Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 226

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(10.12) —I did speak on this matter last night for just two or three minutes. I seem to remember that I was reflecting upon the corruption, moral decay and decadence of a man who was once properly described as a genuine reformer of the Constitution. If the Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans) were a Christian one might see him as a backslider who now has fallen from the angels into the hands of the devil and who seems to have sold his soul for political expediency and no longer has regard for the altruistic motives which at first originally drove him on to a--

Senator Gareth Evans —I raise a point of order. Most of it is fair comment, but I think the words 'corruption' and 'moral decay' are going a trifle too far on the part of the honourable senator. I ask him to withdraw that particular imputation directed at me.

The PRESIDENT —I ask the honourable senator to withdraw those remarks.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Yes, I withdraw them unequivocally. Perhaps I should not say that that is what has happened to the Attorney-General, it is just a perception of mine. If I might pursue the argument and the line I was--

Senator Gareth Evans —We are not even on the air. What is all this about at this hour of the morning?

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I do not mind offending the Minister whether we are on the air or not on the air if it is fair reporting. The Australian Labor Party claims that this constitutional amendment is required to guarantee Australian voters fewer elections. The truth of the matter is that this constitutional amendment, if carried, highly unlikely as that might be, will guarantee more elections, not fewer elections.

I find it very interesting at the very time that the Australian Labor Party is preaching for fewer elections and the Attorney-General is haranguing us about governments running their full term we have the Hawke Government conditioning the Australian people day by day, through insidious remarks in the media, to the notion that the Australian people require and need an early election. He is seeking to provide good and valid reasons why there must be an election by December of this year. The election is at least six months earlier than is presently required under the present Constitution which would still allow for elections of the House of Representatives and the Senate at the same time. In other words, if the Australian Labor Party and Senator Evans were true to their word and honest in their own hearts about that which they previously believed, I believe they would be seeking, by way of a token gesture, to show their sincerity and their integrity by having an election in May of next year. That would be a token gesture at least indicating their sincerity and their genuine belief in parliaments running their full term as far as possible.

If this Government were serious about fixed-term parliaments and simultaneous elections for both Houses of Parliament it would announce now that there shall be an election in May of next year and that the date shall be fixed now. It would demonstrate its commitment to parliaments running their full term, at least as far as possible. I find it a quaint contradiction in terms that while this Government is posturing about governments running their full terms the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) is desperately seeking, with the assistance of Mr Young, to have the redistribution and the electoral rolls finalised as quickly as possible so that he can have the election at the earliest date. Of course, it is an open secret within this Parliament that the moment the rolls are completed and the boundaries are confirmed the Prime Minister will be rushing out to Government House advising an early election. As I have said, the Government is not looking for the latest date possible in line with the logic of the Attorney- General, but for the earliest date possible.

I remind the Senate that this Government on previous occasions has proposed constitutional amendments which sought to provide for governments having a fixed term with elections to be held on pre-determined dates. That would have the effect of ensuring not only that governments run their full term but also that the date of the election is known in advance. It is well known that I am totally opposed to fixed-term parliaments because the purpose behind them is not to have fixed terms with a known election date. The real insidious, pernicious intention behind the proposal was to gut the Senate of its power, to remove its capacity to block, defer or postpone Supply. But at least if that had been the case the Government of the day, in the present climate of integrity, would be saying 'As an indication of our integrity we will have an election in May and you will be told the date now', which is what it was suggesting in its fixed term parliament proposal. Of course, we all know what happened to that. We now find that the date of the election is shrouded in great mystery. The Government is purposely tantalising the public as to what it might be. At the same time we know that the Government is rushing headlong into the earliest election that it can possibly hold.

I ask the Senate: What happened to that proposal for fixed-term parliaments? What happened to that constitutional amendment? We all know that the hard heads and the pragmatic politicians in the Australian Labor Party realised that that constitutional amendment would have prevented the Labor Party from having an early election. It would have left it to be visited by the sins of its economic mismanagement. If, in the event of another temporary aberration, the Australian Labor Party were to be re-elected we would all be visted by the sins of economic mismanagement by this Government.

Even the constitutional amendment now before us, for simultaneous elections, has previously been introduced into this Senate. It was proposed that the amendment be put to the people not at the time of the next election but, as I recall, in February of this year and that it would take effect from that time. What was the fate of that proposal? It, like the fixed term parliament proposal, was shelved. One might ask why it was shelved, why it was not proceeded with. There was a very good practical, pragmatic reason, as I have said, for the hard heads in the Labor Party who are more concerned about political survival and staying in Parliament than about genuine constitutional reform. Carrying that constitutional amendment would have had the effect of synchronising the elections of the House of Representatives and the Senate so that both elections were held on the same day.

The real import of that reform would have been that the terms of honorable senators would not have expired on 30 June 1985, but the Senate's term would have been extended to the next normal date of a House of Representatives election. That action would, of course, have removed from the Prime Minister an excuse to hold an early election and would have forced this Government to run its full term. I am sure that that prospect had no great appeal to the Government which knows that it has built two Budgets on very fragile and false premises. The last Budget clearly demonstrates that fact. The receipts side of the Budget depends upon continuing growth and economic expansion in the Australian economy. Anyone who cares to reflect upon the economic indicators in America, the world generally and Australia knows that towards the latter part of this year and the early part of next year there will be a significant decline in economic activity in America, Japan and Australia.

