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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2772


Senator HILL(4.10) —I want to respond briefly to the Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans). I think, in his own words, he really put the danger that we are trying to eliminate. He said that if the words that we want to include are included, that is, 'which is not aimed at advancing either the argument in favour of the proposed law or the argument against the proposed law' , that might restrain the Commission from giving practically any information. That is exactly our concern. That is why we feel that this extra caution should be exhibited in this particular case. We believe that the Commission should operate from only a very narrow area, that is, to give purely facts and information of an educational and informational nature, to use the words in the Act. It must be very strictly limited. As soon as the Commission verges into an area of giving advice, looking at the arguments for and against-and if it is to put information before the public on a referendum it will be difficult for it not to do that-I believe we will get into trouble. We will start running into the concerns that have been expressed so eloquently by Senator Harradine. The Attorney has acknowledged in effect that, by allowing the Electoral Commission a wide berth to give information of an educative and informational type on a referendum, without a restraint that it should not be aimed at either side, we will run into serious trouble.

I say to the Democrats-most of these debates seem to be directed at the Democrats-before their spokesman speaks, that our amendment is purely a cautious amendment. We cannot see how in any way it would damage or cause difficulty to the role of the Electoral Commission; rather, it is cautious and positive and will emphasise to the Electoral Commission that, in meeting its responsibilities under section 7A (1) (c) of the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act , it must be particularly careful to ensure that the material it provides cannot be interpreted to be aimed at advancing either side of the argument. That is the role of those who, under the terms of the referendum legislation, have the opportunity to produce a Yes case and those who have an opportunity to produce a No case.