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Thursday, 20 May 1965

Senator McKENNA (Tasmania) (Leader of the Opposition) . - Before the Minister replies. I would like to say a few words about the provision of £5,000 for the current year for the purpose of an inquiry into Senate electoral arrangements conducted at the University of Tasmania by a scholar nominated by the Government through the Minister for the Interior. Firstly, I think the item falls into the category of funds that might well be in another bill. It may be that it is a matter running over several years. It might come back to this type of bill after the first time. It might fall into the category of ordinary annual services. I do not want to pursue that line of thought any further, but that is an interesting point which has been raised in relation to this matter.

It is, of course, quite competent for Senator Wright to move a request in this matter. I regret that strictures have been passed upon the scholar, Mr. George Howatt. I would think that the University of Tasmania and the gentleman in question would be completely competent to undertake a study of the nature that has been entrusted to them. I fail to understand why they require three years. I say with complete sincerity that the work could be done in far less than that time if it was handled by a Senate select committee with all the powers that such a committee has, including the power to send for witnesses of every type. The University, or necessity, will have to seek the various witnesses out and travel to them. They would be readily available to a Senate select committee. I 'think that the performance of Senate select committees in recent years has indicated that they function with great speed and very great competence. I am perfectly certain that the whole field could be traversed by a Senate select committee during the life of the current Parliament and that it would be able to bring back a report that would cover every aspect of the matter.

I come back to the strictures that have been passed on Mr. George Howatt and I say that I do not concur in them. I know the young man. He is very industrious, very intelligent and, I think, of great merit. He has done very good work. I do not think it is proper to embark upon a discussion of the merits of his work and thesis on the subject of deadlocks in the Senate and avoidance of double dissolutions. It is many months since I read his thesis, but I say quite frankly to the Senate that from time to time I encouraged him to address himself to that project. I thought it was a provocative, stimulating and quite novel approach in an attempt to solve what is a serious problem in this Parliament. I refer to the relations between the two Houses. Whether one agrees with his conclusion or not, one must acknowledge the brilliance of the conception, the novelty of it, and the assiduity with which he addressed himself to it. Since he is not able to speak in this place I feel I should at least say those few words for him. I would not be worried about Mr. Howatt's competence to undertake the study. I do not think the University of Tasmania is nearly as well equipped as would be a Senate select committee to deal with this matter. We of the Opposition are resentful of the fact that only three years ago we moved for the appointment of a select committee and begged honorable senators opposite to join us. We were then rebuffed and we now find that the Senate is being bypassed in favour of a branch of a university.

Without speaking in derogation of any university or any section of a university, I am sure that a Senate select committee composed of specialists in the very field that the body in Tasmania is asked to consider, and with practical knowledge that would not have to be bought but which would already have been acquired, would address itself to this problem very much better. So we of the Opposition find, after our proposal for the appointment of a Senate select committee has been rejected, that the task has been entrusted to a body without the facilities and without anything like the background knowledge that a Senate select committee would have. From our point of view that is adding insult to injury. I regret that the Government did not avail itself of the talent that is readily available to it in this chamber and allow our senators to address themselves as specialists to this problem.

Nobody questions the need to investigate the matter. The large number of informal votes, the factors that conduce to it, the complexity of the Senate ballot paper and the need to set it up fairly so that no one candidate is favoured over another, all are great problems that go to the very roots of true voting and so to the roots of democracy. This is an important issue. We on this side do not mind it being investigated, but we resent the fact that the Senate has been deliberately bypassed by the Government although the Senate was fitted and ready, at least so far as the Opposition is concerned, to function in the matter.

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