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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 171

Senator WALTERS(6.21) —I find myself, once again, opposing a move by the Government to undermine the stability and power of the Senate with this so- called simultaneous elections referendum. Tonight I shall speak primarily on the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1984, to which I am vehemently opposed. The people of Australia have already spoken twice on it, in 1974 and 1977. As we go through, I think that we shall find that the people will be very much opposed to the Prime Minister having complete control over the Senate, which is what is behind this Bill.

The title of the Bill is very deceiving. The simultaneous dissolution of both Houses can be undertaken by any Prime Minister at any time that he wishes, so long as he does it within the period during which the Senate should go to the people. The Australian Labor Party's policy in 1977, when we previously had this referendum, was clear. Indeed, Senator McLaren told us at that time that it was the first step in abolishing the Senate's power and that the sooner that was done, the better. Senator Button assured us that the Labor Party would take every opportunity to delimit-that was the word he used-the Senate's powers. The aim was quite clear. Let us not forget that at that stage it was the Labor Party 's policy to abolish the Senate. It was written into its Party policy.

The present Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, saw the problems associated with that. He understood, at least, that the people were not behind that particular policy, and he moved within his Party to have that policy removed from the Labor Party's written policy. But it is certainly very clearly still the Labor Party's intention. Let us look at what the Attorney-General now says are the reasons for holding this referendum. He said in his speech:

The average term of Parliaments post-war has been 2 years 5 months.

He was saying that Parliaments do not go their full time and that there have been too many elections. Yet we find that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), when he had been in power for just over 10 months, said that we would be going to an early election. When that is held, it will certainly bring that average down. He is not concerned about that. Senator Evans said:

There has been increasing community dissatisfaction about the lack of sufficient continuity and stability in government, with a resultant atmosphere of uncertainty and controversy and strong pressure on governments to adopt short term expedient policies to ensure electoral success.

We have certainly seen that with the Budget that was delivered last night. I agree with Senator Evans that that was short term expediency to ensure electoral success. The Prime Minister will not, as Senator Evans indicated when he was speaking on that previous occasion, go his full term. He will take advantage of what is his prerogative and will call an early election to fit in with the times that the Senate can go. Of course, this is the exact point of why the referendum is not needed. In calling this early election, the Prime Minister will bring both Houses into unison. Both Houses will be going to the people together. From then on, every three years, any Government can call an election, and as long as it keeps the election in time with when the Senate can go, it will be able to undertake simultaneous elections.

What else did the Attorney-General say? He said that it would avoid separate elections. I quote him:

The simultaneous holding of elections for the House of Representatives and half the Senate will avoid the need for separate elections.

We have already seen that the Prime Minister has, at the moment, avoided the need for separate elections. Senator Evans says that they are again out of phase now following the double dissolution. As I say, the Prime Minister is overcoming that problem so there is no need for a referendum. The Prime Minister has already stated that he will overcome that problem. So why he needs a referendum I have no idea.

What surprised me most about the Attorney-General's second reading speech was that he quoted his own idea or, I gather, the idea of his Party that the move to simultaneous elections will ensure that the Senate's composition at any given time will more accurately reflect the current wishes of the people. We have only to look at what the Founding Fathers decreed and the reasons why they decided to have half Senate elections every three years and an election for the other half every six years. It was because, they decided, the Senate needed stability, and the Government should not do what Senator Evans says it should do. Large swings should not be shown in the Senate. The swings can occur in the House of Representatives, but because only half of the Senate goes to the people every three years, this would give continuity, and the Senate would not have to reflect the extremes of swings; the large swings would not be shown in the Senate. This is vital to the stability of government in Australia, and it is one of the reasons why this country has such a stable government.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Had.

Senator WALTERS —It still has a stable government, because the Government today does not control the Senate. While there was a swing against the present Opposition in the House of Representatives, the numbers in the Senate do not reflect that swing, and the stability of the government in this country is ensured.

It also covers the situation of a rogue government. I am not suggesting that Senator Evans belongs to a rogue government, but I suggest that we consider what happened to the Whitlam Government. There was a very short lived euphoria on the part of the people about the Whitlam Government. The Senate's stability stopped the large swing that Mr Whitlam then had in the House of Representatives from occurring in the Senate, and the Senate was able to undertake its essential role of guardian of the people, and we came to the situation where the Whitlam Government was thrown out by the people at the instigation of the Senate, by the Senate being able to give them that choice.

We turn now to the history of this Government. We find that the States are becoming more and more disenchanted with what this Federal government is doing. I know that the people in my State of Tasmania are already fed up to the back teeth with the grab for power that Mr Hawke has undertaken since he has been in government. We have had the Federal Government use its external affairs powers in my State to such a detrimental effect that the State Labor Government lost power overwhelmingly. We have a situation in which the Attorney-General, to get his way, sent spy flights over our State using powers that had never been used by any government previously. We have the situation in which the Premier of Western Australia, which has a Labor Government at the moment, said that he would lead a revolt of Premiers if the Federal Government interfered any further and used its Aboriginal affairs powers to stop the building of Western Australia 's Harding River Dam. The States are beginning to realise just what this Government is all about and they are not likely to fall for any further loss of powers or for any smart or swift talk by the Attorney-General.

