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Wednesday, 30 October 1974
Page: 2170


Senator GREEN WOOD (QUEENSLAND) -Senator Wheeldon, I find, adduces an interesting argument because I recall that it was very vigorously asserted- I do not recall whether it was asserted by him or one other of his colleagues- when the Labor Party was in Opposition that there was only one Opposition and that was the Australian Labor Party.


Senator Wheeldon - Who said this?


Senator GREENWOOD -This was said by the spokesmen of this Labor Party in this place. When the Labor Party was in Opposition it never claimed that the Democratic Labor Party was the Opposition or was entitled to be the Opposition. Indeed, .the forms of the Senate acknowledged that it could not be the Opposition any more than Senator Hall today could be regarded as the Opposition. If the record is to be referred to, I am not sure what Senator Hall's voting record is, but I know that he votes with the Labor Party as much as, if not more than, he votes with the Opposition. I would submit to anyone who wants to examine the picture that this is not a fair measure of the proper measure by which to determine whether a person is a member of the Opposition. The record shows that Senator Hall supports the Government more than he supports the Opposition.

Another point which is made in the editorial and which has been made on other occasions is that last year's representation at the Constitutional Convention included the Demoratic Labor Party. But what is failed to be noted is that the representation which was fixed in 1 973 was a representation which was agreed upon by the Government, by the Opposition and by the Democratic Labor Party. In fact, my recollectionI have a personal knowledge of this- goes back to the time when the previous Government was in office. During that period, by a letter which I know was dated 13 April 1972, the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, in fact nominated what the Labor Party then believed should be the size of the delegation to the Constititional Convention, what should be the Party composition and what should be the respective composition from the Houses. That letter- I am sure that that letter must be in the file somewhere- will show that the Labor Party decided and suggested to the Government of the day- the Government accepted the proposalthat there should be 10 members of the House of Representatives and 5 members of the Senate, and that the Senate representation should be 2 Government senators, 2 Opposition Senators, and one senator from the Democratic Labor Party.


Senator Wheeldon - I rise on a point of order, Mr President. My point of order is that now that precisely enough senators are within the House as would be able to make up a table of bridge, can the Clerk provide playing cards to those of us who are left?


The PRESIDENT - It would appear that the Chair's attention has been drawn to the state of the House. Ring the bells. (Quorum formed).


Senator GREENWOOD - I am grateful to Senator Wheeldon for restoring some life to a debate which was somewhat flagging. The position in 1972 was that the Labor Party itself, through the agency of Mr Whitlam, decided that the representation at the Constitutional Convention would be in the numbers which I have indicated. When in 1973 the composition of the delegation to the first session of the Convention was fixed it again was fixed by agreement. The agreement was between the leaders of the parties and it was that the delegation would be increased to sixteen.

As far as the Senate was concerned there would be 3 government senators and there would be a representative of the Liberal Party, the Australian Country Party and the Democratic Labor Party. But that was an arrangement which I would emphasise was mutually agreed upon by all the parties then represented in the chamber. The appointments were made by resolutions of the House of Representatives and the Senate on 3 1 May 1973 and the fact that they were each agreed to, without debate, indicates the consensus which had been arrived at. It should not be forgotten that the Democratic Labor Party was a Party of 5 senators established in the Senate for approximately 15 years whose individual representatives had polled approximately 1 8 per cent of the vote in each of 2 States and whose national vote approximated 10 per cent. The Democratic Labor Party was and had long been recognised as an established Party. As I said, their participation as part of the Convention delegation was by arrangement and agreement between the various parties represented.

Another point which was made in the editorial in this morning's Press to which I have referred was the credibility of the Opposition's commitment to constitutional reform which must, it said, be seriously questioned. That, Mr President, is a statement which reflects more on the ignorance of the writer than on the Opposition which is sought to be questioned. But ignorance fed by blind acceptance of whatever the Government asserts is commonplace among the critics of the present Opposition. It is a matter for some alarm that this is the standard of editorial writing in the Australian'. But if this is the standard for the Australian' so be it. We know the freedom of the Press involves taking the good along with the bad. But we must take some comfort from the fact that the 'Australian' does have other editorial writers.

The Opposition, when it was in government, had committed this Parliament to participation in the Convention. This present Opposition, when in government and since it went into Opposition, has supported the work of the Convention. It committed the Commonwealth originally to the major share of the costs of the Convention. It has attended and participated in the work of the Convention sessions and the committees. It has sought on many occasions to popularise the working of this Convention. Its policy documents have emphasised the reliance it places upon the Constitutional Convention as the forum in which a consensus can be developed from which constitutional changes can be developed. These are matters of record and they are matters which indicate the Opposition's commitment to the purposes of the Constitutional Convention. Any objective observer would question, however, the degree of the Commonwealth's Government's commitment to this Convention. Notwithstanding that it has right from the outset agreed with the Opposition parties that it would participate in the Convention, the Government has shown by its conduct that it regards the Convention as a less than satisfactory medium for securing support for constitutional changes.

Since this Government came into power we have had 6 referenda, not one of which has been carried and not one of which was submitted to the Constitutional Convention beforehand in an effort to obtain support from the representatives of the States as a means of achieving that sort of consensus which experience ought to have demonstrated was necessary for the carrying of referenda in this country. One further proposal was suggested by the Government at the Constitutional Convention last September. It was taken up initially by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) with the States. But at a fairly early stage the Commonwealth decided to go it alone and the proposal for the referendum question on the reference of powers was not taken back to the States and instead it was brought prematurely to this Parliament, where the Senate rejected it. The Senate rejected it because it had not the support of the States and because it seemed proper that the matter ought to go back to the Constitutional Convention from which it had originally emanated.

