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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 174

Senator HARRADINE(6.42) —I consider that one of the most important principles of democracy is the principle of subsidiarity. That principle underlines and underpins-or should underpin-a true democracy. The principle could be stated thus: Power should reside with the smallest group capable of efficiently performing the functions for which the power is required so that those over whom the power is exercised have closer, more direct control over those who exercise the power. That is called neo-democracy. The amendments to the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill and cognate Bill posed by the Government are an attack on neo-democracy. They are an attack on the principle of subsidiarity so important to the exercise of neo-democracy.

I have been a consistent opponent therefore of what is deceptively called the simultaneous elections proposal. Of course, this proposal was put before the people in 1974 and again in 1977. I voted against it in this chamber in 1974 and I campaigned vigorously against the proposal in 1977. As has been stated, the people rejected this proposal. Under the provisions of the Constitution it was defeated. I cannot see why the Government is now pressing forward on this proposal at this time unless it is for some political purpose. We are discussing this matter in quite a different atmosphere from that atmosphere in which it was discussed late last year. It is now a different ball game. Today the Opposition officially announced, through its Shadow Attorney-General, Senator Peter Durack, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this chamber, that it will oppose the referendum on the simultaneous elections and the interchange of powers to be put to the electors at the next Federal election.

Senator Gareth Evans —Do you think anyone will notice, Senator?

Senator HARRADINE —Well, it should be noticed in the Senate. It should be noted therefore that if the Opposition is opposing these measures they will be passed only by the votes of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrat senators. Therefore, it will be up to the Democrats as to whether these measures are passed-depending, of course, on whether the Democrats split on this issue. If all the Democrats vote with the Government it will be passed. However, today we heard the Deputy Leader of the Democrats, Senator Mason, say that the Democrats are opposed to the simultaneous election provision. As I understood it , in the next breath he said they were going to support the Bill. Why? According to him this is so we can get the people's determination. According to the Democrats anything and everything should go to the electors for their determination.

Senator Gareth Evans —Let 100 flowers bloom.

Senator HARRADINE —Some flowers indeed would fade. I believe that democracy would fade as well if that were carried through. Citizens initiatives indeed! That attitude of the Democrats I wish to raise right here and now because I believe that would also be an attack upon genuine representative democracy. After all it can be argued that one of the first responsibilities of the majority in a democracy is the preservation of the rights of the minority. Of course, if we adopted the attitude of the Democrats of sending everything to the people for their determination we would end up with the rights of the minority being subjugated. I will give an example.

Much has been said about the immigration debate. Therefore, according to the Democrats, it would be perfectly okay for a citizens initiative to be developed for a referendum stating that there be no more Asian immigrants into Australia. According to the Democrats-whether they agreed with the issue or not-that would be quite an appropriate measure to go to the Australian people. Once the people have determined that issue by referendum it would become law. Of course, a climate of racism could be developed and a referendum could result in a decision in the affirmative. Therefore, the rights of the minority, including those whose families are separated and whom they are seeking to bring to Australia, would be denied. We just cannot have that. Why do people elect us to the Parliament? They expect us to act in a genuinely representative character, to assess the various arguments and, if necessary, to consider in committee the points that are raised for and against a particular proposal, preferably in a calm and intelligent manner. I ask: What is one of the major functions of the Senate? One of its major functions is to be a House of review where debate should take place in a calmer, more intelligent atmosphere than the debate that takes place in the House of Representatives which, in most cases, is affected by political point scoring.

Senator Gareth Evans —Unlike anything that happens here.

Senator HARRADINE —Of course it occurs here from time to time but I believe that it would be well recognised throughout the Senate that the debates in this chamber are normally characterised by a calmness that is not evident in the House of Representatives.

Another major reason for this chamber is that it is supposed to be the chamber which upholds the rights of the States. I believe that on both of those counts the proposal that is now before us fails because the rights of the minority are likely to be seriously prejudiced by the simultaneous elections proposal and, I believe, also by the interchange of powers proposal, although probably less so. The reason I say that the simultaneous elections proposal is an attack on the smaller States is that it is an attack on the Senate and undermines its constitutional independence. In fact, it would make it easier for any Federal government to reduce the Senate to just a rubber stamp because of the threat that the Prime Minister of the day, whether it be this Prime Minister or any subsequent Prime Minister, could hold over the Senate to take it to an early election whenever he chose. One might say: 'Within certain boundaries he can do it now'. That is quite true. For example, he could take half the Senate to an election in December of this year. But the salient fact is that the terms of honourable senators do not expire until 30 June next year.

Under the Constitution the Senate now has a fixed term. What this referendum will do, amongst a number of things, will be to strike out of the Constitution the concept of fixed term parliaments, despite the fact that the Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans) is on record as supporting the concept of fixed term parliaments. I know that you, Mr Deputy President, are in that situation as well. This proposal will strike out the only reference to a fixed term in the Constitution and make the term of the Senate coincide with the term of the House of Representatives which, of course, as we all know does not have a fixed term and depends very largely on the whims of the Prime Minister.

Mr Deputy President, I do not wish to go over the arguments that have been clearly advanced in respect of the interchange of powers proposal. I say only that a great deal of work was done by a committee on which I served and which was chaired by Senator Jessop in preparing information for the electors on the No case. I believe that that committee acted very quickly and very ably during the discussions held late last year. I hope that we will be able to resume the work of that committee and advise the electors of the reasons why these proposals ought to be rejected by the people as being an attack on our democracy and an undermining of the constitutional independence of the Senate and of the States.