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Wednesday, 16 February 1977


Mr ELLICOTT (Wentworth) (AttorneyGeneral) -I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this BUI is to give electors in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern

Territory the right to vote in referendums for the alteration of the Constitution. At present a proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution must be submitted in each State for the approval of the electors qualified to vote for the House of Representatives. A proposed amendment is not, however, submitted to electors in the Territories. If a referendum proposal is to succeed it must be passed by what has become known as a 'double majority'. The proposal must be passed by a majority of all the electors voting in the referendum and it must also be passed by a majority of votes in a majority of States.

The amendment provided for in the Bill will require a proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution to be submitted to all electors qualified to vote for the House of Representatives. It will not matter whether those electors live in a State or a Territory. The amendment will affect the operation of the first of the double majority requirements I have mentioned, that is, the requirement that there be a majority vote of all the electors. That majority will now take account of the votes of electors who are resident in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Any other Territory which in future develops to the stage where it is allowed representation in the House of Representatives will also at that stage be automatically covered by the amendment. The proposed amendment will not, however, affect the second majority requirement I have mentioned, that is the requirement that a proposal for amendment of the Constitution must be passed by a majority vote in a majority of States. That requirement will continue to apply as at present.

Both Territories have repeatedly sought the right to participate in referendums. The former Advisory Council of the Australian Capital Territory passed a series of resolutions between 1965 and 1967 seeking voting rights in referendums and the former Northern Territory Legislative Council passed a similar resolution on 1 1 October 1973. The proposal to give electors in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory a vote in constitutional referendums was also the first item on the agenda of the meeting of the Australian Constitutional Convention in Hobart last year and was overwhelmingly endorsed by that Convention, I think, by a vote of 81 to 10

It may come as a surprise to many Australians that electors who are resident in the Territories are not at present entitled to vote in constitutional referendums. The reason for this is to be found in the fact that the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory did not exist when the Constitution was framed. But now that these Territories are rapidly growing communities with representation in both Houses of the Federal Parliament there is no sound reason to exclude them from participating in the process of constitutional reform. When the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory ceased to be parts of the States of New South Wales and South Australia respectively the residents of the Territories were disenfranchised. In the intervening years they have been allowed representation in both Houses. The proposal in this Bill if adopted wil redress the situation.

In principle, the proposition that all electors of the Federal Parliament ought to be entitled to vote in referendums cannot be open to challenge. What is involved is a basic democratic right. Electors in the Territories are not second-rate citizens. They, like other Australians, are affected by changes to the Constitution and it is anomalous that they do not, at present, have the right to participate in referendums. Honourable members will recall that a proposal to give Territory electors referendum voting rights was included in the Constitution Alteration (Mode of Altering the Constitution) Bill that failed at a referendum in 1974. It was then, however, linked with a proposal that section 128 of the Constitution should be amended to allow changes to the Constitution if a majority of voters in only 3 States agreed to the alteration instead of a majority of voters in a majority of States, as the Constitution now provides.


Mr E G WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Strictly a majority of electors in not less than half the number of States.


Mr ELLICOTT - Yes. The present Bill does not link the proposal with any other proposal. This will enable people to interpret it. Although different in terms it is in substance the same as that measure. The indications from the Hobart meeting of the Australian Constitutional Convention are that the proposal that Territory electors should be given a vote in referendums has overwhelming support. The Government believes that the proposal is one which should now be submitted to the people. I commend the Bill to the House.







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