This failure to support the Constitutional Convention as a forum where the referendum proposals could have been considered does suggest that the Government did not see any value in the Constitutional Convention as a place where support might be obtained. This, of course, is a denial of the very purpose for which the Convention was established. The present Government appears to have regarded the defeat of the referenda as matters of pride and in petulance it has decided not to proceed further with the Constitutional Convention. This is not evidenced only by what has happened in the last week. There is a pattern which can be demonstrated and which has been sought to be testified to by statements which have been issued after various other matters have occurred but which have not been taken up by those who now want to criticise the Opposition.

There was a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Constitutional Convention which was held in Melbourne in June of this year. The Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Government were not represented. They had been invited to attend and they chose not to attend. It had been agreed at the previous session of the Convention and at the previous executive meeting that the second session of the Convention was to be held in Melbourne in September of this year. The Commonwealth indicated, though the Prime Minister did not appear, that that time was unsatisfactory and the Commonwealth would not be able to attend. Nevertheless the Commonwealth did not indicate what date would be satisfactory. I well recall that there were officers- not Ministers- of the Government who were present at that meeting of the Executive Committee who were very embarrassed because first, they did not have any instructions, secondly they could not give any information and, thirdly, many efforts to telephone the Prime Minister who was at a meeting in another State were unavailing because the Prime Minister was not available to come to the telephone.

This was a fact which caused considerable annoyance amongst members of the Prime Minister's own party from other States. But at the time that that occurred, of course, an indication was given- I certainly made it by way of a Press statement afterwards and I understand the Chairman of the Executive Committee made a similar statement- which criticised the absence of the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Government from that meeting. It appeared reasonable to assume that the Commonwealth was not interested in fixing a date on which the Convention could be held. The upshot of the meeting was that the Chairman was to endeavour to ascertain at some stage in the future when the Prime Minister would be available to attend a meeting of the Convention. Subsequently, it was discovered that the Prime Minister would be able to attend in the first week in November. Whether or not he thought that might daunt the Convention because the first week in November in Melbourne was Melbourne Cup week and it might be difficult to hold the Convention in that week is purely a matter for speculation.

The organisers of the Convention decided to transfer the meeting to Adelaide. That was the arrangement which was made to suit the Commonwealth's convenience. Thereafter we had in September a resolution which was proposed by the Government which sought to make Senator Hall one of the Opposition representatives. It is a matter of record that the Senate declined to accept the Government's proposal. It is equally a matter of record that this Senate declined to accept the Opposition's proposal- which in all the circumstances ought to have been regarded as the fairest proposal- that there should be 3

Government representatives and 3 representatives from the official Opposition and the Australian Country Party. But, as I said, the Senate declined to accept that proposal.

If it becomes a matter of obstinacy I would have thought that in the workings of Parliament when representatives are to be appointed representing the Opposition side of the Parliament, any Opposition would assert its right to nominate its own Opposition members. I notice that Senator Hall smiles at that statement. But I am quite sure that when he was a member of a party which had representatives in the Parliament when he was in South Australia, he would have asserted as the Leader of the Liberal Partythe Liberal Country League as it then washis right to nominate who his Party's representatives would be and not concede to the Labor Party the right to nominate who any members might be for the purposes of a particular function. I am quite sure that the Australian Labor Party would not concede to another Party the right to nominate which of the Labor Party's members would attend a particular conference.

The autonomy of political parties in the determination of who shall be their representatives is vital to the functioning of any Party. The attempt by the Prime Minister not only to nominate 8 Government representatives but also to nominate one of the Opposition representatives is something which I do not believe any reasonable minded person could accept. In those circumstances for it to be suggested that there is, on the part of the Opposition, an obstinacy which is to be described as pig-headedness or a refusal to submit to a reasonable proposition is totally unfounded. At the Constitutional Convention there was every opportunity for the proposition which prevailed in regard to all the other State delegations to prevail in the case of the Commonwealth delegation, that is, that there was a representation from each House of the Parliament and that there was equality of representation between the parties represented in the Parliament. That principle of representation ought to have prevailed on this occasion as it prevailed in the Commonwealth on the previous occasions when agreement was made between the parties as to the composition of the delegation.

Senator Hall,as the representative of the Liberal Movement, was unable to secure nationally one per cent of the votes. He has a base which is in South Australia. The South Australian Parliament has given to his Liberal Movement a representative at the Constitutional Convention. There was no occasion, even if it were a proper argument to be adverted to on the national scale, for saying that his Party would not be represented. But in terms of the national picture, it is completely unreasonable to seek to say to the Opposition Parties that they must accept that a person who is not one of their members is entitled to representation. If that is to occur, let it be by agreement or let it be by the Government conceding one of its places to a person whom it believes should attend the Convention.

As I have said, I have raised this matter for the purpose of making the record clear in fundamentals as to what has taken place, and to explain why the Opposition Parties regard the Government as having taken a course which was calculated to produce the result which has ensued. I believe that for reasons best known to Mr Whitlam he decided that the Commonwealth should retire from the Constitutional Convention with what grace it was able to muster. The grace which it has been able to muster is sustained only by a few erroneous statements provided for it by some docile writers in the media who accept the Government's point of view. I would have thought that if blame is to be attached to anybody for the failure of this Convention to proceed, it is the blame which goes to a Government which sought to assert that the Opposition representation should be as the Government decided and not, as would be customary in parliamentary circles, as the Opposition itself wanted it.







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