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Friday, 24 August 1984
Page: 352

Senator WALTERS(11.52) — The Standing Orders are a guideline as to how the Senate works. I believe that there must be a certain degree of urgency and justification to suspend the Standing Orders. Before Senator Harradine spoke , the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) was going to tell us what the great urgency was regarding the need to suspend Standing Orders. I bet he was not going to say 'If we don't suspend Standing Orders, we can't take the referendum to the people this year', because that might interfere with the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) having a very early election, just 18 months after the previous election. I am intrigued to know-I guess I never will-what the Attorney was going to say before Senator Harradine pointed out that not only had the Attorney done his maths but also he, too, had done his maths, as we have done our maths. I bet he has changed his tune considerably.

Senator Gareth Evans —No, same line.

Senator WALTERS —It may well be the same old line. There has to be justification for the suspension of Standing Orders and this should be done only when there is a very pressing need. There is no pressing need. According to the Standing Orders and the Constitution, the Prime Minister can indeed hold a referendum when he so desires.

There was a considerable degree of mirth from Senator Evans when Senator Harradine said that the reason for the call of the Senate was that it would give honourable senators time to reflect on the matter. It would also give those honourable senators who are overseas on parliamentary business time to return and vote. There was a degree of amusement from Senator Evans. I can understand this attitude from the Attorney-General of the Australian Labor Party. That indicates how Government members think. There is no need for any back bencher to give it any thought at all. Senator Evans and the Executive have given it thought but the back benchers have not got a thing, they are caucused. They vote the way they are told. There is no need to give them 21 days for reflection. Indeed, it is highly amusing to the Labour Party altogether when it is suggested that back benchers do a little bit of thinking. The back benchers do not need a day, let alone 21 days, and they are not given it, they are caucused. But it is important to honourable senators on this side of the chamber to give constitutional alterations a considerable degree of thought and, indeed, we do. We need the time because we need to carry out our responsibilities to our constituents.

Senator Harradine has mentioned that some honourable senators are overseas at the moment. I would like to speak on one honourable senator's behalf. This senator is very concerned about this referendum. Since he became a senator he has consistently voted against simultaneous elections and he will be very upset if he is not given the opportunity of taking part. On every occasion since he has been a member of this Senate he has taken a very active part in working out the No case that should be put to the people of Australia. He will be very upset if he is unable to do that. Senator Evans feels the Prime Minister ought to be able to go to an election this year with the referendum, so he wants the Senate' s Standing Orders suspended to allow the Prime Minister to have control over the Senate and not give honourable senators in this place a say as to what occurs. I believe that, if nothing else, would justify the opposition to the suspension of Standing Orders. There is not enough urgency to suspend the Standing Orders. I hope the Democrats will allow our senators to return from overseas in order to give them the opportunity of voting and taking a part in putting together the No case to go to the people.