There would have been no brake, no protection for the people against the socialist Bills that the Government attempted to pass. The people need that protection. They need that stability. They need the Constitution. We need 6-year term senators. We need time for people to see how a government performs and to be assured that a government will not, without notice, change our whole democratic way of life as the previous Government attempted to do. We need this time. We need this stay. It is attainable only through the 6-year term of senators.
When I raised this matter with honourable senators on our side of the Senate who agree with the passage of the Bill, I was told that it was highly unlikely that any Prime Minister would dare to return to the people in anything less than 18 months to 2 years. Senator Scott said tonight that the people would not accept it and that it was most unlikely that a Prime Minister would do it. As a matter of fact, others have said that the Governor-General of the day would be highly unlikely to sign the necessary papers entitling him to do it. All I can say in reply to that is that until 1972 every Australian would have said that it was highly unlikely that any Prime Minister would try to deceive the Loan Council, that the Governor-General had to sign the minutes of a meeting of the Executive Council and that he would not do so if deceit were involved. We were told that it would be highly unlikely that any Prime Minister would dare to do it. However, we found that with that rogue Government nothing was highly unlikely, whether it was deceiving the Governor-General himself or deceiving the Loan Council. I for one would never be prepared to trust any future socialist or pro-communist government with this type of legislation which relies just on the idea that it would be highly unlikely that any leader would take advantage of it.
I am very disturbed. I care so much for my State. If the power of the Senate is diminished, then without doubt the voice of my State will also be diminished. We cannot afford to lose any further voice in the Parliament. In the lower House we have only 5 voices as against 45 voices from New South Wales and 34 voices from Victoria. In fact, the combined voices from New South Wales and Victoria number seventy-nine, while the combined voices from the smaller States-those of Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania- number forty-five. It is a case of seventy-nine versus forty-five. Our State cannot afford to lose another voice. I hope that the Government will accept one of the amendments put forward in this debate by the concerned Government senators. It is not too late. This is no doubt the most important legislation we have yet been asked to review. I honestly believe that the way we are dealing with this Bill typifies the Senate as a House of review. If the lower House had had the opportunity to give to this Bill the time that we have been able to give to it, I believe that it would not have been given the speedy passage that it was given in that place. I am totally opposed to this Bill. I am firmly committed to the independence of the Senate and the unhampered voice of the smaller States.
-Every speaker in the debate tonight and earlier today has used the catchcry ‘the protectors of democracy’. I want to start off by aligning myself with Senator Scott and other progressives on the Government side. I believe that the enactment of this legislation will remove much of the doubt that people have that our existing parliamentary system provides for genuine reform. I will start off with a serve to Senator Harradine. I say to him and to honourable senators generally that I can recall in the early 1950s arguing various matters on the workshop floor from a trade union point of view. People who were to the left of me in their political views would say: ‘Comrade Mulvihill is a reformist but we are revolutionaries’. I would be surprised, Senator, if you could go round Tasmania and convince people in the trade union movement- you did pretty well in the executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions- that the trade union movement can look to its elected representatives to get unfettered progress of industrial legislation and at the present time fight an interim Senate election where a lot of what we want can be vetoed. I spoke to a host of people after the last general election. Some did not even vote in that election as a matter of protest. Many of the people involved were post war migrants. As a matter of fact that is the seriousness of the situation. I believe in parliamentary reform, but I like to believe that I shall have a reasonable opportunity to have reform.
Senator Walters and others have made great play about the submergence of State rights. If they believe, as I hope all honourable senators believe, in the advancement of Australia they should look at the way in which State rights have prevailed and how it has held Australia back. Speaking as a New South Welshman- and I am sure my colleagues Senator Primmer and Senator Brown will agree with me- the obstinacy of New South Wales and Victoria delayed for years and years a uniform railway gauge. This was bad for Australia. Maybe New South Wales and Victoria had their way, but it prevented us from having a modern national rail system. I know that Senator Collard, wherever he is, would agree with that too.
Let me take this idea of pandering to State rights a little further. It was only because of the far-sightedness of postwar Prime Minister Ben Chifley that we used defence powers to create the Snowy Mountains project. All of us know that every facet of that project, whether it be power or work force, was a milestone in the development of Australia. As to the shibboleth that Government senators have developed about big government in Canberra, let us look at the pluses. Of course governments make mistakes. Do not let any honourable senator try to tell me that governments of every political colour at a State level do not make errors.
I want to go on now to the United States situation to which Senator Sir Magnus Cormack referred. He referred to a period of presidential power from President Roosevelt to the ill-fated President Nixon. I think that he more or less skated over a lot of things. If we are going to argue as a lot of the non-conformist senators on the Government side do about this Canberra syndrome we should relate to those arguments the things said by Senator Sir Magnus Cormack. He referred to the excesses of Washington. Let us remember this: A very great American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, coined a very effective phrase when he said: The greatest threat to our institutions are those that refuse to face up to a change’. I revert to my earlier aside to Senator Harradine. If a lot more people in this community believe that you cannot get reforms in a parliamentary way they are going to use all sorts of ways that will be found repugnant. It is not good for democracy. In the case of the United States, the first 100 days when Washington rode over the States saved the United States which was on the verge of economic anarchy. Government senators cannot get away from that fact. The States may be a little bit scornful now as far as the New Deal and all those things are concerned but they saved America from bankruptcy. There is no question about it.
Not so long ago the Government of honourable senators opposite found that there was a bit of a problem concerning uranium and the big American corporations. A Liberal government brought in legislation late at night so that it could control things. What would have been the position if they had not done so? Do honourable senators opposite think they would have got the 6 States on side? They never would have. That is a basic matter. I take it a little further. I have a lot to do with the Latin American communities. Have honourable senators opposite ever studied what could happen if we were to get a no vote in May? Let us take the situation in Chile with the Frai government. It was a christian democratic government; it was not a socialist government. Prai attempted to deal with the Standard Oil Company and all those other big multi-nationals and usher in land reform. The Senate stifled what he was doing. It had its moment of glory and what happened then? Then we have the situation of the Allende government which tried to go the other way. What has been the outcome there? Now the country is governed by a military junta, and what does it do? It tortures men and women in that country by applying electrodes to the various parts of their bodies. If that is the sort of government that honourable senators opposite want us to get, they can go ahead and vote no. It is all very well to scoff about these sorts of things. I particularly ask Senator Harradine: What will be the situation if you happen to be sitting in the gallery at the ACTU Congress and Bob Hawke and Souter and others have to tell Halfpenny, ‘Yes, a future government will do it’? What do you think the response will be?
Let us look at the Medibank ramp. We had a mandate to bring in a Medibank scheme and honourable senators opposite vetoed it. I know that there are progressives like Senator Missen and others who regret that sort of thing, but not many honourable senators opposite think that way.
– What has that got to do with it?
-Look, Senator, I can play party politics too. I say to those maverick senators headed by Senator Wright that some of you might have been tempted to play politics and tell the people to vote no. Then we would have been in a position where your Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) would have looked even more stupid. But we put party advantage over that. We are advocating a yes vote. I say that for a simple reason. Some of my supporters have become despondent. I said: ‘Well, between 1966 and 1969 we rose like Phoenix from the ashes. We will do so again’. But I say to Senator Jessop that it is very difficult to answer people when they say to you: ‘Yes, but what if they ring in people into the Senate from a different party?’ You cannot answer that question. The better type of government senator knows that he has to right a wrong. The slogan ‘Right the wrong’ has been displayed in all the capital cities. I interpret this legislation as righting the wrong, because no matter which way you look at this situation affirmative votes are vital. A lot of people have beaten their breasts over this matter. When I listened to Senator Kathy Martin and Senator Walters it made me recall an occasion in the 1920s when an Irish Parliament was formed to decide whether it would accept the British Government’s rule of the Irish Free State. There was a Countess Markievicz involved who looked very much like Senator Walters. Her speech was very much the same as that of Senator Walters. They both could not see what was being offered. I do not know who is De Valera over there or who is Michael Collins, but when I look at Senator Lajovic I would give him one too. He will remember only too well, and some of his Slovene friends will too, that the Austrian/Hungarian empire said: ‘Everything is right. We will keep all the Slovenes under our thumb’. That is the dictum that Senator Wood goes on about. He says: ‘Look, let them have their elections. Let them have a House of Representatives election but we will apply the power of veto in the Senate’. Senator Wood, you can say that here and out on the hustings but how you are going to answer it in the next S years is another matter.
– Order! Senator Mulvihill, please direct your remarks through the Chair.
-I bow to your guidance, Mr President. This Bill for simultaneous elections means that very thing. In fact I think Senator Scott put the situation much better than that. The fact is that you will have checks and balances. The margin to return the Whitlam Government in the next House of Represenatives elections would be bigger than what it would be in the Senate with proportional representation voting. Let us go beyond that point. All senators here will be gainfully employed. They will serve on Estimates Committees. I am sure that I will serve with Senator
Jessop on the Science and Environment Committee. I repeat what I said before as a socialist: I pay tribute to the progressives who have come onto our High Court. If the decisions there are wrong you have the opportunity of redress. So I repeat, there is nothing socialistic about the matter. We are going to our betters- the people. I shudder to think, Senator Walters, of a no vote result. People in the trade union movement ask me: ‘Have you got a mandate? Can you get things through?’ I shall have to say: ‘No, we cannot’. I leave it to you whether we have to take to the streets. If we do, it will be because of the Senator Wrights and the Senator Walters ‘s who, like the Buorbons of old, have never learnt anything and have never forgotten anything.
-This referendum proposal for simultaneous elections is being put through the Houses of Parliament by the Executive Government today, all of a sudden. This proposal we are considering now is similar to one which was put forward by Labor to the people in 1974, as honourable senators would know. It would appear that there is a contradiction in the Government argument because we opposed it vehemently last time. This time the Government is supporting it. The reason given for this is that conditions are different now from what they were in 1974. In 1974 when this proposal was put to the people it was put in conjunction with other referenda proposals precipitately. The Constitutional Convention had only just been convened. A power hungry executive government put the referenda proposals to the people in the hope that it could gain more power. The people rejected all the proposals. The whole thrust of the referenda put to the people by Labor was entirely different from the thrust of these proposals. The proposals of Labor were cloaked in such dissembling words as ‘democratic elections’. Had they been accepted they would have decayed democracy, not strengthened it. They were an artifice of a power hungry executive.
Subsequently the Constitutional Convention had many meetings. State governments, local governments and the Federal Government were well represented. State and federal politicians and other well qualified and experienced people took part. After a series of meetings the Convention came up with general accord on approximately 22 proposals. There was substantial agreement on four of them. It is these 4 proposals for constitutional reform which the Government is now putting to the people. We all are well aware that for some years there has been talk of constitutional reform. Various intellectuals, academics and political commentators, and, in particular the Australian Labor Party, have been trying to achieve constitutional reform. The ALP of course wants to ditch the Queen, wreck the Federal Parliament by abolishing the Senate, abolish State parliaments, abolish local government, have a huge central government in Canberra under a president and tie regional development in Australia to Canberra. I do not call that constitutional reform; I call that revolution.
– I take a point of order. I deliberately waited until the sentence was finished so that I would not interrupt the speaker in full flight. He said that the ALP wished to ditch the Queen. I think that this is inappropriate language to use and an inappropriate manner in which to talk about the Labor Party. I suggest that the speaker withdraw the statement.
– The statement does not attach to a person. Is Senator Colston speaking on behalf of his Party? Does he take personal objection to the remark?
– I do, Mr President.
– Personal objection is taken to the remark made by Senator Sheil.
– I am happy to withdraw that remark and replace it with ‘discard ‘.
– I must again take a point of order. As far as I know there is no move to discard the Queen. Before I entered the Parliament legislation was introduced which made the Queen Queen of Australia. I must speak for a moment to explain my position. I remember listening to the debate at that time although I was not a member of this place. The Prime Minister at the time, Mr Whitlam, sat through the whole debate to show his sincerity about the matter. I think that any reference to the Queen that Senator Sheil made should be removed. He is deliberately misrepresenting the Australian Labor Party and I take personal exception to it.
– I am prepared to accept what Senator Colston has said and bring the statement into line with the rest of the points I was expounding. I said that the ALP wishes to abolish the Senate. I will say that it wishes to abolish the monarchy, if that is acceptable to the honourable senator.
– In respect to the points of order raised, Senator Sheil has withdrawn a remark which Senator Colston found personally offensive. A rebuttal of the charges can be made impersonally at any time.
– I rise on the point of order. The main point is that Senator Colston objects to the suggestion that the Labor Party is somewhat disloyal to the Queen. Whatever words were used there should not be that imputation against the Labor Party. No action of ours would suggest such a thing.
– The point of order does not come remotely within the Standing Orders which permit a point of order to be taken on offensive remarks. It is a matter of the to and fro of debate. Both sides have to be listened to however unsustainable the argument.
– I speak to the point of order. I would not have risen because I felt that Senator Cavanagh covered the point appropriately, but Senator Wright’s contribution is totally irrelevant as is so much of what he says in this place.
– That is offensive.
– That is a typical reaction. Because I said that the honourable senator’s contribution is irrelevant he takes exception, but he defended Senator Sheil who made a disparaging comment about every member of the Opposition in respect of his attitude to the monarchy. We have a right to object to that. With respect, Mr President, I ask you to consider that point. That is the central feature, not the irrelevancy that Senator Wright raised.
– I speak to the point of order. I submit that since I have been in the Parliament I have heard the Government called, and indeed I have called the Government, almost every word of which one could think. Yet no Government supporter has stood up and claimed that it was offensive to him because the remarks were made to the Government and were impersonal. It is my submission that we are faced with the same situation now. Whether rightly or wrongly Senator Sheil has made a comment about the Australian Labor Party as a particular body and not about individual senators in this chamber. Last night I forbore to complain when one of the members of the Australian Labor Party called me a republican just because I refused leave for the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) to put down a statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) about the Queen. I suggest that what the honourable senator said is in respect of an organisation and not in respect of any individual senator.
– I regret that this matter is so far out of hand but as Senator Wriedt has seen fit to enter the debate on the point of order I also feel obliged to do so. As I understand the position, Senator Sheil rephrased the remarks he made. He put them in general terms in such a way that they could not reflect on any senator. Senator Colston and Senator Cavanagh have made personal explanations in respect of any misrepresentation of their position that might have occurred. I do not know how that matter arose but it has been cleaned up and a statement has been made in the most general terms by Senator Sheil. I suggest that the matter should be laid at rest as quickly as possible.
