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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1687

Senator WALTERS(5.49) —I will be debating mainly the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill 1984. We heard from Senator Macklin that the Bill was designed to allow the two major parties to be deceptive in their advertisements prior to the coming referendum and that that was the sole purpose of this Bill being put through this evening. I say to Senator Macklin that in the past we have had the opportunity of taking people to court for unfair advertising, but this has never been able to be accomplished. In Australia we have a system whereby there is a penalty for unfair advertising but it does not apply during election time to major political parties. It never has, because what is unfair advertising? It is always in the eyes of the beholder. I say to Senator Macklin that the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform-

Senator Macklin —It is not unfair, Senator, it is untrue and deceptive.

Senator WALTERS —Okay, we have always had untrue advertising in Australia.

Senator Macklin —I am sorry; all we had was 161 (1).

Senator WALTERS —That is right, but in Australia under our advertising legislation generally we have had the ability to take parties, no matter who they are, to court for unfair advertising.

Senator Haines —Or misleading.

Senator WALTERS —Or misleading advertising-but of course it has never been able to be done. As I say, unfair advertising is in the eye of the beholder. I think honourable senators would agree with me that the original name of the Constitutional Alteration (Terms of Senators) Bill, which was the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill, was deceiving and untrue. That description is certainly very applicable to sub-clause 5 (a) of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill which repeals section 329 (2) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which prohibits the publication during an election period of material that is untrue and which is, or is likely to be, misleading and deceptive. I believe that the original title of the Bill was misleading, untrue and likely to be deceptive because it had nothing to do with the Bill. As we all know, simultaneous elections for both Houses of Parliament can be called whenever the Prime Minister of the day wants them to be called. Indeed, that is what this Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) is doing on this occasion. He is calling simultaneous elections.

As I have just pointed out, unfair advertising is always in the eye of the beholder. The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform pointed that out very clearly.

Senator Macklin —We would never have a court system though, would we, Senator, if that were the case?

Senator WALTERS —I do not agree with the honourable senator. I think that there are certain things a court can always come up with answers for. I think that there are other things, and this is one of them, that are in the eye of the beholder. If we start at the beginning we find that the original Bill, the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill, was also untrue. Sentor Macklin would agree, because the Australian Democrats joined us in changing the name of that Bill. It was untrue advertising; it was deceptive.

Senator Macklin —There was nothing in the eye of the beholder in that one. It was deceptive.

Senator WALTERS —In the eyes of members of the Australian Labor Party it was not deceptive.

Senator Macklin —It was. That is why they put it in.

Senator WALTERS —Maybe that is why they put it in. The Bill had been called that for a long time. However, I was giving the Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, perhaps a little more credit than Senator Macklin is willing to give him. I thought that with the Attorney's blinkered view he thought it was quite a reasonable title. From our view, however, it certainly was not. If we go through all the things that the Government has done regarding this referendum we will come up with the fact that it could not put out anything. Senator Evans has said that the legislation would reduce the number of elections. We know that that is deceiving; it is untrue. It certainly aims to deceive.

Senator Macklin —It cannot be said to be untrue.

Senator WALTERS —It can be said to be untrue because Senator Evans says that the legislation will mean fewer elections. It is certainly aimed at being deceptive and misleading. Indeed, the legislation not only could but also, I do not doubt for a moment, will lead to more elections being held.

Senator Macklin —I agree, yes, but you can't technically say it is untrue.

Senator WALTERS —Should Senator Evans then advertise that this legislation would lead to fewer elections? Does that mean that we could have him before the court?

Senator Macklin —That would not be caught by the Act as it is currently drafted.

Senator WALTERS —I believe that it would because I believe that it would be misleading and deceptive.

Senator Macklin —No, it would not be caught by the Act, I am sorry.

Senator WALTERS —This is the problem with Acts.

Senator Macklin —I am sorry, but there is legal evidence in the Committee's report that it would not be caught, Senator.

Senator WALTERS —This is where we disagree. This is just what I am saying; it is all in the eye of the beholder. What I am saying is that if we pass this legislation we will be setting up a paradise for lawyers. I do not believe that it is right to do so. Let us consider what the Labor Government has already done in its deceptive, misleading and untrue advertising. One could hardly deny that the last debates in this place over the airwaves have not been pretty good advertising. The Democrats, the Labor Party and the Liberal Party would use the airwaves as advertising, if one looks at a debate in those terms.

