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Change and the constitution



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EMBARGO 3.30 PM MONDAY

' CHANGE AND THE CONSTITUTION

1 O^-eL

Speech by the Hon. E. G. Whitlam, 0.C ., Μ .P . at the launching of "Whitlam on the Constitution" - _____ Melbourne. 16 May 1977 _____________ . _______ .

■ . / ■

S i x w e e k s a g o a r i v a l p u b l i c a t i o n w a s l a u n c h e d i n t h i s c i t y

e n t i t l e d " L a b o r a n d t h e C o n s t i t u t i o n " . I w a s p r e v e n t e d f r o m

a t t e n d i n g t h e l a u n c h i n g b y t h e u n e x p e c t e d , i n t e r v e n t i o n o f t h e a i r

t r a f f i c c o n t r o l l e r s , w h o s t a g e d a b r i e f s t o p p a g e d u r i n g t h e m o r n i n g .

S i n c e t h e n t h e s t r i k e s h a v e g o t b i g g e r a n d t h e b o o k s h a v e g o t b e t t e r .

T h i s o n e is c a l l e d " W h i t l a m b n t h e C o n s t i t u t i o n " a n d n e e d l e s s t o say*,

i t i s t h e l a s t w o r d o n t h e s u b j e c t L .

I t i s a l l m y o w n w o r k . If i t h a d n o t b e e n f o r t h e r e f e r e n d u m

c a m p a i g n , a n d t h e P r i m e M i n i s t e r ' s g e n e r o s i t y i n p r o v i d i n g m e w i t h a

V . I . P . j e t , I m i g h t e a s i l y h a v e m i s s e d o u t o n th^.s l a u n c i n g a s w e l l .

O f c o u r s e , t h e r e . a r e g r e a t d i f f i c u l t i e s f o r a p o l i t i c i a n l a u n c h i n g .:

h i s o w n b o o k o n t h e C o n s t i t u t i o n o r o n , a n y o t h e r s u b j e c t . W h e n o n e

h a s m a n a g e d t o f i l l a. b o o k a n d t h e n c o n t r i b u t e d a n i n t r o d u c t i o n t o i t

t h e r e is l i t t l e o n e c a n u s e f u l l y a d d t o t h e d i s c u s s i o n . T h a t i s w h y .

I a m d e l i g h t e d a n d h o n o u r e d t h a t P r o f e s s o r H o w a r d a g r e e d t o p e r f o r m

t h e l a u n c h i n g o n t h i s o c c a s i o n . I t is n o t t h e f i r s t t i m e h e L a s "

g i v e n m e v a l u a b l e s u p p o r t i n p u b l i c . T o -thos"e w h o a s k m e w h a t my.,...'.,....."

o w n v i e w s o n t h e s e m a t t e r s .are, a l l I s a y n o w i s : R e a d t h e book', o r

p r e f e r a b l y b u y it.

I t i s a p p r o p r i a t e - i n d e e d i t i s n o c o i n c i d e n c e - t h a t t h i s

b o o k is b e i n g p u b l i s h e d d u r i n g t h e r e f e r e n d u m c a m p a i g n . T h e

p u b l i s h e r s a r e h o p i n g t h a t t h e r e f e r e n d u r n s w i l l a s s i s t t h e b o o k

w h i l e I a m h o p i n g t h a t t h e b o o k w i l l a s s i s t t h e r e f e r e n d u m s . W h a t e v e r

Ave m a y t h i n k o f t h e r e f e r e n d u m s n e x t S a t u r d a y , t h e y w i l l , I b e l i e v e ,

s e t t l e o n e q u e s t i o n c o n c l u s i v e l y . W e w i l l k n o w w h e t h e r c o n s t i t u t i o n a l

r e f o r m of a n y k i n d is p o s s i b l e i n A u s t r a l i a . I f t h e s e q u e s t i o n s

a r e d e f e a t e d - a.nd t h e y a r e a l l s t r a i g h t - f o r w a r d , o b v i o u s a n d c l e a r -

2 .

' - .

· « ft

cut questions - then I doubt whether any future referendum.s for

changing the Constitution will ever succeed. The-questions are .

' x '■· ‘ j „

i m p o r t a n t , b u t t h e y a r e s c a r c e l y r a d i c a l or f a r - r e a c h i n g . T h e f o u r

p r o p o s i t i o n s h a v e b e e n c o h s i s t e n t l y s u p p o r t e d b y t h e i-'abor' P a r t y .

