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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 4310

Mr McMAHON (Lowe) - It will be remembered that, when I was speaking, in Committee, to the motion that the amendments proposed by the Senate be disagreed to, I pointed out that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) had neglected to look at what he chooses to call the long title of the Bill. I said then that I believed that, far from facilitating changes in the Constitution, the Bill made changes much easier to make or, if I may put it in different language - language used in the 'Reasons' which were prepared by the Prime Minister in the few seconds which were available to him - the Labor Party wants the change because the form in which section 128 of the Constitution is drafted has proved to be a stumbling block. In other words, the Government wants to remove any sort of a block to constitutional change. I believe that that applies right through the legislative process. The Government wants to get its way. It wants to get its way in the easiest possible manner and in the quickest possible time.

This is one of the reasons why I pointed out to the House that when there is a proposal for a constitutional change we must be certain, first of all, that the federal relationship is being maintained - unless the people who, after all, are the sovereign people of this country agree to a change - and, secondly, that the people have adequate time in which to bring their thinking to bear on the proposal. We must ensure that only after the most careful and mature consideration are changes made. That is the first reason why we believe not only that section 128 should be amended in the manner recommended by the Senate but also that the proposal by the Prime Minister as to section 128 should be rejected.

I also point out that we have to come back to fundamentals. In a Federal Constitution we must accept the fact that we are trustees for that Constitution and we should not lightly make changes to section 128 or, for that matter, to any other section of the Constitution, unless we find in that Constitution sections which have to be dealt with satis factorily in order to ensure that the federal system is maintained during the period the people want it maintained and we ensure that the people have the opportunity for consideration in the way I have mentioned.

For those reasons we reject the reasons which have been presented setting out why the Government believes that the Senate amendments should be rejected or, as the Prime Minister said, are not acceptable to the Government. The Senate amendments are acceptable to us. We stated quite positively when the Bill first came into the House that we believed that our amendments were correct. The Senate, after more mature consideration, has come to exactly the same conclusion. It must be obvious to the Government that there is a very strong opinion in the whole of this Parliament - the Senate and House of Representatives combined - which does not want these proposals put to a plebiscite or referendum. I hope and trust that when the proposals are put they will be beaten decisively and that when the people of this country - I repeat that after all they are the sovereign people of this country - have an opportunity to express their view they will do so in an emphatic way; that is, that they will vote no at the referendum.

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