Senator Macklin —No, it is not advertising under the Act.

Senator WALTERS —I am not saying that it is under the Act. But if we are going to be true and fair it is all covered by it. Senator Evans has said that unless we have simultaneous elections the process is very costly. He has given us all sorts of figures. He has said that the arguments in favour of simultaneous elections are well-known.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Deputy President, I take a point of order. With respect , Mr Deputy President, I think Senator Walters is being diverted by the wealth of the examples she is now coming up with from the main track of her arguments. Might I suggest that she get back to the argument and abandon the further development of the examples she is now pursuing.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Walters is entitled to develop her argument with examples as she chooses. There is no point of order.

Senator WALTERS —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. I thought that Senator Evans would possibly like to hear of all the things that I believe he has been deceptive about, one of which is that the number of elections will be reduced, thereby allowing governments to get on with the job of governing as well as minimising inconvenience to electors and significantly reducing the cost to taxpayers. Let us consider how that is deceptive. Indeed, as Senator Evans well knows, the Prime Minister can call simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and half the Senate so long as he sticks to the terms of senators. He can do that whenever he likes. He can do it every three years, easily. So Senator Evans is being deceptive when he says that the legislation will reduce the number of elections. What would we have if this referendum were successful? We would have a Prime Minister who, buoyed up by his popularity poll , could call an election every six months if he so chose. There would be nothing at all to stop him. He could go to the Governor-General and put a very good case to him. Because tradition says so, the Governor-General would permit him to call an election. So we could have numerous elections. There would be absolutely nothing in the world to stop the Prime Minister from calling them. At the moment the restraining influence is the set terms of senators.

Senator Gareth Evans —Back to the Bill, Shirley.

Senator WALTERS —I am talking about the Bill. The only restraint the Prime Minister of the day has upon him if he wants to call simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and half the Senate is that he must wait for the terms of the senators to expire. Senator Evans of course says-

Senator Macklin —It is term of senators, not simultaneous elections. Immediately you are getting it wrong.

Senator WALTERS —Of course, the Government has been getting it wrong because it has been called simultaneous elections for so long.

Senator Haines —It is misleading advertising by the Attorney-General.

Senator WALTERS —It is misleading, deceptive, untrue, the lot. However, we will return to the other deceptive things Senator Evans has been saying. He said how much cheaper it will be for the taxpayer. Indeed, what he was saying was that if simultaneous elections were held the total costs reduce $27m.

Senator Macklin —What was that?

Senator WALTERS —He said there would be a reduction of $27m. Let us look at what this election will cost us, because that was very deceptive. On Nationwide on 9 October Patrick O'Neill said:

Now this election will be by far the most expensive election that's ever been fought as far as the taxpayer is concerned.

Senator Evans in here has said that simultaneous elections and the passage of the Constitution (Terms of Senators) Bill will mean cheap elections for Australia. However, we now will have the most expensive election Australia has ever faced. To begin with, that election campaign will be fought with public funds, and we have never had that before. This Government has said to the taxpayer: 'You will pay now for all the advertising'. Indeed, public funds are now to be used for an election in this country for the very first time. Taxpayers, who I believe are already paying far too much tax, will have their taxes increased to pay for Australian Labor Party advertising, Australian Democrat advertising and Liberal Party of Australia advertising. It is an absolute disgrace.

Senator Mason —What about the National Party?

Senator WALTERS —It will also pay for National Party advertising. The Attorney- General estimated that cost at $8m just for starters. He said that amount was for the basic costs-salaries, advertising, printing and so on. At a conservative estimate, the cost is expected to be at least $20m, and then we have the referendum costs on top of that. The cost for the referendum can be broken down to $2.1m for printing ballot papers and pamphlets and $2.9m for postage to about 9.9m electors throughout Australia. That is a total of $33m, and that does not include the extra $1.5m for training officials and another $1m for ballot boxes.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. There is a point at which I suggest even the most tolerant Chair's patience is stretched in the sense that if Senator Walters continues on her present course she will feel herself at liberty to range at large over the whole field of Government activity, pointing to areas of what she might care to describe- inaccurately-as deception. It has only the most tenuous possible connection with the subject matter of the Bill, which is procedures to deal with this. Mr Deputy President, I urge you to call her to order.

