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Monday, 20 June 1994
Page: 1734

Senator CHRIS EVANS (4.58 p.m.) —I support one major contention of Senator O'Chee—that is, that the Liberal Party does support change to the constitution. That is one of my main purposes for speaking today. On this occasion, those opposite have chosen to adopt the traditional conservative position of wrapping themselves in the flag and referring to the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) as a radical who wants to tear up our national symbols and our constitution.

  The interesting thing about the debate on constitutional reform in Australia in recent years is that much of it has been led by the Liberal and National parties and other conservative forces. They are the ones who in recent times have been concerned about the interpretation of our constitution. Senator Kemp has been one of the loudest in his criticism of the lack of protection that Australia's constitution provides to Australian citizens for some of the basic fundamental democratic rights which he holds dear. In fact, Senator O'Chee, in seeking to talk about his Asian ancestry, failed to point out that for many years the constitution allowed legislation to exist which prevented Asians voting; that there exists no constitutional protection for their right to vote. I think that is an inadequacy.

  My main tenet today—unfortunately, my speaking time is limited—is that the Prime Minister was quite correct in pointing out the British involvement in the development of our constitution. As a Western Australian, I am aware that in 1933 Western Australia sought to petition the British parliament in order to secede from the federation of Australia. So as late as 1933 there was an active attempt to get the British parliament to allow Western Australia to secede from the federation.

  Many of the criticisms of our current constitution do not come from the left of politics. They come from Richard Court; they come from Senator Kemp. They come from people who raise concerns about the increase in Commonwealth power, concerns about the influence of international treaties and the role of the UN on our sovereignty, and concerns about the High Court. The Western Australian President of the Liberal Party called the High Court racist.

  A whole range of concerns about constitutional developments in Australia are in fact raised by those on the conservative side of politics. But when the debate gets too hot, when the real issues start to be examined and we want to have a proper debate about the role of the constitution, they cry foul, wrap themselves in the flag and say, `You can't have this debate. You are running down our current institutions.' In fact, institutions like the High Court and our international obligations under treaties have been under attack by those on the conservative side for many years.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McKiernan)—Order! The time for the debate has expired.