Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 17 February 1977

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - I have been asked to restrict my comments this evening because of the desire of this House to facilitate the passage of these Bills to the other chamber. Therefore, I shall say at the outset that I completely support the Bill to alter the Constitution so as to ensure that Senate elections are held at the same time as House of Representatives elections. I support the Bill which requires the alteration of the Constitution so as to provide for retiring ages for judges of Federal courts. I support the Bill to alter the Constitution so as to ensure, so far as practical, that a casual vacancy in the Senate is filled by a person of the same political party as the senator chosen by the people for the balance of his term. However, I support a couple of members on this side of the House who have been alert enough to draw to the attention of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) the fact that there are a couple of problems in those Bills which need some attention. For example, in the case of a Labor Party senator changing his Party affiliations, as did many Labor Party members in previous years who joined other parties such as the Democratic Labor Party, we would be courting a dangerous situation if we had to ensure that a casual vacancy was filled by a person of the Party to which the departing senator belonged at the time of the election.

The purpose of the fourth Bill is to alter the Constitution to allow electors in Territories as well as electors in the States to vote at referendums on proposed laws to alter the Constitution. I am a Party man, and my Party has decided that it is in the interests of the nation that we all support this proposed change to the Constitution. Far be it from me to oppose such wisdom. However, I am somewhat concerned. I hark back to the referendum of 1 8 May 1 974 when exactly the same question was posed. The ballot paper read:

An Act to facilitate alterations to the Constitution and to allow electors in Territories, as well as electors in the States, to vote at referendums on proposed laws to alter the Constitution.

The question then posed was this:

Do you approve the proposed law?

My concern is motivated by the fact that on that occasion 1 367 000 people in New South Wales said 'yes' and 1 295 000 people said 'no'. But in every other State in Australia- Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania- there was a 'no' vote. From an historical point of view one cannot be blamed for having a deep concern about the future rights of the people of the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory. One cannot be blamed for wondering how this question will be received just 2Vi years later, or exactly 3 years later if the referendum is held in May. The people voted against the proposition on that occasion and I do not really believe that people change their views that quickly. Much to my amazement, astonishment and fear, I heard the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) this afternoon talk about people of the Cocos Islands, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island, as Territories of Australia, being given the right to vote in referendums in this country. But the results of the last referendum speak for themselves.

The High Court of Australia- indeed the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick- has considered the question whether the Territories are entitled to elect senators. The High Court almost suggested in its recent judgment on the MacKellar challenge that perhaps it might be wise for Queensland and Western Australia again to present a full challenge. If a review is made of the earlier High Court decision in relation to the eligibility of senators from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory sitting in this place one wonders whether, in view of the retirement of Mr Justice McTiernan and of the appointment of another judge, the result will be a definite 'no' meaning that those senators are not entitled to sit in this place. Of course, I am not as learned as those gentlemen who sit on the High Court bench, but my view is that the senators from the Australian Capital Territory have absolutely no right to take their place in this Parliament. That is a private view and one which would be best kept to myself.

I have referred to the Australian Capital Territory and to the Northern Territory. The only reason the Australian Capital Territory exists is that section 125 of the Constitution requires that at least 100 square miles of land be set aside for the purpose of the creation of a capital territory.

Converted into metric terms, the Capital Territory represents 2429 square kilometres. Many honourable members in this chamber forget the history of the Northern Territory. They are unaware of the historical formation of the Northern Territory. The central section of the northern half of Australia, which was at first part of New South Wales and later part of South Australia, in 1911 became a Territory administered by the Commonwealth under the name by which it had been known for many years, the Northern Territory of Australia. Its total area is approximately half a million square miles. To go back a little before that time, in 1883 South Australia began to negotiate with the Colonial Office for a permanent annexation of the Territory. In 1890 South Australia conferred parliamentary franchise on the Northern Territory which was allowed to elect 2 members to the House of Assembly which was based in Adelaide. On the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1901 the people of the Northern Territory were included in the electorate of Grey, which still exists today of course, for representation in this House. They were able to vote in the election of the then 6 South Australian senators. There existed a strong body of opinion in favour of transferring the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth Government, and in 1906 negotiations with the Commonwealth commenced and an agreement was reached in December 1907.

The Northern Territory Surrender Act was passed by South Australia, and in August 1909 the Commonwealth Northern Territory Acceptance Act became law with a formal transfer taking place on 1 January 1911. Following troubles during the latter part of the First World War and during the rest of that decade, a royal commission which severely criticised Commonwealth administration of the Territory caused the Commonwealth Act of 1923 which granted the Territory a representative in the House of Representatives, who was allowed to take part in all debates but who could not vote except on a motion for the disallowance of any ordinance of the Northern Territory. Granted, in those days the vast distance and the crude form of transport which then existed made the aforementioned decisions sensible ones.

December 13, 1975, is not an historical date simply because it marked the massive defeat of the Whitlam Government. It is also the date of the first election held in 1947 in the Territory following the establishment at that time of the Northern Territory Legislative Council which, as all honourable members are aware, is still in existence today.

Because I come from the State of Queensland I am not necessarily expressing concern about this matter, but in view of the fact that we have a lot of doubt over the future of the territorial senators and in view of the fact that there is some question as to their area of responsibility or power, I wish to propose a scheme which will ensure that the people of the Australian Capital Territory who presently feel like second class citizens, and the people of the Northern Territory who presently feel like second class citizens, do not feel that way any longer.

I propose that in this referendum we should add a proposition that section 125 of the Constitution, which specifies that the territory for the Australian capital city comprise at least 100 square miles, be amended to read something like 10 square miles' so that we can draw the capital city back to the parliamentary triangle- bring it around Lake Burley Griffin- and count all those people who live on the outskirts as part of New South Wales. I remind honourable members that on 18 May 1974 New South Wales was the only State that was prepared to vote 'yes' in favour of allowing the votes of the people of the Australian Capital Territory to be counted when determining whether a referendum had been passed. If that feeling of affinity is so deep, the people of New South Wales should be given the opportunity to take to their chests the people who live outside that 10 square miles which include the parliamentary triangle.

In looking at the historical beginnings of the Northern Territory and at the decision to create that Territory, we recall that this action was motivated by the difficulties that were created by transport problems. In this latter quarter of the 20th century those problems have diminished and have now passed. It is time for this Government to legislate to return those 40 000 voters who live in the Northern Territory to their rightful place, which is as part of South Australia.

Mr Antony Whitlam (GRAYNDLER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is really in the north of Australia.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) -Whether we be in the north or the south, we are all Australians. I wish the honourable member for Grayndler would understand that no matter where we come from in this country we are all the same. Regrettably, the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier), a southern seat, is bringing great pressure upon me to conclude my address. The suggestions I have made tonight are an easy way out for the Federal Government. The people of Queensland are not pleased at all about certain proposals that have been made in the past. In 1974 every proposal received a large 'no' vote in Queensland. I wish only for the success of the proposals contained in these Bills and suggest that the proposition be put that section 125 of the Constitution be altered to reduce the Australian Capital Territory from 100 square miles to 10 square miles. I suggest also that we should take action within this Parliament to repeal past Acts and so ensure the return of the Northern Territory to its rightful place, that is, as part of South Australia, and allow the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) to represent that area of Australia, as did his earlier predecessors in this place.

Suggest corrections