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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2738

Senator TOWNLEY(12.12) —I take a fairly straightforward attitude to something like this. I do not believe a government will bring in any referendum proposal unless it is of benefit to itself. I say to the Attorney-General ( Senator Gareth Evans) that there might have been one or two instances, I give him that, but most governments bring in referendum proposals that they believe will be to the benefit of the government that is in power at the time. The same applies to the provisions in the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Bill. They have been introduced because the Government feels that they will be to its benefit. It is as if the Government is attempting to stack the deck once more on how to run a referendum. If these provisions are approved, the Government will continue to try to stack the deck.

I suggest to the Attorney-General that he does not underestimate the intelligence of the members of the public. They, particularly the people from the less populous States, do not want to be dominated by the large numbers of government members of parliament who come from New South Wales and Victoria. That is in fact what will happen if we pass some of this legislation. It will stack the deck even more to the benefit of New South Wales and Victoria than it is at the moment. If we look at sub-clause (5)--

Senator Peter Baume —We are turning this into a States debate. This might get interesting now.

Senator TOWNLEY —I always regard the debates in the Senate as States debates, particularly when honourable senators from New South Wales and Victoria try to run over the less populous States. Whether they be from my Party or from the Australian Labor Party, I will always stand up for my State before I stand up for the Liberal Party. In relation to proposed sub-clause (5) the explanatory memorandum states:

. . . where the opposition in Parliament is between 5 per cent and 10 per cent . . .

A little quick arithmetic will show that to get 5 per cent of the members of parliament is 12.2 per cent and therefore 10 per cent is 24.4 per cent. That seems to me to be an unnecessary provision as long as there is any opposition. If we are to have funding it should preferably be equal funding. Certainly we should not have to have 5 per cent of the members of parliament opposing some legislation before assistance is given. Let me make it quite clear: I am against any assistance at all. I notice that the explanatory memorandum in relation to proposed new sub-clause (10) states in part:

. . . expenditure incurred in promoting a referendum proposal as not including expenditure on the official Yes/No pamphlet.

So the Government is proposing to leave the space for Yes-No in the pamphlet equal yet it proposes that paid advertising in other areas not be equal. This whole thing points to the Government recognising the ability of clever manipulators of the public mind, through the media-the newspapers, television and radio-making things work to their benefit if they can spend more on advertising than can the people opposing a referendum proposal. Unless the Government eventually agrees to the Democrats proposal of having referendums forced upon it, no government will bring in a referendum that it does not entirely support.

I remind the Senate that in the great majority of referendums history shows that the results are fairly close. So under what justification should the expenditure by the Government be other than fairly close, irrespective of how many senators vote for or against a referendum proposal in this place or in the House of Representatives? I agree with the Democrats that States should not really spend taxpayers money in opposing or supporting a referendum, but I suppose that will be very hard to enforce because sometimes State governments see their rights being attacked by a referendum that the Federal people are trying to run. I cannot foresee every referendum that this Government or any government will try to bring in, but it seems to me at first sight that the States should keep out of referendum proposals unless there is something materially to do with the States. It still comes to a matter of how many people are involved. Let us take Tasmania. Even if all Tasmanian members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate voted against a matter-perhaps they were the only ones who voted against it-the amount of money that would be spent as a proportion would be very little.

Senator Macklin —What about if funding were equal?

Senator TOWNLEY —If there were equal funding perhaps the State government matter mentioned by Senator Macklin has a little more weight. As I said at the beginning, I see these proposals as the Government's way of trying to stack things once more in its favour. When the previous Labor Party Government was in power we saw all types of attempts to alter and stack the electoral system in this country. I believe this is another step in the mechanism of changing the ability of a government to get a referendum proposal passed by the people. We could have a referendum that applies to the way voting is carried on in this country, and I see that as very dangerous.

Progress reported.