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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1703


Senator TEAGUE(9.32) —I support the Constitution Alteration (Appropriation Bills) Bill, which was introduced by Senator Peter Rae, chiefly because it brings to a powerful Senate responsibility and accountability in the exercise of that power. I disagree with Senator Tate and the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans, although they put their arguments with undoubted conviction. I fear that my weak voice may not persuade them to see otherwise, but I still persist. I hope that they will recognise the arguments that I will put and those which have been put so eloquently by my colleagues Senator Rae and Senator Durack.

Essentially my argument is this: Senator Tate and Senator Evans have so fully committed themselves, as if to a captivating light, to the United Kingdom concept of responsible government, that they have blinded themselves to the Federation compact which endorsed an equal and, in its action, even stronger concept; that is, a powerful Senate. I share a full commitment in the context of these other considerations to responsible government. I believe that in a democratic chamber such as the House of Representatives the government which has the confidence of that chamber is the government of the country. The concept of responsible government to which I say the Labor senators are appealing, which is derived from the tradition of political philosophy and law in the United Kingdom, is not the only major commitment that is in the Constitution of Australia. Australia has within its Constitution these two powerful concepts. I appeal to Senator Tate, however much it may be distasteful to him or not in accord with the priority that he would currently wish for in the 1980s, to recognise the facts of the Federation compact and this balance of the two concepts. There would not have been Federation had there not been within that compact a powerful Senate. I put it to the Government, although Senator Tate feels that even this interpretation is controversial, that the Constitution clearly and unambiguously gives the Senate power over all legislation. It does not give the power to introduce all legislation-money Bills are to come from the House of Representatives-but it gives the Senate power over all legislation, including the ability to prevent any legislation and to prevent Supply. That was a knowing act. It was not an accident.

If anything can be made of these two main concepts sitting alongside each other in the Australian Constitution, it may be that the full ramifications of the operation of these two concepts were not foreseen or, if they were foreseen by the Federation fathers, it was not spelt out with minute detail as to how to resolve the conflict between the two principles. It was put to the test in 1974, and more especially in 1975 when the Senate blocked Supply. Therefore, I only make this appeal. I still hope to convince the Government at least to accept that there are these two concepts-the concept of responsible government and the concept of a powerful Senate, a Senate that has equal representation from the States. It was on that basis of a compact between these two concepts that we had the Federation.

It is at that point that policies differ across the chamber. In this decade and in some other decades of this century, the Labor Party has had an objection, because of its commitment to the concept of responsible government, to the Senate having that constitutional power to block Supply. I feel that it is not straightforward to interpret the Constitution in a 'hope so' way, as if the Constitution did not have that powerful Senate with the ability to block legislation and Supply which is currently offensive to members of the Labor Party. I see the policy difference between the parties. Nevertheless, as a person who is not a lawyer among so many lawyers speaking to this Bill tonight, I believe very genuinely that the Australian Constitution unambiguously gives that power to the Senate and that was a very real intention of the Federation fathers.


Senator Tate —Even admitting that, you could not expect to try to reinforce it.


Senator TEAGUE —That is the point I want to go on to. The honourable senator went on to argue that Senator Rae's measure entrenches the Senate's power. I do not believe it does entrench the Senate's power. It is certainly recognised that there is such a compact in the Constitution; that is, a concept of a powerful Senate. It recognises that. I do not think that one can run away from that. One cannot have a 'hope so' interpretation of the Senate to meet current ALP policy. Therefore, recognising that there is a powerful Senate provided for in the Constitution, but not entrenching it, it is to make that Senate more responsible and more accountable that we have Senator Rae's Bill before us. That is why the Australian Constitutional Convention supported this matter as a way of resolving and defining, in the operation of a conflict between the two concepts-responsible government on the one hand and a powerful Senate on the other hand-how to proceed, so that what is silent currently in the Constitution would be made clear with a procedure to overcome the deadlock. I genuinely believe that this is a substantial, constructive and positive way to resolve such a deadlock.

Senator Tate spoke not only about entrenching the power but also about lifting a responsibility from the Governor-General. I can see, with the nuances of the way in which the ALP assessed the role of the Governor-General in 1975, that that would be offensive to honourable senators opposite. I acknowledge that matter of policy with regard to the Governor-General. Nevertheless I put the view that it is appropriate that when there is a constitutional deadlock the Parliament of the land should put to the people a constructive and positive way to resolve it, not just leave it to a Governor-General to make a decision which, by the precedent of 1975, was so enormously controversial. I happen genuinely to have supported the Governor-General's decision. I believe that the Senate has the ability to block Supply and that this power was consciously given in the Constitution from the beginning. I do not see any particular escapism or political motivation by members on this side somehow to make life easier for a Governor-General, as one goal, or to entrench a matter which is seen to be controversial. I genuinely appeal to honourable senators opposite to accept that this is recognising the fact of the Constitution, going on to make the Senate more accountable and more responsible.


Senator Tate —We can change the Constitution and get rid of the power to block Supply.


Senator TEAGUE —No, this is the element we have before us. Senator Rae's Bill will improve the provisions in the Constitution by not allowing a Senate with this power to make a decision to block Supply, or block any legislation, and sit back comfortable in the knowledge that it is not immediately accountable to the public, to the voters, to the electorate. I believe that Senator Rae therefore is wishing to achieve, as is the Australian Constitutional Convention, a more responsible exercise of power. There is no doubt that the power is there in the Constitution for the the Senate. Let that power be exercised responsibly and with accountability. That is why I support the Bill before us.

I make some brief remarks about the Constitutional Convention. Back in 1983 when we were debating this measure it was in concert with debate on some five other Bills to alter the Constitution. There was the exchange of powers proposal, the outdated provisions proposal, and the two controversial proposals which had not been accepted by the Constitutional Convention-the fixed term parliament proposal of Senator Gareth Evans and the electors' initiative proposal of Senator Macklin. At that time I rejected the proposals of Senator Evans and Senator Macklin. However, I spoke in favour of those measures, unlike the other two, which had been supported by the Constitutional Convention. The measure that is before us now was supported by 46 votes to 32 at the Constitutional Convention meeting in Adelaide in 1983. That was a clear majority. A subsidiary vote related to this matter was taken without dissent. In this context I regard that as a substantial majority. Once upon a time the Australian Labor Party members were-


Senator Grimes —What about the interchange of power? That was unanimous.


Senator TEAGUE —I know; I agree. I remember that Senator Grimes was in the chamber when I spoke on these matters in 1983. I put the view genuinely then that the Government should withdraw the fixed term parliament matter because it was not supported by both sides-Senator Tate is appealing to that principle even now-and the Government did withdraw it. The Government withdrew it because of the arguments put in the course of the debate about the deficiencies of Senator Evans's Bill. That was the appeal I made then. Subsequently a revised package was brought forward, as Senator Grimes knows very well. To meet the Senate Leader's interjection I say that we did support the exchange of powers, as did the Constitutional Convention.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! The time for General Business has expired.