If one looks at the economic indicators one might ask: Upon what premises are the optimism and enthusiasm in which the Government indulges itself based? Of course, those premises are very fragile. There has been a decline in employment and in the manufacturing, construction and rural sectors and in all the private sectors generally. The only growth in employment, of course, has been in the government sector. We hear fallacious stories about the Prime Minister delivering half his promise of ensuring that half a million people will be employed in the first half term of his first Government. The truth of the matter is that 137,000 of those people have been given employment by government job creation schemes which are in some cases part time but in all cases short term. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister wants to have an early election, to get the election out of the way before the economy begins to crumble, the economic indicators become apparent and his whole strategy falls around his ears .

One must ask: Why does the Government propose this constitutional amendment now ? The reason is pretty clear. In the event that this Government is returned to office for another term, the constitutional amendment will provide the government of the day with an opportunity to hold an election any time the Prime Minister chooses. That action flies in the face of the Prime Minister's altruistic posturing about governments running their full term. If the proposal is carried, not only will the Prime Minister be able to call a House of Representatives election but the Senate will be dragged along so that there is a House of Representatives election and a Senate election at the same time. In the event that he has an early House of Representatives election, the Prime Minister will not be faced with a half Senate election at a later date. As we know, as the Constitution stands, if the Prime Minister calls an early election and the election for the House of Representatives falls out of step with the election for the Senate, the Prime Minister will be restrained to the extent that he knows that he will have to face a half Senate election in isolation from a House of Representatives election. Inevitably, such elections are held in a by- election atmosphere. Traditionally, those elections do not favour the government of the day.

The recent exercise by the Senate of its constitutional power and the manner in which that power has been used are not inconsiderable factors for a Prime Minister to contemplate when planning House of Representatives elections. Contemporary Prime Ministers have had to look very carefully at the Senate's composition and the effect of the Senate when they have had an early House of Representatives election. So, of course, the Prime Minister now wants the right, unfettered and unrestricted, to have a House of Representatives election and a half Senate election at the same time, and not to have to worry about future elections. Now, that restraining factor and influence will be lifted in the event that this constitutional amendment is carried.

This proposal, by its very intention and its timing, will mean not fewer elections but more elections. It simply means that the Prime Minister, with impunity in insulation from other restraining factors can have an election at any time he likes. He does not need this constitutional amendment to synchronise the two Houses. That is no secret. Blind Freddy knows that. If he synchronises the two Houses on this occasion, and in the event he stays in power-and he seems to be pretty well convinced that he will be there as long as he and God choose--

Senator Elstob —You are convinced as well.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —No, I am not convinced as well.

Senator Elstob —Yes, you are.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I am not. The honourable senator knows as well as I do that when his Prime Minister starts to stumble, when the economic indicators show that he is not the Messiah, the factions on his side will move in like piranhas, and they will cut him to shreds in five seconds. The honourable senator already has his alternative Prime Minister, Bill Hayden, sitting over there in the other place, waiting for him to stumble so that he can climb across or stroll across his body, put his foot on his face and resume the position of which he believes he was deprived as a result of cynical exercises by Hawke and his co-conspirators. The moment that any fragility shows in the economy, Hawke's ratings will go down very quickly. The knives will come out and he will not survive for very long.

Senator Elstob —The business people think differently.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —You might be talking to Sir Peter Abeles--

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will address his remarks through the Chair.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Through you, Mr President, the Australian Labor Party might believe that Sir Peter Abeles is the repository of all wisdom and all knowledge and is a reflection of every member of the private enterprise system in Australia. I have to say, with the greatest respect to Sir Peter Abeles, that he really does not epitomise, reflect or represent the great majority of private enterprise in Australia.

Senator Gareth Evans —Who does? Denis Horgan?

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Ask Denis Horgan? I could probably, through you, Mr President, ask John Horgan, who was a director of Metro Industries, who ran Metro Industries with his brother, who with his brother was alleged to be involved in those bottom of the harbour schemes, and who has now been appointed by Brian Burke, the Premier of Western Australia, to head the Western Australian Development Corporation. I rather wonder where the honourable senator's double standards are.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will come back to the terms of the Bill.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Yes, Mr President. As has been pointed out on previous occasions, the very nature and the very naming of this Bill is misleading. It is not a simultaneous elections amendment proposal. What it really does is simply provide that from now on the Senate will be compelled to have its election on the same day as that for the House of Representatives; not the House of Representatives having its election on the same day as the Senate, but, simply, the Senate will be sucked along to have its election on the same day as the House of Representatives. That means that from now on the Senate will have its election on a date of the Prime Minister's choosing. When he capriciously, expediently and pragmatically decides that it is in his own best interests to have an election to maintain his position in the House of Representatives, the Senate will be forced to go to the polls at the same time. So even the wording of the proposal is quite improper.

