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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 247


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(12.34) —There are many ways in which one can try to rationalise an act of sabotage and we have just heard Senator Macklin doing his best. But let the characterisation of the situation stand as I have just put it. It is an act of sabotage for the Australian Democrats to turn their backs on this particular proposal. It is quite at odds with their stated desire to have this matter go before the people in a comprehensible way, a way that will be recognised, understood and voted upon in a balanced and properly judgemental way by the people. It is introducing an element of change, an element of confusion in what has been a well understood concept, well argued and well debated over a long period. To change the title in this way, more particularly to change the long title in the way that is foreshadowed, is fundamentally to produce a situation where confusion is likely to be the order of the day.

The reason why I do not accept the reasoning which underlies Senator Macklin's basic point that all bets are off because this is a different environment now with the Opposition having taken the position that it has is that by no means all bets are off so far as the likely prospects of success of this particular proposal are concerned provided it is put to the electorate in a way that is comprehensible, understandable and familiar. The reason that I believe the prospects for success are good are twofold, notwithstanding the opposition of the Liberal and National parties. The first reason the chances of success are good is that it is a familiar proposal, one that was put before the electorate in 1974 and again in 1977 and one that has been constantly discussed in the public domain ever since. The concept of fixed terms by comparison for all its charms-I do not resile in any way from my enthusiasm for them-is not a concept that is either well understood or familiar and it certainly has not been around the area of public discourse nearly as long. It is the fact, for a start, that the concept is a familiar one and one that has been put before the electorate twice before and, indeed, won a substantial majority as we all know in 1977 that must give this proposal an excellent chance of success, notwithstanding the opposition of the Liberals and Nationals to it. I hope that Senator Macklin will acknowledge the force of the point I am making.

The other point that makes me still confident of success of the simultaneous elections proposal, if it can be put to the electorate in those terms, is the sheer history of the performance of the Liberal and National parties on this issue over the last ten years. They cannot possibly sell their stance of opposition to the electorate on this one as a principled one when the evidence is there for the electorate's eyes and everybody else's to see in terms of the very fulsome support for the concept expressed by the leading spokesman-true, not all of them-of the Party, certainly in 1977, and certainly as recently as last year. Against that background, what else will the electorate think of the opposition to this particular referendum than that it is the product of cynical, political opportunism. I believe the electorate will regard the response of the Liberal and National parties in those terms and will be prepared as a result, given its long familiarity with these issues, to look at the issue on its merits and to vote accordingly. So I believe the logic, if such it be, that underlies Senator Macklin's heroic attempt to distinguish the situation that confronts us today from the situation that his Party and mine discussed and agreed about as recently as a few months ago simply cannot be accepted.