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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 240


Senator WALTERS(11.50) —We have just heard a tirade from the Attorney -General (Senator Gareth Evans) accusing us of crudeness of political action. Let us look at what he suggests we put to the people as the short title of the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill: 'An Act to ensure that Senate elections and House of Representatives elections are always held on the same day, and to adjust the terms of senators accordingly'. I ask Senator Evans: How crudely political can we get? We cannot get much cruder that that. It is a sleight of hand. It is indeed not telling the people, the electorate, the truth. It is misleading the people in a most crude fashion. The Government cannot do as it is doing; that is; hold an election of the House of Representatives and the Senate on the same day and have at that election a referendum saying: 'We are asking you to give us permission to do what we are doing today because we haven' t the power to do it'. That is absolutely idiotic and stupid. The Government cannot expect the people of Australia to believe it. For heaven's sake, does the Government want to have any credibility left? The people out there know the Government has the opportunity to hold such simultaneous elections because the Government is going to do it.


Senator Gareth Evans —Not always.


Senator WALTERS —Of course, the Government has. The Government can always hold a simultaneous election within the Senate limitations if it so desires. If the Prime Minister of the day wants to hold elections simultaneously he always can. The Attorney-General knows it and we know it. There is no use the Attorney trying to mislead the people. The people are not dumb. I do not care what he thinks of the electorate; it is not dumb. If the Attorney is referring to history, he will remember that it was the choice of the Prime Minister of the day not to hold elections simultaneously. That was what he chose. The people of the electorate are not dumb.

The Attorney-General might think he is terribly bright and way above all the other Australians, but he is not. The majority of Australians are a lot brighter than the Attorney-General. Until the Attorney-General comes to understand that the majority of the electorate is brighter than he is he will continue to make a fool of himself, as he has done so often in this Parliament. The Attorney cannot send spy flights over Tasmania and not make a fool of himself. He cannot do what he has done repeatedly in this Senate and not make a fool of himself. Here he goes again. The Attorney has to understand that we are trying to help him. He is really upsetting the reputation of the Parliament. We do not want the people to say: 'Crumbs, are all politicians as barmy as this?'. Quite frankly, the Attorney-General is upsetting the reputation of politicians throughout Australia . The Attorney has to understand that the people can see through this silly nonsense.

If the Government holds a simultaneous election straight after a double dissolution which puts the two Houses out of kilter, the people will ask why the Government cannot do that all the time. There is no reason why the Government cannot do it all the time. This legislation is just a sleight of hand. If the Attorney attempts deliberately to mislead the people it will reflect on his honesty. If I were the Attorney I would agree to the amendment moved by the Opposition because at least the people will then say: 'At least he is showing some honesty about the whole thing'.

The Bill has nothing to do with a government having the power always to hold elections simultaneously. The Government has that power. The Bill has to do with allowing the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to shorten the terms of senators so that he can call elections for the House of Representatives and half the Senate whenever he so desires. That is what the Bill is about; nothing else. If the Prime Minister wanted to hold elections for the House of Representatives and half the Senate within six months of a previous election the passing of the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill would give him the power to do so. Of course, the people understand that. If that were not the case it would not have been knocked back on two previous occasions. A few senators campaigning heavily in Australia had that proposal knocked back twice previously . It will be knocked back again. My advice to the Attorney is not to continue to show such stupidity but to agree to the amendment moved by the shadow Attorney- General.