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Wednesday, 10 November 1976

Mr BRYANT (Wills) -Mr Deputy Speaker,it is a moment of great excitement when the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) rises and calls on us to man the barricades. All I can say about the honourable member for St George is that the dragon that he handles will be a pretty small one. I have risen tonight to remind members of this House of the events of 12 months ago tomorrow. On 11 November 1975, the Governor-General of this country carried out such a breach of constitutional propriety, supported by the people who are now on the other side of this House and in particular by those who were sworn in as Ministers, that their actions offer a threat to the continuance of democracy in Australia. I invite honourable members for a moment to imagine what it all means.

Let us imagine that the honourable member for St George became Governor-General. We have heard him tonight making statements in which he has demanded violence and action outside the law. Armed with the powers of the Governor-General as they were presumed to exist at this time last year, what does this mean? In the first instance, he is the CommanderinChief of the Australian forces. He can do almost what he will with those forces. But honourable members may say that that is a chimera; that will not happen. But what did happen in fact last year was something which nobody in this country presumed could or would happen. I have spoken to dozens of people, many of whom did not vote for the Labor Party last year, who heard on the wireless with complete disbelief the announcement of the dismissal of the Labor Government. They did not believe that it could happen here.

So, if we transfer the present reading of the constitutional powers of the Governor-General to the other sections of the Constitution which deal with, for instance, the dissolution of the Parliament, the prorogation of the Parliament and the sending of messengers by the GovernorGeneral recommending appropriations, we find that a situation has been created in which there is one person with absolute authority in this country over this Parliament, over its governance and answerable to none.

I know full well that honourable members opposite can treat a matter such as this with some levity. I know that they have one of the blackest records of Western democracies regarding the gerrymandering of electorates and the rigging of the whole ballot system. I know that no honourable member opposite could hold his head up at a meeting of true democrats. Honourable members on the Government side support such bodies as the Queensland Government, various legislative councils and the chicanery and manipulation by the National Country Party wherever it has the power. These facets of our political life are offensive to everything for which democracy stands.

The oddest situation has been created in which what was called by Lord Bryson in 1911 'the most advanced democracy' has become a potential for one man dictatorship. It is all right for honourable members opposite to laugh. It may well be that at some time in the future somebody who does not hold the same political persuasion as honourable members opposite will occupy the position of Governor-General. In 50 years time that office could be in the hands of a person with a totally different outlook. The time has come for all of us to consider a rapid alteration to this part of the Constitution.

Most of the vituperation has fallen upon the head of the Governor-General. But I want to remind the Parliament of what some of the members of this House did. At 2.24 p.m. on 1 1 November last year, this House passed a vote of no confidence in the continuation in government of then then caretaker Prime Minister, the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Despite that vote, against all parliamentary tradition, he accepted office and some 12 or 15 members of the House at that time also accepted ministerial positions. I believe that that was an act of sabotage against parliamentary tradition. Whatever else it was and whatever else happened, that was the worst feature of that day.

One of the brightest spots of that whole situation came the next day when members of the Transport Workers Union in this city refused to drive those members of the Parliament to Government House. Those transport drivers were probably the only people in this country who recognised the significance of the breach of parliamentary tradition by those people. I stand here tonight to say thanks to those members of the car pool in Canberra for their action on that occasion.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

Mr NEIL(St George)-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

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