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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2401

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) -This Bill has as its objective the coordination of elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is a most important Bill because it could affect, firstly, the independence of the Senate and, secondly, its existence as a House of review. I point out that it is possible for the Government to co-ordinate the election of both houses without a referendum and without constitutional change. What more ideal moment could there be than the present moment when the Government states that it is being obstructed by the Senate, when the Government has announced that if the Senate attempts to make the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) carry out his promise to preserve basic grants for all schools the Government will deprive the children of Australia of hundreds of thousands of dollars of educational aid and when the Government says that it believes that this issue is so vital that it wants to hold an election? What more ideal moment than the present to co-ordinate the election of the 2 Houses by a double dissolution and an election within the next two or three weeks? I cannot understand the silence from the Government benches. This is the Government's ideal opportunity. It is not prepared to take the opportunity. Instead it proposes to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on an election and on a referendum when there is no real need for it. There could have been an election if we had defeated the Appropriation Bill only last week.

Senator Poyser (VICTORIA) Wh y did not you defeat it?

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) I did not defeat the Appropriation Bill because the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) said that he wished us to pass the Bill because the Government would not pay wages if we defeated it. Therefore I was looking after the wage earners in the community. I hope that Senator Poyser is not so far from concern with the wage earners in the community that he does not agree with what the Labor Government did. The Government could have had an election and co-ordinated the elections of the Senate and the House of Representatives. But what did it do? It was so frightened that we might not pass the Appropriation Bill that it did not bring on the Appropriation Bill for debate until the last possible moment. The Government came to us and said 'If you do not pass it now the workers will not get their wages. So you will have to pass it'. Now we have this proposition put to us by people who say that they want the Senate and the House of Representatives to go to an election at the same time, but they do everything they possibly can to prevent it from happening and say: 'We will ave a referendum'. We all know that it is not easy to get Australians to vote affirmatively at referenda. To bring about simultaneous elections by referendum is difficult, but the Governmentcould do it in Cabinet this afternoon without any referendum and without any big sums of money being expended. I say straight out that the Government has not got the intestinal fortitude to have an election and bring the elections of the 2 Houses together. It is plain scared.

I was on a platform in the Melbourne Festival Hall and heard the Prime Minister promise that under a Labor Government no school would receive any less aid than it was getting at that time and that the basic grants would be continued. He got a tremendous ovation and, God forgive me, I cheered with the rest. What is he doing today? The same Prime Miuister who promised amid the applauding thousands that he would retain the basic grants has sent a telegram to the States informing them that if the Senate tries to make him keep his promise he will take hundreds of thousands of dollars away from the ordinary Australian school cluid. I cannot understand honourable men on the Government side—ther e are men there who are honourable and believe in keeping their promises—refusin g to make the Prime Minister keep his promise. There are stories about that he even wrote to the Karmel Committee telling it to break his promise. He has been asked the question whether he wrote to the Karmel Committee and asked it to break his promise, and the only reply that can be got from him is that he will neither confirm nor deny it. Now we are told that the Prime Minister has a very special reason for co-ordinating the elections of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The reason given by a gentleman in the House of Representatives who has an outstanding sense of honour—M r Daly—i s that that is the only way in which to stop the Senate from obstructing the Government. We have heard wonderful claims about the co-operation that Labor oppositions always give. I would like to refer to the Sydney 'Sun' of 26 May 1967 where the following article appeared in connection with this question whether we should co-ordinate the elections of the 2 Houses in order to stop obstruction of an elected government. The writer, a respected correspondent, Mr Allsop, began:

The Labor Party is flirting with danger in its aggressive policy of interfering with Government legislation in the Senate.

The Prime Minister, Mr Holt, is gradually manoeuvring Mr Whitlam's party into a position where he can force a double dissolution of both Houses of Parliament in order to secure control ofthe Senate.

The Government has lost control ofthe Senate . . .

Mr Holt warned the Senate Opposition on Wednesday it was on a 'collision course' with the Government and the House of Representatives. This was building up into a 'constitutional issue of major dimension between the two Houses,' Mr Holt said. The Government is building up an impressive dossier against the Opposition to demonstrate how it is being frustrated by the Senate, despite its sweeping victory in the House of Representatives last November. The Senate's rejection twice of the Postal Charges Bill is not likely alone to justify Mr Holt . . . forcing the double dissolution.

The article continues:

In the first sittings of the new Parliament just concluded, the Senate stood the Government up on several pieces of legislation.

The article states that the Senate obstructed the Government on the Postal Charges Bill, the Aged Persons Homes Bill and the Home Savings Grant Bill. It states further that the Senate disallowed the regulations increasing the charges for telephones and overseas mail. The article then continues:

Mr Holt is carefully cataloguing all this.

