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Friday, 24 August 1984
Page: 339

Senator HILL(10.27) —I want to make only a brief contribution on this matter. I commence from the point where my colleague Senator Martin left off when she was looking for the method in Senator Gareth Evans's madness. It has been a matter of some concern to me--

Senator Crichton-Browne —A good starting point.

Senator HILL —I can mention another one of the interjections of my colleague Senator Townley. He asked: 'Why are we debating this, because there is no chance of the referendum being put to the public?'. That seems to be a reasonable assumption, bearing in mind the history of this matter. We commenced with the very important constitutional reform of a fixed term for the House of Representatives. As we know, that, although passed, did not get the opportunity to be put to the public. We then had a Bill similar to that which is before us at the moment and which, together with other constitutional reforms, was also passed but again was not put to the public. Here we have it again. Senator Evans has brought the Bill back for a third time. It is not because it is failing to pass in the Parliament that the public is not having an opportunity to express its voice; it is simply because, for Government exigencies, it seems that the public is not to be given an opportunity.

That brings me to the point of the method in Senator Evans's madness. I have been reflecting upon why the Government has decided to abandon that important area of reform concerning fixed term parliaments. It seems to me that the Government and Senator Evans have now decided that perhaps the concept of a fixed term parliament is not in their best interests and that from the point of view of being able to manipulate the elective process a Bill such as this that provides for simultaneous elections but with an abandonment of the fixed term of the Senate will best enable the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to feed that massive ego which we know he has and therefore to manipulate the Senate. That is what this matter is really all about, and what this title is all about.

As Senator Martin has said, the Bill that is before us is a fraud. Its concept is not that which is being put to us-some idealistic attempt to look for an improvement in the parliamentary and electoral process in this country. Instead, it is an attempt to give the Prime Minister a power that he has not had in the past, a power to hold to ransom not only the House of Representatives but also the Senate.

Senator Townley —To threaten senators.

Senator HILL —To threaten senators, as Senator Townley said. Therefore, any change to the Bill's title must be beneficial when it has the effect of drawing to the attention of the Australian public the fact that, because of this Bill, the Senate's protection from manipulation by Prime Ministers will be lost. I regret that the Bill's title cannot, for other reasons, express the true purpose of the Bill. The title can go only half way towards meeting that objective. At least the title has the effect of drawing the Australian public's attention to the fact that the Senate's term will no longer be set but will be linked to the term of the House of Representatives and, therefore, will be at the Prime Minister's discretion. The Australian public has shown in the past that that protection is valued. It is a protection in that the Prime Minister cannot manipulate the Senate in the same way as he can manipulate the House of Representatives. No doubt, the Australian public will value that protection in the future.

I support the amendment because it goes at least half way towards bringing to the Australian public a better description of what the Bill is about. I regret that the amendment does not go the whole way in drawing attention to the fact that the Bill is designed not for the better government of Australia but to allow the government of the day better to manipulate the electoral process.