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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2775

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(4.25) —My view is that this amendment in practical terms substitutes the Electoral Commission for a political party or for both political parties. The Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) says to us, as he did yesterday in respect of the composition of the National Crime Authority, that common sense would prevail in the Electoral Commission. I do not believe that, without adequate safeguards and guidelines, this clause can be implemented without trespassing in the political areas. I do not know how the Commission will be able properly to discharge its responsibilities imposed upon it by this amendment without trespassing upon matters of political argument.

Senator Harradine —Let them go, and we will scream blue murder later.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —That seems to be the way of the world these days. We complain about things, they go through, then we are all visited by their sins. The effect of the proposed words is very much a question of argument. Most debates during referenda are not about the results of the proposals; they are about the effects of the proposals. Their meaning and implications are always open to debate. Senator Gareth Evans, responding to Senator Harradine in respect of advisory opinions, said that the Commission would say that they would be allowed to be given by the High Court of Australia to the Commonwealth, the States or the Territories-end of story! That is only a quarter of the story. It would not also say that this would be done without a litigant, without concrete facts and without concrete evidence. It would not say that the arguments would be of a general, not a specific, nature or that the advisory opinions under the original proposal could be given prior to the Parliament contemplating, making a determination and voting on the legislation.

In respect of simultaneous elections, how would the Commission respond? Would it say: 'Simultaneous elections means you have elections at the same time'?

Senator Harradine —Yes, that is what it will say.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —That is right. Will it also say: 'But, of course, we can already have simultaneous elections without this referendum proposal'? There will be a vacuum. Once we try to get an explanation of the effects-that is the exact word-of the proposed law there is no way that the Commission can trespass in this area without causing enormous problems for itself. In the past the Electoral Commission has been held in very high regard and it will be politicised by this legislation. I think it is being unfair to the Commission. It is being gravely unfair to the political process and, more particularly, to the public.