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Wednesday, 3 April 1946

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . - In his opening remarks, the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams) said that, speakers on the Opposition side of the House had used certain arguments for thepurpose of confusing the minds of the people. I point out to the honorable member and to the House that, in the submission of proposed alterations to a referendum and in the writing of new powers into the Constitution, is is absolutely essential for the people to know exactly what the Government's proposals mean. The careful analysis by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) of the proposed Constitution alterations, not for party political purposes, was in the interests of the people, for it enables them to understand exactly the implications. It is the duty of every honorable member, on this or the other side, regardless of whether he supports these proposals or not, to dissect them and ask the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) to explain their meaning so that, as the Leader of the Opposition said, the people shall not be called upon to vote in the dark, but shall know what they are voting on. We had a curious example in the first ten minutes of the speech of the honorable member for Robertson supporting the point made by the Leader of the Opposition as to the necessity to examine the exact meaning of the proposals. The honorable member said that the alterations would be written into the Constitution in terms the meaning of which would not be open to doubt. Yet, the Attorney-General himself admitted grave doubt as to how the proposed new powers would be interpreted if granted. He went on to say that he did not propose to interpret them, but would leave that to the court. This is a sovereign Parliament, bound only by the Commonwealth Constitution. It should, not always have to be turning to the court for interpretation because of slack and inefficient drafting of alterations of the Constitution. It is the duty of the Commonwealth Parliament to make perfectly clear the meaning of referendum . proposals, instead of making proposals which, if agreed to, will have to be interpreted by the court. The right honorable gentleman said in his second-reading speech on the Constitutional Alteration (Organized Marketing of Primary Products) Bill the expression " primary products " is not a technical term, with a fixed legal meaning. So, like Easter, which wanders round the year, its meaning wanders round the firmament. He went on to say-

But the phrase is in such general use that there' will seldom be any doubt as to whether or not a particular commodity belongs to the category of " primary products ". In the ordinary popular sense, " primary products " are understood to include not only the immedate products of such occupations as the agricultural, dairying and pastoral industries, but also certain processed goods derived directly from those products. All Australians, for instance, would immediately recognize butter, cheese, flour, and dried fruits as primary products ", though not cakes or bread.

Then he said -

There may, of course, be borderline cases. But there are dangers in attempting to define in advance the categories of constitutional power. ' The exceptional cases, if they arise, can safely be left for decision by the courts.

Yet the honorable member for Robertson said that the proposals now made were so clear that there would be no need to go to the court for interpretation. That shows why honorable members on this side, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, have carefully .analysed these proposals. Thev have done so in order that the people may understand what they mean, not merely what the Government says they mean. In 1944, when the Attorney-General passed through the Parliament a bill for a referendum ask ing the people to grant the Commonwealth Parliament fourteen new powers, he made many speeches throughout the country, and, also, in this House, in which he referred to the Australian Constitution as a " horse and buggy " Constitution operating in the age of motor cars and aeroplanes. He urged that the Constitution be brought up to date. But what did he dd? He tried to put a new set of shoes" on the old grey mare, and a new hood on the buggy, and to tighten the tyres on the wheels. He made no attempt to overhaul the Constitution, although that is essential. Neither does he do so now. All he tried to do then, as he tries to do now, was to effect a few patchwork repairs, to put the old grey mare back in the shafts and go once more along the road. The powers that he asked for on the last occasion contained some that no people would normally refuse, but others so nauseated the people that they rejected the lot. That referendum was something like' a dose of castor oil which has been so messed about by the addition of lemon juice, whisky and other things in the hope of making it more palatable that it becomes even more nauseating than in the beginning and causes violent sickness. The palates of the Australian people were so nauseated that they refused the mixture. The Australian people have had referendum after referendum submitted to them, but only those' that had the approval and support of all political parties have been carried. The people have even rejected referendums that 'they have been advised to accept by all political parties not only in this Parliament but also in the .State Parliaments. So only with the greatest difficulty can the people be induced to agree to Constitution alterations.- The only prospect of obtaining their agreement lies in the unanimous support of the proposals by not only parliamentarians but also 'other bodies that have looked into their merits and accepted them as good. Time after time, we have seen the anomaly of one party opposing the referendum submitted by the other party and then making a similar proposal to the people only to have it similarly turned down, because the other side has on that occasion been against it. That applies to every political party.

