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Thursday, 13 April 1961


Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) .- The report of the Constitutional Review Committee is most interesting. I am sure that honorable members who have read it will have been aware of the difficulties that confronted the committee not only when it set out upon its task but also, it appears to me from a reading of the report, after completion of its deliberations. The difficulty was that the committee had to look at the Constitution as a general document and seek out deficiencies in isolation and without reference to a great number of other problems. Those problems ought properly to be considered now in relation to the report because the terms of the inquiry did not empower the committee to consider the whole range of ramifications.

For instance, the committee put down its recommendations in the report in the simplest form. About ten recommendations relate to what are called the joint powers and each of those recommendations seems to be merely a proposal for the addition of a separate placitum to section 51. which, as the House will know, is the section containing the existing placitum. The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) sought to point out the very serious drafting difficulties that stand in the way.

It is not my purpose at this time to dealwith the report as a document. I want to commend the gentlemen who served on the. committee for the very good work that they have done. I regret that I did not have the opportunity to assist them because I regard the report as an historic document which will be of advantage to the people of Australia for many years. One ought not to regard the committee as a failure or as a waste of money or anything of that nature merely because there has been no referendum to date or even if there is no referendum in the future.

I want to direct my comments in the broad to the essence of the problems, " Should the recommendations be accepted? " and " Could the recommendations be accepted? " Dealing first with the question " Should the recommendations be accepted? " let us take this as a clear unequivocal fact: The powers of the Commonwealth Government - let us call it the central government - have grown constantly since the Commonwealth was proclaimed. This process will and must continue. That is recognized by all constitutional authorities. In a federation there are two forces that can operate, and one of them will operate at all times. Those forces are the movement of power out from the central government and the movement of power in to the central government. The movement of power in to the central government is called the centripetal force. That is the force which is operating in the Australian Constitution to-day. It is inevitable that the Commonwealth Government will obtain additional powers as time goes on. That this- is true has been recognized by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), who, in a debate in this place about eighteen months ago, said that it is inevitable that this process will continue. There is no doubt that it will continue.

My attitude - I want to make this clear to those who are interested - is that as this growth of power in the central government will and must continue, I have no wish to hasten it. I stand behind the Constitution as a federalist. I believe in the necessity for the retention of the State governments and in the sovereignty of the State governments. To put to the people by way of referendum all the recommendations contained: in this, report would be destructive of that federal Constitution. I do not want to see in Australia a single unitary form of government. I know that there are arguments that a single unitary form of government will be more efficient than any other kind. As the very distinguished right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) has said, we must work with modern instruments, but the age of a written Constitution does not bear any relation whatever to its efficacy. We need only to look at the Constitution of the United States of America or, indeed, to the British North America Act of 1867, I think it was, under which Canada operates, to realize that mere age has nothing to do with the position.

I disagree with the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who said that the High Court should be merely a judicial and not a legislative body. The High Court does, and must, exercise the function of interpreting the Constitution to adapt it to the demands of to-day. It does this, but it does it in an atmosphere of judicial examination and interpretation. I think this is the proper function for the High Court, and I am sure that it could be in no better hands than those of the judiciary of the present High Court. I cannot agree with the statement of the right honorable member for Cowper that- we must have these changes in the Constitution to make it a modern document.

Other aspects of this matter have been brought forward. One of the things which disturbed me very greatly to-day was the statement by the Leader of the Opposition to the effect that the Opposition would support all the recommendations in the report, even including those which were agreed to only to obtain unanimity. This is the first indication I have had that there was horse trading in this- committee.


Mr Pollard - Was not the whole purpose of the committee to endeavour to obtain unanimity?


Mr SNEDDEN - If the Opposition's attitude is that the whole purpose of the committee was merely to obtain unanimity, that in itself destroys almost entirely the committee's effectiveness. I do not believe what the honorable member for Lalor has said. I am sure he said it without thinking. He could not have meant it. He served on this committee during the course of its sittings, and I am sure that on reflection he would withdraw that statement.

The situation then is this: Are we to put before the people by way of referendum this document, or are we to take out of this document merely the recommendations? Are we to put the recommendations and then say to the people, " Read the document"? Are we then going to say to the people of Australia, "But of course, it is true that you must look at the contrary arguments " and then have somebody else construct a document of this size and even a document of this size cannot be understood unless you have a sound knowledge of the Constitution before you read it.

For all these reasons, the suggestion which is encompassed in this motion cannot be accepted. I believe the motion was put forward by the Opposition principally with the intention of doing one of two things or probably both. It was put forward not in any true spirit of constitutional inquiry but to embarrass the Government on the one hand, or with the idea that until constitutional reform is carried out then the fundamental principle of the Opposition - that is the complete socialization of this country - cannot be achieved. For those reasons, this motion has been sponsored to-day.

Like the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), I deprecate the atmosphere into which this debate has descended: It would be beneficial to the House if we could sweep aside the morass of conflicting political opinions and conflicting personal attitudes and have a proper debate on these matters so that people who have looked at the report and have given consideration to it would have the opportunity to- state their attitudes towards it. The Attorney-General has highlighted, for example, the matter of restrictive trade practices. That subject has occupied some honorable members for some time. They have been examining the need for dealing with this matter and the way in which it could best be dealt with. An examination of this committee's report indicates clearly to me that its recommendations in relation to restrictive trade practices are quite inadequate for the purposes the committee sought to achieve, having regard to the arguments which preceded the actual recommendations. As an example of the difficulties that are involved, I ask: How can this Government as a responsible government - and I believe it to be a responsible government - put forward at a referendum a recommendation in relation to restrictive trade practices such as is contained in the document?







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