– The remark made during Senator Shell’s speech was offensive to me as well as to Senator Colston in view of the impending visit of Her Majesty to this country. Standing order 4 1 7 clearly states:
No Senator shall use the name of Her Majesty or of Her representative in this Commonwealth disrespectfully in Debate . . .
I believe that Senator Sheil ‘s statement that the Labor Party wishes to ditch the Queen is offensive to the Queen and to the Labor Party. Senator Sheil was asked, courteously, to withdraw that offensive reference. He said ‘I will withdraw it and I will substitute “discard the Queen”.’ That expression is more offensive still. He was asked then to withdraw that expression also. He said: ‘Well, abolish the Queen’. His intent was to impute that the Labor Party wished to take action against the Queen, who is to visit this country shortly. That is quite untrue.
– Gough is always talking about a republic.
– As has been pointed out already, during the regime of the Labor Party, we specifically made Her Majesty Queen of Australia-
– We take an oath of allegiance.
– We are Her Majesty’s Opposition. We take an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty. I find it personally offensive for Senator Sheil to try to gain some cheap, miserable mileage out of imputing that we in the Labor Party are less loyal than he or his colleagues are. I hope, Mr President, that you will insist on his remarks being deleted from the record.
- Mr President!
– Order! We have heard enough arguments, thank you.
- Mr President, I am entitled to speak to the point of order.
– Of course you are not. Sit down.
– Yes, I am. I am drawing your attention, Mr President, to a standing order.
– Well, the President has to hear me.
– He does not have to hear you.
-Order! I do not have to hear the honourable senator but I will. Be brief.
– He does not have to hear you.
– Well, you put the question.
– I will hear Senator Bishop.
– I refer you, Mr President, to standing order 418. Senator O ‘Byrne has already directed your attention to standing order 417. It is related to standing order 418. Perhaps I should read standing order 4 1 7 first.
– I have them before me, thank you.
– I will read standing order 4 18. It provides:
No Senator shall use offensive words against either House of the Parliament or any Member of such House, or of any House of a State Parliament, or against any Statute, unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal, and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on members shall be considered highly disorderly.
So, when Senator Sheil made his imputations against the Labor Party as such and against Members of the Labor Party, Senator Colston drew your attention to what were objectionable words to him. Senator Sheil made some form of retraction, but he has not retracted in the terms of standing order 4 1 8. 1 suggest to you, Mr President, for your consideration, that you should take note of the point of view put by Senator Colston who finds the references and imputations by Senator Sheil offensive to him. He is entitled to have the situation corrected by a decision from you.
– If words are offensive to an individual senator and there is a feeling of personal involvement, the words come within the provisions of the standing order referred to. Senator Sheil, please rephrase your words, and continue.
-Thank you, Mr President. I did not wish to precipitate a volatile situation like that. May I explain that the context in which I was using the word ‘Queen’ was in relation to Chapter 1-The Parliament, Part I-General, of the Australian Constitution.
-Order! There will be no more discussion on the point of order. Carry on with your speech.
-According to that part of the Constitution, the Parliament is made up of the Queen, the Senate and the House of Representatives. I used the word in that context.
– We take an oath of allegiance or affirmation of allegiance to Her Majesty, and you are suggesting that we would break it.
-Order! Senator Sheil, carry on.
– Well, Mr President, you can see how -
- Mr President, may I confirm that Senator Sheil has withdrawn that statement?
-I have ruled on this matter. I have asked Senator Sheil to continue his speech. He will rephrase words which are offensive to any honourable senator. If they are so offensive, he will withdraw those words. Carry on, Senator Sheil.
-Thank you, Mr President; I do agree. If I may continue by dealing with the issues that are to be put to the Australian people in the referenda, I remind the Senate that these include the matter of simultaneous elections -
-Put by whom?
– By the executive government. Those issues have created a great deal of dissent, not only in the Senate. I am sure that they will create dissent amongst the people. They are issues which affect the fundamental integrity of the Senate, its powers and its ability. Other issues associated with the referenda interfere with States ‘s rights, the rights of people in States and the rights of justices of the High Court. The selection of people to fill casual vacancies in the Senate by the States is interfered with also. In that connection, I presume that that referendum proposal was precipitated by the appointments of Senator Bunton and Senator Field to this Senate. I would not presume to comment on the appointment of Senator Bunton. In the case of Senator Field, I would say that the issue then concerned not his appointment but whether the Queensland Parliament should have had the opportunity to make a choice from 3 candidates when selecting a replacement senator. The Australian Labor Party would not give the
Queensland Parliament a choice. That Parliament exercised its rights and chose a Labor man, who had been active in and respected by the Party for many years, to come to this chamber.
– Your Party is now saying that that was wrong.
– The fact that the Labor Party expelled him after his appointment to the Senate is its own affair. I turn to the other issues which are dividing us. One is the right of people in the mainland territories to vote in referenda. I can see how this would cause great disquiet to the States.
– What Bill are you speaking about?
– I am speaking about the Bills associated with this Bill in the same way as the Labor Party had Bills associated with its referenda. I can see how the people of the mainland Territories being largely public servants may have interests when voting in such referenda different from the interests of the people in the States.
– So you do not support the Bill?
– I instance the proposed retiring age for High Court justices. Many people would think that judges were just slipping into high gear when they reached the age of 70 and that -
- Mr President, I rise to take a point of order. I do believe that the Senate is debating a Bill relating to simultaneous elections. The present speaker is ranging over the content of the 4 Bills to be considered. I think that opportunities will be provided to debate the other 3 Bills later. With deference to you, Mr President, I suggest that the honourable senator be asked to speak on the Bill that is currently being debated.
– I am connecting my remarks.
- Senator Sheil, you can connect your remarks to this Bill.
-Thank you, Mr President. The contentious issues now being considered include a change in the rights of the States, of the rights of people in the States, of the rights of the Senate, of the rights of the High Court, of the rights of the House of Representatives and of the rights of the Prime Minister in calling elections. These are fundamental changes which, if made, would sabotage the foundations of our Constitution, which nas withstood the ravages of time, including what I would call the holocaust of the 3 years of Labor, ending in that cataclysm which occurred on Remembrance Day in 1975. Despite all of these factors, the Government feels that the conditions now are altered from what they were in 1974 when it opposed the Labor referenda, including the proposition with respect to simultaneous elections. This view is taken in the light of the decisions of the last Australian Constitutional Convention.
So, after an examination of the entire electoral spectrum, the Government has decided to put these matters to the people. It would be difficult to oppose such a proposition. What could be more democratic than that action? Putting questions to the people for determination is of the very essence of democracy in a world where currently in the United Nations there are only 24 democracies amongst 146 represented nations, the remainder of which are either despotisms or totalitarian states. Democracy is very precious to us. I have great confidence that the Australian people will do no damage to our democracy by their votes in the forthcoming referenda. I am happy to vote to have the issues put to the people. I will be most interested in the result. I think that I can guess the outcome of the referendum questions. I will be most interested also in the outcome of the poll to select our national song.
-Mr President, in my 27 years in this Parliament I would say that this is the worst piece of political trickery and hypocrisy that I have encountered. And it is coming from my own Government. One could understand a party with a political philosophy like that of the Australian Labor Party putting forward such a proposal as this to be determined at a referendum. But, when the Parties on this side of the House clutch this referendum proposal to their breasts and say This is what we believe in’, after the case we presented against a similar referendum a couple of years ago, it really astounds me. It is really laughable to hear some of the honourable senators on the Government side of the chamber trying to justify the reason for the change in their opinion. As a matter of fact, I have come to the conclusion that there must be sufficient acrobats on the Government side of the chamber today to make a really first class circus. What argument did the Parties on this side of the Senate put forward in the No case a couple of years ago? We said:
This referendum will make the Senate the rubber stamp of a socialist, centralist Labor Government.
We went on then to talk about there being a difference between the 2 Houses of the Parliament, and said:
The dishonesty of this referendum question is that it says this is the only way to get Senate and House of Representatives elections held together. That is simply untrue.
The Constitution; the law and parliamentary practice allows each Prime Minister to have a House of Representatives election on the same day as any Senate election. He can have the House of Representatives and Senate elections on the same day simply by his own decision.
– Who said that?
-That was stated in the Government Parties’ No case 2 years ago. Senator Kathy Martin today pointed out how the elections came to be out of kilter. That occurred because a government of an earlier day- a government of the same political persuasion as the present Government- was idotic enough to increase the sales tax on cars to 40 per cent. What would happen to the motor vehicle industry today if the sales tax were 40 per cent? I opposed that proposition. The only other member of the Government Parties who opposed it was Senator Reg Wright- a man who can be trusted to stand up for his principles. As I walked around the Parliament in those days, members of Parliament from this side would not speak to me, because I had taken a stand. Today the sales tax on cars is 27Vi per cent. A little while ago the Labor government reduced it to 17 1/2 per cent. I gave the warning in 196 1 that if the then Government kept the high rate of sales tax on for very long the Prime Minister of the day would find himself the Leader of the Opposition. He struggled back to office with about one seat to spare. Then, as Senator Kathy Martin said, when he thought that the sun was shining a little more brightly he rushed us out to another election. My own assessment of the situation at the time, and I stated it, was that if he had waited until later on- until nearer the normal time- he would have received a bigger majority.
Having heard Senator Kathy Martin make her speech, I commend her on the very strong stand that she has taken on this issue, which is an issue on which she believes the Government to be wrong. I feel that the people of Queensland will commend her very strongly. She is not one of those people who have a wishbone where their backbone ought to be. She has shown herself to be a person of character. I believe that as a result of her actions on this issue the people of Queensland will ensure that she is in the Senate for a long time. We want in this chamber people who are prepared to stand up for, to vote for and to say what they really believe. We now find this issue being brought forward by a LiberalNational Country Party Government. Let us look at what was said a couple of years ago about elections for the Senate and the House of
Represenatives. The present Government Parties went on to say in the No case that was circulated to all the electors in Australia:
But the Senate is not an arm of the House of Representatives. Both are established under the Constitution as equal, independent Houses of Parliament with differing roles. The Senate is the only institution in Australia able to be a barrier to the arbitrary misuse of power by a Prime Minister or his Cabinet.
Then this very important feature came in:
The present system is that senators are elected for a 6-year term. It is a ‘staggered’ election system with half of the Senate coming up for election every 3 years. The statutory 6-year term is one of the strengths from which a senator derives his independence.
Without Senate independence the casualty would be democracy.
It should be remembered that in this chamber we are dealing with human beings. There is no question about it: If a person knows that he has a definite term of office of 6 years there is more likelihood of his taking an independent stand because he knows that he has a reasonable length of time to serve and that if he makes a stand he has time for it to be shown that he was right. Eventually his Party will accept him. I know that that has been the case with me. There has been talk about getting rid of me, but every time I have gone back for re-selection the people back home, who are really at the grass roots level and who are the real basis of the Liberal Party, stand by me because they want people who are not worms; they want people who will stand up as parliamentarians in this country.
We are now witnessing a quite unusual display from some members of the Government Parties. I have been amazed by the speeches that have come from some members of the Government Parties- in particular the members of the National Country Party of Australia. Let us go through this matter again. Senator Missen said last night that the reason why the present Government Parties put forward a No case previously was that there were other questions for consideration and that if the Government Parties did not put forward that No case on that one the people might vote Yes for the others. One has to be honest with the people. I have found out during my period in public life that, if one has honesty and sincerity, that carries conviction with the people. Do honourable senators think that nonsense like that will carry conviction? I have heard some similar statements made in this chamber. They are absolutely nonsensical and not the truth. Putting it bluntly, Senator Missen ‘s statement is not the truth. We opposed that referendum proposal because we opposed it. I will go into more detail on that. Let us examine what Senator Withers, the present Leader of the Government in the Senate, had to say on this matter previously. He said:
We oppose this legislation because it is another attempt by the Prime Minister to destroy the Senate. If the referendum which the legislation proposes were passed by some freak mischance, it would effectively destroy the capacity of the Senate to act as it now does. It would be the first step towards placing all power in the hands of the House of Representatives and therefore in the hands of the Prime Minister for the rime being. It would destroy the Parliament as we have known the Parliament since 1900. . . . This Bill is an attempt to destroy the only effective watchdog, the only effective check, on the abuse of power in this country.
– Who said that?
-Senator Withers, the present Leader of the Government in the Senate. Let us examine what Senator Carrick has said about this matter. He has given me a lead that I must follow. I know that if I did not do so he would not think much of me. He said on that occasion:
It is a Bill which seeks to resubmit to the people of Australia a proposition which they rejected resoundingly 12 months ago. That is quite clear. It is a Bill which seeks to make it compulsory forever afterwards that the House of Representatives and the Senate elections be held on the one day.
As a Queenslander, I was from one of the States that he then mentioned. This is what he said:
Any senator coming from one of the small States - that is one of the States with a smaller population- who ties himself basically to this device is indeed in dereliction of his duty to the States. . . . Any senator who gets up and seeks to destroy the quality of the Senate in this way ought to be defeated in his own State.
I could not possibly go against that proposition put forward by Senator Carrick, the present Minister for Education. Therefore I must oppose this legislation. But it is not just the members of the Senate who have previously opposed these propositions. Mr Killen, another Minister in the present Government, said:
My hope and expectation is that the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) must stand in contemplation of disappointment for I am sure that when his proposal is understood by the people it will be rejected.
I turn now to the remarks made previously by Mr Sinclair, who I notice was reported in the Press the other day as having said that he is in favour of the 4 referendum proposals. That is amazing, considering what he said then. He said:
Neither in the manner of its presentation nor in the substance of its argument has the Government demonstrated any valid case for the support of this piece of legislation, for its passage through the Parliament, nor, I would submit, its ultimate support by the people of Australia when it is considered by them, as a question,, amongst others, by way of referenda.
He went on to say:
I am quite concerned that there should be no breakdown of the powers and functions of the Senate. I am concerned that there should be no derogation of the power that a senator exercises as a result of his election for a term of 6 years, and that is where it comes in in this Bill. If the honourable member for Diamond Valley had cared I would have been only too prepared to have allowed him to have incorporated in Hansard not only those significant passages from the 1958 report of the Constitutional Review Committee but also the reservations that were expressed by Senator Wright.
