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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 243

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(12.13) —Having just listened to the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) as best I could understand the line of his logic, what he was saying was that because the title now being used is the title which was used in 1977 by the then Liberal Country Party coalition, that is the premise that dictates him to suggest that that title ought to be used again. He has not sought to argue that the title is a fair reflection of the legislation. He is simply saying that because it was used in 1977 it ought to be used again. Of course that leads me to the conclusion that he is saying that because there was an inaccuracy then that inaccuracy ought to be perpetuated. That seems to be the thrust of the logic of his argument.

I turn to Senator Durack's proposal to remove the words 'simultaneous elections ' and insert the words 'terms of senators'. I think the Attorney-General will be hard put to argue that that is not a more precise reflection of the contents of the legislation. This constitutional amendment is about the terms of senators. It is not about simultaneous elections. Simultaneous elections are already possible, as has been said before, simply by having the elections on the same day. It does not require a constitutional amendment. I believe that the short title should reflect the purpose of the legislation. The result of this constitutional amendment will be to change the terms of senators. It will not change the terms of members of the House of Representatives. It will not change the life, the period, of the Parliament. It simply changes the period for which senators will be elected. That period will be exclusively dictated by the Prime Minister of the day. Of course its effect is to change not only the terms of senators but also the powers of the Senate. Probably if we were more specific, more accurate and more precise we ought to include that in the short title. That is what this proposal is all about. It will shorten the terms of senators and reduce the powers of the Senate. If we have both those propositions in the short title we would then properly reflect the purpose of the constitutional amendment .

The title of the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill ought, in my view, to reflect more than any other legislation the purpose and contents of the proposal. Of course a referendum is the only occasion when the Australian electorate is able to personally and single handedly reflect upon, contemplate and ultimately judge the merits and virtues of the legislation and the Constitutional amendment. If there is one occasion when we ought to be responsible it is this occasion. If there is one occasion when we ought to be very careful about how we describe the contents of legislation it ought to be on those occasions when the Australian people are being presented with a proposal so that they clearly understand what they are voting on. The best and most honest way of ensuring that they are able to make a proper, sensible and informed judgment on what they are casting a vote for ought to be reflected in the short title of the Bill. I believe that there is no compelling argument against the proposals put by the shadow Attorney-General. I am quite sure that, in his own heart, the Attorney-General knows from any stretch of logic or legal interpretation that the proposal that has been put by Senator Durack is, in fact , a precise reflection of the contents of the legislation and is a proposal more improved than that which is in the Bill as it stands.