M o s t of t h e m h a v e e n j o y e d t h e s u p p o r t of a l l t h e m a j o r p a r t i e s f o r

20 y e a r s . T h e y w e r e a d o p t e d w i t h v i r t u a l u n a n i m i t y a t t h e

C o n s t i t u t i o n a l C o n v e n t i o n l a s t O c t o b e r . If t h e y a r e d e f e a t e d , t h e n

A u s t r a l i a w i l l b e s t u c k f o r t h e f o r e s e e a b l e f u t u r e w i t h t h e m o s t

a r c h a i c a n d u n s e r v i c e a b l e C o n s t i t u t i o n of a n y . o f t h e w o r l d s a d v a n c e d '

i n d u s t r i a l n a t i o n s . ' .. · ·

T h i s jjook is n o t p r i m a r i l y a w o r k of c o n s t i t u t i o n a l a n a l y s i s .

or l e g a l s c h o l a r s h i p . .M u c h of it c o n s i s t s of p o l i t i c a l s p e e c h e s .

T h a t is to be e x p e c t e d , b e c a u s e t h e m o v e m e n t f o r c o n s t i t u t i o n a l

r e f o r m - for c h a n g e of a n y k i n d in s o c i e t y - is e s s e n t i a l l y a p o l i t i c a l

s t r u g g l e rather, t h a n a l e g a l o n e . T h e r e f e r e n d u m s to b e d e c i d e d n e x t

S a t u r d a y h a d t h e i r o r i g i n s in t h e g r e a t p o l i t i c a l d e b a t e s a n d

u n p r e c e d e n t e d p o l i t i c a l u p h e a v a l s of t w o y e a r s a g o . If t h e r u l e

f o r t h e . r e p l a c e m e n t of c a s u a l S e n a t e v a c a n c i e s h a d b e e n o b s e r v e d

b y t h e c o n s e r v a t i v e p a r t i e s i n 19 7 5 M r . F r a s e r w o u l d n o t h a v e h a d .

t he n u m b e r s in th e S e n a t e to d e f e r s u p p l y - If- s i m u l t a n e o u s - e l e c t i o ns — '

f o r the· two H o u s e s had' b e e n h e l d i n 1 9 7 2 L a b o r w o u l d i n a l l p r o b a b i l i t y

h a v e w o n a m a j o r i t y i n t h e S e n a t e i n a d d i t i o n to w i n n i n g g o v e r n m e n t

i n th e H o u s e of R e p r e s e n t a t i v e s . ' A l l t h e o b s t r u c t i o n of o u r o p p o n e n t s ,

a l l th e d a m a g e d o n e to L a b o r ' s p r o g r a m of r e f o r m , A l l t h e i n t e r f e r e n c e

. · t h e · .

with, s t e a d y , f i r m a n d r e s p o n s i b l e g o v e r n m e n t , a l l / d i s t r a c t i o n s f r o m .

s o u n d e c o n o m i c m a n a g e m e n t : - · . . · . -- _ ·-■- _-y -

' - - ^ -· . " . ..... ; :t d u r i n g . ... ·: ·---·;· ... ' ■ f-. _

1 9 7 4 - 7 5 - n o n e of t h i s w o u l d h a v e happened, n o n e of it w o u l d h a v e . · -

b e e n p o s s i b l e if t h e c o n v e n t i o n s h a d b e e n f o l l o w e d a n d t h e e l e c t e d

g o v e r n m e n t h a d . a m a j o r i t y i n t h e S e n a t e . T h e u l t i m a t e

3 .

abuse of democratic principle and convention in November 197.5, with

its incalculable consequences for Australian palitica'l life, flowed

from defects in the Constitution and the persistent flouting of

constitutional conventions by the conservative parties.. '

My principal concern with the Constitution today - as this

book will show - is not the restraints it places on Labor's

legislative program but its failure to guarantee electoral justice

and its inability to "prevent abuses of parliamentary democracy such

as we have witnessed in recent times. I have developed this theme A"'"7

in my introduction to the book and will not repeat it h e r e . The

point I make now is that whatever the outcome of Saturday's ""

ref erend tuns, there is both a long-term and a short-term challenge ·.

for social reformers in Australia. The short-i^erm challenge is to

pursue with all possible vigour the course of constitutional reform.

In this context let me give one v e r y T t°pical example of the defects

of our Constitution as it stands. The Fraser.Government still ■

persists with the elaborate public fiction that, some sort of

wages and prices freeze is operating in Australia. Of course there

is no such freeze, and even if there were it would be a very tenuous

and fragile creation. Whatever one my t'nink of the merits of a .... ..

freeze the fact is that the national government in Australia lacks

the power to introduce one. The Constitution prevents it. Alone

among the major industrial nations the Australian Federal Government

has no constitutional power to control wages and incomes. When my

Government sought such powers at referendums in 1973 the conservative

parties resisted the proposal and ensured the defeat of the

referendums. Can we tolerate a Constitution which deprives the

Australian Government of powers of economic management which other

western countries - including.federal systems - have always possessed

and from time to time have used?

4 .

· ■ ·Î‘·:"' ■ · ·

■ . ’ ' ·Î

We know how surpassingly difficult it is fox-referendums

or constitutional alterations to be carried in Australia. Even

"with proposal-s as straightforward as and basically uncontentious

as those to be decided on Saturday - proposals which confer no new

legislative powers on the Federal Parliament - it is still possible

for conservative diehards to mount a respectable rearguard action.