Just like Gough is doing today. The article goes on:

In his efforts to impress, the new Opposition leader in the Senate, Senator Murphy, may be unwittingly playing into Mr Holt's hands

And preparing the way for a double dissolution. If we change the names we will have exactly what we are being told here today. We all know that it is bluff. We all know that the Senate has the right at any time to declare its views on legislation before it, and we propose to continue doing that.

The Bill before us is a Bill to downgrade the Senate. I think there are some men on the Government side who know it and regret it. They are not all like a distinguished former member of this Senate who sat here with great satisfaction for more than 30 years and on the day that he retired made a speech demanding the Senate's abolition. I think the gentlemen on the other side are more like the Labor senators who years ago moved for the abolition of the Senate. When I attended as a delegate the Australian Labor Party Federal Conference in Adelaide that snake among the chickens, Tom Dougherty, moved that any Labor government should immediately abolish the Senate. Within a few hours we had Labor senators there from all over Australia. I had rheumatism in both shoulders from the tears that they shed at this suggestion that the Senate should be abolished in accordance with Labor pohcy. But everything was right. The well known fixer produced out of the hat a motion that the next Labor Government should abolish the Senate but at the appropriate time. As all the Labor senators said to me that evening: 'We all know there will never be an appropriate time'. They all want to abolish the Senate, but not in their time—a t some other time.

Not all of the arguments are against a system in which a Senate election is held between elections for the House of Representatives. There is a good deal to be said for what is called a midterm judgment at a time such as this, for example. It would not be a bad idea if round about next May we have a mid-term judgment on the performance of the Whitlam Government. If we do that the people will be able to show what they want. Instead of having all these wrangles from the Government to the effect that we ought to pass all Government legislation because we should concede that it has a mandate, let us have the election for the Senate in May. If we win it will prove that the people do not want the legislation of the Whitlam Government. If the Whitlam Government wins, it will prove that they do want it. But we will know where we stand.

I want to say this: I think that there are differences in the purposes of the 2 Houses of Parliament. Those differences ought to be taken into account. I believe—an d it is generally accepted— tha t the lower house claims that it is the House of government. The Senate is the House of review. There are a lot of arguments against tying the election date of the Senate to that of the House of Representatives. I believe that in their hearts most of the senators on the Government side accept those arguments. The only thing that is forcing them to support this Bill is Party loyalty. I believe that the proposal contained in the Bill would destroy the independence of the Senate. How could we be independent in our determinations if another place, not associated with us, was able to call on us to hold an election at any time that members there had a wrangle and wanted to involve us in it? It would weaken the federal structure.

As Senator Withers has said, if a number of the proposals being made by the Labor Party at the present time had been before the convention of the founding fathers in 1900, there would have been no federal government and there would not have been a senate. Six-year terms for senators could be reduced to less than 18 months by mid-term dissolutions of the House of Representatives because of its own internal differences. This occurred in 1929 in another place 7 months after the first meeting of the House. The continuity of the Senate could be destroyed because every time there was a House of Representatives election, 30 senators would go out of office for 3 months while the election took place, whereas under the present arrangements, there are always 60 senators. This constitutes one of the strengths of the Senate. If the Senate lost 30 senators for 3 months every time there was a House of Representatives election, the Senate's committee activity would have to halt for that period. Our greatest power as a Senate is to refuse supply and to bring about a single dissolution where the government's administration is considered not to be in the best interests of the people. That reserve power would be destroyed if 30 senators had to go to the polls every time they had an argument in the other place and were forced to go to the people.

If it is desired to bring the elections for the 2 houses together, a simple solution, without referendum or trouble of interfering with the Constitution, would be for the House of Representatives to go to the people when the Senate election is held in a few months time. All the trouble of the referendum and all the expense involved could be saved by one simple measure. But let us be honest. Government members do not have the intestinal fortitude to face an election at the present time. Instead, they go on with this wrangling and mucking about with the Constitution of this country in a way that no person who had any regard for the welfare and the future of the Government and the Senate itself could tolerate. Of course, as I pointed out, this argument about the Senate being obstructionist is an argument that could have applied equally to the Australian Labor Party a few years ago. I quoted chapter and verse.

The argument that the Senate is obstructionist and unresponsive to the will of the people was met by an eminent constitutional authority, Professor Sawer, when he spoke to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. He said that there is no point in having a House of review unless you have some degree of difference between the points of view of the Houses. He said that that position is obtained more with a staggered system of elections. He asked, in effect: 'Why have a Senate if it is merely going to be a pale replica ofthe House of Representatives, having to do everything that the House of Representatives wants?' He was commenting in this instance that the system of rotating senators on a staggered system also could reasonably be concluded to embrace separate elections. I think that the members of the Government ought to have regard to the evidence that was given before that Committee. In that evidence it was pointed out that the system of separate elections was a safeguard against a temporary landslide on an issue which might be of particular moment at the time but wliich fundamentally had nothing to recommend it. It could happen in a period of panic or upset that there would be an electoral landslide and a complete reversal ofthe situation in the Senate.

