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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2768

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(3.40) —I say at the outset that there should be equal public funding for referendums. I do not support the proposition that there should be no funding. That is my fall-back position, and it was my position the last time we discussed this matter. We then found a mechanism to overcome a very obnoxious, insidious and pernicious way of sneaking public funds into referenda campaigns. The No case will always be disadvantaged, because no referenda legislation passes through this Parliament without the support of the Government. During the campaign the Yes case would always have the advantage because of the Government's logistics, its capacity to attract publicity and its enormous resources. The distinction between having Prime Minister Hawke coming to Perth and having a modest member from the back bench seeking to put the No case is a clear, demonstrable example of who is likely to attract the most publicity. These days Hawke has only to wink to get on the front pages. In the America's Cup one would think he rowed that darned boat.

The reality is that the Yes case has the advantage because the Government is on its side; otherwise one does not have referendums. In these days there is an unfortunate temptation among Opposition parties to support some of these proposals. It only compounds the influence and impact of the Government upon the media. When one compares the exposure given to senior members of the Opposition one can see what little chance there is for the modest number of those who argue in favour of the No case. That argument invariably favours the rights and responsibilities of the less populous States and the State governments. The fact is that the majority of members of the House of Representatives come from the more populous States. It is also a fact of life that the great majority of referenda proposals are intended to impinge on the rights of the less populous States. One has only to look at the numbers. There are more members of the House of Representatives who come from outer metropolitan Melbourne and Sydney than there are in the combined States of Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Senator Harradine —We make the money for those two States.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —That is dead right. Western Australia produces 20 per cent of our export income and has 8.7 per cent of the population and one-third of the land mass. All the other two States do is produce expensive motor cars and refrigerators. One can imagine that the views put by those in the more populous States, certainly those in the Australian Labor Party, will not necessarily be looking after the best interests of the less populous States. There is a likelihood that people from the less populous States will be infected by and tempted to join those from the more populous States who do not understand the impact and effect of these proposals on the less populous States from time to time. If there is to be a prospect of arguments being put properly, fairly and equally in all the States, this can be done only by having equal funding. In practical terms, it is impossible for the minority who represent the No case to attract the sort of media attention that can be attracted by the Government.

One cannot rely on the media to give a balanced point of view. In these days they seem to be spending more time listening to the propaganda of the Australian Labor Party than they do to reporting the facts. To give an example, I refer to an editorial in the Australian immediately prior to the floating of the last referenda. That editorial suggested that in the United States of America advisory opinions had existed for 100 years. As the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) knows, the United States does not have advisory opinions. Indeed, it has not had an advisory opinion since President Washington approached the Supreme Court way back. The Supreme Court knocked him back and that country has not had one since.

Senator Gareth Evans —The media were talking about Canada; they got confused.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Does the Attorney-General mean that they could not read his writing? They also suggested that simultaneous elections would necessarily mean fewer elections. In fact, it will mean more elections. The government of the day is not inhibited or impaired by the fact that if it has a House of Representatives election without a half Senate election, it will have to go back to the people with a half Senate election at a later time, which in practical terms means a by-election.

Senator Gareth Evans —Simultaneous elections are part of your Party's policy, do you realise that?

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Politics is very fluid. In respect of simultaneous elections, the logic is that there will be more rather than fewer elections. It means that if Hawke, without the grace of God, happens to win the next election, he can have one in a year's time, two years time or three years time, without having to worry about a half Senate election. He does not have to fear the backlash because he will have both Houses out at the same time. Here one sees the Australian in an editorial putting that point of view. Therefore, one can hardly rely on the media to put a balanced point of view.

The founding fathers clearly, purposely and knowingly wrote in the Constitution that it could not be changed without a plebiscite, without a majority of voters and a majority of States casting a vote in favour of the proposal. That was done for a very good reason-to protect the less populous States. It was done to ensure that the plebiscite was cast with an enlightened public aware of the arguments from both points of view. With electronic media these days, with communications the way they are and with modern transportation, it is quite difficult not to be drowned by one point of view. The Australian Labor Party is proposing that these decisions will be made by its amendments. The decision to have no funding will mean that the majority of Australians will be casting a vote in respect of these matters in the darkness of ignorance.

I find it very interesting that the Attorney-General's proposal sought to suggest that the percentage of the people who vote in this place should relate to the amount of funds to be provided. If one looks at the interchange of powers , 52 per cent, yes; 48 per cent, no; and only 3.7 per cent of the combined members and senators supported the No case. On that proposal more than half the money should have gone to the No case.

Senator Gareth Evans —I take a point of order. Could the Chair draw the honourable senator's attention to the fact that the amendment about which he waxes so lyrically and indignantly has been defeated and that the Committee is now debating something else?

Senator Hill —I wish to speak to the point of order. Surely Senator Crichton- Browne is addressing himself to the extra precaution that needs to be built into these provisions to contain the Government from abuse. It is an experience we had last year, and I can understand the point Senator Crichton-Browne wants to emphasise on this occasion.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! We are dealing with the provision of information on the Yes and No cases. I would not like Senator Crichton-Browne to go too far on that line. However, he has been in order so far.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I will say that on third reading, Mr Chairman. If this Government is properly committed to constitutional reform, it should seek to persuade an enlightened and informed public and not use this insidious method of seeking to seduce people to cast a vote in the shadows of darkness, without knowledge and understanding of the process. It ought to seek to ensure that the public is fully informed. Senator Evans knows better than anybody the difficulty in this day and age that a minority has in putting forward a point of view, notwithstanding the fact that he seeks from time to time to argue that he represents minorities.

I believe there is a very clear distinction between public funding for elections and public funding for referendums. Quite clearly, at general elections the points of view of both political parties is put forward with persuasion, vigour, enthusiasm and the support of both political parties. Of course, we will invariably find that there will be opposing points of view. Whether the media distorts the truth or not at least it pretends to give equal space to both major political parties. Of course, with a referendum that is not the case. We may well find ourselves in the circumstances in which we found ourselves prior to the last referendum. Both major political parties were then supporting the Yes case. That left the public without a capacity to understand the ramifications and implications of what they were being asked to vote in favour of.

The taxpayers' money for the simultaneous elections referendum was spent without their authority. In Western Australia the Yes case received 75 per cent of the vote and the No case 25 per cent of the vote. I ask the Attorney what sort of odds he needs. He wants another couple of million dollars thrown in just to make sure he gets there. He only needs half the vote. No doubt that vote would not ultimately manifest itself in the ballot box. The Attorney knows that, because as the day of enlightenment approached, I am sure that the vote would swing around in favour of the No case, despite the fact that clearly it would be denied funds. That is a very good reason for having equal funding. As an absolute long way second-best fall-back position I support no funding. But it will inevitably lead in the future to reform by the Government of the Constitution without the support of the public. The smaller States will suffer and will be the losers. Of course, the Government of this day has no concern or regard for them. It is for them that I speak to defend their rights.