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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 2965

Senator ROBERT RAY(10.23) —We have seen Senator Sir John Carrick kick the Australian Democrats to pieces today because they are not going through a particularly good period. I assure the Democrats that the next time the Liberal Party of Australia has an amendment it wants the Democrats to support, it will come crawling to them; it will plead with them. Then the Democrats will see the hypocrisy of the other side.

I want to comment on these points. I will not delay the Committee for too long. We have heard Senator Sir John Carrick go on at great length about the gag and how evil it is. I do not think he was referring to our side, because we have never hesitated to use the gag if we can get it through. He also criticises the Democrats. But, if a gag is so bad, is Senator Sir John Carrick telling me that in his distinguished career of 15 years in the Senate he has never once voted for the gag-

Senator Sir John Carrick —I told you the other day that I moved it once and regretted it. Remember that.

Senator ROBERT RAY —He moved it once. I am talking about whether he has ever voted for the gag. I am talking about the honourable senator not as a leader but as an honourable senator. When has he voted for the gag? Did he vote for the gag more than once, twice or three times when Senator Withers was leader of this place? Sitting on this side of the chamber, he voted for it hundreds of times

Senator Sir John Carrick referred to our inquiry in Queensland. Some of the points and analysis he made in regard to Queensland were quite accurate. I am also sick of people referring just to primary votes in Queensland, instead of to preferred votes. It distorts the whole debate. If the Government is so concerned to hide the external powers issues, I would hardly have been likely to have supported Senator Sir John Carrick and others who want a full ranging inquiry into the external powers head. Senator Sir John Carrick has to concede that.

Senator Sir John Carrick —You did that eagerly.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I did so eagerly because I believed that it is an area that in the past has not been discussed or analysed in full or to the extent it should be. It is a bit harsh to say that members of the Australian Labor Party would like to hide that discussion. It should be highlighted.

Two factors are involved. The first is the body that does the inquiry into the Queensland, Western Australian, or whatever, case. The second is the head of power. It may be quite competent for the Human Rights Commission to inquire into the matter, but whether ultimately it is the correct head of power for us as a government, or for whatever government is in power, to use is a matter of doubt. Had we got the referendum proposal on advisory opinions up and running, without honourable senators opposite opposing it, we could have gone to the High Court of Australia and stopped all this argument by getting an advisory opinion on the matter. But the honourable senator cannot expect us to anticipate a ruling of the High Court.

The honourable senator may well be right in arguing from the Covenant that there is no power. Until I examine that question in detail I tend to come down on his side and believe that there may not be. But I think that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) is entitled to go to the High Court to find out whether the legislation is valid and leave it to the High Court to decide. I point out that if the High Court had had powers of advisory opinion we could have found out these things a lot more profitably in terms of the time spent here and the argument in the community.

I wanted to make those points. We should not try to suppress debate on this issue but there are many opportunities in this chamber other than this debate. There are many opportunities other than this debate to debate whether the external affairs power will in fact apply in this case. The only thing for which I commend Senator Sir John Carrick is for having raised this matter and gained the very generous support of the Australian Democrats, the Australian Labor Party and everyone else to have an open inquiry with witnesses from all around Australia to examine this matter. The Senate will, I hope, be given the benefit of our opinion by May or June of next year.