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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1843


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Minister for Trade)(5.23) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I remind the House that I have made an introductory speech to the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill which also applies to this Bill. This Bill proposes to amend the Constitution first by extending from three years to four years the maximum term of the House of Representatives and, secondly, by increasing the fixed terms of senators from six years to eight years. Where a double dissolution occurs, the terms of all senators holding office at the time of the double dissolution would be cut short and, following the ensuing election , half of the senators for States would have terms of four years, while the remainder of the State senators would have eight-year terms. In the event that the simultaneous elections proposal is also passed, so that senators' terms coincide with those of members of the House of Representatives, the amendment is written in such a way that the fixed eight-year Senate term becomes a maximum eight-year term.

The proposals will not affect the terms of office of the present members of the House of Representatives or, accordingly, the term of office of the present Government. Those elected at the first election of the House of Representatives following the commencement of the amendments will be elected for four-year terms instead of three-year terms. The first senators to be elected for an eight-year term will be those elected at the first Senate election occurring after the commencement of the amendments.

Special provision is made for senators holding office at the commencement of the amendments. Those senators elected on 5 March 1983 and whose terms of office now expire on 30 June 1985 will have their terms extended to 30 June 1986. Those long term senators, also elected on 5 March 1983 but whose terms now expire on 30 June 1988, will have their terms extended to 30 June 1990. In each case, the extension is subject to any earlier double dissolution of the Senate. These provisions are necessary to maintain the Senate rotation system of a half-Senate election every four years and to bring the half-Senate elections reasonably into phase with the expected House of Representatives elections. Otherwise, a half- Senate election would be due before the middle of 1985, whereas the next House of Representatives election is not due until the first half of 1986.

In the absence of provisions of this kind, even the holding of an early House of Representatives election in late 1984 or early 1985 would not serve to keep the House of Representatives and Senate elections in phase without either an indefinite number of subsequent early elections, which would entirely defeat the purpose of the four-year term proposal, or else frequent national elections with half-Senate elections taking place between successive House of Representatives elections. The proposed transitional provision, at the cost of a modest extension of the terms of the present senators, makes possible the synchronisation of elections for the two Houses for the forseeable future. Of course, the difficulty does not arise if the simultaneous elections proposal is accepted. In that case, the transitional provisions relating to existing senators will not come into effect. This will be achieved by clause 5 of the parliamentary terms Bill.

The Government has withdrawn the fixed term proposal but is proceeding with the three other measures, namely, the amendments to provide for interchange of powers between the Commonwealth and the States, the giving of advisory opinions, and the removal of obsolete provisions from the Constitution. These three measures, together with the two which I am now introducing will provide a package comprising all of the proposals which have received either unanimous or strong majority cross-party support at the Australian Constitutional Convention. They should, if consistency counts for anything in politics, continue to attract cross-party support.

None of the proposals involves the Commonwealth in any attempt to acquire new powers at the expense of the States. Indeed, the proposal for interchange of powers should provide for better co-operative arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. The decision of the High Court in the recent Victorian pipelines case has emphasised the inflexibility of some of the existing provisions of the Constitution in financial matters and the desirability, accordingly, of adopting the interchange of powers proposal as a basis for negotiations. It is the Government's intention that all five constitutional change proposals now before the Parliament be debated and passed by this House during this session and put to referendum on 25 February 1984. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Spender) adjourned.