Senator Mason —Mr Acting Deputy President, I wish to speak to the point of order . I think it is iniquitous that the Attorney-General should get up at this stage and try to prevent a senator going into the full implications of the iniquitous measure the Government is proposing. The Attorney-General has a bad conscience about this, just as the Government has. That is plainly the point. I respectfully suggest to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that the Attorney has no justification whatsoever for his point of order. I think that Senator Walters is making some interesting points. I certainly am prepared to listen to her. I think the Attorney-General might have the humility and decency to listen to her in silence too.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —There is no point of order. However, I ask Senator Walters to keep to the Bill.

Senator WALTERS —Indeed I am, because I am explaining to the Attorney-General and to the Senate that the Attorney-General has been very deceptive in his statements to date. He has said that simultaneous elections will be fewer and less costly. I am just pointing out the costs of this particular simultaneous election and mentioning some figures to prove that indeed he has been very deceptive.

Senator Sibraa —Democracy comes at a high price.

Senator WALTERS —Yes, it certainly does. Of course, under the Government's proposal we will also have the additional senators and members in the Parliament . Let us look at where else the Attorney-General has been deceptive. I remember very clearly indeed that the Attorney-General tried to get his own Party out of a terrible mess. One of his Party's platforms was the abolition of the Senate. We all remember that. Not so very long ago, in 1977, Senator McLaren said that this Bill-the one we are trying to put up again to the people of Australia-was the first step in abolishing the power of the Senate, and the sooner the better. Senator Button's answer was that the Labor Party would take every opportunity to delimit the power of the Senate.

We know very clearly that indeed it is the long term aim of the Labor Party to abolish the Senate. Of course, Senator Evans is now saying that has nothing to do with the present legislation. Again, that is deceptive, misleading and untrue . Senator Evans himself at one of his conferences said: 'Let's take it out of the policy. It doesn't go down well with the people. Our public relations is in an awful mess. Let's not change our aim, but take it out of our policy'. To say now that the Bill has nothing to do with the abolition of the Senate is very deceptive, misleading and untrue. I will mention just a few other examples.

Senator Haines —Twenty or 30 others?

Senator WALTERS —I think 30. The Attorney-General has been very misleading in this area.

Senator Mason —Tell us about fixed terms while you are at it.

Senator WALTERS —Senator Mason is right. The Attorney was very keen on fixed terms. We seem to have got away from that now because this Bill abolishes the fixed terms of senators. The Attorney was very keen on fixed terms at one stage.

Senator Mason —Bob Hawke cut him off at the knees.

Senator WALTERS —That was when he was interested in going for Jagajaga. Now he might be more keen on fixed terms for the Senate. There are other matters as well. If we look at the Attorney's second reading speech on the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill, he said: 'In the Senate the Opposition and Democrats tried to block the Government's advertising its proposals'. How deceiving and misleading can he be? What was the amount of money the Attorney- General was appropriating in the slush fund for the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins)?

Senator Mason —Millions of dollars.

Senator WALTERS —The Attorney-General was attempting to appropriate millions of dollars for the Government's spending only. He did not tell any of us. He waited until the appropriations had been passed, and when I complained said: 'If you had asked me, I would have told you'. What I said was that the Attorney-General hid that money in the slush fund of the Minister for Finance. Why did the Attorney not come out and tell the Senate what it was for? The Attorney-General of Australia said: 'I would have told you if you had asked me'. Indeed I had asked what the amount of money was being used for and was told that it was all for Medicare advertising and things like that. There was no mention of the amount the Attorney-General had put away just for the Government to advertise the yes case. He was scared about the no case. He said that the no case had an advantage. He was scared that the no case might win. We had the advantage because truth was on our side.

What else has the Attorney-General been deceptive, misleading and untrue about? He changed the electoral ballot paper, and indeed he did it by regulations. But did he tell us all about it? No. He happened to forget about it. It happened to have slipped his mind. He did not tell us that the regulations had been altered until we found out just in time and were able to move for a disallowance. But the Attorney-General said: 'Good heavens, didn't I do that? I am sorry, I should have done so'. I believe that is the height of deceit, misleading and untruth.

These are the sorts of areas in which we as the Opposition would be willing to raise in our advertising; yet I believe if Opposition members did attempt to use these matters in our advertising and this legislation were in place, the Attorney would attempt to take us to the courts, even though it is completely true. I believe the people should be well aware of what is going on. This is a short amendment; it is one with which I agree. I believe it is impossible for any court to make a decision on what advertising during an election campaign is misleading, deceiving or untrue. Therefore, I support these provisions.