Senator Wright had expressed reservations. Mr Sinclair went on to say:
Those reservations are very material to the passage of this Bill. They set out in detail an analysis made by that learned gentleman of the way in which a senator’s rights and responsibilities are exercised, in part, through his election for a term of 6 years. A 6-year term gives a senator a measure of independence which a relationship between his term of office and a House of Representatives election would deny him.
Has there been any change in that situation? Of course not. Mr Sinclair went on to say:
Honourable members opposite support a unicameral system ;
He was referring to Labor Party members- a system which denies the maintenance of the Senate. The Leader of the Opposition referred to that passage of the Prime Minister’s second reading speech in introducing the Bill in which he stated:
Each of these Bills will have the effect of putting into operation proposals contained in the platform of the Australian Labor Party.
Therein lies the rub. There is the essence of the destruction of the Senate. This is the beginning of the removal of the Senate as a House of this Parliament. It is part of the beginning of the erosion of the power of those who are members of the Senate. It is a piece of legislation which was introduced, according to the Prime Minister- it was he, not I, who used the words- for the purpose of ‘putting into operation proposals contained in the platform of the Australian Labor Party’.
Later on he said:
What utter nonsense it is for honourable members opposite to talk of introducing a charter of rights or responsibilities when they, by the introduction of Bills of this character, are seeking to destroy those rights and the liberties of individuals. I reject this Bill in toto. I believe that the Australian people are unlikely to be hoodwinked by the sorts of arguments that have been presented to this House. I believe that this Bill lacks substance and therefore should be rejected in its entirety.
Those were the words of Mr Sinclair, Deputy Leader of the National Country Party. That just goes to show you. He said that this proposal is Labor Party policy. Now he and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Ministers of this Government and the people who follow them are telling us to support this proposal. Yet we were told that it was Labor Party policy. Does this indicate that our Prime Minister and Ministers have swung in behind the Labor Party and its policy? I want to say something about that point also. Over the period of time that this Government has been in power it has been cutting down with the idea of economising. What do we find? Out of the blue, without reference to senators, and the Senate is the House materially affected, out are shot these referendum proposals. I understand that in an answer to a question asked in the House of Representatives last week it was said that the referendum would cost between $5m and $7m. This is being done at a time when the Government is cutting down on everything else. Apparently $5m to $7m is nothing when it comes to referendums and when Mr Fraser and his Ministers want to try to make a change.
– You are a supporter of his Government.
– Yes, but I have never been a yes man. My colleague in front of me has shown always that he has the courage and the spirit to do what he thinks is right. So far as I am concerned, like Senator Wright, while I am here I will do what my conscience dictates on a matter and what I think is best for the people of Australia. Goodness gracious me, think of what our people said about the Labor Party people trying to wipe out the Senate. This Senate today stands very high in the minds of the people. As far as I am concerned, I do not worry about being here for an extra day so that people can come out and lecture. I remember that when the 2 Houses came out together the Senate was never mentioned. But today the Senate is a House of character and standing for the people of Australia. Indications are that the people of Australia stand behind what they do. Nobody can challenge me when I say that because of the decision which the Senate gave the people of Australia the chance to exercise last year. The people showed very conclusively, extremely so, that they supported what the Senate did by returning the present Government. Therefore it is essential for this Government to cut out this silly nonsense of playing semi-socialist by running with Labor policy. I wondered when I saw a write-up in the Melbourne Age on Saturday. Senator Wright and I had made some statements and the Prime Minister replied. In the course of that reply he said that the reason for presenting these Bills was that there had been a change of heart by the Liberal Party or the Government parties.
I did not know that this was a romantic affair, a change of heart. I thought it might have represented a change of thinking. This is a matter involving deep political conscience and deep thinking. I want to know whether Mr Malcolm
Fraser and Mr ‘Goof Whitlam got together to have a heart affair. Are their hearts now becoming entwined? Is it likely that shortly we will see them dancing to a romantic tune such as a beautiful old waltz? A waltz was made for love. Surely they must be dancing together when we see a government led by this Prime Minister joining in and presenting this Labor policy.
So far as I am concerned I stand strongly against it. The people of Australia turned this proposal down before in no uncertain terms. My voice and any effort that I can make will certainly ensure that wherever possible the people will turn down this legislation. Only a few people might be involved but this is a matter which is worth fighting for. I well remember when the Government of the day, a government I supported, put forth that idiotic idea of breaking the nexus. Ten of us stood firm and fought the Government. The Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the Country Party, all parties except the Democratic Labor Party, were amalgamated. The newspapers, the radio stations and the television stations, were all for breaking the nexus but what happened? That proposition almost broke the neck of the Government because the Government got such a dishing. In States like Tasmania the proposal was beaten by more than 3 to 1. It was like that pretty well all over Australia except for New South Wales. As far as I am concerned I hope that when this referendum comes about the acrobats in the Government will come such a thump on their seats that they will wake up and say what stupid coots they were. I think they will say that they should have kept to true Liberal policy and should have been truer and more faithful to the ideals of having a Senate in this country. I strongly oppose this referendum and I condemn the Government for what it is doing. I am amazed that I have not heard something from our Ministers in the Senate to indicate that they are standing up for the Senate.
– I shall be brief because there is little in the way of fact or opinion that has not been fairly adequately canvassed at this stage. I regret that I am no constitutional lawyer, as are some of my predecessors in this debate. I would have liked more time in which to study the position a lot more closely but time was not available, apparently. I have to meet the position in the time available. I regret that this legislation has been introduced and I have some regret also for the method by which it was introduced. I also regret that win, lose or draw the Government probably will long remember its exercise in dealing with this matter.
In all the years that I have been interested in or involved with politics I have believed in the structure of the Senate and have defended its position. If I did not think the Senate was important I would not want to be here now. There can be no argument that the importance of the Senate would rate in inverse ratio to the number of voters in a State. I like the Senate the way it is and I am not persuaded that the proposed changes will make it any better for Tasmania, if they are made. Every watering down of the Senate, of what it does and how it works weakens the position of Tasmania. I understand that the dominant population States might well prefer the greater apparent power to their States, but if that is so they must also recognise that as their power may increase it is achieved at the cost of the smaller States. They should also remember that Federation would never have been possible had it not been for the consideration given by and to the smaller States. This matter was debated a couple of years ago. It was voted on before I came to the Senate. I shall not bother entering into that matter. My decision relates not so much to whether this is good legislation or whether it is in the interests of my constituents, but to whether I should try to prevent them from having the right to say so themselves. I do not like the Bill. I would at least like to see the legislation amended. I would support such a move. I recognise, however, that the executive Government, the Opposition, the Constitutional Convention and the States believe that the proposition should go ahead. My personal views and decisions may be of little consequence but, as a representative of Tasmania, I believe that at this juncture I must allow my constituents the opportunity to do as I do, and that is to make their own decision.
– It does not seem very long ago that we were debating a similar proposal in the electorate. I can recall campaigning quite vigorously for a No case in relation to a similar proposition in 1975. 1 have the feeling that there is no substantial difference in what we are proposing to put before the people now. I find it extremely difficult to completely reverse my opinion of the proposition. For that reason, I am hoping that later at the Committee stage of the debate I will be able to suggest an amendment which will meet with some support from honourable senators. I recall that when we were discussing this proposal in 1975 the suggestion was that we would have fewer elections as a result of a change to the Constitution. I really cannot select any better words than those used by the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) to indicate my feelings on this matter. He used these words in a debate on 10 June 1975. He stated:
Conceivably, a government could go back to the people time and time again forcing election after election, until it won control of the Senate.
He used other words to that effect which seem to me to indicate that if we pass this type of proposal that is exactly what would happen, particularly if this power were in the hands of a Prime Minister who was ambitious, who wanted to gain control of this place and who was prepared to do anything to achieve that end. Undoubtedly this is the reason why the Australian Labor Party is unanimously supporting the measure which is before us. On 22 February Senator Button stated:
Of course, the real importance and significance of this proposal from our point of view in the Opposition is that it does what many of its critics say it will do. It limits the significance and influence of the Senate.
That is precisely why I am demonstrating my concern at this time. I believe that we ought to be considering some measure under which we can govern the interval between simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate. I say quite frankly that I am not opposed to the principle of simultaneous elections. I am concerned about the frequency of elections if that power is in the hands of an irresponsible Prime Minister. I believe that the best answer to this matter would be to adopt a provision similar to that which prevails in South Australia There the Constitution Act provides that the Upper House, the Legislative Council, is guaranteed a full term of 6 years and that the Premier in that State cannot take the Upper House out at an election at intervals of less than 3 years. I propose to move at the Committee stage of this debate to limit the interval between elections. As far as I am concerned I am totally opposed to the principle behind this referendum proposal, but like Senator Archer I believe that if I demonstrate this opposition too vigorously people may think I am implying that I do not want the electorate to have a say. That is why I hope I can persuade honourable senators to support the amendment at the Committee stage.
– I have a little bit to say with regard to this matter because of the effect it will have on my State of Tasmania. A lot has been said so I shall deal with details which I think need to be mentioned. As I said the other night, I have always felt that rushed legislation can be bad legislation. If we look at the history of this Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill we will see that our first knowledge of it was gained early last week when it was mentioned in the Australian that it was being likely to be introduced. How that newspaper got to hear of this legislation before honourable senators and honourable members I do not know but that is when I first happened to see mention of it.
– You did not waste much time inquiring about your tax deductions during the campaign.
– I shall deal with that interjection for just a moment.
– Do not waste your time.
-I am not wasting my time; I am wasting the time of the Senate. If I get interjections I shall keep talking. Money spent on elections by members of Parliament is usually tax deductible. I imagine that money spent on a referendum by members of Parliament is also tax deductible. We have had little time to examine the legislation and the many alternatives that could be considered. I believe that some amendments are to be moved later. I hope that they will succeed. Honourable senators may remember the Trade Practices Bill. As I said the other night, the Australian Labor Party Government rushed that measure in here and said that it had to have the legislation. The Bill was referred to a committee by a Senate which would not be steamrollered. The committee came back with more than 100 amendments to that Bill which the Labor Government was prepared to accept because it realised that that would make for better legislation, and that perhaps the Government’s Bill would not be workable. I think that principle applies to one of the referenda Bills with which we will be dealing in the next day or so. But in relation to this Bill, we see a Liberal Government almost ambushing the Parliament and rushing the Bill through on the shallow pretext that it was considered and found to be necessary by the Constitutional Convention which okayed such reforms.
I believe that the Government now sees dangers in the legislation which is before the chamber. I believe that it sees the errors. But I also believe that the Government is too pigheaded to slow down and allow sensible legislation to be developed. I am very sorry about that. At all times Parliament should have time to properly examine any legislation, and in relation to matters which so severely affect a State, State organisations should also have time to realise the implications of any Bills which are coming before us in the next day or so. We have seen that the Labor Party has been consistent about these Bills because it wants the Senate abolished.
– Why did you block them last time?
-The Labor Party has not necessarily been consistently good. It wants the Senate abolished. This evening I heard one Labor Party senator say to another ‘This is the first step in the abolition of the Senate’. The other one said: ‘About time, too’. If the Labor Party cannot have the Senate abolished it would like to see it weakened. The Liberal Party has not been quite as consistent. Senator Withers said on 20 November 1973, at page 1908 of Hansard. we would not want this Bill brought on too early for debate but … we would like some time- some weeks before it comes on.
He was talking about the same type of Bill which had been introduced by the Labor Government. One of the excuses for introducing this Bill is that there have been too many elections. Perhaps so, and too many elections can become a bit tiresome I suppose although I am one who believes that people like elections. I believe that they like to have a say and to pass judgment at different times upon the actions of their members of parliament.
– Why not have one now and see how you go?
-Senator McLaren is one of the best reasons I know of for not crossing the floor and voting with the Labor Party as some of my colleagues are doing. He is like a chook which is about to lay an egg. What happens to a chook about to lay an egg? It is in a lot of pain. I believe that had a provision for simultaneous elections been in the Constitution in 1972 we would have had an extra election, not one less. We would have had Mr Whitlam attempting to win control of the Senate by having another election early in 1973. Let us look at what a former prominent member of the Liberal Party, the late Senator Greenwood, said on 13 March 1974 as recorded at page 270 of Hansard. He said:
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.
The question is whether there is really a need for this Bill. If its purpose is to arrange simultaneous elections between the House of Representatives and the Senate the answer is no. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) could easily decide that and he could choose, if he needed to, to arrange a Senate election at the same time as the House of Representatives election instead of spending S megabucks or $Sm, as honourable senators would know it, on having the referendum particularly when it must be rememberedthis is something that not many people have mentioned- that the founding fathers referred to the desirability of holding separate elections. If honourable senators refer to the constitutional debates back in the late 1800s they will find that that is true.
Senator Greenwood, referring to the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, also said on 13 March 1974:
The Prime Minister, as I have indicated, has used the argument that there are too many elections as the sole justification for his 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 objective- certainly 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.
To my knowledge nothing has changed that situation since March 1974. In the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, 19 February, there was a good article written by the Institute of Public Affairs relating to the New South Wales Legislative Council. It details a very similar matter to that which we are now discussing. In view of the time restraints on this debate I seek leave to have this article incorporated in Hansard.
– What is it all about?
– It was in the newspaper.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Mulvihill)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
The Institute of Public Affairs suggests that before the tumult of political battle it’s ‘Time for Sober Contemplation’
This Institute has given consideration to the future constitution, role and method of election of the Legislative Council of New South Wales.
In this it has been prompted by the attitude of all three political parties towards the future of the Council. These can be briefly stated as follows: the Country Party believes that there should be no change at all; the Liberal Party advocates some “reform” to ensure that all electors henceforth vote at Legislative Council elections; while the Labour Party is pledged to its abolition.
The matter has become one of immediate concern since the Premier has indicated that a bill is about to be introduced, the purpose of which is to change the method of election.
Whatever attitude the opposition parties in the Legislative Council may take to the proposed bill, the Institute of Public Affairs (N.S.W.) deems it important that at this point each citizen give careful thought to the question, since it is likely that before the year is out she or he will be asked to vote at a referendum either in favour of or against the Government’s proposals.
Now it the time for sober contemplation, before attitudes become polarised by the compelling political propaganda which will pour out from all party machines as the tumult of the parliamentary battle begins.
It may be helpful to set out briefly the position of the Legislative Council as it exists today. The 60 members are first selected by their respective political parties and are thereupon elected by the members of both Houses voting together on a proportional representative system; members hold office for 12 years, 1 S retiring every three years.
