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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1782


Senator TOWNLEY(9.27) —I will follow what Senator Kilgariff was just discussing in the Australia Card Bill 1986 [No. 2] debate. I also wonder just why the Government is bothering to continue with this legislation. I think it just shows that it has a complete lack of imagination, a complete lack of knowledge, on how to run this place well at all. We have been made to abandon the Estimates committees which were due to be dealt with today and tomorrow and many people have been put to a considerable amount of trouble just so this Bill can be dealt with. We are told that it will not be used; we are told that it is a useless Bill and yet we are wasting the time of the Senate on a piece of legislation that we--


Senator McKiernan —You said it, Senator.


Senator TOWNLEY —Let me tell Senator McKiernan that this Bill was a complete waste of time from the minute it came into the Senate. The Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) admitted that it needed amending. The Government knows that it does not work and that it never can work. Nobody in his right mind would consider letting a Bill such as this through the Senate in the condition that it is. The fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has chosen not to have an election shows that perhaps he has some political judgment. He knows that the polls are very volatile at the moment and also that the people of Australia are sick and tired of Prime Ministers of all persuasions-not only Australian Labor Party Prime Ministers-organising elections in a most cynical way. It is time we had fixed term elections in this country and the sooner we get them the better off this country will be. Had the Prime Minister had an election I believe that he may have regretted it to his dying day, but forget that.

The Government brought this Bill back into the Senate unamended originally because the Prime Minister wanted a Bill to trigger a double dissolution even though, as I have said, the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, in his statement on 5 February announced that the Government had decided to amend the Australia Card Bill. Perhaps the Government will, as Senator Kilgariff foreshadowed, try to use it in the election campaign when that occurs. I agree that it will be to its detriment if it does. The Government knows that the piece of legislation we are dealing with tonight will not do the things it is intended to do without certain serious and substantial amendments. That is what we should be doing now-not wasting time on this cynical piece of rubbish, this legislation that originally was cynically brought into this Senate so that the Prime Minister would have a chance of having a double dissolution if the polls had happened to go his way. I believe that the Government should have withdrawn this Bill from the Senate or at least brought in the amendments which it obviously has ready.


Senator Jessop —They were scared it was going to be passed.


Senator TOWNLEY —Senator Jessop admits something that the Press has been saying over the last few weeks, that is, that this Bill may well have been passed. Maybe the Prime Minister did not want to be painted into a corner and have to have an election. He would have looked very weak had this legislation been passed and he had not gone immediately to Government House, as many people in the Press were recommending that he should do.

This Bill was brought back in a totally cynical way to try to get a few more years of government for the Labor Party. Now Mr Hawke has has his change of heart, but we still have this useless piece of legislation before us. It is a complete waste of time, unless we are not to believe what the Prime Minister said at his Press conference yesterday. I must say that usually I do not believe what the Prime Minister says. I think his track record has shown that one cannot always believe him. But this time I believe that he has locked himself into not having an election until at least after the Budget in August. I believe that any attempt to do otherwise would seriously rebound on him. I do not think that even the Press, which quite often seems to be on his side, would let him get away with that kind of act.

I read recently that now is the time for mature and astute political judgment. I must say that that is why I have been making efforts to stop an election at this time. It was my political judgment that this was not a good time for an election from my Party's point of view. As the polls have shown--


Senator Childs —It has never been a good time.


Senator TOWNLEY —Senator Childs says it will never be a good time. Let me say that it is my political judgment that, in spite of all the troubles that the coalition parties have had over the past few weeks, we will go through a period of stability and after that we will donkey lick the Labor Party at the next election. There is no doubt about it. So, as I have said, I did not think it was a good time for an election from my Party's point of view. The people of Australia have shown that they do not vote for political parties that are divided. That was the main reason why I thought that a double dissolution trigger at this time was not a particularly good idea.

Let me also make it quite clear that at no time have I had any love for the idea of an Australia Card. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. I also feared that this country could not have afforded another three years of Labor, although if we had had the cynical early election that was contemplated, it would not have been for three years-it would have been for only two years because of the required back dating of the Senate situation. But I believe that even two years would have been much more than this country could afford.

There was one other problem. I feared at one stage when the polls were not going the way that I hope they will from now on that Labor would win control of the Senate as well as win another election. Perhaps Labor could have tried to do then the kinds of things it tried to do in the Whitlam years when it attempted to change the voting system. That was another thing that I did not want to see. The Government could have come back in here and rigged the Senate. If it had a majority, the Government could have taken all of the long term senators. That was a risk that I did not believe we needed to take. That was the kind of thing that was exercising my mind and the minds of some other people around this place-I think I can say that Senator Jessop was one of them-over the last few weeks. Mention does not seem to have been made of the fact that if Labor had won a double dissolution we would have ended up with the Australia Card anyway because the likelihood of its being passed at a joint sitting was high. That was another of the factors that led to the statements that have been attributed to me-some of them right and some of them wrong-over the last few weeks.