Theoretically, under this proposal a chamber set up for a fixed term of six years could find itself having an election every 12 months. What a prostitution that is of the intentions of the founding fathers and the purpose for which they set up the Senate as an independant body, divorced and removed from the machinations and convulsions that might take place in the House of Representatives, and indeed with a chamber separate, divorced from and above the activities and goings on in the chamber on the other side of this building. From now on there will be not fewer elections but more of them.

It should be understood that this proposal-I find this as disturbing as any other feature of this proposal-will have dramatic effects on the powers and independence of the Senate. It will irreversibly reduce and weaken the powers of the Senate and its capacity to act in an independent way as a House of review or as a States' House. I remind the Senate of the wording of section 53 of the Constitution which, in part, reads:

Except as provided in this section, the Senate shall have equal power with the House of Representatives in respect of all proposed laws.

That refers to not more, not less, but equal power. Now one will find the Senate subject to elections because, as a result of events in the House of Representatives, the Senate will lose that status. It will become an appendage, a poor relation, a chamber that will meekly follow the House of Representatives and be subject to the whims and wishes of that House. The very survival of the Senate will from now on rest in the hands of the Prime Minister. By the very provisions that are proposed and intended the Senate will be inextricably tied to the House of Representatives and the fate of the House of Representatives will be visited upon this chamber. Senators will no longer have independence of mind or action. The Senate's functions as a States' House will, in my view, be thoroughly dissolved. The Senate will simply be an addition to the House of Representatives and in future will have to rely on the fortunes of the House of Representatives for its very existence. Matters and affairs in the House of Representatives will have a bearing on the Senate and will dictate the Senate's duration and composition.

In the event of convulsions in the House of Representatives that result in the Prime Minister calling an early election-which, for no good reason, he might decide to hold-the House of review, the Senate, will be dragged along. I ask the Attorney-General to explain why a crisis in the House of Representatives, in which neither the Australian Democrats nor Senator Harradine have any representation, should cause them to have to go back to the polls to renew their mandate. Following events in the House of Representatives, over which neither Senator Harradine nor the Democrats will have any influence, they will find themselves dragged through a political imbroglio simply because the Labour Party proposes to link the fortunes of the House of Representatives with the Senate. I see no reason why activities, events and convulsions in the House of Representatives, or political expediency by the Prime Minister should reflect or be visited upon this chamber. Its stability, continuity, smooth functioning will be destroyed for no good reason and its powers will be dramatically diluted. In the event that the Senate seeks to exhibit its inherent characteristics by rejecting, amending or deferring legislation it considers to be obnoxious, badly drafted, ill-conceived and wants to contemplate or examine the legislation, the Prime Minister of the day can stand over the Senate with a big stick. He can say : 'If you do not knuckle down, if you do not agree with what I want, we will have an election and have you cast before the voters again'. Of course, the effect of that will be to bypass section 57 of the Constitution. That was a section subject to a great deal of debate, contemplation and consideration by the founding fathers who saw it as a vital part, indeed the linchpin, of the functioning of this chamber and its relationship with the House of Representatives.

Therefore, as I say, this chamber will in many respects be diluted. Given that the Senate was provided with such distinct characteristics and powers, the problem which faced the delegates was how to overcome deadlocks. Therefore, section 57 was conceived. Of course, that is now to be bypassed. I remind the chamber that it is no accident of history and no oversight by the draftsmen that the founding fathers very carefully wrote in section 57 of the Constitution which states:

The senators shall be chosen for a term of six years . . .

I contrast that with section 28 of the Constitution which states:

Every House of Representatives shall continue for three years from the first meeting of the House, and no longer, but may be sooner dissolved by the Governor -General.

The contrast between those two sections is clear, precise and obvious. One House was to have a fixed term and the other was to have a maximum term and, on occasions, a lesser term. The distinction is quite clear: The founding fathers deliberately set a fixed term of six years for senators, except within the limitations of section 57, and no lesser period. The Founding Fathers set a maximum period of three years, or a lesser period, for the House of Representatives. That was what was intended. If it was not intended that the Senate serve twice the term of the House of Representatives then, of course, the Constitution would have been written in a different way.

The founding fathers of course intended the Senate to be a States House; a House of review and a House of second deliberation. In many ways they intended it should be an independent chamber with its own rights and responsibilities and own reasons for existing. It was intended to be unfettered and insulated from the machinations which take place in the House of Representatives. Quite properly it has been given a continuity not available to the House of Representatives. As I said, if there is a conflict between the two chambers, section 57 is intended to prevail.

Regrettably my time is quickly running out. There were a number of other matters which I wished to touch upon. However, I say that it is for a very good reason that a term of six years by rotation was chosen. It was chosen to provide continuity, a reflection of contemporary community attitudes and standards. In the Constitution the Senate stands, or did in the past at least, removed from the actions of the Prime Minister. It is only action by the Senate, not by the Government and not by the Prime Minister, which makes the Senate accountable to the people. If the Senate chooses to use its powers capriciously, irresponsibly or delinquently it will find itself accountable to the Australian community. I conclude by saying simply that simultaneous elections are not required for synchronisation of elections. Simultaneous elections will bring about more elections, not fewer elections.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.