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Friday, 22 February 1985
Page: 49

Senator HARRADINE(10.45) —Apropos one of the matters that the Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Chipp, mentioned, in respect of retrospective legislation, I notice that the ministerial statement made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) did not indicate that the Government has a mandate to do what it is now proposing to do. No doubt it is perfectly well aware of the constitutional procedures that ought to be followed in respect of matters such as this. There are procedures laid down in the Constitution in respect of a Bill which has been twice defeated. The Constitution provides that in order to obtain the necessary mandate and the passage through Parliament of such legislation a double dissolution be called and subsequent to the double dissolution a joint sitting of Parliament is required. If the Government wished to get this legislation through it could have done so. It could have got it through yesterday. One has only to count the numbers in the House of Representatives and the numbers here in the Senate to know that in a joint sitting of Parliament the Government would have had the numbers. If the Government were serious about this legislation and if it had followed the provisions of the Constitution, the Government would have had that legislation through. Those were just passing comments.

I wish to address my brief remarks to other parts of the ministerial statement. In so doing I point out that there are some glaring deficiencies in it. For example, it was recognised by the Government, and generally recognised, I think, by psephologists and others, that the very high informal vote in the election of members to the House of Representatives was brought about by reason of the different methods that applied for voting for the House of Representatives and for the Senate. I would have thought that that would have been one of the matters on which the Government would have made recommendations for changes in the existing legislation. I would have thought that such changes would be in the interests of the Government. I also believe that it would be in the interests of the people of Australia and of democracy in general for there to be a system of voting which is not confusing to the voters and which enables the voters to have an effective vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But there is nothing in the ministerial statement about any legislation that is likely to be forthcoming in respect of amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Despite all of the hullabaloo since the election there is nothing in the legislative program which relates to the inequities that prevail in respect of public funding and public expenditure on elections. It may be that such legislation will come forward in due course.

Another issue that is not present in the ministerial statement is that of youth unemployment. I give the Government fair warning that, week after week, I will be pressing it to prove its bona fides on this question of youth unemployment because if the Government were fair dinkum about youth unemployment it would ensure that its departments and authorities give youth a fair go. But the Government's departments and authorities are not giving youth a fair go. In fact, the position has been reached that whereas in 1966 youth made up almost 23 per cent of the Commonwealth Public Service staff youth now constitutes only 6.7 per cent. I shall be asking the Government what it has done in the last two years to remedy that position. How many youths has it employed in Commonwealth departments and instrumentalities over that period? If it has not done these things, I ask why-or has it given undue emphasis to the type of strategy devised by cosy public servants and radical feminists in various Public Service areas? The Government will have to face up to that question if it is to prove its bona fides.

In addition, nothing is said in the legislative program about the gross failure of the family law legislation to address the problems of divorce and their consequences. Those consequences, as has been pointed out in recent studies, prove that a major cause of poverty in Australia is now the breakdown of marriage. In the period 1976 to 1983 there were more than 355,000 divorces involving over half a million children, and the divorce rate now is running at 40 per cent.

Senator Chipp —Forty per cent of what?

Senator HARRADINE —I refer to a paper by Dr McDonald of the Institute of Family Studies, which indicated that on the basis of current divorce rates some 40 per cent of all new marriages will end in divorce. Those figures came out of that study. The cost to the taxpayer of marriage breakdowns last year exceeded $1.2 billion. It is a matter of national tragedy for those involved and a matter of human concern. It also has significant economic consequences. My proposals, which received fairly general acceptance and consideration around the Senate, have not been maturely considered and there are no proposals in the ministerial statement for any amendment to the family law legislation.

The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), or at least the Governor-General in his Speech, said:

You, the members of the Parliament of Australia, have been called together to provide the legislative basis upon which the commitments made by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government at the recent election will be carried out.

That is only part of the story. Parliament has a legislative function but it also has an audit and control function over government departments, statutory authorities and the actions of the Government. We also have an expressive and representative function, and I shall discharge that function. Certainly I hope to give proper and mature consideration to the legislative program put forward by the Government and vote according to the merits of the proposal. But I believe that the Government should ensure that the expressive and representative functions of members of parliament, even those who have got back to this stage, are not demeaned or overrun by a legislative program which, as Senator Chipp said, often runs in this Senate well past the time when the House of Representatives has risen and its members have gone home.