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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16485

Mr CAUSLEY (9:15 PM) —I rise tonight to discuss some issues about the Senate in this particular parliament. This is nothing new: I did see recently in the media that the Prime Minister had proposed that there should be some changes to the way the Senate operates in this country. Obviously, he is not the first Prime Minister to propose those types of changes; I do recall a previous Prime Minister who had some derogatory comments to make about members of the Senate. But something I think that is fairly common about this is the fact that the Senate has moved from what I believe was its original intended function.

If we go back to Runnymede and the beginnings of our democracy, from my understanding anyway, the principal motivation at that particular time was to see that the common people, the ordinary people, had some say in the governance of their country. There is no doubt in my mind that the House of Representatives, or the House of Commons as it is in the British parliament, was deemed to be the principal house, where those people who were elected by the commoners, the people, the majority of the people, represented their constituents, and the House of Lords was considered to be a house of review. Again from my knowledge of it, in those days the commoners as they were called were very poorly educated people and the landed gentry who occupied the House of Lords had an education, and the idea was that anything that the lower house wanted would be polished, if you like, in the upper house into law that could certainly be governable with in the country.

I dare say that if you look at our Constitution—and anyone who went through the centenary has probably done that—you will find that it is different. I think it was Prime Minister Deakin, our second Prime Minister, who said that in many ways federation was a miracle. You have to go back and understand some of the negotiations that went on between the states to get a federation. One of those things, of course, related to the power of the Senate. The smaller states believed that the larger states, New South Wales and Victoria in particular, which were the most populous states at the time, would have too much power and therefore there had to be some curb on that power—and that curb was to have equal representation in the Senate. There was also some debate, I think, about the money bills and how the money would be distributed amongst the states, and we then get the formula which is still argued to this day at every premiers conference about how the money should be distributed.

I did note that the Prime Minister proposed these changes to the Senate, and I also noted that a former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, agreed with the Prime Minister's statement that in fact the Senate had become a house of obstruction. I think that in any upper house, whether it be a state house or whether it be the Senate, they have to understand that they are not the elected representatives of the people; that it is legitimate for them to scrutinise bills and to send bills back to the lower house and suggest amendments to legislation, but it is not their position to govern. They are not the elected representatives of the people. It is the lower house members who are the elected members and it is the lower house members who go to the people with policies and with an agenda that is either accepted or rejected by the people. I do not care which side of politics is in government, I believe that a government has the right to put forward its policies and have those policies accepted by the parliament. It would not be any surprise to members of this House that I disagreed strongly with what went on in 1975. I have made that view very clear. In fact, when I was on the constitutional committee that went around Australia regarding the referendum on the republic, I questioned the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, very closely about his involvement in the events of 1975.

I was however alarmed in this debate to see that the Clerk of the Senate became involved in a political discussion publicly. I do not believe it is the role of any unelected member of the parliament to become involved in a political discussion, whether it be the Clerk of the House of Representatives or the Clerk of the Senate. I think that it is quite wrong of the Clerk of the Senate to get involved in a political debate. If the Clerk of the Senate believes that he should have some say in this, he should resign his position as Clerk of the Senate and stand for an elected position. Otherwise, I believe the parliament should deal with him. (Time expired)