As I said before, the Government has the ways and means, if it wants, of combating obstructionism by arranging a double dissolution. It is interesting to note that the people who are calling for a double dissolution at the present time are not supporters of the Government who say that the Senate is obstructing them and making government ineffective. The people who are calling for a double dissolution are the people on this side of the Senate. If Government supporters think they have sound argument to show that we are obstructing legislation, why is it that they will not go to the people and let them decide the issue? We are quite happy to let the people determine whether we are unnecessarily obstructing legislation. As a matter of fact, I am quite sure that if Mr Whitlam ever decides to go to Government House, we will be happy to go along with him and, if we get the opportunity, present our arguments in support of his request for a double dissolution. We want one. But the people who say that they cannot run the Government properly because of obstruction will not have one. I am quite sure that we will not get one. I want to say that I cannot see one argument in favour of this Bill.

We have always been in favour of letting the people decide and we are determined to let the people decide in the case of the referendum. In this case the people can decide. But what better way for the people to decide than at an election? We want this matter determined by an election, not by a referendum. We have offered the Government every opportunity. When they wanted us to defeat a Bill so that within 3 months it could hold a double dissolution, we in the Australian Democratic Labor Party, used to living dangerously as we have been, said: 'Everybody says that we will be the chickens to be axed. But in spite of that for the sake of the country, to help this Government which says it must have a double dissolution to put things on the right track we will help the Government to have a double dissolution'. We have voted accordingly and the Government has everything in train for a double dissolution. The only thing that is lacking now is the intestinal fortitude.

Senator Milliner (QUEENSLAND) - I will come back on that.

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) -I am pleased to hear that Senator Milliner is on our side. Apparently, there is one man in the Government who has the courage to face up to it. I am pleased to know that Senator Milliner, an old fighter from the trade union movement, will be in it even if Cabinet will not.

I conclude by saying that it is the easiest thing in the world to achieve the aim of this Bill without having any referendum or going to other trouble. Let there just be a House of Representatives election at the same time as the Senate election. Although I have been trying to think of anything more that DLP members can do to help the Government have an election on this matter, 1 cannot think of one thing that we have not done. We have gone out of our way to try to provide all facilities for the Government to bring the 2 elections together, but we cannot get any cooperation. The people who are causing obstruction at present are those on the Government side; Opposition senators are facilitating and co-operating. They are doing everything they can to help the Government to have an election. All that stops our having an election and letting the people decide on the matter is that we cannot get the Government to have an election.

Senator Milliner - Do you want a double dissolution?

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) Anything you like

Senator Milliner - Come on, answer yes or no. Now who has not got the intestinal fortitude?

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) Senator Milliner knows perfectly well that for months his Government has had everything squared up and has only had to go to the Governor-General and say: 'We want a double dissolution'.

Senator Milliner - What about a double dissolution?

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) And the Governor-General will say yes. Senator Milliner asks whether I want a double dissolution. I have already said that we have provided the way to bring this about tomorrow. The people we cannot get to go to the Governor-General are the Prime Minister and all the senators on Senator Milliner's side. I am a bit disappointed. I can remember, on the famous occasion of the previous double dissolution, a prominent member of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party—h e was prominent in the Government too—comin g to see me and telling me that they were going to stand the Government up. I said: 'Are you sure you are on the right tram?' He said: 'Oh, the Liberals will not get a double dissolution; I have known Billy McKell too long to think he would turn down his mates'. Of course, Mr McKell acted with the utmost propriety. He accepted the advice of his Ministers. Any Government, Labor or otherwise, must acknowledge that the Governor-General must accept the advice of his Ministers, and Mr McKell did what was right without any regard to previous political considerations. I would hate to repeat the remarks of the same prorninent member of the Labor Party after Mr McKell had agreed to the double dissolution. As a result of that it is now accepted that the Governor-General, if he is asked to take action with regard to a double dissolution, will accept the advice of his Ministers. Therefore, the Bill is unnecessary. We do not need to hold a referendum in 5 months time, as Mr Whitlam can go straight over to the Governor- General tomorrow. Then we can have an election and all these matters will be settled. I do not think Government senators could have realised the true position. Now that I have explained it to them, I look forward with confidence to a motion being carried in the Labor Caucus tomorrow instructing Mr Whitlam to go immediately to the Governor-General.

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