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Thursday, 16 October 1975

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Today we stand in the centre of a grave constitutional crisis that threatens to destroy the fragile fabric of the democracy that holds our nation together. It is a crisis that has been engineered by a man bent on getting power at any cost. I refer, of course, to the present rich and elitist Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Is this not the same man who on 10 March 1971 brought about the downfall of his own Liberal Prime Minister by one of the shabbiest acts of betrayal ever written in the history of Australian pontics? Is this not also the same man who, in order to satisfy his lust for power, twice betrayed and finally destroyed another leader of his party? He says that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) changes his principles. He could have added 'like I change my knives.' Is this not the same man? Of course it is. How could the Australian electorate trust him to preserve the sacred tenets of our way of life? He has shown that nothing that stands in his way in his drive for power is sacred. In his thrust for power the Leader of the Opposition is willing to violate every principle, every convention and every tradition that form an integral part of our parliamentary system of government. He will do this even though his action brings about the total collapse of the parliamentary system of government.

Why does this man of privilege and inherited wealth want power so desperately? The answer is simple and it is frightening. He simply wants power for power's sake. This is the self-styled man of principle. The man who twice disposed of his own elected leaders in his grab for power is now prepared to destroy the whole parliamentary system to satisfy his mad obsession to rule those whom he so deeply despises. Compare that man with the man he seeks to displace, the man who came to power in 1972- the present Prime Minister. He came to power inheriting 1 500 000 people who had no health coverage, 400 000 kids at school who were suffering serious disadvantages, people in 70 per cent of cases in the magistrates courts in New South Wales having no legal representation, and pensions at only 18 per cent of average weekly earnings- they are now at nearly 25 per cent. This same great Prime Minister is now fighting for the right to continue to right the wrongs of 23 rotten years of Liberal government. Australians love a fighter, especially when he is fighting for them and when he is fighting for the traditions, conventions and principles that are critical to the survival of the system of government that the Australians hold so dear to them. Not the survival of the Government, but the survival of the system of government is what we are talking about.

The Prime Minister has a bounden duty to defend Parliament and the conventions of Parliament against the violence which the Leader of the Opposition is attempting. It is a duty which he is prepared to carry out and I admire him for it as everyone must. How could any lover of democracy fail to admire the fighting qualities, the resilience and the intellectual qualities of the present Prime Minister? Why is it that the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party is now being seen at its magnificent best? Why is it that the Labor movement outside the Parliament is now more solidly united than ever before? It is because of the inspiration given by the Prime Minister in this present crisis, the man who in this Parliament stands out like a giant against the intellectual and moral pygmies who sit opposite him. It is because the Prime Minister has thrown down the gauntlet in defence of parliamentary government that I stand proudly beside him. That is why I and my ministerial colleagues stand solidly behind the Prime Minister in this, the most important fight of his life, the most important fight that the Australian people have ever fought in their lives.

The forthcoming Senate election is more than a party political contest; it is an election which will call upon the electorate to decide whether a government elected for a constitutional term of 3 years should or should not be allowed to complete its constitutional term. That is what it is about. If an elected government is not to be permitted to govern for its full constitutional term, why have elections at all? Only yesterday the Leader of the Opposition said that if elected he would need a full 3-year term to get Australia back to where it ought to be. But he will not give the Whitlam Government a full 3-year term to correct all of the evils of 23 years of rotten Liberal government. Of course the Leader of the Opposition has a program. It is designed to restrict the freedom of our Press and even the Liberty of our workers. He even rings up the Press barons in order that the Press men, the working reporters, will not be free to speak the truth and to publish the truth, so that the Press barons will put the jobs of the reporters in peril if they do other than follow the editorials of their newspapers.

Let the unions make no mistake about this. In public the Leader of the Opposition speaks about having a system of sanctions in our industrial system and in private he talks about gaoling union leaders. He will not deny this because it is true and he cannot deny it because he would not want to stand branded as a liar. I call upon my friends and supporters in the trade union movement, of whom I have many hundreds of thousands, to rally behind the Prime Minister's call, to stand up and to defend the system of government by the people, of a government entitled to govern for its full 3-year term, enshrined by the Constitution as the right of all elected governments.