The institute, while not unduly critical of either the composition or the present method of election of the Legislative Council, acknowledges that the method of election has often been criticised and that some of this criticism rubs off on the Legislative Council as a body and even, quite unreasonably, on the members of the Legislative Council themselves. Since it is important in any form of government that the institutions of government should generally be well regarded by the governed, persistent crticism of the method of election of the Legislative Council is in itself a valid reason for considering some change. But what change? And to achieve what?
Whether there be one or two Houses of Parliament is a question which has exercised both political theorists and pragmatic politicians for centuries.
It was an all-important question for the Constitution makers in the 1890s when the Australian Constitution was on the drawing board and will probably be debated for so long as democratic institutions survive.
Despite some opposition from a group in New South Wales calling itself The Labor Ten, which advocated, even in the last century, a single House, there was at the time of Federation almost universal acceptance of the necessity for the existence of two Houses, one to initiate, another to review. “Theory and practice both proclaim that in a single House there is danger of legislative despotism” wrote James Wilson, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, and most Australians agreed and, this institute believes, still agree with him.
All who place some store on maintaining individual freedom within the framework of organised society cannot doubt the value of a second Chamber. Frustrating and exasperating though it often is, its value lies primarily in its being an effective brake to the legislative ambitions of the popularly elected Chamber, in New South Wales, the Legislative Assembly.
Its other equally important role is to review, to consider and often to suggest improvements to legislation sometimes sent to the council hastily by the Assembly in answer to some spectacular election pledge (the recent Stamp Duties Amendment Bill is one of many examples), or sent to it as a result of the advocacy of some dominant member of the ministry whose pet theme it is.
Mostly however, the Council is in a position to suggest amendments and improvements because it has more time to examine bills in depth and because members of the Council can bring to it the wealth of experience in business, rural and trade union affairs which its members individually possess.
It has often been suggested that the Council should ideally comprise distinguished men and women who are not actively associated with any political party. This, however, ignores the inescapable fact that modern democratic institutions are run, and no doubt will continue to be run, on party lines with major political parties providing the enthusiasm and the funds necessary to gain election for their own candidates. How then can one achieve an independent Chamber within a continuing party system?
To ensure its proper function as a House of Review it is important-even essential- that the Council be something other than a mirror of the Assembly. It would for example be a mistake if members of the Legislative Council were elected at the same time and in the same manner as are members of the Legislative Assembly. If this were proposed it would strike a near-mortal blow at one of the basic purposes of the Council.
It is no criticism of politicians that their conduct at most times, and certainly towards election times, is dominated by the desire to gain re-election. It is quite proper that politicians should be sensitive to public opinion. Thus they are by turns puppets and puppeteers and the strings which they pull or by which they are pulled move in the direction of the political passions of the moment While this is part and parcel of the modem parliamentary process it should not operate with like force in a House of Review.
The institute believes that a degree of independence akin to judicial independence would be of great value to the Council.
In an address to the Intstitute in 1976 entitled Whither Democracy, Friedrick Hayek (an acknowledged world authority on political theory and economics and author of the celebrated Road to Serfdom) expressed grave concern that democracy as we understand it today has not proved to be the certain protection against tyranny and oppression as most hoped it would be. To restore lost faith in the system he advocates a Chamber composed of men and women who would not be ‘swayed by the temporary passions and fashions of a fickle multitude which they had to please. ‘
If the Legislative Council is to be changed there is much to be gained from a consideration of these views. For example, in order to avoid the mirror image and to provide for a much needed continuity, members of the Legislative Council, by whatever method they are to be elected, should certainly hold office for a given period in excess of the expected life of the Legislative Assembly.
In electing the first council some transitional provisions would be necessary. Perhaps one-third should retire after three years, one third after six years and the remaining onethird after nine years.
The filing of casual vacancies would also require careful thought It may even be necessary to make a distinction between casual vacancies caused by the death of a member and a vacancy caused by the resignation of a member.
As a step towards achieving some separation between the Council and the party system the institute finds interesting a proposal that at the conclusion of their terms members of the council should not be eligible for re-election. Such a provision would, it is said, build up a sense of independence and detachment among members of the Council.
Members would still by the nature of things retain their party loyalties and sense of party allegiance but as time went by, would be more inclined to consider bills in what they believed to be the interest of the State as a whole rather than the party to which they belonged if the manner in which they cast their vote had no bearing on their political future.
A limited term would also ensure that references to the Council as ‘an exclusive club’ or ‘a geriatric home’ would disappear. While the institute dissociates itself from such epithets the general public does not, and it is important that the public respect the Legislative Council as one of the institutions of government. Such a proposal would also ensure that no member made a career of membership.
Continuity of experience in a chamber such as the Legislative Council is a valuable thing. Rotation of members would further this aim. The stock objection to limited periods of office however is that the services of some of its most active and able minds may quite arbitrarily be lost. In the view of this institute this is a risk worth running and would be more than compensated by an inflow of new and probably younger minds into a body which certainly needs to keep abreast of the times.
There are some obvious objections to the creation of a House of Review along the lines discussed above. One is the natural reluctance of politicians- particularly those elected to the Legislative Assembly- to create a second Chamber, particularly one which could not be coerced to carry out its will.
Another is that in bringing into existence a somewhat new concept in the legislative process some limits would have to be placed on the authority of the Council.
These are some of the problems and they are not easy. But as the Legislative Council is about to take the centre of the political stage it seems an opportune moment to consider its role and responsibilities as an integral part of the modern parliamentary system.
This institute is concerned with individual freedom; with safeguards against tyranny and with respect for the system of government under which the community places itself.
It urges that each citizen think for itself and in particular be on his guard lest a seemingly innocent change in the method of election be but a prelude to the complete dismantling of the Legislative Council. It has served us well. It should not be immune from change. But we must be careful.
– There is one part of that article .from the Sydney Morning Herald of Saturday, 19 February, that I would like to quote to the Senate. It states:
All who place some store on maintaining individual freedom within the framework of organised society cannot doubt the value of a second Chamber. Frustrating and exasperating though it often is, its value lies primarily in its being an effective brake to the legislative ambitions of the popularly elected Chamber, in New South Wales the Legislative Assembly.
Its other equally important role is to review, to consider and often to suggest improvements to legislation sometimes sent to the Council hastily by the Assembly in answer to some spectacular election pledge … or sent to it as a result of the advocacy of some dominant member of the ministry whose pet theme is.
That kind of thing could very well happen in this Federal Parliament. I shall quote now from the No case in 1974 and I hope that other honourable senators will be quoting from it. The No casein 1974 said:
This referendum will make the Senate the rubber-stamp of a socialist, centralist Labor Government.
The Government is being deceitful- the question you will vote on does not explain the real proposed law.
I do not know what has changed since that time. It also states:
Canberra asks you to approve a law to alter the Constitution ‘so as to ensure that Senate elections are held at the same time as House of Representatives elections ‘.
But the Senate is not an arm of the House of Representatives. Both are established under the Constitution as equal, independent Houses of Parliament with differing roles. The Senate is the only institution in Australia able to be a barrier to the arbitrary misuse of power by a Prime Minister or his cabinet.
That applies no matter what party is in office. Towards the end of that pamphlet it says:
Remember- it is official Labor Party policy to abolish the Senate.
The present system is that Senators are elected for a sixyear term. It is a ‘staggered’ election system with half of the Senate coming up for election every three years. The statutory six-year term is one of the strengths from which a Senator derives his independence.
Without Senate independence the casualty would be democracy.
I again say that the same situation applies now as applied at that time. It continues:
The traditional independent powers and voice of the Senate would be lost. The ‘checks and balances’ provided by the Senate would be destroyed.
It concludes by saying:
Don’t be deceived: vote No.
– Who prepared that?
– I am not sure who prepared it. What are the real effects of this Bill? I believe this is the first step in removing all power from the Senate and will lead to its eventual abolition. It is stated Labor Party policy and it seems that it could become a fact through legislation that -
– Who is robbing this coach? It is your Bill.
– You are not in your right seat, so do not interject. Abolition of the Senate is stated Labor Party policy but it now appears it will become a fact through Liberal Party legislation.
– You know it cannot be abolished without a referendum.
– I say it is the first part of a system of referendums to abolish the Senate. Once the Senate is gone the relationships which stops the House of Representatives growing like Topsy will be gone and there quite likely will be a rapid increase in the number of members in the House of Representatives. That is something that the very existence of the Senate is presently stopping and something that the people should not forget. I believe that without the Senate the House of Representatives would grow like Topsy and we would have a huge increase in the number of politicians.
– What would be wrong with that?
-Senator McLaren asks: What would be wrong with that?’ Think of the situation at the moment for a State like Tasmania. In New South Wales there are 10 senators and 45 members of the House of Representatives- a total of 55 federal politicians. Victoria has 10 senators and 34 members of the House of Representatives. And Senator McLaren asks: ‘What would be wrong with that?’ Most of those people come from Melbourne or Sydney. If Tasmania were left with 5 members of the House of Representatives it would be completely swamped by the members from Melbourne and Sydney. Senator Carrick, who is now a Government Minister, put the situation well when he spoke in the Senate on 10 June 1975 as recorded at page 2408 of Hansard. He said: the lesser populated States, notably Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, have an absolutely devested interest in this situation … If the Senate were abolished . . . Western Australia would be almost unprotected in the other place. New South Wales and Victoria between them could command 79 of the 127 votes in the House of Representatives. Western Australia would be swamped in every way. It gets a rough enough rime now. What would it get if it had no recourse to the Senate? In the Senate the small states have equality with the large States.
Even Senator James McClelland would like to see that situation changed so that the different States have different numbers of senators. With regard to the smaller States Senator Carrick said on the same day:
Let us remind ourselves of what this Bill is about, lt is a Bill which seeks to resubmit to the people of Australia a proposition which they rejected resoundingly 12 months ago. That is quite clear. It is a Bill which seeks to make it compulsory forever afterwards that the House of Representatives and the Senate elections be held on the one day. Any senator coming from one of the small States who ties himself basically to this device is, indeed, in dereliction of his duty to the States . . . The simple situation is that the Australian Constitution was formed on the basis that the less populous States- Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia in particular, and Queensland- would only come into a Commonwealth if there were a Senate and if the Constitution of that Senate were as provided in the Australian Constitution. Any senator who gets up and seeks to destroy the quality of the Senate in this way -
He was talking about this type of Bill- ought to be defeated in his own State.
For the information of honourable senators opposite- I do not know whether their hearing is going- that was stated by Senator Carrick in the Senate on 10 June 1975. I shall finish within a moment or two. As honourable senators can see I am suspicious of the reasons for this referendum proposal, particularly when the Labor Party joins with the Liberal Party to support something like this. When most Liberal senators are crossing the floor and joining with the Labor Party to put through something like this it makes me wonder what is really going on. I find myself in accordance with the No case of 1974. This Bill is a proposal to destroy the independence of the Senate. I will oppose it. I will vote against it and when the referendum is put to the people- I am certain that the people of Tasmania will vote against it- I will certainly campaign for the No case. No doubt the Parliament will be sitting quite a deal during the time of the campaign and I shall need to decide at which political action I shall need to spend my time. No doubt if a pair is requested for a week or so it would be granted but if not I shall decide my action then. I make it clear that I oppose this legislation and I shall campaign against it. Tasmania is disadvantaged by this referendum that is put up by this Bill. My action will be to protect my State. I refuse to vote for something that will lead to more power for Canberra and particularly to power that may be used by a socialist Prime Minister.
– There is a problem in debating this important matter, the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill. The problem is that a time restriction has been imposed as a result of a desire on the part of the promoters of this piece of proposed legislation- the executive government and the Australian Labor Party, acting in consort for once. The time restriction means that if there is to be adequate consideration during the Committee stage of certain proposed amendments I and a number of others who would like to have been able to debate this matter at considerable length because of its seriousness are precluded from doing so. I can only regret that the legislation is being rushed through but I agree that it is important that we try to stick to the timetable so that the matter can be dealt with in the Committee stage.
I start by pointing to the fact that the title is deceptive. The Bill has nothing to do with simultaneous elections. It does not provide for simultaneous elections. If it is carried and the referendum following it is carried there will not necessarily be simultaneous elections. What the legislation is to do with and what it is all about is the power of the Executive to dissolve the Senate and the serious implications of that. The importance of the Senate has been referred to by a number of prior speakers. I believe that its importance to the Constitution, to the democracy of Australia, is very great. I believe that its importance has become greater since Federation with the growth of big government. With the handing over of this country to the terrible trio of big government, big business and big unions as almost the sole holders of power in Australia we are reaching a stage where this Senate is the one body which can stand between the people and the power brokers. I regard its role as being one for serious consideration and reconsideration, for public debate and consideration. I believe that it is necessary for us to consider, for instance, whether we should expand the role of the Senate, expand the role of the committee system; whether we should consider having a greater divorcement from the Executive than exists at the moment by, for instance, there being no Ministers in this chamber. This would prevent it from being as closely associated with or tied to the Executive as it is at the moment. These are all matters for consideration and debate. Unfortunately I have time to raise them only briefly.
There is a growing importance of the role of somebody in Australia, with a certainty coming from that independence and a strength from that independence, independently to be able to fulfil the role of scrutiny of the Executive Government, of both arms of the Executive. I refer to the executive government from the parliamentary point of view and the administrative executive, the Public Service. It is important also to the interests of the small States that the Senate should remain in its strength and its independence. But apparently that is not the idea of those who now would support this piece of legislation. I can only repeat the shock expressed by others that people who have consistently, in 1973, 1974 and 1975, voted to a man-I refer to members of the Liberal and National Country Parties- to oppose this legislation and stated repeatedly their reasons for their opposition have now changed their minds. Not yet has there been any credible explanation from any of the present proponents of this Bill as to why they have changed their mind.
I am conscious of the fact that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. We heard an honourable senator tell us that earlier, although he misquoted slightly. The important part of that quotation is that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. I am not arguing for the sake of consistency. What I am saying is that when people wish to be inconsistent there is clearly a duty upon them to explain what has changed, what circumstances have changed, or what factors have changed their minds. We have not yet been treated to such an explanation by any of the supporters of this legislation. I think that there are some questions that are matters for public debate in the future, particularly that question which concerns the Australian Labor Party and a number of people in the community who are not necessarily supporters of that Party. I refer to the role of the Senate and the powers of the Senate, arising from the events of 11 November 1975. 1 am not suggesting that I have changed my mind one iota in relation to that; but I do believe that it has raised quite properly matters for serious consideration. They are not matters for vituperation; they are matters for serious consideration in the community as to the proper role of the Senate and the powers of the Senate.
