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Tuesday, 4 December 1973

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) - Mr President,the matter before the Senate at the moment is a Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution so as to ensure that the Senate elections are held at the same time as the House of Representatives elections. That is a very noble aspiration. But the initial question one should pose is: Why is this necessary? Why is it necessary to alter the Constitution permanently to bring this about? I believe that this Bill, like so many other actions of this

Government, is nothing but an exercise in deception in which the Government is deliberately attempting to deceive the people of Australia. When this Bill was called on for debate in the other place it was said that the title of the Bill was a fraud. In fact, it was said there also that the title did not reflect in any way the intent of the Bill. Once upon a time, of course, the long title of a Bill to amend the Constitution set out what the referendum proposal was to be. But that is not the case in this Bill; neither is it the case in the 3 Bills that are to follow.

I commenced by asking: Why is this Bill necessary? I believe it is not necessary. There is no need for a constitutional referendum to ensure that simultaneous elections are held. They may be held by 2 means. Firstly, we can have simultaneous elections at any time that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) likes to go and see the Governor-General because in section 57 of the Constitution there is provision for a double dissolution if there is a disagreement between the 2 Houses. If my memory serves me correctly, there has been the opportunity for the Government to request the Governor-General to grant a double dissolution ever since August or September. A double dissolution would bring about simultaneous elections of the whole of this chamber and of the House of Representatives. But, Mr President, it is not even necessary to hold a double dissolution to bring the elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives back to the same date. The Government could, if it wished to do so and if it had the courage to do so, take out the House of Representatives at the next Senate election- that is, when those honourable senators who are due to retire at 30 June 1974 have to face their electors. There is no constitutional or legal reason why the Government should not take out the House of Representatives at that time. I should point out that it is not the Senate which is out of step with the House of Representatives but rather the House of Representatives which is out of step with the Senate.

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