That must not deter us. We must continue the struggle for a modern

and workable Constitution. Victory next Saturday will give a new

momentum and a new confidence to the whole cause of constitutional

r e fo r m, Reformers will be given n e w heart for the long-term

challenge before us - to fashion a Constitution which guarantees ·-

electoral democracy in Australia and will preserve electoral justice

for all t i m e . We hear a lot these days from the Liberals about

■ ' ' . " # ■ · .

t h r e a t s t o d e m o c r a c y f r o m t h e u n i o n s . 1h e r e a l t h r e a t t o d e m o c r a c y -

t h e r e a l t h r e a t to t h e d e m o c r a t i c r i g h t s o f t h e i n d i v i d u a l - l i e s

i n t h e m u l t i p l i c i t y o f u n e q u a l e l e c t o r a t e s a n d t h e b u i l t - i n b i a s .

tha.t s u r v i v e s i n A u s t r a l i a a t e v e r y level o f t h e p a r l i a m e n t a r y s y s t e m .

T o t h e c o n s e r v a t i v e c a t c h - c r y " W h o is r u n n i n g t h e c o u n t r y ? "

t h e a n s w e r a l l t o o o f t e n m u s t b e: " N o t t h e p a r t y w h i c h a m a j o r i t y

o f A u s t r a l i a n s p r e f e r " . I s u g g e s t a m u c h m o r e r e l e v a n t a n d i m p o r t a n t

q u e s t i o n :· " H o w c a n w e a m e n d o u r C o n s t i t u t i o n o r r e m o d e l o u r

d e m o c r a t i c s y s t e m t o e n s u r e t h a t t h e c o u n t r y i s r u n b y t h e p o l i t i c a l

• · V ' ■ . ’ ·

p a r t y c o m m a n d i n g t h e m a j o r i t y s u p p o r t ? " . .

I d o n o t b e l i e v e t h a t a G o v e r n o r - G e n e r a l i s a n e s s e n t i a l p a r t

o f t h a t p r o c e s s . E x p e r i e n c e h a s s h o w n t h a t A u s t r a l i a d o e s n o t n e e d

a H e a d of S t a t e w i t h a n y r e a l p o w e r s a t a l l . A l l t h a t i s n e e d e d

is m a c h i n e r y t o e n a b l e t h e h a n d i n g o v e r o f p o w e r f r o m o n e p a r t y t o

a n o t h e r w h e n t h e e l e c t o r a t e s o d e t e r m i n e s . I n t h e A u s t r a l i a o f t h e

f u t u r e t h e r e w i l l b e n o p l a c e f o r a m a n l i k e K e r r a n d n o p l a c e f o r t h e

s y s t e m h e e m b o d i e s . T h e r e w i l l b e n o p l a c e f o r c o l o n i a l e n c u m b r a n c e s ,

f o r r e l i c s o f n a t i o n a l s u b s e r v i e n c e o r d o m i n i o n s t a t u s , f o r i m p e r i a l

. . ... ' ■ . . . . . . .

l' ' ' β 5 . ■

t i e s o r v i c e - r e g a l p r e t e n s i o n s o f a n y k i n d . I d o n o t e x p e c t t o s e e

a r e p u b l i c 'ih m y l i f e t i m e , b u t I d o e x p e c t - a n d I f e r v e n t l y h o p e - .

t o s e e a N c o n t i n u i n g a n d s t r e n g t h e n i n g m o v e m e n t f o r t r u e n a t i o n a l .

i n d e p e n d e n c e a n d n a t i o n a l d i g n i t y . ¥ e need a system of government, and

' a Constitution, that will preserve the democratic rights of Australians

entrench electoral justice and make elected governments safe from

conservative abuses and safe -· need I say - from the machinations,

whether covert or acknowledged, of their allies and agents abroad. .

There is .nothing shallow or jingoistic in these aspirations. They ' ' . . . ■ . '

are shared by a growing body of Australians, especially the young, . ‘

and espec ially those who have adopted this, country as their new home

They recognise that· the need for change in Australia - for new ideas,

for new solutions to our growing economic and social problems -■ , * .

will demand not only changes of government but changes in our

basic institutions. All my public life has been dedicated to the

proposition that beneficial change and progress for the Australian

people can be achieved through peaceful and constitutional means.

I still believe this is possible; I still believe it is necessary.

The changes, however, must now include reforms of our political

institutions themselves. I shall be honoured to serve in the ' .

forefront of that movement for reform, and proud to believe that .

my own efforts over 20 years and more - however inadequately they are < ■ .

r e c o u n t e d i n t h i s b o o k - h a v e g i v e n s o m e e n c o u r a g e m e n t t o t h a t c a u s e .