I believe that the things about which people are concerned include whether the Senate should be neutered in some way, whether it should be abolished or whether it should be strengthened in its independence. I certainly would argue strongly for the last named course; but I do not see any case for achieving the first- the neutering of the Senate- by stealth. That is what this piece of legislation clearly will do. I do not pause to quote again the speeches made by various of my colleagues on this side of the chamber in 1973, 1974 and 1975. Honourable senators have just heard Senator Townley quote from the No case which was prepared for the purposes of an identical referendum put to the people in 1974. That No case was prepared by the Liberal and National Country Parties which now are asking the people to do a total about-face- a 180 degree about-turn- and to support a piece of legislation which in 1 974 was described as deceitful and as a threat to democracy. Senator Townley has just quoted that.
I regret that the Government is proceeding with the Bill. I believe that it should be withdrawn by the Government. I believe that it is still not too late for it to be withdrawn by the Government. There are other questions which I believe are proper to be put to the people by way of referendum. It is a pity that the real issues are to be confused by what was described previously as a deceptive referendum and what is clearly still a deceptive referendum if it goes to the people in these terms. This is because the title and the proposed form are nothing like the real effect. They do not deal with the real impact of what will happen if people vote ‘yes’ in this referendum. I think we need to consider how best we can improve and develop the scrutiny of the Executive. I believe that we need to consider whether the people of Australia just want to hand over to the big three and forget about having any system of checks and balances, a system which was held sacred by my colleagues on this side of the chamber during that period of 1973, 1974 and 1975.
I emphasise that in June 1975, a little over 18 months ago, this matter was debated in this chamber and to a man the members of the Liberal and National Country Parties reasserted the attitude that they had asserted so vigorously during the 1974 referendum campaign and again during the debates that took place in this chamber in 1 973 and 1 974. 1 regard it as a matter of regret that the real question of the role of the Senate is nott being considered but rather that there is an attempt to destroy it by stealth. It means that necessary constitutional change, real reform, in this country is being put in jeopardy as a result of the action being taken apparently by a majority in this chamber today. There are important questions of constitutional reform. There are important questions of necessary change to bring our Constitution up to date with the needs of the latter part of this century and into the next century. But that is not what is being done. What is being done is to advance a proposal to put to the people what we have described previously as a deceptive question which will mislead the people into thinking that what they are getting is simultaneous elections at a reduction in cost and inconvenience to them when, in fact, what they are getting is the loss of the one bulwark that stands between them and the executive power of big government combining with big unions and big business.
In the 1974 referendum campaign the Liberal and National Country Parties said that the identical proposal was unnecessary to achieve simultaneous elections. That position has not changed. It was argued by Mr Fraser, the present Prime Minister. It was argued by Mr Lynch, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. It was argued by the National Country Party. It was argued by Senator Withers in this chamber and by others who supported him. AH of those people said that it was unnecessary. What has changed to make the referendum necessary now? Nothing that I have heard and nothing that has been put before this chamber or the people. In 1 974 the proposal was said to be deceitful. Nothing has changed in relation to that. In 1974 it was said to be a threat to democracy. Nothing has changed in relation to that. Because this remains so, because there has been no explanation which could change my mind, I believe that I am entitled to rely upon consistency and to say that I opposed the referendum in 1973, 1974 and 1975 and I will oppose it in 1977 and until somebody explains to me some reason why I should change my mind or shows me where I was wrong previously. I believe that it is important to preserve the Senate in the interests of my State of Tasmania. It is the smallest of the small States. It is a State which, as Senator Carrick said on 10 June 1975, badly needs the protection of the Senate. I will do everything in my power to ensure that it receives that protection.
– I assure Senator Rae that no constraint was placed upon him in regard to the time he had in which to speak on this very important matter.
-That is not true.
-Senator Wright showed a fine spirit of rebellion yesterday.
– You are coming in to prevaricate.
-Senator Wright showed a fine spirit of rebellion yesterday. I would have thought that he and Senator Rae would not have allowed themselves to be constrained by any, shall we say, general arrangement to allow all speakers to have an opportunity to speak in the debate before 5 o’clock tomorrow afternoon. In fact, on our side of the Senate we took the view that we would do nothing that would limit the debate by way of either gag or guillotine until the opportunity had been given to all to participate. How Senator Rae or Senator Wright gained the impression that Senator Rae had to complete his speech within 15 minutes, taking into consideration that many other speakers took only two or three minutes, I am certain I do not know.
-Can I draw your attention to this proposed time-table which shows the finish of the second reading stage at 10 p.m.
-The President of the Senate can take no direction from anyone if it is in conflict with the Standing Orders. If the honourable senator had wished to speak for one hour he could have spoken for one hour. The program before me was a suggested program in order to give everyone an opportunity to speak. There was nothing by arrangement on either side of the Senate that would limit the honourable senator’s speech to 15 minutes. I am sorry that Senator Rae had to race through his contribution tonight, anticipating that he would have to finish it in 1 5 minutes.
I want to put the view of the Opposition at this stage. We support this legislation. Some of us have reservations about the timing of it. We would have preferred the Government to have been taken to the electors at the time of its greatest unpopularity, just as it forced us to the electors in November 1975 when we were at the height of our unpopularity. The Government also deserves to be taken to the people at that point. If a half Senate election were to be held at the normal time I believe it would have been at the moment of the Government’s greatest unpopularity. The purpose of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) bringing this referendum suddenly before honourable senators opposite is to escape that situation. It is for that reason alone.
Some of us on this side of the House are aware of it, but having our policy- a policy with supports these referenda- we cannot move away from that policy, not matter what each one of us might feel about the tactics of the situation. We consider the referenda to be important to the people and to our concept of democracy. That is our view of it; of course it may not be the view of honourable senators opposite. We support these referenda proposals. In fact, as many Government senators have said, they are virtually our proposals.
As honourable senators may have noticed today we have not put up speaker for speaker. We may have wanted to take advantage of the division in the Government side to allow you to be critical of one another and to descend, as you did yesterday, to the very pit of dispute and dissent. Of course we on this side enjoyed it immensely and thought that possibly there would be a repetition today.
– Let us get on with the Bills.
– I am speaking to the Bills as I proceed. I am putting the view to you that we have given Government senators every opportunity to express their point of view. Perhaps your criticism earlier was quite unfair. I again put the point that we have not been putting speakers forward. As a matter of fact, we have denied some of our people to right to speak. If the second reading debate finishes tonight, they will be excluded from the speakers’ list. I put it to honourable senators opposite that we on this side have been as fair as possible. I point out that we have been consistent in our support of these proposals. We are interested in what has to be said. Some of the points that have been raised have been valid, considered from a variety of positions. We have no apologies for the fact that we will support the passage of these Bills tomorrow. It seems that all honourable senators have accepted the reality that by 5 o’clock tomorrow these Bills will have passed through this place and the referenda will go to the people on 21 May. The National Country Party has taken the view: Let it go to the people. They are not opposing it. But if I might say so, they are more dishonest than the rest of you because their view of the situation is that they will let it go through the House -
- Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I ask for the withdrawal of that comment. I take offence at the senator’s remark that the National Country Party is dishonest. I ask you to ask Senator Georges to withdraw his remark.
– Do you take personal offence, Senator Webster?
– I do.
- Mr President, I wish to speak to the point of order. What Senator Georges said was that the National Country Party is more dishonest than the rest of them over there. You will be in an embarrassing position if Senator Georges has to withdraw and say that the National Country Party is not more dishonest than the rest of them. They are either equal or the rest of them are superior. I ask you to give this some thought.
– There is no point of order involved. I call Senator Georges.
– I am sorry if Senator Webster is sensitive about this but it underlines what I am saying. The National Country Party has taken the position that it will have a principle stand in the Parliament. It will support the Government proposition. It will allow this matter to go to the people. But watch National Country Party senators during the campaign. They will go out in association with a number of fringe organisations like Citizens for Freedom and the League of Rights. They will undermine these referenda.
– I will be going out for the Government.
– My apologies to you, Senator. Perhaps I am somewhat influenced by what happens in Queensland. They say that it is different in Queensland from other places. That is what I mean when I say that the sleepers are National Country Party members because they will go all out to defeat the referenda, having taken a principle position in this Senate by supporting the referenda. ‘Let them go to the people’, they say, but just watch them. The campaign that destroyed the referenda on the last occasion was fired principally by the National Country Party and it will do that again.
-What a cynical view.
– Yes, their view is cynical, Senator. Perhaps you misinterpret what I am saying. I am saying that they have a cynical approach to these referenda. I should like the Senate to understand just what is their position as far as their Party is concerned in Queensland. I have said more than I wished to say. Let it be clear to honourable senators here that the reason why we have not participated in the debate was not because of some firm arrangement with the Government Whip. We accepted the need for full discussion, seeing that there was some disagreement- and that is an understatement. We on the Opposition side have accepted this position. That is the reason why we have put up only one speaker to every three on the Government side. But so far as we are concerned, everyone who wishes to speak on these Bills may do so for as long as he wishes.
– I call Senator Chaney.
– I am sorry that the arrangements for today have been called into question.
- Mr President, I am not sure whether Senator Chaney is speaking in the normal course as the next speaker.
– He is.
– I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Senator RAE (Tasmania)- I just wish to explain the remark to which Senator Georges took exception. I mentioned that as far as I knew there was general agreement by the body of the Senate that these 4 matters would be dealt with by S o’clock tomorrow afternoon. I emphasised the importance of being able to debate at the Committee stage. I also emphasised my regret that they were being pushed through in this sort of hurry which inevitably means that speakers who would have liked to have participated in the debate will not. A number of those honourable senators opposed to these measures, or some of them, have pulled out of speaking during the second reading debate. They will no doubt at the committee stage make some reference to their views and why they hold those views. I just want to make it quite clear that while Senator Georges may have had some speakers on his side who did not participate, so were there a number who were opposed to this legislation and wished to express their views, but have not been able to do so.
– I was saying when I was interrupted by Senator Rae’s personal explanation that I am sorry that the arrangements have been called into question. Since I have been in the Senate there have been few debates where as many senators have participated and where a more definite attempt has been made to ensure that the major issues could be aired and that those people who had amendments to put forward would get the chance to put them forward. I believe that the matter has been approached by both Government and Opposition in the spirit of real cooperation and that today’s lengthy debate and the debate that will follow tomorrow indicate that senators have been given every reasonable chance to debate these propositions.
I should like to mention a couple of points raised by Senator Rae. He suggested, for example, that there is an attempt in hand to destroy the Senate by stealth. I should like to say to the Senate and to Senator Rae that if now that the giants of the Senate are stirring and coming out supposedly to defend the Senate’s existence are correct in what they say, then they have been sleeping giants. If they had kept any record or paid any account to the proceedings of the Australian Constitutional Convention, they would have been aware that as long ago as 28 October 1976 there was a recommendation from that Convention that this Bill, in the form it now holds, should be brought forward. I would have thought that those who were genuinely concerned about the future of the Senate- and I believe there are many- might well, if the matter is of much great concern, have made a little more effort to monitor the proceedings of that Convention and to see what action the Government may propose following the acceptance of that motion.
The other thing I should like to say is that there was a plea about consistency. I shall come back to that a little later. If we all are to be men of absolute consistency it seems to me that we will never make progress with constitutional change and reform. In the past constitutional change has been a politically devisive issue in Australia. The whole concept of the Constitutional Convention has been to try to bring the warring parties together around the conference table so that they can agree on desirable changes to the Constitution. The whole process would be meaningless if the participants at the Convention went to it on the basis that they would not change their minds. Surely the whole concept of the Convention is that the parties will come together, discuss and agree to change. On occasion that will mean a change in position. I for one am not vaguely embarrassed by the change of position that has occurred in this case. I am pleased to defend the Bill.
There are clear reasons why the Bill is being put forward. There is no real dispute in this chamber about the fact that we should have fewer elections in Australia. There have been too many elections over the last 10 years for the good of Australian political life. In the report of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review which is now quite an old document I found a good explanation of why too many elections should not be held. In paragraph 245 of the section of the report which recommended this particular change in the Constitution the following statement appears:
Separate elections also tend to emphasise the component parts of the Parliament at the expense of the Parliament itself.
Some of my colleagues- I acknowledge that they hold this view sincerely- believe that it would be a good thing if the Senate, one component part of the Parliament, was emphasised to the expense of the Parliament itself, was given the additional emphasis of separate elections. I join with the majority view of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review. Paragraph 245 of its report stated:
It is not conducive to sound government that the future of a recently elected government should depend upon the eventualities of elections for senators which take place during the normal life of the House of Representatives.
It is common knowledge that Senate elections such as have been held since the early 1960s in Australia are held in a by-election atmosphere, and in that situation they do not genuinely reflect the wish of the people as to who should govern. They can represent merely a rebuke to a government. I believe that the views expressed by the Joint Committee are sound. For that reason I support the view which the Government has now adopted in putting forward this Bill.
I refer to Senator Wright’s dissenting report to which reference has been made in this chamber. At the time of his report he was able to say- good luck to him- that only on one occasion in 59 years, in 1953, has it been necessary to have a separate Senate election. At the time Senator Wright had definite views on the value and the role of the Senate. He held those views in the light of a system which had produced only one separate Senate election in 59 years. Why is it that suddenly the concept of bringing the elections together will destroy this chamber? I do not believe that it will. As the Senate was not destroyed up to 1959- the time of the writing of that report- it will not be destroyed after the passage of this referendum and the guaranteeing of simultaneous elections. The aspect that is really worrying honourable senators is that which was expressed in the No case during the referendum campaign in 1974. It has also been expressed by a number of speakers in this debate. They are concerned that this referendum will make the Senate the rubber stamp of a socialist centralist Labor Government. That is what it comes down to. Some honourable senators hold the view genuinely that it will have that effect. I do not share their view and I should like to say why. I shall also say why I do not want the Senate to be damaged.
