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Friday, 20 November 1936

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) . - I move -

That thebill be now read a second time.

Thebill is a machinery measure relating to the submission of arguments in connexion with a referendum on an alteration of the Constitution. Section 6a of the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Bill 1906-1934 provides the procedure to be adopted to submit a statement of proposed alterations of the Constitution, and the case for and against such alterations. That section reads -

If within nine weeks after the passage of the proposed law through both Houses there is forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officer -

(a)   an argument in favour of the proposed law consisting of not more than 2,000 words and authorized by a majority of those members of both Houses of the Parliament who voted for the proposed law; or

(b   ) an argument against theproposed law consisting of not more than 2,000 words and authorised by a majority of those members of both Houses of the Parliament who voted against the proposed law the Chief Electoral Officer shall, within two months after the expiry of those nine weeks and not later than two weeks after the issue of the writ, cause to be printed and posted to each elector as nearly as practicable, a pamphlet containing the arguments, together with a statement showing the textual alterations and additions proposed to be made to the Constitution.

Honorable senators will, I think, agree that it is very desirable that the electors should be provided with statements giving information as to the nature of the alteration, and the arguments for and against such alteration. Those voting on a proposed alteration of the Constitution should be in possession of the exact terms of the proposal, and of arguments for ┬źnd against its adoption. Otherwise electors might fail to perceive the nature of the issue and cast their votes in ignorance. Pamphlets were issued in connexion with the referendum of 1913. Pamphlets in connexion with the referendum of 1915, which was not proceeded with, were printed but were not issued. Pamphlets have not been used in connexion with any referenda since the war. Having regard to the fact that the precise nature of proposals, particularly in relation to marketing, are not likely to be understood at a glance, the Government proposes on this occasion to continue the practice followed before the war of circulating pamphlets. Under the existing law, arguments for or against a proposal are to be forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officer within a' period of nine weeks after the passing of a proposed law to alter the Constitution. It is now considered that four weeks should be sufficient to enable the necessary arguments to be prepared in connexion with the proposed referenda, and the Government has decided to submit an amendment to reduce the period.

Another amendment provides that an argument may be submitted by a majority of members who desire to do so. Possibly some members who vote either for or against a proposed alteration of the Constitution do not desire to be associated with the preparation of an argument. Such members may constitute the majority of those who voted either for or against the proposal, and the result would be that the authority of the majority, as required by law, would not be available. The members who desire to submit an argument should have an opportunity to do so, and the bill enables that to be done.

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