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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2431


Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - in reply-The Government will oppose the amendment which has been foreshadowed by Senator Withers. The foreshadowed amendment seeks to leave out a significant part of the proposal which has been put forward by the Government. The criticisms of the Bill are not justified. The Bill is for an Act to facilitate alterations to the Constitution. A number of complicated matters are involved. I would like to see an honourable senator opposite start to draft a long title of the Bill which expresses it in a better way than the present long title, which states:

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 proposal is one which, if carried by the people, would facilitate alterations to the Constitution. The Constitution is difficult to alter. The requirements are such that there must be not only a majority of the people of Australia- that is, in the States- voting in favour of a proposal but also a majority of the States. There is no doubt that that makes it extremely difficult to alter the Constitution. The proposal, if carried, would facilitate its alteration. It would mean that, if a majority of the people- we wish to extend that from a majority of the people in the States to a majority of the whole of the people of Australia, whether in the Territories or in the States- were in favour of a proposal and at least half of the States were to vote for the proposal, the constitutional referendum would be taken to be approved. Where is the justification for saying that the people should not be given the opportunity to make alterations to the Constitution easier? Those are the words of the long title; that is, to facilitate alterations to the Constitution. We are plainly putting to the people that we want to make it easier to alter the Constitution.


Senator Byrne Bu t the Constitution does not contemplate the people en masse only as one element; it contemplates them in the States as such.


Senator MURPHY Senator Byrne may be right. What we are seeking to do is to allow the people to alter the Constitution and to do so in a way that will make it easier to alter it in the future. We are putting it to the people as plainly as can be. We are saying that it is extremely difficult to alter the Constitution and that it ought to be made easier to alter it. The one way in which we are proposing to them to make it easier is by saying that, if a majority of the people want it altered—tha t means the people in the Territories as well as in the States—an d if at least half the States are in favour, that will be enough to carry the proposal. Some might argue that it ought to be enough to have a majority of the people. Senator Byrne put an argument about the States. But, in all justice, why is it not reasonable enough to say that, if a majority of the people want the Constitution to be in a certain direction and at least half the States agree that it should be in that direction, that should be enough to carry the proposal? All we are asking the Opposition to do is to give the people the opportunity to say whether that should be the mode of altering the Constitution or whether it should remain as it is. The Opposition is not even prepared to let the people vote on whether there should be a majority of the States or at least half of the States in favour of a proposal.

Where is the justice in Senator Byrne's stand? We are asking a majority of the people plus a majority of the States to agree that in future it will be enough to have a majority of the whole of the Australian people plus at least half of the States. The Government is asking the Opposition to agree with it that the people in a majority of the States—tha t is what Senator Byrne is saying in the critical point—togethe r with a majority of the people of the States should be allowed to say whether any future change needs the support of only at least half of the States as well as the majority of all the people. The honourable senator is saying that he will vote against this proposal. He is saying: ' I will not allow that to go to the people'. It is he who is maintaining that the will of the people—


Senator Little - We cannot say that we will not let it go to the people. We are saying only: Take back your Bill, we do not like it'.


Senator MURPHY Mr Acting Deputy President, may I continue my speech?


Senator Wright - You want to shout him down.


Senator MURPHY If the honourable senator suggests that a speaker should be interrupted by someone interjecting, that is a delightful interpretation of the Standing Orders.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT Order ! Senator Murphy, I suggest that you address the Chair.


Senator MURPHY Senator Byrne, with beautiful logic, said that the position ought to be that as the Constitution was framed a decision about the Constitution should be made by a vote of the majority of the people in the States as at the moment, plus a majority in a majority of the States. That is exactly for what the Government is asking. We are saying: Let this proposal go to exactly that electorate and let the people decide whether they want to change the Constitution so that in future we will need only at least half of the States. Senator Byrne having suggested the beautiful logic of it—ho w correct it is that a decision should be made by these people—surel y must accept that they are entitled to change the basis if they want to do so. Yet he says: ' I will vote against the majority of the people, together with a majority of the States, agreeing to alter the Constitution'. I see him smile because he realises there is no answer to this. How can the honourable senator oppose that electorate having the say and deciding to change the basis in the future? I would think that on reflection—i t is not too late for someone to change his mind—th e honourable senator ought to realise the irresistible logic of this position. However if I am to be realistic, the irresistible logic will not prevail at this stage against the decision which has been made in the honourable senator's caucus. But there it is.

We have come to the last of these 4 proposals and the Opposition members again are combined to vote against simply putting this proposal to the Australian people. It has to be carried by that extraordinary combination, a majority of the States with a majority of the people in each State— a majority of the States plus a majority of the Australian people—ye t honourable senators opposite say: 'No, we will not allow the people to have their say'. Again, the Opposition parties are taking up a position of opposition to democracy. They say: 'We will postpone as long as we can the right of the people of Australia to have their chance to vote on these questions'. The Opposition will no doubt have its way. It will no doubt postpone the putting of these questions to the people. But I think the fact that the Australian people are waking up to the Opposition is starting to percolate through even to the Opposition.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.







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