The reasons were aptly expressed in the speech made by Senator James McClelland earlier today. Honourable senators will remember the contemptuous references in that speech to the provincials. First of all, poor old Senator Withers, my leader in this place, was characterised as a provincial. When I interjected on the honourable senator he jumped back at me and said that I was a provincial. I say this to the people of Sydney: You can go ahead and regard us as provincials. In the House of Representatives you and the people of Melbourne can hold sway. But in this place, the Senate, my State of Western Australia is equally represented with New South Wales and Victoria. Therein lies the strength of the Senate and its value to Western Australia. Its value does not lie in the membership of the Senate being conservative. I do not mean that in a political sense but in the sense of the term of its members. Its value lies in the fact that we in the smaller States are equally represented. One would not expect to find in the House of Representatives two of the 5 Liberal Ministers from the State of Western Australia. I give that as a good example of the greater influence which is given to the smaller States by the existence of the Senate. I defend the rights and powers of the Senate. As Senator Scott pointed out in the debate earlier today, those rights and powers are not affected by this referendum. The only way in which the Senate is affected is in its possible composition. I adopt the argument put forward by my honourable colleague Senator Sir Magnus Cormack. He said that people are the source of all power. I do not mind facing the people at elections. I believe that the Senate has nothing to fear in facing the people after terms shorter than 6 years.
Australia, with its great differences, will always have varying results around the Commonwealth. The smaller States will always be protected in this chamber by their equal representation. That is a fact which this referendum does not affect. The passage of this referendum will be good for democracy in Australia. There are problems in our democratic system. The action we took in 1975 in which I participated and which I believed, and still believe, was right put strains on the political system. If we have a long term interest in the survival of this place as a part of democratic Australia we must ensure that it is responsive to the will of the people. In that respect this referendum is a step forward. It will contribute to the better functioning of democracy and will help to ensure that people remain in favour of democracy in this country and not opposed to it.
I return to the question of consistency. A lot has been made of it in this debate. I remind honourable senators that in 1974 this referendum was put forward before there was any talk of a Constitutional Convention and before the States and the Commonwealth came together to try to devise solutions. It was put forward by a government which I think even its closest supporters would agree had frightened the Australian public with the pace of the changes it tried to bring about. It put forward a series of referendums which seemed to be aimed at the whole pattern of Australian democracy. Not only did it put forward this referendum; it also put forward a referendum on how to alter the Constitution more easily, called the mode of altering the constitution. It put forward one called democratic elections, which would have meant that the central government through the Constitution overrode the States’ rights to establish their own electoral systems, and it put forward something which would have created a section 96 situation for local government. Every honourable senator knows that the existing section 96 has been used by the central government to control the States. We took the firm view that section 96a which the Labor Party wanted to bring in to exercise the same controls over local government would have resulted in a great growth of central power in this country.
– What has that got to do with this one?
-If the honourable senator is quiet and listens I will explain. We looked at the general thrust of that package of proposals. We made a sane and sensible decision to oppose them and oppose them we did, successfully.
I have very little time left. Like everybody else I am under constraints. I should like to devote the time I have left to the few other points I wish to make. I have already drawn attention to the fact that we have put forward this referendum in the different context of a Convention decision. It is the result of parties coming together, including representatives of my own State Government, and exchanging views. If one looks at the minutes of the meeting of the Convention one finds that there was a great galaxy of State and Federal politicians at the Convention. This proposal was put forward and discussed. It was amended by the Convention on the motion of Mr Willis of New South Wales. It was then adopted. Nobody, it would appear from the minutes, sought a division on the question. The minutes do not record whether any other form of vote was taken. We put this forward as something which has come not just from this Government but from the Constitutional Convention which, I understand, has the support of every parliament in the Commonwealth and which has met seeking to bring us together to update the Constitution.
I close by saying that I put forward my views in the firm belief that this proposal is compatible with the future strength of the Senate and indeed will strengthen the Senate in the future as it will help to ensure that the Senate remains democratically acceptable to the people. I do not believe that this place will be defended if anyone tries to turn it into a living brontosaurus or dinosaur which cannot change. We must not run away from the concept of change. We must find ways of updating our political structure because our political system is one with which the majority of Australians are dissatisfied. They are dissatisfied with us as their representatives. They are dissatisfied with our institutions. I believe, therefore, that we must be involved in a process of updating and improving those institutions and that this is a sensible step to be taking.
I would ask my colleagues who will be campaigning against the referendum- and I know there are some- not to play upon the fears of the people. I do not believe that that would be a constructive step. I believe that we should go to the people and say: ‘This is a proposal which most of us think will improve the governing of this country’. We should support it on that basis.
- Mr President, this debate has almost expired. I think that just about everything that could be said has been said. But I must comment upon the last remark made by Senator Chaney in his speech which I listened to with interest. I was astonished to hear that old cry that we heard from the present Government when it was in Opposition about people using fear. Senator Chaney appealed to his colleagues not to use fear tactics. If ever we saw a party using fear tactics, we saw it in the actions of the then Opposition, the present Government, in 1974 in respect of this very issue.
One member of the present Government who did not get a guernsey among those whose earlier remarks were quoted was the Minister for Science, Senator Webster. This quotation is pertinent to the remarks of Senator Chaney. I recall to the Senate this quotation from Senator Webster made on 13 March 1974. Here is a good example of putting fear into people. Senator Webster said:
I believe that the Prime Minister -
He was speaking of Mr Whitlam: is moving step by step to remove first one and then the other constitutional objections hoping that the people will not see his real object until it is too late.
If that is not an example of putting fear into people, I do not know what is. But that was the tenor of so much of what was done in 1974 by the Liberal and National Country Parties.
One fact shines through clearly in this debate. The only Party that comes out of it cleanly and consistently is the Australian Labor Party. We took the same line in 1974. We used exactly the same arguments in 1974 as we have used today. We have on the Government side what can be described only as the official position on the one hand and the rebels position on the other. Even the rebels themselves are not consistent. I will leave that matter for a moment.
In the course of the debate so many quotations have been made as to the inconsistency of the official position of the Liberal and National Country Parties in this debate. In the course of those contributions I was waiting for a Government spokesman- that is an official one; let me define that what I am talking about is an official spokesman for the Liberal-National Country Party Government- who would justify the contrapositions between the stand which was taken in 1974 and the position taken now. That is the point to be made on the consistency argument.
I was very pleased that Senator Chaney was prepared to take up the challenge. What did we find? He started talking about payments to the States and to local government, and section 96 grants to the States for the purpose of centralising the Government, that is, when the Whitlam Government was in power. Yet that has nothing to do with the Bill that we are debating. We are talking about a Bill providing for a referendum on simultaneous elections. That is the issue. In fact, Senator Chaney made no attempt to apologise for or to explain the real inconsistency that exists now between his Party, or the majority of its members, and the majority of the members of the National Country Party as against their position on this proposal in 1 974.
The Australian Labor Party has taken the view consistently that there is an argument in support of this referendum now just as there was an argument in favour of it in 1974. The fact that the Australian Constitutional Convention did not meet in 1974 is quite irrelevant. There had been a recommendation as far back as 1958 by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Review on the need for this legislation to be carried. It will simplify the holding of elections in this country. It does create far less confusion. The great majority of Australians want to see it.
Let me spend the few minutes that I have remaining on the argument that has been used by those who say that acceptance of this proposal will reduce the power of the Senate. That was said by many honourable senators. Senator Wright, for example, said that he would rather see the Senate abolished than see it be the rubber stamp of any Prime Minister. I really do not know what some people think the Senate is. What do the Senator Wrights, the Senator Raes and those who support them imagine the Senate to be? Is it our exclusive club, a club belonging to 64 Australians who have been elected to this place? Does it ever occur to them that the Senate is part of something greater- that it is part of the Parliament, part of the nation? Senator Tehan made the point that the Constitution belongs to the people. This Parliament belongs to the people. It does not belong to those who seem to think that they have some exclusive right to come here and never to see any change take place. That is the attitude adopted. If ever there will be an argument to abolish the Senate, it will be on the day that we as a majority think like that and we forget the reasons why we are actually here. Senator Harradine took the same line. Along with some of my other Tasmanian colleagues he also seems to think that he has some special rights in this place. That has been the continuing theme throughout this debate. As I said, I waited, listening to all of the comments, to find some specific example of where the Senate was being denigrated by this legislation. Senator Rae tonight made some rather fearful sounds about what this legislation means to the Senate. Again I was waiting for something specific. It is easy to talk in general terms about how the Senate’s powers will be reduced by this Bill and associated Bills. But in fact honourable senators adopting that argument cannot come up with something specific. I accept the argument that Senator Chaney put forward. He is quite right.
What then is the motive of the Government? I would think that the main motive of the Government is as has been stated here by some speakers. This is a Government which is in a desperate position. It will do anything to push back the holding of the next election for either the Senate or the House of Representatives as far as it possibly can because it knows that if it meets the judgment of the people, either in a half Senate election next year or in any other form of election, that will be curtains for it. The Government would well deserve that result. That is, I suppose, the key to the reason why the Government has taken this course. This legislation is a last desperate throw on its part. The principles involved and the philosophy of what simultaneous elections mean to the Australian people have all been thrown overboard. There is no consistency in the official position of the Liberal and National Country Parties. I would think that any senator in this chamber who is really concerned about Australia and the Australian people and not his or her own little privileged power position here should support this Bill.
-Mr President, I will speak for 30 seconds. I rise merely to say that I support the view of those of my colleagues who oppose this legislation and to declare that I will be opposing the legislation when it comes to a vote. I do not cast any doubts on the integrity of those of my colleagues who disagree with me. But I take a very strong view. I am opposed to this legislation. They have the right to support it. But my position will remain constant.
- Mr President, I can claim a certain amount of impartiality about this matter as I campaigned vigorously for it in 1974 and I am happy to campaign for it again in 1977. It is somewhat ironic that, in doing that, I support, therefore, Labor Party measures and Liberal Party measures. However I do believe that those who oppose this matter- and I may say that I respect their views and the rather magnificent way in which many of those views were put to the Senate- are looking back. Their vision is back to the founding fathers of 1900 and to the vision of empire, whereas we must look forward to a rather solitary existence of Australia between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.
We will need a strong executive government, in view of the tests and trials that are ahead.
It would seem to me that those who have expressed their opposition to this measure have raised in every case the bogy of executive government and the suggestion that somehow it will get out of control in the meagre 3 years that is allowed between elections in Australia. They want to be able to bring the executive government to heel; to humble the executive government. I will not be a party to the opposing of legislation which I believe will strengthen the executive government. We need in this country a strength which we cannot get from a 3-year term, which is all too short. I believe that legislation which is designed to make 3-year elections actually what they were meant to be and which will give the executive government time to plan and to show some strength is to be supported in this chamber.
– Perhaps we ought to alter the Constitution to provide for a 4-year term.
-Senator Jessop said rather satirically that perhaps the Constitution should be altered to provide for a 4-year term. I personally say- I would advocate this anywhere- that we should have a 4-year term of government in Australia. But that is beyond the bounds of any reasonable approach, given the rather shortsighted way that referenda are considered in this country. I believe that the priorities are that we must strengthen executive government, that we should not believe that because a government may be strong it should be brought to heel, and that we must not forget that any government which wins office has to do so in a very widespread and heated contest across Australia. I do not think that we should reduce its power or continue to have the view that the Senate can be a slaughter house where the lower House is brought to its knees and slaughtered. I support the legislation.
– in reply- The Senate has had a most wide-ranging debate on this Bill. As Senator Chaney has said, probably a record number of senators in the experience of most of us- certainly in my experiencehave taken part in it. The division between the views that have been expressed and the strength of the views that have been expressed as well as the quality of the thought that has gone into the matter are probably one of the best indications of the strength, stability and future of the Senate that one could ever have hoped to see.
The Government has brought forward this proposal for constitutional reform along with three other proposals that the Senate will be debating subsequently.
I would like to take up the theme that has been emphasised by a number of honourable senators I think that Senator Wriedt was the most recent to refer to it in this debate and that Senator Tehan was probably the first to refer to itthat is, that the sovereign power in the Australian democracy is the people themselves. It is not the Government or the Prime Minister, as many people who have participated in this debate seem to think, who is the sovereign power. The House of Representatives is not the sovereign power. The Parliament as a whole is not the sovereign power. The sovereign power comes from the people themselves and it will be the people themselves who will decide the fate of the proposals for constitutional change that are contained in this Bill and the other Bills in the package before the Senate, as they have done on other occasions when there have been proposals for constitutional reform. Therefore, I think that it is a reasonable proposition on many occasions for proposals to be put forward for consideration by the people themselves. I say that because there has been a great deal of discussion in this debate about the alleged inconsistency of the Government. I should not have thought that that would be in any way relevant to the debate on these Bills, the proposals or the questions involved. But it has come into it. It is understandable that it should come into it, considering the recent history of referendums on this subject. But I emphasise the fact that the essential and ultimate decision in this regard is to be made by the people, not by the Government itself.
This proposal for a referendum concerning amendment of the Constitution arises out of the Australian Constitutional Convention and the deliberations of that Convention at the end of October of last year. A number of speakers in the debate have emphasised the need for constitutional review and reform. I think that Senator Missen spoke about that very early in the debate. I would like to take up that point for a moment and to emphasise it. That is a very real movement that has been apparent in Australia for a number of years now. It is a very important movement. The Constitution cannot be accepted as a document which is to be there forever unchanged. No constitution has that degree of sanctity; nor should it. It has been remarkably difficult to amend or reform the Australian Constitution. I do not want to repeat the difficulties. They are well known to all honourable senators.
Indeed, the only real measures of constitutional reform that hitherto have been feasible have stemmed largely from the interpretations of the High Court of Australia, which, of course, is not subject to the will of the people. It is not a satisfactory way of doing things for governments, parliaments or the people of Australia to have to rely upon High Court decisions and changes that may occur from time to time in the composition of the High Court to obtain changes in their own Constitution. Therefore the movement for constitutional reform has been a most important one.
The Constitutional Convention, which was established in 1973 and which proceeded through to the end of 1976, will continue to proceed because it was decided in 1976, as a result of progress made in Hobart, that it would meet again in Perth at the end of 1977, and there is every hope that it will do so. But if the Constitutional Convention is to have any prospects for the future and any credibility with the people of Australia- the electors who ultimately will decide these matters- it must be seen to be having some practical effects and not simply to be a talking shop wherein the politicians of Australia gather from time to time.
