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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2764


Senator MACKLIN(3.15) —I move:

Page 8, clause 11, at end of clause, add the following new sub-clause:

'(4) The Commonwealth shall not expend money in respect of the presentation of the argument in favour of, or the argument against, a proposed law except in relation to-

(a) the preparation, printing and distribution of the pamphlets referred to in this section, or the preparation and distribution of translations into other languages of material contained in those pamphlets;

(b) the provision by the Electoral Commission of other information relating to, or relating to the effect of, the proposed law; or

(c) the salaries and allowances of members of the Parliament, of members of the staff of members of the Parliament or of persons who are officers of employees within the meaning of the Public Service Act 1922.'.

This amendment seeks to require that the Commonwealth not expend money in respect of the presentation of the argument in favour of, or the argument against, a proposed law except in relation to three items. This is an expansion of the discussion we had last year. I shall take each item separately. The first is the preparation, printing and distribution of the pamphlets referred to in the proposed section-the pamphlets for Yes and No cases that have traditionally been funded. The paragraph also refers to the distribution of translations of material contained in those pamphlets. This proposal will allow material to be translated into community languages for the purposes I expressed yesterday during the second reading debate.

The second is a new item; namely, the provision by the Commonwealth Electoral Commission of other information relating to, or relating to the effect of, the proposed law. On the last occasion on which we were looking at this matter we had only just passed the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act and established the Electoral Commission. I think that those of us who dealt with this matter at that time were unaware of the nature of the Commission. The functions of the Commission are set out in section 7A (1) (c) of the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act, which we passed last year, in the following terms:

To promote public awareness of electoral and Parliamentary matters by means of the conduct of education and information programs and by other means;

The Act defines 'electoral matters' as follows:

matters relating to Parliamentary elections, elections and ballots under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 and referendums;


Senator Peter Baume —Parliamentary and union?


Senator MACKLIN —Parliamentary, union and referendums. So the Commonwealth Electoral Commission already has as part of its statutory function the conduct of education and information programs. It, therefore, seems to us appropriate that the Commission ought not be excluded from undertaking that statutory role already given to it by the Parliament and hence I made provision in paragraph (b ) of the amendment circulated on behalf of the Australian Democrats for it to be able to continue that education and information function in relation to referendums.

I believe if one reads in as unbiased a way as one can the previous Yes and No case pamphlets one can see that the actual amount of material provided to the electors by them was almost zilch. Indeed, I think that any reasonable elector who did not have any great connection with a political party would have found it very difficult to understand what the argument was all about. Indeed, the Yes case more or less suggested that if the electors passed a particular referendum proposal the following morning would be much brighter than ever before and the No case suggested that if the referendum proposal were agreed to the end of the Western world was in sight. Of course, most referenda proposals mean nothing of the kind. I think that now we have an independent Electoral Commission to which we have entrusted a statutory requirement to engage in the conduct of education or information programs, perhaps provision of some information in relation to referendums, other than propaganda provided by political parties, would be for the benefit of the electoral process.


Senator Peter Baume —Could this provision be used to circumvent the last vote in the Senate?


Senator MACKLIN —No, it is not able to be used in that way because by definition the Electoral Commission is an independent body and, hence, would not be able to promote either the Yes case or the No case. However, it would be able to provide information, hopefully of an intelligent and educational kind, to enable electors when voting either yes or no to understand the effect of the proposed change to the Constitution and how that would affect the Parliament or whatever else the referendum proposal involved.

Paragraph (c) is another item that I think is important to include, since we assume this provision will remain in the Act until another Parliament looks at the referendum machinery provisions yet again. It provides for the salaries and allowances of members of parliament, members of the staff of members of parliament or persons who are officers or employees within the meaning of the Public Service Act. When parliamentarians engage in activities in relation to referendums they expend money by attending meetings and flying around the country. Likewise, their staff engage in the expenditure of money by making telephone calls, issuing Press releases by telex or whatever else they are called upon to do by the member of parliament. Lastly, those people who have an obligation to engage in activities in relation to the conduct of referenda will obviously have to be paid. If we left out (c) we could very well render impossible the holding of any referenda campaigns at all.

We believe that this amendment is comprehensive in its application, but nevertheless would achieve the effect that the Parliament sought to achieve with its holding operation last year; that is, to achieve a fair and balanced presentation of material to the electorate and ensure that the money which is expended is not expended in any way which would enable an overwhelming case one side or the other to be put to the electorate-rather a balanced case should be put to the electorate for its consideration and vote.