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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 233

Senator LEWIS(10.57) —The Senate will know that I have spoken on previous occasions against proposals exactly the same as the proposed Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill. I intend to be very brief and simply repeat my previous statements that this Bill is a fraud. The title of this Bill is an attempt by this Government and previous governments to mislead the people of Australia into supporting something with which we all agree, that when there is an election for the House of Representatives, there ought also to be an election for the Senate. We know that that is a popular view. This Bill has been given that title as if that is the purpose of the Bill. I say it is a fraud because it is quite clear that that is not the purpose of the Bill. The purpose of this Bill is to enable a Prime Minister to call an election of both Houses of Parliament when the Prime Minister wants to have an election without regard to the fixed term of the Senate. That is the situation.

Under the Constitution as it now stands the Senate in effect has a fixed term. It has always been a pain and cause for annoyance to Prime Ministers that they have had to wait until there is a gap to enable the Senate to be taken to an election before they can call an election of the House of Representatives or, alternatively, face a separate election for the House of Representatives and the Senate. Because of this annoyance Prime Minister after Prime Minister, from Mr Menzies through to Mr Fraser and the current Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), has tried to change the Constitution to enable him to be able to take out the Senate at the same time as he takes out the House of Representatives. To talk about simultaneous elections is an absolute fraud. The Bill is put that way simply to induce the people to support something which they would not support if the Bill were given a name which enabled them to understand what the Bill was all about.

I am delighted to see that in due course in this chamber a procedure will be followed which, I hope, will result in a changed title to the Bill. I hope that proposal will get the support of the Australian Democrats, who seem at last to have understood the real purpose of this proposal.

I have spoken against this proposal repeatedly. I do not see a great deal of sense in talking about other alternatives which this Government is not prepared to put before the people. This is clearly an election gimmick. The Prime Minister, with his current popularity rating and an opportunity to talk a lot of nonsense, rhetoric and garbage to the people-which he will do; it will be untrue but it will appear on the surface of it to be sensible-is hoping to be able to slip this through. Let there be no doubt that if this is carried by the people of Australia, the result will be that there will be many more elections in Australia than there have been in the past. There is no question about that.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Absolutely.

Senator LEWIS —As my colleague from Western Australia says, 'Absolutely'. There will be many more elections, because Prime Ministers will be able to take out both Houses of this Parliament whenever they wish. If the Prime Minister had had this proposal in the Constitution we would have already had an election and we would now be in the midst of the term of the second Hawke Government. Notwithstanding the massive majority that Mr Hawke has in the lower House at present, there is no doubt he already would have had a second election. If Mr Fraser had been Prime Minister and he had had this provision in the Constitution , he would have had more elections than he managed to have in his short term in office. Prime Ministers would see this as an enormous opportunity to have an election when it would be favourable to them to do so, and an opportunity then to win a majority not only in the lower House but also in the Senate.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Senator Evans will make it possible.

Senator LEWIS —As Senator Crichton-Browne says, this Attorney-General is endeavouring to make that possible, notwithstanding all the speeches he made throughout his career before coming Attorney-General, and in fact in the early stages of his career as Attorney-General, criticising Prime Ministers for having early elections and trying, in some way or other, to make it impossible for a Prime Minister to have an early election. If he wants to do this, why does he not come up with a proposal to hold elections on a particular day every three years, four years, or whatever he wishes; put that properly to the people so that they can understand what it is all about; and let the people then decide the issue? No, he is prepared to take away the fixed term of the Senate. This Attorney-General who throughout his career has praised fixed terms and has said how marvellous it would be if there were fixed terms for Parliaments-- Senator Crichton-Browne-He has written books on it.

Senator LEWIS —He has written books on it. By this procedure he is trying to take away the fixed term of the Senate and enable the Senate to be taken to an election at will. I am certain that if the people of Australia grasp the significance of this measure they will reject it, not only in the outer States but right throughout the nation.