Senator Chaney has emphasised and other honourable senators have mentioned the representative nature of that Convention. I had the privilege of being one of the delegates from this Parliament to that Convention. It was representative of all shades of political opinion and of the 3 levels of government. I believe that the delegates there represented a fair crosssection of Australian political opinion. The Convention provided a forum for very vigorous debate. There was great difficulty, as might be expected, in obtaining much measure of agreement; but there were at least 4 areas in which a very broad measure of agreement was expressed at that Convention. There was widespread agreement on 4 major areas. I am not saying that there was unanimous agreement. There were some doubts about almost each of these 4 referendum proposals but I shall deal with them as I come to them. This Bill deals with simultaneous elections and the other matters are dealt with in the other Bills that we will be debating. There was a broad measure of agreement that these were reasonable and acceptable reforms when they were discussed at this representative forum of Australian political opinion. This Government, the Federal Government, participated in that forum and this is the only Government which has the power to initiate these reforms. It is the only agency under our Constitution- I stress that point, and this
Government has a majority in each House of the Parliament-which could initiate these reforms. That is the basic reason why these Bills are being presented now to the Parliament.
I want to deal specifically with this Bill. I believe most honourable senators who have spoken in this debate recognise that there are some very strong reasons in favour of having simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate. There is the matter of convenience and practicability. It is convenient, particularly for the electors and for governments and Parliament itself. I do not think anybody challenges that fact. Another reason is the matter of cost. Some attempt was made to complain about the cost of this referendum but if it is carried there will be a once only cost. The figure of something like $5m has been mentioned and probably it would be of that order. But if there are to be separate half Senate elections continually in the years to come we are going to be up for that additional cost of something like $5m in present day figures, for all the years ahead in which such elections are held. Obviously this proposal represents a major saving. I think those 2 considerations would be most persuasive of themselves to commit one to support this measure.
The only consideration is whether such a proposal will weaken the Senate in some way, as has been claimed by many speakers in this debate, and whether it will make profound changes- I think that was the way Senator Martin described it- in our Constitution. Those were the major arguments put against this proposal. Mr President, if I believed that such a measure would weaken the Senate in any way, much less make a profound change in our Constitution at the expense of the fundamental consensus it represents, I certainly would not be supporting it, much less be prepared to promote it in the Senate on behalf of the Government. I would like to analyse these arguments for a moment. I think I may be doing an injustice to one or two of those honourable senators who claimed that this Bill will weaken the Senate but most of them, certainly the major proponents- I have in mind Senator Wright in particular- have said that they are not opposed to simultaneous elections as such.
Therefore it is not being said that the mere fact that there will be an election of half the Senate and the House of Representatives at the same time will weaken the Senate. That is not being said. It is being conceded also that if the Senate takes some action which would precipitate an election of the House of Representatives, or which may cause a political issue to arise on which the Prime Minister may recommend that the House of Representatives go to the people, or if the Senate is an initiating force in some way of a political crisis which leads to an election, it would be reasonable in those circumstances for half the Senate to go to the people with the House of Representatives. It seem to me that we are getting down to very narrow ground indeed.
A simultaneous election as such does not weaken the Senate. A shortened term for senators or many senators does not weaken the Senate. Obviously the double dissolution procedures do not weaken the Senate. Yet these are all circumstances in which the tenure or fixed term of senators is abandoned. No body is putting forward the view that a fixed term of senators is vital to the power of the Senate. Therefore I am left in some state of bewilderment as to what it is, exactly, that is weakening the Senate if this proposal is carried.
– Quite right, you are bewildered.
– Well, Senator Wright, I hoped to have heard from you, Senator Martin, Senator Rae and many of the other honourable senators who have spoken and who were pleaded for by Senator Wriedt what it is about the proposal that is going to weaken the Senate. I understand that some amendments are to be moved and there may be some enlightenment then, but at this stage I do not think any honourable senator has heard clearly stated what it is that is going to weaken the Senate. I think the only honourable senator who presented an argument other than those I have mentioned was Senator Martin who spoke about the power of the Prime Minister being enhanced. In other words, she implied that the Prime Minister could have an early election of the House of Representatives and thereby take out the other half of the Senate. There would be a general election. Consider what happened in September 1972 when half the Senate came out. The government was changed but it did not get control of the Senate. Is it suggested that suddenly the new Prime Minister, having just been elected after some period in Opposition, having just formed his Government, with all the enthusiasm that a new government would have and with all the hopes that it would have, is going to turn round within a very short time and call another general election and thus put the government at risk?
– Even Kerr would not allow it.
– Senator James McClelland refers to the objections that a
Governor-General may well have. Not only Sir John Kerr but any Governor-General could rightly have an objection.
– No, not if that is according to the Constitution.
– It does not depend upon the Constitution. It is assumed that the Prime Minister would go to the Governor-General and say: ‘I have no crisis with the Senate and there is no political crisis. I have just been elected with a thumping majority and I want another election.’ I do not think that even Senator James McClelland would object if the GovernorGeneral refused an election in such circumstances.
– I have said he would refuse, and he has said that he would refuse.
– Therefore those are most improbable circumstances. Perhaps we will have more debate about that matter at the Committee stage. If a Prime Minister were so hell bent on achieving that result he could do so under our present Constitution. He could trundle up a first Bill to the Senate which he would know the Senate would have to defeat and within 3 months, under the double dissolution provisions of section 57, he would then have the ground for a double dissolution. The fact of the matter is that in most recent history Mr Whitlam had grounds for a double dissolution in August 1 973.
I can well remember, sitting on the Opposition side of this chamber from August 1973, how we had to keep pushing and pushing for Mr Whitlam to go to the people again. Despite his great victory in 1 972, he did not want to go to the people again. He had no desire to go to the people in 1973. He had no desire to go to the people in 1974. It was only the action taken by the Opposition in April 1974 which made him go to an election then. Having regard to an analysis, as best I have been able to make one, of the arguments made against this proposal, namely, that it will weaken the Senate and so on, having regard to the existing provisions of the Constitution, having regard to the most recent history which I have mentioned, I cannot really accept the argument- I certainly have no fears about thisthat this proposal will have the effect of weakening the Senate. Certainly, it could not make profound changes to our Constitution because, as Senator Chaney has said, the major power of the Senate resides in its equal representation from the States and the influence which the less populous States have in the Parliament by reason of that representation. That is the fundamental fact about the constitutional structure of the Senate. It is not the fixed term of honourable senators. The fixed term is not magical. It is not a fixed term for all times, as I have sought to show.
In my view and in the view of the Government which I was expressing, the power of the Senate to which I am utterly devoted and which I will always support will reside, firstly, in that constitutional guarantee of equal representation. But even more than that, it will reside in what honourable senators do in this chamber and how readily they assess the opinion of the electorate which they represent, as do members of the House of Representatives. The power of the Senate relies upon the integrity of honourable senators, their independence, the quality of their work and the sorts of reforms which the Senate has been entertaining. It certainly will not reside or be maintained if the Senate takes the view that the Constitution or any power to alter it can never be entertained, that there is something absolutely sacrosanct in every word of the present Constitution. Certainly if the Senate takes steps as it has done in the past it must be ready to accept the judgment of the people on itself as well as on the House of Representatives.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
– I move:
That clause 2 be postponed until after consideration of clause 4.
For my part both clauses can be taken together. Clause 2 is inseparable from clause 4. Any debate upon clause 2 will prejudge the debate upon clause 4.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Section 9 of the Constitution is altered by omitting the second paragraph and substituting the following paragraph: “The Parliament may make laws for determining the times and places of elections of senators. ‘.
– I move:
Add to the words proposed to be substituted the words: provided that elections of senators in all States and Territories shall be held on the same day and at the same time as general elections of members of the House of Representatives’.
In explanation I point out that honourable senators will remember that the title to this Bill, which we will consider later, is expressed as follows:
To alter the Constitution so as to ensure that Senate elections are held at the same time as House of Representatives elections.
I suggest that that could be achieved by making a simple amendment to the Constitution as expressed in clause 3, giving this Parliament instead of the State parliaments power to make laws for determining the times of elections of honourable senators, if the Constitution goes on and includes a condition which provides that elections of senators in all States and Territories shall be held on the same day and at the same time as general elections for the House of Representatives. That invites a consideration of what has been the real substance of the debate at the second reading stage. I do not rehash or retraverse that debate but I summarise the confused analysis which the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) attempted to make at the close of his speech. He said that there was no difference between a proposition that elections for the 2 Houses should be held at the same time and the proposition which we find in this Bill which gives to the Federal Parliament an untrammelled power to appoint the time of elections as distinct from the present Constitution which gives the State parliaments that power. If we couple with the untrammelled power of the Federal Parliament to appoint times for the holding of Senate elections the provisions in clause 4 of the Bill which give the other powers, then we really bring in a shortened term for honourable senators. The point, Mr Minister, is that when we bring in those shortened terms for honourable senators which coincide entirely with the terms of honourable members of the House of Representatives, when we remember one ‘s experience here from 1975 or such a brief period as that or remember the whimsical reaction of Mr Whitlam, when we rely upon constitutional experience throughout the democratic world in the last 25 years and when we remember the quotations which were given by Senator Martin and myself -
The CHAIRMAN (Senator DrakeBrockman) Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Chairman do now leave the chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Chairman having reported accordingly-
Australia Post: Letter Published in Newspaper-East Timor: Amnesty International-Cambodian Nationals in Australia
-Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-I refer this evening to what I believe was a scurrilous letter which was published recently in the Brisbane Telegraph. In many cases it is not worth while answering some of the letters that appear in newspapers where those letters are of bad taste. It is often better to ignore them. However in this case I do not believe that this approach would be the best strategy to use. On 21 February in the Brisbane Telegraph there appeared a letter which I have already described as scurrilous and I will leave it to honourable senators to form their own opinion on whether that is a correct description of it. The relevant parts of the letter, which appeared under the heading ‘Mail Sabotage?’ read:
Employees of Australia Post sometimes sabotage the mail of conservative groups and individuals.
The Post Office is not owned privately, so its employees feel it is their right to decide what deserves to go through the mails. Mail for their political enemies suffers.
In this way, conservatives are hindered in organising and communicating with one another, and the essential rights of free citizens are destroyed.
If a privately owned business had employees who did this, it would lose its customers, but not the Post Office.
As a government-owned coercive monopoly, the Post Office stays in business and considers competition with itself to be a crime.
Those are the relevant parts of the letter. It was signed by a P. D. Rachemann of Gray Road, Hill End.
Without any evidence this writer has accused Australia Post employees of sabotaging the mail. He has accused them of deciding what deserves to go through the mail and has stated that the essential rights of free citizens are destroyed. He casts a slur on Australia Post when he says that it has no wish for any competition with any other organisation. There are 2 aspects to this letter, one concerning staff members of Australia Post and the other concerning Australia Post as an organisation. Two replies were made to this letter but only one of them was published. I will first read the reply that the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union made to this letter.
The reply was sent to the editor of the Brisbane Telegraph at Campbell Street, Bowen Hills. Unfortunately until today this letter still has not been published. It reads:
I noted, with disgust, P. D. Rachemann’s letter in the People’s Forum sub-titled ‘Mail Sabotage?’ (Telegraph 21 February 1977). As I read his libellous statements I could not help but wonder what subversive organisation he must belong to. All reasonable Australian citizens realise that Postal Workers, like their brothers and sisters in the Australian workforce, generally are not overly influenced by political factions. They do their job just the same as workers in the private sector do their jobs, without fear or favour from any political group. Among the Postal Workers of Australia there are many Liberal voters as well as Labor voters and some who vote for the various minority political groups.
They are representative of the community at large.
To suggest, as your correspondent does, that ‘mail for their political enemies suffers’ is ludicrous and should be treated with the contempt it deserves. While the APTU makes no secret about its affiliation with the ALP it is above all a democratic union and, as such, supports the basic human freedoms, including the freedom to vote according to one’s own beliefs. Moreover, the Union has never and will never attempt to interfere in the work performed by its Members.
One letter which was published in the Brisbane Telegraph defended Australia Post as an organisation and defended its employees. This letter was from Ray Brown, the Queensland State Manager of Australia Post. The relevant parts of Mr Brown ‘s letter read:
I resent the statement by P. D. Rachemann (People’s Forum, 21-2-77) that employees of Australia Post sometimes sabotage the mail of conservative groups and individuals. What utter rubbish!
Employees do not decide which terms are restricted in the post.
That is decided by the countries concerned, or by agreement at meetings of the Universal Postal Union, a worldwide organisation of which most countries are members.
To state that Australia Post considers competition a crime is equally untrue, because it operates in a very competitive market and competes for its fair share of the available traffic from a host of other organisations and companies, such as airlines, private freight carrying companies, and even Telecom Australia, in providing a communicating medium among people, and with banks in the money transfer area.
If P. D. Rachemann has a complaint against Australia Post, I suggest he contact me.
Australia Post and its employees have been defended by 2 different letters, one from the Queensland State secretary of the APTU and one from the Queensland Manager of Australia Post.
I too wish to defend the staff of Australia Post against what I believe was an unfounded, baseless attack. I feel that it is incumbent upon us in the Senate to defend people when attacks like this are made on them in the media. One of the reasons why I have raised this matter this evening is that I would be interested to know whether the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick), who represents in this chamber the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, would join me in my defence of the staff members of Australia Post and of Australia Post itself. Such a move by the Minister would go a long way to sustaining the morale of the hard-working and loyal staff of Australia Post. I have been pleased to be able to bring this matter before the Senate and to say what I think of the hard working and loyal staff in Australia Post- a staff which I consider to be totally loyal- and to be able to defend the staff against this attack which appeared in the Telegraph. I hope that the Minister will join me in my defence of the staff.
– I advise the Senate tonight that the executive of the parliamentary group of Amnesty International met earlier today to discuss the sending of a petition to President Carter of the United States of America. The meeting was occasioned because of reports in newspapers and personal reports that we had received following Jim Dunn’s visit to Portugal to discuss the situation as it exists in East Timor. It is a non-party political petition. It has been circulated during the evening throughout the Senate to both sides of the House, as it has been circulated in the other place on both sides of the House. Some honourable senators will have missed signing of the petition who may want to associate themselves with it and we shall be happy to have them do so. It was determined that we should send the petition to President Carter because of his outspoken attitude towards the violent changes that are taking place throughout the world.
Changes are occurring and we are conscious that they are occurring, but change does not have to be achieved through violence. Change can and should be achieved, where possible through peaceful means. This is not always possible. I personally regret that as I know most honourable senators do. Other countries have seen fit to resort to violence in order to effect these changes. We heard Senator Bonner, Senator Rae and a number of other senators speak in the adjournment debate last night on what has taken place in Uganda. That is indeed an important subject. We have heard other speakers many times speak on various countries- Chile, Angola and, of course, the changes that have taken place in East Timor not through peaceful means but once again through violence- violence by Indonesia against a people who had no way of defending themselves against aggression. Of course we have to be concerned when violence of that magnitude occurs in our own region.