If the Constitution is to be modernized, taken from the " h'orse-and-buggy " stage referred to by the Attorney-General, proposals for its alteration must be cast in a form that will be approved by all political parties. When the Australian Constitution was first put before the people of the then Australian colonies for acceptance", it had been hammered out at the Constitution Conventions of 1891 and 1897, the delegates to which were elected by the people. They were not necessarily members of the colonial parliaments, but they all were citizens whose names carried great weight in the minds of the people. The referendum that emanated from the convention of 1S91 was defeated, but the Constitution that was agreed to by the convention of 1897 was satisfactory to the people of the various colonies and, finally, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed theAustralian Constitution Act. I direct the attention of honorable members to the reference of the philosopher Hegel to the " al togetherness of everything ". It is of no use attempting to make piecemeal alterations of the Constitution. The Constitution must be looked at m globo. It is an, entity. Patchwork additions to it make for a thing of shreds and patches. That was very well demonstrated by the Leader of the Opposition when he clearly argued that the proposed insertion in section 51 of paragraph (xxxiv.a.) would destroy the Commonwealth arbitration system. To any fair-minded member, the right honorable gentleman'sargument showed as clear as crystal that that would happen. Is it thought that any one who carefully examined the Constitution so slip-shod as to propose to leave in section 51 paragraph (xxxv.) in its present form and insert another provision, which would destroy its effectiveness? A convention like that of 1891 or 1S97 would never have made a blunder of that type.

These three -bills omit reference to many other alterations of the Constitution that might be made. I particularly desire to refer to one matter. It is the numerical strength of the Australian Parliament, which, compared with that of the

Canadian Parliament, is small. I propose to read some remarks made at the Summer School of Political Science held at Canberra between the 29th and 31st January, 1944 by Sergeant Bury in reply to an address delivered by the AttorneyGeneral.

Parallel with this proposal to increase federal powers is a very pressing need to increase the present membership of the Federal Parliament-not because it might make room for some of us, though that is not unimportant, but because the only real guarantee of the liberty of individuals in the face of increased federal powers lies, not in. the paper provisions .of the lawyers, but in the full and proper parliamentary representation in the Commonwealth Parliament of every appreciable section of Australian pub'.ic opinion. Another reason for increasing the membership of Parliament is that in any assembly, however elected, there will be only a small proportion of really able people and this imposes a severe limitation upon the quality of our government. Until we have a Federal Parliament which permits us to have a balanced and able Ministry, our opportunities for post-war reconstruction will be severely limited.

But these patchwork proposals contain nothing designed to solve that problem. Does any honorable gentleman think that the vast country electorates can be adequately represented in this Parliament by people who have to travel hundreds of miles to go round their electorates? Why, they cannot possibly give the represen- tation that is demanded. If the membership of this Parliament were as great as that of . the Canadian Parliament, with 250 or so members, the people would have better representation. The AttorneyGeneral has made no attempt to deal with that matter. But does anyone think that a popularly elected convention would allow anything like that to pass without notice and without making representations for its rectification? The Australian Country party believes that as a prerequisite to alteration of the Constitution, to a redesigning of the " horseandbuggy " Constitution of the AttorneyGeneral's description, there should be a national contention on the lines ' of the contentions of 1891 and 1897 to consider in an atmosphere detached from political parties those things that it is necessary to incorporate in the

Constitution in order that that vehicle of government may be modernized. The Convention of 1S97 decided that the system of government for

Australia should be a federal one, and

The people in the various colonies approved at the subsequent referendum. Practically since the inception of federation the policy of the Labour party has been unification.

Mr Ward - Hear, hear!

Mr ABBOTT - The Minister says " Hear, hear ! " So there is no denying that the Labour policy is unification. They say " All power to the Federal Government because the development of Australia is hampered by distribution of power". We have in Canberra a government living a monasticlife, detached from the people, rarely feeling the people's pulse and surrounded by public servants who have developed a caste system of living according to their incomes, and also detached from the people of Australia. We know the difficulties we have had in endeavouring to hack through the bureaucratic red tape in recent years. This centralization clogs, and has a bad effect generally on administration, on the government of the people, and on the right of the people to use their own energies to the fullest degree. The United States of America, which is the richest and most powerful nation in the world, has since 1776 worked continuously under a federal constitution.

Mr Falstein - The constitution of the United States of America is different from the Constitution of Australia.

Mr ABBOTT - That is perfectly true. The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) and I are different types of persons, but we are both human beings, and are concerned with the government of the people. If the people of the United States of America can prosper andmake their country the richest in the world and one of the greatest bulwarks of democracy and freedom that is a tribute to the federal system which enabled that development to take place.

Mr Beazley - The same clap-trap about centralization was uttered in the United States of America as the honorable member for New England is uttering to-night.

Mr ABBOTT - The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) may have caned his little boys at school, but he cannot cane me. Alterations of the Constitution and the changing of our method of government from the federal system to unification should happen only after a thorough investigation by a convention. The people should be given an opportunity to read the debates of the convention in order to make themselves thoroughly conversant with the proposals, and then, no doubt, they would adopt the recommendations of the convention.

Mr Ward - Now sit down. The honorable member has said enough.

Mr ABBOTT - The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) never sits down. He always wallows in his trough. That is ho w he gets his recreation.

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