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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 242

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(12.08) —Appeals to decency and consistency usually fall on deaf ears in parliaments and this place is no exception. But let me do both so far as the Liberals are concerned and, more particularly, the Australian Democrats.

Senator Durack —What about your--

Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not appeal to Senator Durack's decency, because that would be stretching much too long a bow but I do appeal to his sense of consistency, ask him to consider whether there is any fundamental difference between this Bill, the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1984, and the one that his Government advanced in 1977 under the title Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill and ask him to consider what is the difference between that measure and this measure which justifies the change in terminology which the Opposition is proposing not only for the long title-we will come to that in due course, although Senator Lewis I notice was a bit quick to get into it also-but also for the short title. I ask Senator Durack to consider how can he justify the change of tack that is involved in that at the moment.

So far as the Democrats are concerned, I appeal to both their consistency and their decency. I appeal to their consistency because they have been prepared all along to accept the legitimacy of the expression 'simultaneous elections' as an appropriate one for this measure. Certainly that was the position they adopted in the latter part of last year when the package, as it then was, of five referendum Bills, was proposed. There was no suggestion at any stage from them that that was an inaccurate description. I appeal also to their decency because of the understandings that were reached at that time. It might be more appropriate to refer to those in the context of the long title of the Bill rather than the short one.

I appeal to the Democrats since their stated enthusiasm for this measure extends only so far as to get it to the people in a form in which the people will understand what it is about so that the people can, in fact, pass upon it. I ask the Democrats: Are they advancing that particular cause by changing, at this point, the title of the measure, the description of the measure, and as a result the publicity associated with the measure, that has been understood for many years now as being of a particular kind and which has been understood as being about simultaneous elections? Are they doing anything but confusing the issue to change the title of this measure, both in the short term and more particularly the long term, in the way they are now proposing? Will this do anything to clarify the issue so far as the people who have to understand what this measure is about and pass up, on it are concerned? I ask the Democrats to explore their consciences in that respect and ask: Will it do anything other than obfuscate the issue and make it perhaps easier for those who thrive on obfuscation when they are resisting constitutional change?

I understand that the Democrats have campaigned against the measure. That is their right and that is their entitlement. However, I have always understood the Australian Democrats to support clarification of the way in which these matters are put to the electorate. I can understand the technical point they are making, that the terms of senators are affected by this measure. I suggest that that point is sufficiently accommodated in the language of the long title in the form in which it comes before us in the Bill. I ask the Democrats to consider very seriously the implications of what they are doing by supporting the short title on this occasion and to think seriously of the virtues of both consistency and decency in the forthcoming vote.