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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 238

Senator DURACK(11.38) —I move:

1. Page 1, clause 1, lines 4 and 5, leave out 'Simultaneous Elections' insert ' Terms of Senators'.

I have circulated copies of two amendments. They are related but only the first can be moved at this point. In order to explain this amendment I need to explain the reasons for it in wider terms. The amendment is that the short title of the proposed Act as provided in the Bill, 'Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) 1984' be changed to, 'Constitution Alteration (Terms of Senators) 1984'. The long title of the Bill, which I shall seek to amend in due course, reads:

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 concede that there is some improvement in the long title by reference to adjusting the terms of senators accordingly, but both the long title and the short title, which we are now proposing to amend, emphasise that this legislation is to provide simultaneous elections. This is trading on the support there seems to be in the community for the idea that there should be simultaneous elections, and that whenever there is an election for the House of Representatives there ought to be an election for half the Senate at the same time rather than separate and more frequent elections. We are all familiar with the argument.

The reality is that there is no reason why simultaneous elections cannot take place. Except when the two Houses have got out of kilter after double dissolutions, traditionally the normal practice is to bring on simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and half the Senate. Indeed, after double dissolutions it has been the practice to bring on an early election for the House of Representatives to coincide with the holding of the half Senate election. There is no absolute difficulty about having simultaneous elections, and indeed they have frequently occurred during the life of our Federation. But what this legislation primarily does is to force the Senate to accommodate itself to whatever timetable of election suits the Prime Minister of the day. This Bill is designed solely to enable the Prime Minister to call an election whenever he likes and to force the Senate to accommodate his whims for election timetables. At present the Prime Minister is confusing everybody by saying that he must have an early election for the House of Representatives because there is to be a half Senate election. Then he says that it means this will never have to happen again, that he does not want to manipulate elections or to have early elections, and so on, and that this legislation will enable Parliament not to have early elections in future. But the legislation does precisely the opposite. It will enable the Prime Minister in future to have elections whenever he wants them and to force half the Senate to come out with the House of Representatives on those occasions.

The only real significance of this legislation is that it will shorten the term of senators. It will destroy the fixed term of senators and it will mean that the term of a senator is twice the term of a member of the House of Representatives. That is what this legislation is all about and always has been all about. Regardless of whether one believes it is a good idea, the fact is that the electorate should not be hoodwinked into believing that this is all about ensuring that we shall have simultaneous elections. I have already said that we do not need constitutional alterations to ensure simultaneous elections. We need a constitutional alteration to shorten the fixed term of six years for senators. The legislation will not seek to change the Constitution to give another fixed term of five, four or three years to senators. It will not protect the rights of the Senate in any shape or form from prime ministerial power. It will place the Senate totally in the hands of the Prime Minister and greatly enhance prime ministerial power. The Prime Minister at any time he wants an election for the House of Representatives will be able to force a severe reduction in the terms of senators.

Whether one believes that is good or bad, when the people are asked to vote on it, they should be told exactly what the truth is and what this referendum really is about. Therefore, the Opposition believes that we should cease referring to this matter as we have done so often in the past as a proposal for simultaneous elections. In essence, it is not a proposal for simultaneous elections; it is a proposal to shorten the terms of senators. It is about the future status of the Senate and the short title should make that clear. It is illusory to refer to the legislation as providing for simultaneous elections as the short title does.