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Thursday, 13 April 1961

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I move -

That this House is of opinion that the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review, which was established in 19S6 and which reported to both Houses in 1958 and 1959, should be submitted to the people for their approval.

Our federation has existed for 60 years and the document that we know as the Australian Constitution was the best that was obtainable at the time that it was accepted. It is a remarkable document in many ways considering the existing jealousies and rivalries of those colonial days, even taking into account its inadequacies and deficiencies. The Government, realizing this, decided in 1951 to set up a joint committee to review the Constitution and made its announcement in its policy speech of that year. Nothing was done until 1954 when, in the Governor-General's Speech at the opening of the new Parliament, it was stated that such a committee would be set up. After a good deal of questioning, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) agreed to fulfil his promise.

The committee was eventually set up in 1956. It sat on 89 days, taking evidence and deliberating. It reported to this Parliament at the end of 1958, before the dissolution of the Parliament and prior to the election of the twenty-third Parliament which is currently in session. The committee's recommendations were unanimous in practically every respect. The present Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) dissented in regard to industrial power and Senator Wright, another member of the committee, dissented in respect of economic powers, but only because the committee could not reach agreement on a constitutional division of powers between the Commonwealth and the States to govern their financial relationships.

In respect of other matters, the committee was unanimous in its findings. It was remarkable that twelve men - four senators and eight members of this House, with strong views on many questions, could sit down and, after much deliberation and discussion, eventually reach the lowest common multiple of agreement on such a wide range of subjects. There were many things, of course, on which the committee could not reach agreement. They were set aside. But the body of agreement that was reached would have been thought impossible when the committee first undertook its work.

I was a member of that committee and so were my colleagues, the honorable members for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), Lalor (Mr. Pollard), and Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). We did not always agree among ourselves as to what emphasis we should place on certain suggestions that were put forward. Neither did our two colleagues in the Senate, Senator McKenna and Senator Kennelly, agree with us at all times. But eventually, without caucussing among ourselves on one single point, we did, in open discussion with the other members of the committee, reach the agreement of which I have spoken.

In a very limited time it is not possible to canvass the recommendations nor to do other than adumbrate the reasons, in one or two instances, for the committee's recommendations. In our report, we considered subjects under three headings: First, the Parliament; second, concurrent powers; and third, economic powers. We made certain sundry recommendations. In connexion with the Parliament, we recommended that the present provisions of the Constitution, whereby disagreement between the two Houses can be resolved, only by double dissolution, should be altered so that there could be a joint sitting of both Houses in the event of a disagreement, whilst retaining the provision for a double dissolution if the government of the day desired to pursue that course.

We set out to break the nexus between the Senate and the House of Representatives so that the House of Representatives should not necessarily be twice the size of the Senate. We recommended that the Senate should be limited in membership to 60 and that a new provision should be made for determining the membership of the House of Representatives. But we did not suggest any interference with the provision in the Constitution safeguarding the establishment of a quota and we did not recommend any alteration in respect of the election of members of this House.

There were some other matters in respect of the terms of office of senators and other things which I do not need to go into. We suggested that this Parliament, whatever the political complexion of the government of the day, should have concurrent powers with the States in respect of navigation and shipping, aviation, scientific and industrial research, nuclear energy, radio broadcasting and television, industrial relations, corporations, restrictive trade practices and the marketing of primary products. With respect to economic powers, we recommended that the Parliament should have power over capital issues, consumer credit, and interest on loans.

