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Thursday, 17 February 1977

Mr HODGMAN - Queensland has its own particular and peculiar problems. The honourable member would know that.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - That is the Australian Labor Party. We perform better for the Government than Tasmania does.

Mr HODGMAN -The honourable member is very upset because last night I referred to him as a troglodyte and he did not know whether he was being insulted or praised. The point I make- I say this without any disrespect to former Senator Field, of course- is that the Field type situation can never again arise. If a party says that a person who has been nominated for the Senate is not acceptable to it he cannot take his seat. I said to the Attorney-General earlier- I have considered the matter carefully and have reviewed the view that I previously took- that it was a pity, as I then thought, that the right of State Governors to fix the time for a Senate election was being taken from them. But it has been correctly pointed out to me that that in fact has to be done to give efficacy to the amendment and that, in any event, in respect of double dissolutions it will be the Governor-General of Australia and not the State Governors who will declare the time and the date for the appropriate Senate election in conjunction with that for the House of Representatives.

I repeat that I do not intend any reflection upon either former Senator Bunton or former Senator Field. I commend the Government for the proposal. It is a pity that perhaps the proposal does not go quite so far as it could; for example, by employing the Hare-Clark system as it applies in Tasmania so that the votes could have been counted. Perhaps the political parties could have added reserve Senate candidates to take office in the event of a vacancy occurring. By and large I believe and hope that the people of Australia will accept this referendum proposal because it gives effect to the democratically cast vote of an elector. I do not believe that we as a parliament should permit a situation to continue whereby electors' wishes are twisted and thwarted. If that situation were to continue we would be on the way to destroying democracy.

Lastly I come to the matter of simultaneous elections. No doubt this is a matter which will engage the careful thought of all who are concerned about the continuation of the federal system and of the position of the Constitution in contemporary 1977. I have never felt embarrassed or ashamed in any way to be called in the past, and indeed to be called now, a States' lighter. I am a States' lighter and I am proud of it. I am also a federalist. After very careful consideration I believe that on balance the proposal for simultaneous elections should be supported and should be brought into effect. When one considers that from 1963 to 1972 the people of Australia were inundated with no fewer than 7 separate national elections one asks oneself what this does for the stability of government. I suggest that one must arrive at the conclusion that it is totally wrong to perpetuate a system in which the people of Australia are inflicted with and, to add insult to injury, have to pay the cost of at least 2 elections every 3 years. For why? Is there any merit in senators being elected in May and members of the House of Representatives elected in December? Do we make fish of one and fowl of another; frogs of one and tadpoles of another? Why should the senators not face the music at the same time as the members of the House of Representatives and why should the people of Australia not make a decision which will have the effect of putting into the Parliament contemporary representatives- I emphasise the word 'contemporary'- elected on precisely the same mandate on precisely the same day?

I believe the amendment contemporises the Constitution. I believe it has the support of the majority of Australians. I believe it will lead to stability of government. In the present economic climate I add the final comment that it will save us a lot of money. With the increasing costs of administrative services one can only contemplate how much half Senate elections will cost in 5 years. We could be talking in terms of $5m, $6m or $7m. As I said, for why? This proposal only narrowly failed in 1974. 1 am now going to say probably the only nasty thing I have said in this speech. I believe genuinely that the reason this proposal failed was that the people did not trust the then Government as it presented a package of constitutional referendum proposals. I firmly believe that one of the major reasons this proposal was knocked back in 1974 was that the people did not trust the Whitlam Government and were not prepared to give it one inch on any constitutional referendum proposal. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) paid this Government an enormous compliment when he said that as a prerequisite to constitutional amendment there had to be a Liberal-National Country Party Government in office. I think the reason is very simple: We do have a good reputation, we can be trusted, we will not abuse the constitutional process.

Simultaneous elections were recommended by a constitutional joint party committee back in 1958 and 1959. 1 suggest that the referendum in 1974 failed for political and not constitutional reasons. It had the support of a large number of delegates from both sides of the chamber- State and Federal; Liberal and Labor- at the Australian Constitutional Convention in Hobart last year. I urge support for the Attorney-General's request that the people weigh up this matter and pass this referendum proposal because I believe it will lead to better government in this country, a modern constitution, stability of government and a considerable saving of cost. I support the proposal and commend the Attorney-General for his initiative in bringing it to Parliament.

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