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Thursday, 13 April 1961


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) promised the people in his election speeches in 1951, 1954, 1955 and 1958 that he would give them an opportunity to modernize the Australian Constitution. After he was returned to office in 1955, he promoted the resolution of this House pursuant to which the Constitutional Review Committee was appointed, and it reported before the 1958 election. After he was returned at that election, the committee, on his resolution, was again reappointed, and it reported by the end of 1959. If Mr. Justice Spicer or Senator Sir Neil O'sullivan had still been Attorney-General, the people would have had the opportunity to modernize the Constitution which the Prime Minister has promised them on four separate occasions. If the present Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) had made his officers as readily available as he made them to the States for the preparation of a uniform company law - they have now been made available in conferences extending over between 50 and 60 days - all the submissions would have been drafted and all the difficulties overcome long ago.

We have brought this motion before the House because a year and a half has elapsed since the final report of the committee was given to the Parliament. We are criticizing the Government, not for its action but for its inaction. Apparently, the Cabinet has not discussed the report. The Government parties have not discussed the report. It is not a question of the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party having rejected this report; they have not considered it. I regret that the two members of the committee from the Government side who are in Canberra to-day and are members of this chamber have not participated in this debate. One of them is the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), the son of one of the founding fathers of the Australian Constitution. He is a man with legal training and a man whose administration of his portfolio has never been criticized but has invariably been praised and supported by every member of the Commonwealth Parliament. The other-


Mr Drummond - The other member has been blocked from speaking.


Mr WHITLAM - I regret that my friend the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) is not speaking on this occasion.


Mr Drummond - So do I.


Mr WHITLAM - I speak of him with affection that flows not only from the fact that my education entirely took place while he was Minister for Education in New South Wales, but also from the fact that he was a colleague, as were all the other ten members of the committee, for three solid unremitting years of work. Some might say that they were the three best years of their lives.

I am sure a great number of people in the community will support the remarks made by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). There is no man in the history of this country, other than perhaps the late Mr. W. M. Hughes, whose experience in time and range approaches that of the right honorable member for Cowper. He still, in retirement as an elder statesman, has the vision which can make Australia great, but will make Australia great only if we modernize the instruments of Australian government. We members of the Commonwealth Parliament are the only persons who have the responsibility and opportunity to initiate reform of the Australian Constitution. The States were not ignored; they were consulted. But under the Constitution, the Commonwealth Parliament has the sole power to initiate reform, and the Australian people have the obligation of saying whether they approve the reforms which this Parliament suggests. There were on the committee three former State Ministers and one former Deputy Leader of a State parliamentary party as well as the son of a former State Premier and the foundation President of the Senate.

The committee's report did not deal only with powers for the Commonwealth, it deals with one very real problem - the matter of road taxes - where the State powers have been abridged or negatived by interpretations of the Constitution. It deals with a great many other matters upon which at the moment no effective law can be passed by Australian Parliaments even if they act in concert and every member of every House of a Parliament - State, Federal and Territorial - supports the law. What law other than our Constitution, I ask honorable members, has been amended so rarely and was last amended so long ago? And in answer to the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden), who was the last speaker, 1 point out that there is no proposal of the committee which makes socialization, let alone complete socialization, any easier. I regret to say that the Government members of the committee were invariably conservative and antisocialist, and the position remains as it has been, as we have learned from court decisions over the last fifteen years. That is, if socialization in the sense of public monopoly is to be brought about in Australia it can be brought about only by this Parliament passing a law, and the people approving that law at a referendum. You cannot bring about public monopoly or socialization in that sense except by the will of the people expressed at a referendum.

Some of the committee's recommendations are urgent because, after the next general election, the Commonwealth Parliament may be unworkable. The Labour Party would need to elect seventeen senators at the next election to have the support of the Senate. The present Government parties would need to elect sixteen senators to retain control of the business of the Parliament. And a double dissolution will henceforth be no solution, because then the splinter parties would control the Senate, but would still be unable to secure a foothold in this place. Among these recommendations there is another urgent proposal for the removal of that provision in the Constitution which excludes aborigines from the census on which the Commonwealth electoral distributions are based. We can no longer tolerate such a provision in our Constitution in this part of the world, or in this> period of time.

Then there are, Sir, the committee's recommendations between Commonwealth and States for concurrent powers such as navigation and shipping, aviation, scientific and industrial research, nuclear energy, radio broadcasting and television, on all of which the Commonwealth Parliament, alone among Australian parliaments, spends money. It spends tens of millions of pounds on these subjects, but in fact cannot implement international agreements relative to them - cannot regulate them satisfactorily. If I had time I could give many instances of delays in carrying out policies and proposals in regard to them. Then there are the other matters of concurrent power such as industrial relations, corporations, restrictive trade practices and the marketing of primary products, which are all matters in relation to which Commonwealth and States together cannot dovetail their present powers. The AttorneyGeneral is aiming to achieve uniform State laws on corporations and restrictive trade practices. Such uniformity can be achieved only at the pace of the slowest House of any of the State parliaments, and there is no guarantee that uniformity will be preserved. It is quite unrealistic and it is undemocratic to grant Legislative Councils in the States the right to veto and impede these reforms, which we all say are the responsibility of government under modern conditions. If the Constitution is not amended in these and other matters trie Commonwealth Parliament is precluded from passing laws on them.

Then there are matters concerning economic powers in regard to which it is impossible for Australia, alone among the trading and industrialized countries of the world, to pass laws through its national Parliament. There is no proposal in this report which would vest in the national Parliament any power which is not already reposed in and, when appropriate, exercised by every other trading and industrialized country in the world. Australia is unable to compete, it is unable to preserve its own part of the world, it is unable to develop itself, without further powers for this Parliament. That was the considered opinion of never fewer than eleven of the twelve men whom the parties in this Parliament chose, and who reported to this Parliament on constitutional review. In fact, the committee was appointed largely as a result of the little horror Budget proposals, because the Prime Minister conceded that it might be desirable for the National Parliament to have powers in respect of consumer credit and capital issues. It is any wonder, then, that the committee made recommendations on these subjects? The Liberal Party chose the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), then a private member, to be a member of the committee, after he had spoken in favour of vesting such powers in the Commonwealth. He was appointed a member of the committee by a government which knew his views on these matters. 1 know very well the devotion of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) to the cause of development of this country and his luminous illustrations of how we, the driest continent, are in fact unable to conserve what water resources we have. We cannot develop this country with the present distribution of powers. The development of the country, under the direction of the six States, is too uneven. The financial resources of the States are too unequal. The tragedy is that the States which are the least developed are those which are the weakest financially. If we are to develop this country, even, maybe, if we are to hold it - but I would rather say, if we Australians are to play our part in the world and put our inherited opportunities to the benefit of our neighbours and the rest of the world, and not only for our own preservation - we must modernize the instrument of government under which all parliaments in Australia operate. It is our obligation, as well as our opportunity. It is solely our obligation as members of the Commonwealth Parliament to give the Australian people an opportunity to modernize the Australian Constitution. Nobody can make the proposal other than this Parliament, and nobody can endorse it other than the Australian people. All that we ask, as members of this Commonwealth Parliament, is that the Australian people be given the opportunity to decide whether their instrument of government shall be brought out of the last century, when it was drafted by State parliamentarians, and out of the century before, when its ancestor, the United States Constitution, was born and brought into the present age. Australia cannot play its part in this part of the world, and in this period of time, until its Constitution is modernized.







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