I must say that I thought the reasoning of some of the people in my Party over the last few weeks left a lot of long range thinking to be desired. Of course, they did not seem to realise that this Bill does not cause any card to be implemented straightaway. The Australia Card would not have come into operation until 1989. Let me make it clear that I am opposed to the Bill but I have been trying to stop an election for the reasons that I have mentioned. I recognise that we will have a much better chance of winning government after the coming period of stability. I notice that Senator Watson is waving. Is he trying to take off or is he trying to tell me something?


Senator Watson —You are doing very well.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —Order!


Senator TOWNLEY —Mr Acting Deputy President, some of the people in this place have spoken for a full 30 minutes. Although I have spoken for about eight or nine minutes, some of them are trying to hurry me up. I will take as long as I want.


Senator Archer —Keep going.


Senator TOWNLEY —Oh, the honourable senator wants me to keep going. I will start again.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order! Senator Townley, you should direct your remarks through the Chair and continue your speech.


Senator TOWNLEY —Are you winding me up or slowing me down, Mr Acting Deputy President?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order! Senator Townley, you should direct your remarks through the Chair and continue your speech.


Senator TOWNLEY —Mr Acting Deputy President, I have trouble with my eyes-they keep drifting. It is like one of the Prime Minister's peculiarities.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order! I am quite sure that Senator Townley can finish his speech without any help from Senator Watson, who is trying to interject.


Senator TOWNLEY —I have just been handed a note on something that I must include in my speech. I do not think I can keep going for as long as some honourable senators would like me to. I do not know why they want me to keep going for so long.


Senator Crichton-Browne —I think you read my `pinks'.


Senator TOWNLEY —No, the honourable senator's `pinks' are too fast for me. Mr Acting Deputy President, I know that this debate has gone on for a long time. I apologise to Senator Watson; I thought he was trying to slow me down. I am going slower now.


Senator Tate —Oh, come on!


Senator TOWNLEY —Here we have the Minister getting aggravated. He has been a Minister for only a few weeks and he is getting aggravated.


Senator Tate —No, I am anxious to hear you.


Senator TOWNLEY —I have seen it before. I am talking through the Chair to the Minister. As a pharmacist, I have to say that it is a very dangerous job being a Minister. May I say-through the Chair, of course-that it is very bad for the Minister if he lets himself get wound up.


Senator Tate —I agree.


Senator TOWNLEY —I hope the Minister recognises that. If he needs a prescription for tranquillisers I am sure that there are several doctors on this side who will give one to him. Mr Acting Deputy President, as I have said, this debate has gone on for long enough. I rose simply to state my position because of the many reports that I believe were treacherously leaked from my Party room a couple of weeks ago about my position. I must say that most of those reports were inaccurate.


Senator Crichton-Browne —What was your position?


Senator TOWNLEY —I stated my position a moment ago.


Senator Crichton-Browne —Would you state it again?


Senator TOWNLEY —Speaking through the Chair, the situation was--


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order! Senator Townley should speak either for or against the Bill.


Senator TOWNLEY —Mr Acting Deputy President, I would hate to challenge your ruling because it would take an hour if I did so, but I have been asked to speak to this Bill and that is what I thought I had been doing. One of my colleagues, by way of interjection, asked me to run a few reasons past him again as to why I had been trying to stop an election. I can do that. One of the main reasons was that I was scared that the polls were not particularly good for my Party at the time. I have done what I said I would do. I say to Senator Crichton-Browne that that was the main reason and the fact that I thought the Labor Party might get control of both Houses of Parliament, rig the Senate and rig the voting system. If that is not sufficient reason to have had worry about a double dissolution, I do not know what is. They are the reasons for the things that were attributed to me recently.

May I say that I agree fully with the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, which investigated this Bill and reported to the Senate. I fully agree particularly with the attitudes of my colleagues Senator Jessop and Senator Puplick and, to save the time of the Senate, I suggest that people refer to the speeches of those gentlemen; what they said I agree with fully. Finally, I must say that I am very grateful to the many people who have written to me about this matter following a lot of erroneous things that were printed because of party leaks in the newspapers around this country. I thank those people for their advice and for their consideration in writing to me.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —I call Senator Tate.