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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 246

Senator MACKLIN(12.32) — The propositions made by the Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans) in his speech before questions were put to him by Senator Walters concerned the debate on this particular item last time round. As he pointed out, there was no vote nor any debate on the short title last time round. I also bring to the Attorney's attention the fact that at that time there was the support of a substantial number of people from the Liberal Party of Australia. I am not sure whether there was any support from the National Party of Australia. The proposition was that the simultaneous elections and the other proposals would be supported. The Australian Democrats pointed out in our amendment to the motion for the second reading, which the Attorney-General voted against, that the situation is identical, but that we now have opposition. On this matter the Attorney-General stated:

. . . opinion on this issue--

he was referring to fixed terms-

as between the major parties is hopelessly divided . . . given the history of referendas on constitutional matters in this country, it does make it extremely implausible that the proposal would attract the necessary majority support . . .

If that is the case there is no reason to go ahead with this matter but every reason for the Governments to revert to its original proposition, the propositon put to the people in 1983, that it would seek, as a matter of major constitutional reform, to have fixed terms. The element of stability-I do not want to quote the various speeches made in this place by the present Attorney- General-that would be introduced by that proposal and the radicalness of that type of constitutional reform are things which I would have thought this Government, in the rhetoric that it has brought forward, would be willing to continue. The fixed term and simultaneous election proposals are now in an identical basket. The Attorney has every reason to go back to the promise that he made to the people of genuine constitutional reform. This would indeed stabilise the structure of elections from now on. If the Attorney-General had been able at the time to put forward the proposal it would have been carried by the people despite the opposition by the major part of the Liberal and National parties. From our position there is substantial difference in the situation that occurred last time and the situation now. The Attorney has in fact lost the only reason that he gave anywhere publicly for not introducing the fixed term proposal. The only reason given for not introducing it was that he did not have the support of the Liberal Party. He does not have the support of the Liberal and National Party on this issue. Therefore, following his logic, which is recorded in Hansard, he must now desist from this proposal and go back to the proposal which I believe, has the support of the Australian Labor Party- presumably it was a promise made to the electorate-which certainly has the support of the Australian Democrats and which, I think, would have the support of major constitutional reformers in this country.