Let us look at how far the Attorney-General was prepared to go to get this sort of referendum through. We have heard a lot of talk by the Attorney-General and, indeed, by the Government today about freedom of information, democracies and the rights of people. Yet we find that the Attorney-General brought in two swift , sleight-of-hand moves when he tried to introduce the referendum last year. What he did was to hide away in the slush fund of the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) additional money appropriated for the funding of the Yes case only. It was not until the Additional Estimates were passed that the Attorney-General then came clean and said that he had appropriated the additional money for the advertising of the Yes case only. In answer to my question as to why he had not at the time of the Estimates divulged where the money was, he said: 'You didn't ask me. I would have told you if you had'. That came from this great libertarian , this great freedom of information fellow, the fellow who wears his human rights on his sleeve. Would we trust that man? Never would I trust that man with anything at all.

Senator Gareth Evans —I couldn't hope to probe the dark labyrinth of your mind.

Senator WALTERS —It certainly was a dark labyrinth that Senator Evans entered in his efforts to get the referendum through.

Senator Crichton-Browne —He is a devious devil.

Senator WALTERS —He did not only do that. As Senator Crichton-Browne says, he is very devious. What he also did was to change the voting paper. Senator Evans decided to change the voting paper for the first time since Federation. No previous government going to the people with a referendum had tried that lurk before. Indeed, he did not even table the regulations until he was forced to do so by questions from the Opposition. That is the truth. He decided to hang on to them and not table them until he was forced to by questions. He told us it was all a big mistake. But, of course, he did not even claim that the hiding of the money that he had appropriated in the Minister's slush fund was a big mistake. He admitted he had hidden it and that I would have had to ask the questions before he would have divulged it. Let us look at what section 14A (1) of the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act states.

Senator Gareth Evans —Spare us.

Senator WALTERS —I do not think Senator Evans has been interested enough in the Act to attempt to abide by it. He now says: 'Spare us'. I believe that it would do him good to listen to just what the Act says. It says:

The ballot-papers to be used for the purposes of a referendum may be in accordance with Form C in the Schedule.

Form C in the Schedule to the Act sets out very clearly what multiple question ballot papers should be like. It is all very clear. Under the directions on how to vote, the ballot paper states:

DIRECTIONS: Mark your vote on this ballot-paper as follows:

If you APPROVE the proposed law, write the word Yes in the space provided opposite the question.

If you DO NOT APPROVE the proposed law, write the word No in the space provided opposite the question.

Senator Evans changed all that. Let us bear in mind that we did not even know he had done so because it was not tabled in this place. He changed all that. He said: 'You just have to indicate yes or no. Use a tick or a cross; just indicate yes or no'. Apart from that, there were other changes. He proposed an alteration to the original ballot paper. Do not let us forget that every government since Federation which has gone to the people with a referendum has used the ballot paper as described in the Act. He altered that ballot paper. Let me tell the Senate what the original ballot paper said, because I think it is important to find out just how the Attorney altered it. The original ballot paper asks:

Do you approve the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled . . .

Then it states the title of the proposed law. The voter is meant to answer Yes or No. The title of the law was not given any interpretation. It was not given a Yes interpretation or a No interpretation. It was purely the name of the proposed law. Senator Evans changed that. He changed it to make a description of that proposed law. Whose interpretation was it? It was certainly not that of those supporting the No case. He changed it so that the name of the law had a description that was put by him, by the Yes case, so that the people as they voted were under pressure to change their minds and to vote according to the way the Attorney described and interpreted that particular piece of law that he wanted to get through. During the debate on whether the additional funding for the Yes case alone should be passed, Senator Evans's excuse for using the money was that those honourable senators who supported the No case were an eccentric minority. I remind him that that eccentric minority of senators on two previous occasions were so eccentric that they were able to convince the majority of the States-or three of the States, an equal number of States-that they should not pass that Bill.

Senator Gareth Evans —Not a majority of people.

Senator WALTERS —Senator Evans keeps telling us that it is not the majority of people. He underlines that because he comes from one of the more populous States . He does not like this small State nonsense, of those States having any say at all. He thinks that it should only be the majority of the people. Of course, if that occurred, Madam Acting Deputy President, you would be most upset. Western Australia, the State from which you come would also be most upset. The less populous States, indeed, would demand their rights because the only reason they joined the Federation was that they would have equal rights with the more populous States at a referendum and that in this place they would have equal rights with those States as all the States would have an equal number of senators. Senator Evans is rather keen on democracy when it suits him. He is not so keen on democracy when it is liable to go against him. He is keen on democracy for the more populous States, but not so keen on democracy for the less populous States. As I said, his form of democracy is one he can hide and not have to divulge unless he is asked; that is the sort of democracy he will go for.

Other senators are to speak in this debate. We have indeed debated this referendum proposal on many occasions. Since I have been in this Parliament it has been debated umpteen times. Despite the devious methods used by the Attorney -General this Senate will survive. The Opposition will go to the people and once again the people will knock back this referendum proposal because they understand that the Senate is the guardian they want it to be and that no Prime Minister must control it. The independence of this chamber is absolutely vital.