Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 20 October 1983
Page: 2033


Dr KLUGMAN(4.22) —I am pleased to hear from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) that the Opposition will support the five pieces of legislation that will be put before the people on 25 February 1984. I quickly remind the House of what the Bills deal with. One Bill deals with simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and half of the Senate and another deals with a four-year term for the House of Representatives. They were endorsed by the Australian Constitutional Convention in Adelaide earlier this year. The former Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, I think on 7 February, said that if re-elected his Government would put both of those propositions to a referendum as soon as possible.

I will come back in a few minutes to the question of Parliament and the function of Parliament and parliamentarians. The general argument for the legislation is that it will create conditions for better long term planning and a more rational political climate generally. I will address that aspect in a few minutes. It is probably irrelevant, but I sometimes have difficulty with people who argue that it is undemocratic to have lots of elections, because after all that is the only time when the people can pass judgment. But I suppose there is some point when it is reasonable to say that we must give the Government a chance to govern for some period-for three or four years. I am one of those who do believe in lots of checks and balances on government. That certainly exists at present and has for some time as far as this Parliament is concerned, because of the position in the Senate.

It is relevant to cite, for example, what has happened in New South Wales over the last 20-odd years. In 1961 there was a Federal election; in 1962 a State election; in 1963 another Federal election; in 1964 a half Senate election; in 1965 a State election; in 1966 a Federal election; in 1967 a half Senate election; in 1968 a State election; in 1969 a Federal election; in 1970 a half Senate election; in 1971 a State election; in 1972 a Federal election; in 1973 a State election; in 1974 and 1975 there were double dissolutions at the Federal level; in 1976 another State election; in 1977 an early Federal election; in 1978 a State election; in 1979, no election-the first year in 18 years that there was no election in New South Wales-in 1980 another Federal election; in 1981 a State election; in 1982 we missed out; and in 1983 we again had a Federal election. Whilst the issues in State and Federal elections are obviously different, or they appear to be different, it is reasonable to say that having an election where people can express their views on the performance of a party- or a collection of parties, in the case of the coalition opposite-giving the people in New South Wales a chance to do so every year seems adequate. It certainly interferes with rational political debate and rational decision-making . Hopefully, things will improve when this referendum has been passed.

The third Bill deals with the interchange of powers, where the Commonwealth can confer power on the States, for example, to impose duties of excise, to legislate in respect of matters involving Commonwealth places, and so on. It also overcomes any doubts which the States have felt as to the basis on which references may be made to the Commonwealth. The referendum Bill makes it clear that a reference given by the States will be revocable, that it may be given subject to conditions, including conditions regulating the types of laws that can be passed under it, and that such references may be made for a limited period. I am one of those who believe in real federalism. Whilst I did not welcome the advent of the Fraser Government in 1975, at least the rhetoric of the Fraser Government, or Mr Fraser himself, was one of talking about real federalism. It is a great pity that the Government did not go on with the question of federalism and really enforce it. As I see it, what happens at present-and I am not defending it only because we are now in power federally; after all, we are also in power in most States-


Mr Ruddock —It was Wran who put a stop to that.


Dr KLUGMAN —I know, with his rhetoric to some extent. The State governments are prepared to spend the money. They are prepared to complain continuously to every Federal government about the inadequate funds being given to them, but they are not prepared to raise the money and justify the expenditure of the money to the people from whom they have to raise it. The honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) blamed Mr Wran. But before him, possibly Mr Bjelke-Petersen, who hopefully is on his way out this week, made all kinds of promises and gave away all kinds of methods of raising money, starting with estate duties or probate, and then asked the Federal Government to recoup the money for him because he said the State had an inadequate income. Whatever the views of honourable members may be on probate and death duties, it is easy for State politicians to promise all kinds of things at State elections, abolish all kinds of charges and taxes, and then scream because the Federal Government does not give them the money. But it is then up to the Federal Government to have to either justify increased taxation or be accused of having a deficit which is much too large. When we talk about these things rationally, most of us would probably agree on this point.

The fourth Bill deals with opinions; the advisory jurisdiction of the High Court. It is probably the most debatable of the proposals that will be put to the people on 25 February next year. I do not think it will cause any harm. I must admit I have some reservations about whether the benefits will be as complete as stated by some of the advocates of it. Finally, there is the Bill to remove outmoded and expended provisions of the Constitution. I think there would be little argument about the removal of those. I noticed when I was chairing the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform that one of the sections of the Constitution came before the High Court this year. I cannot remember what section it was. It provides that anybody who is eligible to vote in a State is eligible to vote for the Federal Houses. That provision was made in 1901. The High Court held that what was meant by that was that anybody eligible to vote in the lower House of any of the States in 1901 is eligible to vote federally; 82 years later, I think that if people have not obtained that right by now they are not likely to get it in future.

