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Thursday, 11 November 1976


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) -Government supporters laugh, but they know very well that on 1 1 November last the uncertainty concerning the economic situation was increasing. Government contracts could not be met. There were no guarantees concerning government funds. Payments were due to the States. Pension rights were in jeopardy. If honourable members look at the results of Gallup polls on 1 1 November they will see that nobody in Australia applauded the action of the Governor-General.

That is the reason meetings are being held today. The people of Australia are saying: 'We elected a Government for 3 years which was then denied the opportunity to rule'. They were denied that opportunity because certain people were thrust into the Senate. One man, Field, said: 'I am going into the Senate to deny Supply. That is the only reason I am going there'. How can democracy survive in this country if we have a Senate so devoid of an appreciation of its responsibilities and so subservient to party rule and party discipline that the decisions of Government senators were made not in the Senate but in their party room? The votes of Government senators were not cast according to their consciences but according to their party rules. When this kind of situation prevails under the Constitution we can never have democracy in this country.

The word 'reject' is not contained in secton 53 of the Constitution. It was contained in the 1891 draft of the Constitution but it was deleted. Why was this done? It was done because section 87 deals with the apportionment of money. The Senate did not have any worry about Supply. Section 87 clearly states that three-quarters of the money is to be returned to the States. Why would the States and the founders of the constitution argue about the inclusion of the word 'reject' when the money was already made available to them by section 87? It is ridiculous to suggest now that that interpretation can be intruded by inference. What this country needs is a new Constitution. This will happen. But the new Constitution will not be formed by politicians like Mr Bjelke Petersen or Sir Charles Court. They will not be responsible for the formation of policy.

The people of Australia, irrespective of their political or party affiliations, are meeting to discuss how they can make Australia a nation unconstrained by a set of rules which say that one man can disallow any law. Section 58 of the Constitution states that the Governor-General can disallow any law or send a law back with his amendments. Is Australia a colonial power, so subservient that it has no status at all? Australians thought that they were a nation. Australia has entered into international treaties, has sent representatives to the United Nations and has taken part in 2 world wars. It has committed itself as a nation. Australia now finds itself under a set of rules which make it subservient to one man who is deemed to be the appointee of the monarch. This brings the monarchy into disrepute and affects the whole concept of democracy in Australia. That is why there is concern in Australia today.

If honourable members opposite attend meetings in their electorates- and there should be many of them- they will find that they are held on the basis not of what happened in the past but of what Australians thought they had. Australians thought they had a nation and that they could speak with one voice. They thought they had elected a Parliament which meant something. The principle of democracy meant that the House of the people could rule and govern. Australia desperately needs a new Constitution made not by the professionals in State parliaments or the Federal Parliament but by the people- a Constitution in which they are involved. It is about time we encouraged people to meet, to discuss the Constitution and to work out their set of rules on the basis of equality of opportunity and equality of voting. Then, and only then, can we guarantee that this nation has a future.

Debate interrupted.







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