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Friday, 24 August 1984
Page: 337

Senator MARTIN(10.19) —I shall read the record very carefully of what the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) has just said because, frankly, it did not make any sense at all as I sat here and listened to it. I have not entered into this debate to date, but do enter on the subject of the long title because I think it is particularly significant in this constitutional debate. The title proposed by the Government is of course the classic sleight of hand. The title, as has already been indicated, will appear on the ballot paper. As people vote in this referendum that is the proposition against which they will write 'Yes' or 'No'. Therefore, it is important that the title accurately represent the contents of the Bill. The title proposed by the Government is a fraud. It is important because the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) clearly wants an election in 1983 and he clearly wants this referendum with it.

Senator Gareth Evans —1984, Senator.

Senator MARTIN —Sorry, 1984. He enjoyed the one in 1983 and wants another one in 1984. There is, of course, no need for that election to be held in December 1984 . It could be held at least several months later. I have a small feeling of deja vu, having campaigned on this referendum proposal on more than one occasion in the past. I think I can make some reasonably well educated predictions about what will happen in the referendum campaign, what the Yes case will be and what its relevance will be in a December 1984 election. I can just see our Prime Minister saying: 'I am sorry you have to have this election in December 1984 after having just had one in March 1983 but I really cannot help it'. It gets a little difficult during an election campaign to debate the merits of December 1984 versus May 1985 as the election date, so it is a fairly easy proposition for the Prime Minister to put. The next proposition he will put is as follows: ' Of course, all this would be unnecessary if the Constitution just had a little adjustment. If you will just vote yes on this splendid referendum proposal that we, the Australian Labor Party, are putting to you yet again--

Senator Haines —Are you writing the Yes case?

Senator MARTIN —I have read previous Yes cases. The Prime Minister will say: ' This will not happen again'. That, of course, is a total fraud.

We have a problem in the Constitution with the foreshortening of senators' terms when there has been a double dissolution. As I have said before, I think we could profitably look at the subject of senators' terms following a double dissolution so that we do not have to have very frequent election campaigns. Their frequency, of course, depends on where they fall, either early or late in the July-June period. So that could be done. If the Government genuinely wanted to prevent the effect of double dissolutions, meaning elections in effectively little more than two years, it could seriously look at that proposition. But the Government, the Labor Party, has never looked at it.

The Australian Constitutional Convention to which Senator Gareth Evans keeps on referring in this debate saw no proposal or suggestion of a proposal from Senator Evans that this difficulty for governments be looked at seriously. It saw some other proposals, and now it seems another set of proposals altogether. If the Labor Party and Senator Evans were fair dinkum about the difficulties that the 1983 double dissolution has created in terms of the House of Representatives going its full term of three years, there would have been a glimmer of an indication of this as a possible alternative. If Senator Evans wanted a useful amendment to the Constitution he would be following a consensus line and seeing whether there was a possibility of looking at some adjustment of senators' terms following a double dissolution. But we do not have consensus; we have a fraud. The best opportunity we have for preventing frivolously frequent elections is, of course, to have fixed terms of senators. Fixed terms of senators achieve a few other things as well. That has been canvassed quite thoroughly in the debate so far.

One of the difficulties I had in making sense of the response Senator Evans just made to the Committee was that he muttered something in his feeble defence of his fixed term proposal and its relevance to this measure and his dropping of it, about the necessity for certain contingencies being met for the need for elections, for example, governments losing their majority in the House of Representatives. The simple fact is that this referendum proposal as fraudulently described in the long title has nothing to do with contingencies. It has everything to do with frivolities: that is, for whatever reasons a Prime Minister may have for calling an early election which is not linked to the Constitution or to the consequences of double dissolutions. As I said a moment ago it will be important if there is a December 1984 election, because the Prime Minister will use this as a fraudulent support for the need for that election to be held much earlier than it needs to be, even if he wants to bring the two Houses back into line. But we all know, of course, that the Prime Minister thinks he will have suffered a lack of nerve if he waits until May 1985.

Senator Haines —He may not have much choice, actually. He might have to, given the bungle that has been made with another Bill.

Senator MARTIN —That is possible. It is possible that he will not have much choice but I think others will have to bear the consequences of that. At the moment we are charged with the responsibility that the words that appear on the ballot paper in the referendum indicate truly to the voters of Australia what it is that they have to say yes or no to. I am very confident that when the proposal is properly explained to people, when the proposal is properly campaigned on, it will be rejected. I am confident that even with the fraudulent title there is a good chance of its being rejected. However, it makes it a little more difficult for those campaigning against it when they have to start at this point: 'First of all, I must tell you that the words on the ballot paper do not tell you the truth. What you are voting on is not this but actually something else'. That does complicate it a little. Perhaps there is method in Senator Evans's madness in that matter. I think there is every reason indeed when we are interested in informed votes in a democracy, open government and people making proper choices and decisions, for all the information to be made available to the voters. Therefore the Senate should support the changed title in the interest of accurate information.