I have enumerated the concurrent powers which we think this Parliament should have but which it does not have. Some of those which it does not have were powers that could not have been foreseen when our founding fathers wrote the Constitution. Aviation was then unknown. Nuclear energy was unknown. Radio broadcasting and television were both unknown in those times. At the time of federation it was never thought that the Commonwealth Parliament or any State parliament could play any part in regulating the affairs of the economy. We had not gone through two world wars. We had not been involved in a major depression. The impact of the Parliament on the life of the community was not envisaged- as assuming the magnitude which it subsequently did. The establishment of the welfare State was not envisaged, nor was the alteration of the Constitution to enable the establishment of the Australian Loan Council which deprived the States of certain powers. The decision of the High Court of Australia interpreting the Constitution in regard to uniform taxation was another event which had not been thought of by the founders of our Constitution. Indeed, the power to levy income tax was a sort of reserve power which was placed in the Constitution, and the Commonwealth Parliament never used it until Australia participated in World War I.

So, in 60 years, vast changes have taken place. It is therefore necessary that this Parliament have power to protect the interests of the people and advance their wellbeing. That is the purpose of a written constitution. It is the document that guards our liberties. It protects our interests. As the Constitutional Review Committee unanimously found that the Constitution was deficient in the matters to which I have referred, we consider that the Government, having appointed the committee and having received so many strong recommendations backed by such cogent arguments and with a unanimous opinion in support of so many items, should now proceed to give the people an opportunity to pass judgment on what the committee has recommended.

Under the heading of sundry recommendations, the committee recommended some alterations in the provisions of the Constitution with respect to interstate road transport, new States and the alteration of the Constitution. My colleagues on the committee will speak in this debate, and by arrangement, instead of all of us taking up our allotted time, we have agreed to limit our time in order that as many speakers as possible may make a contribution to this discussion.

Under the heading of sundry recommendations, the committee recommended that an alteration of the Constitution shall be validated if a majority of the voters in each of three States as well as a majority of the whole of the people of Australia vote affirmatively. We regard the requirement of a majority for the affirmative in each of four States as an undemocratic proposition.

In respect of new States, we say that it is ridiculous that, if the people of the area concerned want to establish a new State and the people of the whole of the State concerned want a new State to be established, the Parliament of the original State shall have the right to veto the people's wishes. We say that the Parliament of the particular State should now be deprived of that right.

I am afraid that I shall have to hurry somewhat over these matters, Sir. I come now to interstate road transport. There is provision in the Constitution for an InterState Commission, and we want to constitute that commission again. The original InterState Commission functioned for quite a number of years until the High Court of Australia declared that it had not judicial powers. This is a matter of vital importance to the States and the Commonwealth and to the economy generally, and we recommend that the Constitution be altered in order that the Inter-State Commission may function properly. We propose that the Constitution be altered to authorize a State, nothwithstanding section 92 of the Constitution, to impose charges in respect of the carriage interstate by road of persons and goods, provided that the charges are approved by the Inter-State Commission as being fair and reasonable having regard to the promotion of interstate trade and commerce and the public interest, and provided that the charges, in their application to road transport, do not discriminate against the carriage of persons or goods interstate. The proposal is to confer on the States a power to make charges deemed reasonable by the Inter-State Commission. There will be no question of depriving the States of powers. The Constitutional Review Committee, in the terms of its report, sought to work with the States. In some respects, we seek to give the States more power than they have at the present time, because the States as well as the Commonwealth are put at a disadvantage by the operation of section 92 of the Constitution.

I ask the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), who is handling this matter, to do something about it. Several times, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has been asked, " What is to happen? " He has said on each occasion, " I will examine the document with loving care ". Unfortunately, his affection has seemingly vanished. We ask the Attorney-General to stir his emotions a little and to increase his interest in the matter, because the report of the Constitutional Review Committee has been on his table now for eighteen months. We ask him to give the people of Australia an opportunity to vote on each of the recommendations made in this report. We of the Opposition say that we will support every one of those recommendations without reservation or qualification. Everything to which we have put our signature, we will support. We do not want to pick out the things which suit us and forget about the other things which we agreed with our colleagues to support in order to get a unanimous report. We have put our signatures to it, and we shall honour our word. We ask the Government to give us an opportunity to help it to give Australia a constitution which will enable the Commonwealth Parliament to function as it ought to be able to function in 1961.

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