I will not take the full time allotted to me because I know that many others wish to speak on this issue but I will raise a couple of matters which I think are relevant to the general questions we are looking at and the justification for less frequent elections; in other words, extending the term of parliaments to four years and having simultaneous elections. I think the role of parliamentarians comes into this matter. I noted with pleasure the view expressed by Senator Missen the other day in the Senate when I read the Senate Hansard. He expressed very similar views to mine on the role of parliamentarians . It may speed up my contribution if I am allowed to read into Hansard part of a letter which I wrote to the Age justifying an increase in the number of parliamentarians and dealing also with their role. It states:

As one who has at least libertarian tendencies I strongly support the view that more MPs could increase the effectiveness of the Parliament as a countervailing force to the executive government, which has grown substantially since 1949. This is a worthy objective.

Importantly an increase in the number of parliamentarians would reduce the proportion of the executive (or 'legislators') in the party room. This would force the executive to persuade a larger number of (potential) critics and maybe sometimes fail to do so. As one who has never been impressed by claims of consecutive governments of varying political complexion, that the number of laws passed is in any way related to ultimate benefits for the Australian population, I therefore support an increase in members which may--

I emphasise 'may'-

reduce the amount of legislation by exposing it to more effective criticism by parliamentary and party committees and (almost) finally the party room.

Parliament is (not equally) divided into the simplistics beloved by most of the media who know all the solutions and those who are aware that 'solutions' often lead to more 'problems'. I support a potentially significant increase in the latter.

I think that is the important point in relation to the function of parliament and parliamentarians. I criticise the media. To some extent it prevents some quite rational politicians who want to get on in politics from adopting a rational attitude. Anybody who has doubts or can see two sides of an argument is attacked as vacillating, lacking leadership and so on. Even intelligent politicians who can see both sides of most arguments are forced to behave like shrewd lawyers with briefs and justify one side which has been decided upon by their party. No wonder people who are at least temporarily treated as successful politicians are of the Menzies, Whitlam and Fraser variety. They were completely convinced that their line at any time was the only correct one. That is accepted by the media as being the correct attitude. My own view is that leadership in an educated democratic society should not exclude rational discussion and the realisation that not all problems are soluble.

The onus is on the media to give more publicity to discussion and less to confrontation. The media gives favourable and, to my mind, excessive publicity to demonstrations promoting slogans, whether those slogans be-to pick three different issues-to promote peace, right to life or no dams. The media is in a sense behaving in an anti-democratic fashion as it encourages those who treat the public as being most simplistic. The media publicises slogans. There is no intelligent discussion on the issues involved. The media wants people to encapsulate their views in a two-minute contribution to AM or PM or to television programs. They feel that the vast majority of Australian listeners, viewers or readers are not interested in the basic issues and the problems involved. They want people to have a quick solution to all problems. I remember someone once being asked: 'What is the solution to this particular problem?' A more intelligent politician replied: 'There are no solutions to this particular problem. Solutions are there for crossword puzzles and similar games but not for major issues'.

This afternoon we heard the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) make a very rational speech on the forthcoming referenda and a completely irrational speech some half hour before on the question of setting up a national crimes commission . I think I know him well enough to be able to say that the views he expressed in his second speech were much closer to his own than those he expressed in his first speech. That is a point in his favour. But he will get much more publicity for his first speech than for his second speech. In his second speech he talked about non-interference with the States and leaving certain problems for them. In his first speech he talked about setting up a national crimes commission to investigate State issues. He equated-he assumed that everybody else in the community would-the setting up of a national crimes commission with the abolition of crime. I do not think anybody in this House, not even the honourable member for Bass (Mr Newman) who was in charge of the Australian Federal Police for a significant period, would believe for one minute that even if we gave very wide powers to investigating agencies and police forces we could really abolish crime. I think that is a simplistic view of society. The Opposition equates the fact that people have second, third, fourth or fifth thoughts about giving excessive powers to police forces, investigatory agencies, national crimes commissions et cetera with delaying the fight against crime. I put to the Opposition that the United States and other countries have had national crimes commissions and all kinds of bodies with very great powers and crime still exists. It will continue to exist, as will drug addiction and so on.

Some years ago I was in East Berlin-I will conclude on this point-and I had a discussion with a leading medical practitioner. He kept on feeling inferior, with some justification, because of the system that his country had even though he was a committed member of the Communist Party. I was feeling a little sorry for him as I shared a meal with him-possibly for which he was paying-and I tried to encourage him by saying: 'Well at least you have fewer severe car accidents because you have fewer cars.' He said: 'Oh, yes, but our people get drunk. There are fewer cars on the road and they go much faster. You should see the people who come into my hospital; they are worse'. I said: 'Well, maybe you have less of a drug problem here than we have in our countries in the West'. He said to me : 'Well, it is argued that that is due to our education system and our social system, but other people have argued that drug smugglers are not prepared to accept our currency'. I think the second point is probably the more accurate. As long as they can sell drugs for Western marks, pounds or dollars, smugglers will collect that money and will distribute some of it to the police forces or investigating agents. Nothing that we do will stop that happening. All we will do, by getting too tough on people, is increase the cost of drugs and increase the crime rate.