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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2737

Senator HARRADINE(11.57) — Mr Chairman, we are debating an amendment by the Government to the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Bill which would allow for a certain amount of public moneys to be spent on the No case in a referendum campaign. Formulae are scattered throughout this particular amendment , now before us for consideration. In fact, this amendment is an acknowledgment of the fact that what the Government attempted to do last year was misconceived and an improper use of public moneys. The Executive Government was proposing to spend public moneys on only a Yes campaign for the referendum proposals.

Senator Gareth Evans —No; $2.5m on the No case. Be fair.

Senator HARRADINE —I am being fair. That was an addition to the normal informative provisions already contained in the legislation. I am talking about advertising campaigns in support of the Yes and No cases. The Government was attempting last year to provide for public moneys to be spent exclusively on an advertising campaign in support of the Yes case. Now, of course, this legislation is a recognition that that was an improper proposal because the Government has included in it a proposal to have public moneys expended on an advertising campaign in support of the No case. The Government is proposing in this legislation to provide a formula which in its view will reflect public opinion on the referenda proposals. What the Government is really saying in the formula is that the gauge of that public opinion will be the number of members of parliament who voted for or against the proposition. That is the foundation of the argument in this proposition for the formula.

Senator Gareth Evans —It is either that or admit that we do not represent anybody out there.

Senator HARRADINE —I do not admit that that is the alternative. As honourable senators will realise, in the 1967 referendum only two members of parliament voted against a similar proposal; I think there were only two. That proposal went to the people and it was defeated. So, if this proposal had been in force at that time, they would not have got any money but the people would have rejected the proposal. That is not an adequate gauge of public opinion.

I will make a suggestion. If the Government is bent on going along this track, and I do not know whether it is a proper track to be going along, let us try to devise a proper gauge of public opinion so that the amount of money can relate to that public opinion. The Commonwealth Electoral Commission is in the business of having test runs. We have heard about the test runs. The Electoral Commission is having test runs on its ballot papers, through the Morgan gallup poll. A more adequate gauge of public opinion, surely, in this matter-that is, who wants to vote for the referendum and who does not-is the people. If the Government is to let the Electoral Commission do a test run on the ballot papers, with which I do not agree, let it do a test run on this. It is far easier for the Morgan gallup poll, or whoever is to do the job, to go to the people with a mock-up ballot paper. We know what the proposals will be. The Government knows what will be put to the people. Why does not the Electoral Commission, in order to gauge public opinion for the purposes of providing the amount of money that is proper in the circumstances, do a test run? I put to the Committee that that is a more realistic proposition than the one inherent in this amendment of the Government which really says that the gauge of public opinion in these matters equals the number of members of parliament who voted for or against the proposition.