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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2736

Senator MACKLIN(11.52) — Mr Chairman, the amendment moved by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) is an interesting example of attempting yet again to come up with unequal funding for the cases to be put to the people. In a debate that ensued on this aspect last year it was made very clear that the majority of the Senate wished to continue with the practice of providing equal funding for the presentation of the cases to the electorate and to allow the electorate on the basis of that equal funding to make up its mind on the merits of the case essentially, avoiding the technicalities of the proposition that the Attorney has brought forward; that is, the principle which has been violated by this amendment. Regardless of the fact that a particular proposal may have overwhelming support from politicians, I do not think one can then claim that such a proposal necessarily has overwhelming support from the people in the electorate, and it is not politicians' money which is being spent; it is the public's money. It is being spent to convince members of the public of an issue that politicians happen to believe in, and I think that that attempt is wrongly placed. It goes against the notions of fair play in terms of what we are going to say a particular proposal is about.

Therefore, I do not propose to address the details of the amendment except in so far as a number of concerns have been raised by way of interjections about the 5 per cent level. As the Attorney said, he is willing to move this cut-off point to 4 per cent. I draw to the attention of a number of people who were interjecting, particularly from the Liberal Party, that they supported the notion of a cut-off point in the electoral legislation. They said it was perfectly all right that if under 4 per cent support was obtained no public funding would be available, so I do not know why they are getting upset about this. In fact, members of the Australian Democrats were the only people who said that financial support ought to be connected with public support in the electorate. I believe that now to cry wolf on this certainly verges on hypocrisy . As I say, the Australian Democrats reject this and we rejected the 4 per cent operation that the Liberal Party supported in relation to the Commonwealth electoral legislation, and we will continue to reject it on the principle that that relationship has nothing to do with the ultimate wishes of the people. Their votes decide what changes the Constitution and their vote must not be sought to be manipulated by excess expenditure on one side or the other.

In conclusion, I also hold very strongly that the States ought not spend public money in this regard either. We ought to have an even-handed operation at the Commonwealth level and that ought to be it, because moneys spent by the States are not the States' moneys; they too are the public's moneys. An even-handed operation from the Commonwealth level, which has occurred by and large in every case in the past, ought to be what continues into the future.