When it happens to Australians, as it happened to the Australian journalists who went on assignments for their organisations to bring to the people of the world the truth about what was happening in East Timor, we have to express our concern that there are people still living in East Timor who are being denied basic human rights. We all have to accept our responsibilities where possible to ensure that change takes place without violence, that it takes place for the good of all the people involved. I should like to read firstly the petition that we intend presenting to the President of the United States and then a number of paragraphs from his inaugural address on 20 January which we find most pertinent to this petition. The petition reads:
Parliamentary Group- Amnesty International Petition to the President of the United States
We the undersigned, being members of the Parliament of Australia concerned with basic human rights, applaud the actions taken by you in relation to your defence of prisoners of conscience in the U.S.S.R. and the advocates of freedom of expression, as well as your comments on the recent tragic events in Uganda.
We draw attention to the mounting and disturbing evidence that innocent civilians in Timor have been detained without due process and killed as a result of the activities of Indonesia.
Being particularly interested in the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Australians and the well being of the people involved in our region; and noting the resolutions of the United Nations and having observed reports that this situation has not changed; urge you to again use your good offices as a matter of urgency to seek assurances from the government of Indonesia:
We felt it was most important to stress those 2 particularly important issues in a petition of this nature that is going to another country. In his inaugural address President Carter said a number of important things, one of which was:
In this outward and physical ceremony we attest once again to the inner and spiritual strength of our nation.
As my high school teacher, Miss Julia Coleman -
There is no relationship- used to say, ‘we must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles’ . . .
I believe this is what our petition is all about; that we are saying that we are adjusting to changing times but we are not prepared to adjust our principles to suit aggression and war. President Carter continued:
Our Government must at the same time be both competent and compassionate . . .
We have learned that more is not necessarily better, that even our great nation has its recognised limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems.
We cannot afford to do everything, nor can we afford to lack boldness as we meet the future. So together, in a spirit of individual sacrifice for the common good, we must simply do our best.
Our nation can be strong abroad only if it is strong at home, and we know that the best way to enhance freedom in other lands is to demonstrate here that our democratic system is worthy of emulation . . .
The world itself is now dominated by a new spirit. Peoples more numerous and more politically aware are craving and now demanding their place in the sun- not just for the benefit of their own physical condition, but for basic human rights.
The passion for freedom is on the rise. Tapping this new spirit, there can be no nobler nor more ambitious task for America to undertake on this day of a new beginning than to help shape a just and peaceful world that is truly humane.
We are a proudly idealistic nation, but let no one confuse our idealism with weakness.
We hope that the President of the United States will see fit to use our petition as a weapon of peace against aggression.
– I should like briefly to take this occasion to draw the attention of the Government again to the plight of a number of Cambodian nationals who are resident in Australia. There is a relatively small number of nationals but their personal position because of conditions in Cambodia is particularly bad. Since the Khmer Rouge took over in Cambodia that country has in effect become closed. It is simply not possible to get information in or out of the country. Many reports have filtered through and some of them are quite horrifying. It is suggested that the city of Phnom Penh, which was a city in excess of one million people is down to a population of about 20 000 due to the forced repatriation of people to the countryside and that the city is in fact a shell. Some diplomatic representatives of some countries are in Phnom Penh but I am told that those diplomats are confined to a very small radius- a matter of a few hundred metres- from the residences which they occupy.
The relevance of all this to the nationals who are in Australia is that since the Khmer Rouge took over they have been completely unable to obtain any information whether their families are alive or dead and whether they can return to
Cambodia safely. They are simply left in a complete bind. The situation is that they can choose to face what they have been told is possible death on their return to try to get information or they can stay here not knowing whether their families are alive or dead. In the case of one of the men I have been dealing with he has, or had, a wife and 6 children in Cambodia. Representations have already been made to the Government but the Government is totally unable to obtain any information.
My reason for raising the matter now is that I think it is one which ought to be on the public record. It is a matter where I think the Government can try to encourage the admission of the Red Cross to Cambodia. At the moment some commercial contacts are being opened up by that country because it needs assistance in reconstruction. I believe that there may be some opportunities for the Government to use those contacts to try to get in. The awful possibility is that even with the good will of the Khmer Rouge there may have been such massive dislocation of Cambodia that it is simply impossible to get information. I should merely like to say to the Government that I believe that in the interests of people who have obtained refuge in Australia the Government should lend every effort to open lines of communication with the Khmer Rouge or with some authorities in Cambodia or obtain the entry of some international body such as the Red Cross which might be able to do something to relieve the terrible dilemma in which these people are placed.
– Though it was not my intention in rising tonight to speak on the subject about which Senator Chaney has spoken I warmly support what he has said and hope likewise in relation to the terrible tragedies occurring in Cambodia that more facts will be known and something can be done in the situation. My purpose in rising and saying a few words is to support the petition which Senator Coleman has already mentioned to the Senate this evening. As another member of the executive of the Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International, I warmly support the petition. Many honourable senators from this side of the chamber also have signed this petition tonight, as have many members of the House of Representatives. I think that we see an opportunity in this action. The new President of the United States of America has made some outstanding statements about and given outstanding indications of goodwill and interest in human rights in the world. Because of what he has said and done already, we may have some hopes that the United States will take some further interest in the problem nearest to us, in our region. I refer to the problem of Timor where the position appears to be at a standstill. We do not know what is happening and we have not had a satisfactory explanation of the deaths of 5 Australians who were killed or about the many people who have been killed, wounded or treated badly in the course of the hostilities which have broken out in that unhappy country.
It may well be that the President of the United States will be able to do something under the terms of this petition. He may be able to persuade the Government of Indonesia to comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to allow the International Red Cross to resume humanitarian activities in East Timor. It is in the hope that by addressing this petition to him and bringing these matters to his immediate attention we as members of the Parliament can do something worthwhile and perhaps achieve something in the unhappy position of East Timor that we have taken this action. With those words, I state that I warmly support the petition. Any honourable senators who have not signed this petition are invited to do so. I hope that they will see us before this day is out.
– I rise to make a brief comment on the speech of Senator Colston. I listened with interest to the contents of the letter which he read out. I will re-read it in the Senate Hansard tomorrow. It appeared to me to contain a series of attacks and strong criticisms in the broadest and most general of terms on Australia Post and the postal workers. Senator Colston asked me whether I would respond. I respond in this fashion: I believe that those people who make criticisms ought to make them in the specific and the particular and ought to provide the information for investigation. They should not make blanket accusations which inevitably must embrace innocent people and create an atmosphere which is wrong.’ I have no hesitation in saying that the workers of the various categories throughout the Australian postal system represent a true cross-section of the Australian community. In that I pay them tribute. In other words, I have no hesitation in saying that the overwhelming majority is composed of wholly decent people striving to do a good day’s work, striving to do an honest job and upholding the very fine principles of a service which seeks to preserve privacy and to make a good delivery.
But inevitably, as with the whole Australian community, there will be a small percentage of people who break the rules in various ways. I, for one, could not say that any of the charges as made in general terms could not be proven in the odd instance against an offender or two around the place. The defect I see in the situation is the scatter gun criticisms. I deplore the scatter gun. I think that all those who have a criticism to make of Australian institutions should make it in specific terms and be prepared to back it up. I am happy to say that the Commonwealth Government is very pleased to be associated with a body of people who in the main do a good job. I am equally happy to say- I will not weary the Senate- that there are signs that the Australian people are now moving more to support Australia Post and that the decline, which had been a significant one of 12 per cent, in postage in 1975-76 appears to have been arrested. One of the interesting things- and I hope that it is a sign of things to come- is that the volume of Christmas cards committed by the Australian people through Australia Post last Christmas at the concessional rate was some 16 per cent higher than in the previous year. Whether that is a sign of good times or a sign of support I do not know. I for one hope that die Australian people will have greater and greater confidence in the service and that we will build a stronger system through the new techniques.
– I have listened with a great deal of interest to the speeches made by honourable senators and the matters which they have raised. I shall pass them on to my colleagues in the other place and I hope that they will take the action which honourable senators desire.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.26 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice:
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following information in answer to the honourable senator’s question. This answer replaces that which appeared in Hansard (pages 128 1 to 1283) on 19 October 1976:
Data are, however, available for a range of professional occupations which are usually related to specific courses of tertiary training. These are presented in the following table. It should be noted that it is not possible to distinguish in these statistics between university graduates and persons holding other qualifications from other institutions except where the relevant training can only be obtained at a specific type of tertiary training institution and the occupation requires registration or licencing. Nor, in the case of graduates, can the level of qualification be distinguished.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
With reference to the Prime Minister’s reply to a question without notice in the House of Representatives on 18 February 1976 ( Hansard, page 35), have all Ministers now made a declaration of their pecuniary interests to the Prime Minister. If so:
what form did the declarations take, and
will the declarations be made public.
– The Prime Minister has provided the following information for answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
Has the Minister for Productivity provided details of his pecuniary interests to the Prime Minister. If so, will the Prime Minister advise the Senate of the details provided.
– The Prime Minister has provided the following information for answer to the honourable senator’s question:
See my answer to Question No. 1 336.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
TV Singapore did not elect to receive the film by satellite but requested that it be air-freighted, This was arranged, as a matter of convenience, through an officer of the Prime Minister’s party. I believe that the last package was taken by this officer personally on his flight home from Perth.
Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development: ‘Environs’ Magazine (Question No. 1478)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Environs replaces three other magazines produced by departments absorbed by the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development. The magazines discontinued were Shelter (Housing and Construction), Community (Urban and Regional Development), and Recreation (Tourism and Recreation).
Every two months. Shelter- monthly; Communitymonthly, Recreation- every two months.
$2,200 plus postage. Shelter-S 1,400, Community$2,5O0, Recreation-$1,800
One journalist with some assistance from a graphic designer. Shelter, Community- the same, Recreation- parttime services of two journalists and a clerical officer.
Members of Commonwealth and State parliaments, Commonwealth and State departments and instrumentalities, local government, universities and colleges of advanced education, academic and public libraries, sports, youth and environment organisations, media, secondary schools and special interest groups.
To act as a national forum and educational medium for issues related to the built and natural environment, housing, community life and leisure.
Australian Broadcasting Commission: Television Program for the Deaf (Question No. 1501)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice:
Have cuts in Federal Government funds available to the Australian Broadcasting Commission necessitated the cancellation of a planned special weekly program of captioned television news for the deaf, as was claimed in the article entitled ‘Their Eyes are their Ears’ in the Australian Women’s Weekly dated 1 December 1976. If so, (a) what are the details, and (b) can the Minister take action to ensure that the program proceeds as originally planned.
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No. Although the ABC has had such a program under consideration for some time past, no firm decision to produce it has been made. The ABC will put it to air when circumstances permit.
Television Reception in Mountainous Areas (Question No. 1543)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice:
What technical development designed to improve poor television reception in mountainous areas, such as around Lithgow, New South Wales, does the Department currently have under investigation.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The two methods currently available for improving poor television reception in mountainous areas are:
television translators, such as those already operating to provide the national and commercial services to Lithgow;
community television aerial systems, for small pockets of population.
In both cases it is a pre-requisite that television signals suitable for translation or for feeding the community television aerial system are available close to the area it is desired to serve. These are established techniques and no special investigations in relation to their application are involved.
An Australian delegation led by an officer of the Postal and Telecommunications Department has just returned from Geneva where it has been participating in an international conference for the planning of broadcasting satellite services and my Department will be continuing its investigations into their possible future application in Australia. Amongst the advantages of a broadcasting satellite is its ability to serve areas of difficult terrain much more easily than a terrestrial transmitter. With the present state of development of the technology, broadcasting satellites are not expected to be a practical engineering proposition until the mid 1980s at the earliest. Further, in view of the very substantial costs for the establishment of a broadcasting satellite service, economic factors will be a dominant consideration in planning its possible introduction.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice:
1 ) Where have cycle paths been constructed in
-The Minister for the Capital Territory has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Paths have been included in neighbourhood residential areas for many years and are available for use by both cyclists and pedestrians. Apart from these the following longer distance paths have been established:
In addition, the following arterial cycleways are currently under construction:
North Canberra- Childers Street to Commonwealth Avenue Bridge (2.25 km). Due for completion in March 1977.
Tuggeranong- Kambah Village Centre to Kambah High School, connecting several feeder paths (2 km). Due for completion June 1977.
Athllon Drive (5 km), Wanniassa to Mawson. Due for completion March 1978.
i An overall network of cycleways for Canberra is being identified by the National Capital Development Commission working in close consultation with various community groups including A.C.T. Pedal Power. In general terms the major current proposals include cycle paths in the following locations:
Commonwealth Avenue Bridge to Telopea Park
Telopea Park to Narrabundah
Narrabundah to connect to the existing path in Canberra Avenue in the suburbs of Red Hill and Griffith
Commonwealth Avenue Bridge to Woden through Yarralumla
A comprehensive system of multi-purpose trails is being developed. Feeder paths are being constructed with land development works.
Belconnen from North Canberra to Belconnen Town Centre via Bruce and connecting through the College of Advanced Education other arterial cycleways through the suburbs of Macgregor, Latham, Higgins, Scullin, Page, Macquarie, Charnwood, Flynn and Melba, Evatt, Giralang and Kaleen are planned to connect with neighbourhood paths in each area. around the shores of Lake Ginninderra and along Ginninderra Creek.
Molonglo Arterial Cycleway (3 km)
Commonwealth Avenue Bridge to Telopea Park (3 km)
North Canberra to Belconnen Town Centre (6 km)
Ginninderra Creek (3 km)
Detailed analysis and location is proceeding at present on the following cycleways:
Mawson to Phillip (3 km)
Phillip to Commonwealth Avenue Bridge (9 km)
The proposed construction programme, subject to the availability of funds, for cycleways is:
Commonwealth Avenue Bridge to Telopea ParkMid 1977
North Canberra to Belconnen- late 1977 Mawson to Phillip-early 1978
Phillip to Commonwealth Avenue Bridge- late 1978 Telopea Park to Narrabundah- early 1979
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 24 February 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1977/19770224_senate_30_s71/>.