The rich and the privileged Leader of the Opposition wants government by big business, not government by properly elected representatives of the people. The people are many; the moguls are few. Yet it is the representation of those privileged few who have brought us to this very brink of mob rule. A frightening abyss is certainly before us now. The Leader of the Opposition thinks that because he is getting millions of dollars from the foreign-owned multinational corporations that now have a stranglehold on Australia's main industries and its mineral and energy resources that that will win him the election. This Senate election will not be won by the party that gets the most dollars from foreign racketeers who stand to gain so much from the election of a Fraser government. This election will be won by the party that gets the most votes from the sensible, decent Australians who value the system of democracy. The election will be a contest between foreign dollars and Australian votes, the votes of men and women who want to keep Australia Australian and who want parliamentary democracy to remain democratic.

Without parliamentary democracy what is there? Why should the masses tolerate this mockery of democracy? What will prevent the masses from becoming a mob and what will then stand between the classes of privilege and the mob once the institution of parliament is destroyed? Who will then man the powerhouses, the oil refineries and the transport systems? Who then will man the ships, mine the coal and man the wharves? The Opposition cannot do that with guns and bayonets. It cannot do that with its wealthy racketeer friends. Revolution does not ever happen until some spark ignites the dynamite. The steps which the Opposition has now taken could be the spark that will bring down all the institutions in this country. Because, after all, what is the use of asking people to abide by the parliamentary system of government when that system is not allowed to operate? The people of Australia must speak out and they must say in a clear unequivocal voice that they want to preserve this system, they want the right to elect the government of their choice and they want that government to be given the specific constitutional tenure of office.

It is not only the institution of Parliament that is now threatened but also the judiciary, the Public Service and the statutory arms of government are now under threat. I challenge the Leader of the Opposition now to deny honourable members opposite need not laugh that he told colleagues that if elected to government he would abolish the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the courts and that he would reconstitute them with people of his own choosing. I challenge him to deny that he has told colleagues that he believes that appointments are more important than laws. If the Leader of the Opposition dares to deny that he made these statements to his colleagues I ask the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) to stand up and deny that he was present when the Leader of the Opposition made statements to that effect I challenge Senator Young to stand up in his place and deny that he heard the Leader of the Opposition declare that he would abolish the Commission and the courts and reconstitute them with his own men. That is the sort of man who is now putting himself to the Australian people as an alternative to the present Prime Minister, a man who will tear to shreds all of the conventions that prop up the institution of Parliament. After all, what is the institution of Parliament without its conventions and traditions? Without these it is nothing more than a white building on the brow of a hill occupied by some 180 people who call themselves either senators or members of the House of Representatives.

Parliament does not derive its strength, its authority, its respect and power from the shell of masonry that carries the name of Parliament House. Nor does it derive its power and respect from the people who sit in its chambers; it derives its power, respect and authority from the fact that people identify Parliament with a whole wide range of ancient traditions, conventions and principles without which it can no longer act as the barrier between our present way of life and the mob which would seek to change it. And yet, it is they, the privileged sections of the community and the Press barons, who have most to lose from the destruction of the present system. They, the Press barons, the mining magnates, the foreignowned multinational corporations, the ruling classes generally, the barons of business and the privileged classes are now urging the Opposition to embark upon the course of action which will destroy the only bastion which stands between them and the mob.

Why is it that those who work for their living and constitute the majority of our people have so far turned a deaf ear to the calls that excited their brothers and sisters at the turn of the century? Once working people see that their chosen governments are not to be allowed to govern, what is it that will stop them from responding to those memorable lines of Percy Shelley who, in conditions very much like those which will apply when the collapse of the parliamentary system occurs, made this clarion call to the men of England:

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number-

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you-

Ye are many they are few.

This Parliament stands between the rule of the mob, the law of the streets and society as we know it and have enjoyed it throughout our country. Without convention and tradition this Parliament is nothing more than a shabby, overcrowded building. It represents nothing. The Senate election now due to be held will determine the fate of the parliamentary system of government. That is what the Senate election is about. It will determine whether this country is to be governed by laws made in Parliament by the people freely chosen by the Australian voters, or whether we are to be governed by laws that are made in the streets.

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