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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2735

Senator HILL(11.46) —The Opposition, not surprisingly, will oppose the inclusion of proposed new clause 10A in the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Bill. I say not surprisingly because the Opposition's position was firmly laid down last November when we successfully had inserted within the referendum legislation a provision which prohibited the Government from expending any public moneys on the campaign, other than that which has traditionally been included; that is, the equal expenditure on the Yes and No cases through the published literature. That remains the Opposition's position.

It is important that referenda be put to the people on an even-handed basis and that there not be the abuses that we believe will come about by a government expending public money to promote one case or the other as is its wish. The statements made by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) really were astonishing. The first of his arguments was that the No case will always have a predominant position in the media and will therefore have a major advantage to start with. That, of course, fails to take into account the whole apparatus of government-of the Prime Minister, of Ministers, of all their staff and the opportunities that the Prime Minister clearly gets to be in the media in every State as he travels around the nation in a referendum campaign. To say that the position is such that the media at the start of a referendum campaign will have a predominant interest in the contrary position is just absolutely not the case.

The Attorney-General went on to say that his proposition will overcome expenditure by the States. As Senator Crichton-Browne correctly interjected, that argument failed to take into account that there may be States, perhaps a majority of States, that do in fact support the same position that the Federal Government supports. In such circumstances, to talk of redressing the imbalance is nonsense. In fact, if there were a majority of States supporting the same position as the Federal Government, to redress an imbalance it could be fairly argued that the Commonwealth should provide additional funding for the No case. Therefore, as a matter of principle, we are opposed to any additional funding that breaks down the even-handed approach that has been traditionally included within referendum legislation.

As we are opposed to that, we are certainly opposed to this additional proposal that looks towards some proportional scheme. A number of distortions and anomalies come through in the detail of the Attorney's Bill. I will just mention a couple of them. For example, it seems that if a number of referenda proposals are being put on the same occasion, Commonwealth funding is divided equally between them. What that may mean is that the Commonwealth Government spends $3m on Question A and $1 million on Question B, but those who have opposed question A therefore get simply a proportion of $2m based on the formula that is included . Thus a proportion of the money is not actually expended on that particular question. That strikes me as unsatisfactory.

The Attorney put the point that the proportion is based on the concept that votes in the Parliament reflect community attitude but of course that fails to take into account the fact that the Australian Labor Party, for example, is locked into a position with regard to votes. In that case it simply reflects the position that the Labor Party dictates to its members as to how they should vote .

Senator Crichton-Browne —Senator Hill, if half the members from Western Australia vote No, why shouldn't we get half the money to spend in that State?

Senator HILL —If there is to be any additional Commonwealth expenditure on referenda other than that which is traditionally included, that might well be a good argument. It might be one that the Attorney will address later in this Committee debate. I think the Attorney will concede, if he has read his proposed new clause, the difficulty that will come about with payments made in anticipation of those which the Commonwealth is to make. Of course the formula becomes incredibly awkward because it may not be known until late in the campaign how much the Commonwealth intends to spend, in which case the formula really becomes impossible to administer.

So not only for the reason of the principle that I have outlined but also because of the awkwardness of the proposal, the inequities that come through in this so-called proportional system that has been put up by the Government, the Opposition will oppose the clause.