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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2773


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(4.16) —In endeavouring to reply in the spirit that we have all been talking about-whether we meant it or not is another question-I think I can say to Senator Harradine that clearly the core of the amendment would be to enable the Electoral Commission to say something like this in relation to advisory opinions: 'The effect of this is to enable the Commonwealth, the States and the Northern Territory to obtain advisory opinions from the High Court on certain constitutional matters' and then to identify what they are. On an extension of that, one could go further and say that it might be competent, in the guise of information, for the Electoral Commission to produce some neutral summary of the main arguments advanced respectively by the pros and cons. That is conceivably part of what might be subsumed under the description of information. It is water that the Electoral Commission would no doubt be rather anxious not to wade in, but as Senator Macklin has said, it is a matter of having confidence in the Electoral Commission.

I do not join in this debate with any gigantic sense of enthusiasm because this is not what I want. I want to get in there and hammer away the Yes case with a degree of vigour, and flail all the eccentrics pursuing the idiosyncratic resistance to legitimate constitutional change. That is what I would like to do with government funds. I am quite open and unashamed about that. I think that is legitimate, given the whole course of referendums in this country. If I cannot have that, I would like to have a proportionate capacity to do that. This seems to me really to be a way of putting the Yes and No cases back to their original conception. They were intended in their original conception to give genuine advice to the electors on the arguments. It is a pity that over the decades they have become strident noisesome publications in many ways. It may be that that balance can be redressed a little by allowing the Electoral Commission, in its own judgment, to produce material of a neutral kind which would be designed to inform the electors. Just what the information means will be a matter for the Commission and its advisers, as Senator Macklin said, to judge. I think that we ought to have confidence in their judgment.