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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 248

Senator PETER RAE(12.42) —I wish to answer a little of what the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) has been saying about people changing their minds by referring to one eminent academic, Mr Malcolm Mackerras, with whom I well recall debating this matter on television in 1977. He expressed a view then in favour of this being an appropriate name and an appropriate amendment to the Constitution. Since then he has done more homework in relation to the matter and would, I am sure, confirm--

Senator Messner —If he were here.

Senator PETER RAE —Were he sitting in the gallery as he is in fact, he would confirm that he has now changed his mind completely and that he regards the terminology 'simultaneous elections' as deceptive and the effect of the amending legislation, if passed, to be totally undesirable for the workings of a bicameral parliamentary democracy. I exampled him as one of those who upon reflection can see that the attitudes which they held at one time may not necessarily have been the most appropriate attitudes and who upon reflection may reconsider the arguments which have been put consistently by many Liberals in this chamber and elsewhere, and expressed most vigorously by leading members of the Liberal Party of Australia in the States of Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia. Members from each of the States comprised the No committee in 1977. A wide cross-section of people have over time held the view that this is a deceptive referendum attempt, a deceptive naming and an attempt to gain power, as Senator Button said, for the Executive over the Senate, not for any other purpose to do with making elections less frequent. For Mr Hawke, as Senator Mason said earlier, to be giving the impression that this will mean fewer elections is a further deception of the people of Australia. Let me quote Mr Gordon Freeth, the former Minister for External Affairs, who in 1974, in a letter published in the West Australian, said:

Elections could be more frequent and not less frequent as intended. Imagine the case as in December 1972 when Labor won a convincing victory in the House of Representatives but faced a hostile Senate. Flushed with victory and riding on the crest of the wave of enthusiasm that followed a new style of government, the Prime Minister would have almost certainly sought a new election within the first six months.

Is there a feeling of deja vu about that? This is what was written in 1974. Let me go on:

If half the Senate had been elected at the December election, the remaining half would have been subjected to the surge towards Labor with every prospect of giving the Whitlam Government control of both Houses. If this were to be followed by a strong political reaction, giving the Liberals a win at elections three years later, they too would find it easier to purge the Senate by holding another election quickly. So in four years there would be four elections for both the House of Representatives and the Senate. If indeed the real object of the change is to achieve fewer elections someone has blundered. If the real object is to make the Senate conform to the Lower house-that is another matter.

Progress reported.