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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2659


Senator GIETZELT (New South Wales) - I intend to devote my time in this debate to discussing the continuing and ever increasing interference with Government legislation in this chamber. I think that 1973 undoubtedly will be regarded as one of the blackest years in the history of the Senate because, of the 250-odd Bills which have been passed by the House of Representatives, something like one-sixth have been deferred, delayed, amended or rejected by the Senate. I believe that this is a negation of the popular mandate that was given to the Australian Labor Party at the election a year ago. It is worth looking at what happened on 2 December when the Australian Labor Party, for the first time in 23 years, received 49.5 per cent of the vote, compared with the very poor showing of the Opposition parties. The Liberal Party received only 32 per cent of the vote, the Country Party 9.4 per cent and the Democratic Labor Party 5.25 per cent. Since that time we have seen a reaction in this chamber by those who were defeated in 1972 but who believe that they are chosen to rule. They undoubtedly have developed quite neurotic tendencies in an endeavour to frustrate the popular will of the electorate.

I believe that Opposition senators have chosen to abuse one of the safeguards planned by the founders of our Constitution. It certainly was never intended that the Senate be used to obstruct the legislative program of a recently popularly elected government. Of course, I am in good company in saying this because Senator Wright, in his dissenting report associated with the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review in 1959, said, when speaking of proposals to amend the constitution of the Senate:

It is not the constitution of the Senate which needs reform. It is the abuses in its party management which should be corrected.

That is precisely the view that we take. What we have seen taking place in this chamber in recent times is to the discredit of the honourable senators who make up the Opposition parties. For the last 23 years the parties which formed the previous Government made great play after each general election of the fact that they had received a clear mandate to carry out any proposal included in their policy statements. Yet we are now faced with a situation in which they defiantly reject significant pieces of the Government's legislative program which were spelt out in the Government's pre-election policy statement.

I refer Opposition senators and the people of Australia to what was said by the GovernorGeneral in this chamber when he opened the Parliament on Tuesday, 27 February. He said:

Following the clear decision of the people of Australia at the elections for the House of Representatives on 2 December 1972 and acting upon advice, I commissioned the Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party to form a new Government on 5 December 1972. My new advisers have proceeded with all possible speed to act upon the mandate for change which they are firmly convinced was bestowed upon them by the people of Australia in the House of Representatives elections. My advisers will now ask this Parliament-

I interpolate that that includes this Senate- itself the fundamental means by which the will of the people can be expressed- to pass legislation embodying the central parts of the program which the people have instructed them to implement.

It is ironically significant that the founder of the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister for most of its existence- I refer, of course, to Sir Robert Menzies- chose to write an article for the Sydney Daily Telegraph' on 1 1 March 1968.I am sure that some of the older Opposition senators will remember it well. No doubt they were all loyally nodding approval at the time the article was written. These are some of the things that the Prime Minister of the day had to say:

What are the true purpose and proper functions of the Senate? Should it really exercise its undoubted powers in such a way as to control or frustrate the policies of a government with a popular majority and mandate in the House?

He went on to say:

It would be a falsification of democracy if, on any matter of government policy approved by the House of Representatives, possibly by a large majority-

I submit that that is precisely what has happened the Senate, representing the States and not the people, could reverse the decision.

He went on to say: a Senate opposition whose party had just been completely defeated at a general election, would be in command of the Government of the nation.

That would be the result if the defeated Opposition continued to carry out its rejections of Government policy. Sir Robert went on to say in his article:

This would be absurd, as a denial of popular democracy.

Sir Robertsaid that the purpose of his article was to examine the powers and the authority of the Australian Senate. He went on to say:

This is an important and topical matter, for in the new Senate-

He was referring to the Senate which was elected in 1967- the Government will not have a majority in its own right, though it was, little more than a year ago, given by popular vote, a very large majority in the House of Representatives; a majority which, in the normal course, it will continue to have for the better part of the next 2 years.

I have had prepared a list of the Bills which have been before this chamber and which have been emasculated in one way or another. In other words, they have been amended, deferred, postponed or defeated, depending upon the terminology of the relevant resolution and the majority view of the day. It is an alarming state of affairs that something like 46 Bills fall into this category. At the time when I took out these figures- it was on 21 November 1973, which is just 3 weeks ago- 8 Bills had been defeated, 5 Bills had been deferred and 12 Bills had been amended. Those figures have now increased to 11 Bills defeated, 7 Bills deferred, including the Bill which was deferred today, and 25 Bills amended.

I put it to honourable senators that in our policy speech and in the speech of the GovernorGeneral at the opening of the Parliament there were laid down the fundamental cornerstones of the Labor Party program which was placed before the electors at the 1972 Federal election. I will not weary the Senate by reading various quotations from both the Labor Party policy speech and the Governor-General's speech. But let me say that Bills on education, on workers' compensation- and, it is contemplated, on national insurance, on the right of access to the Australian Loan Council by local authorities, on matters affecting inflation, on referendums- the present Prime Minister and the GovernorGeneral indicated three or four matters which were to go before the Australian people by way of referendum proposals- on the Australian Industries Development Corporation and on industrial matters, all of which could be regarded as cornerstones of the Government's policies, have in one way or another been put aside, amended, rejected or deferred. Some Bills have even been referred to Senate Standing Committees for further examination. Honourable senators have done this knowing full well that after this long and arduous year there is very little likelihood that many of the Senate committees will have an opportunity to consider the matters that have been referred to them before the Senate reassembles in February or March next year. Sir Robert Menzies, after setting out and explaining the powers of the Senate, went on to comment:

In the end result, the Senate has a full power of rejecting any Bill.

This means that if a Government with a clear majority in the House of Representatives presented its Budget to Parliament, and then brought into the House of Representatives financial measures to give effect to that Budget, and had them passed by the House and sent up to the Senate, a hostile Senate could legally reject them.

This, of course, would create an impossible situation, and would make popular government unworkable.

I do not think that it is the role of the Senate to frustrate the Government and this will of the people and to conduct a filibuster-and that is what the Senate has done on a great number of the Bills before the Parliament. The Government has been placed in a very invidious position. In the months that lie ahead the Australian people will have to take into very serious consideration the fact that after 23 years in government the present Opposition Parties, which were defeated at the polls, have taken advantage of a temporary situation that exists in this chamber. Sir Robert Menzies said that nobody with a temporary majority in this chamber should take advantage of that situation in order to frustrate the Government. I do not think that anyone can say that the Government has not been energetic in carrying out its mandate. The Government has introduced a great number of Bills. It is true that this program has wearied even Government members and I am sure that it has wearied members of the Opposition. But in the flush of victory and following the terms of the GovernorGeneral 's speech the Government acted in order to bring about the radical change in our society which the Austraiian people sought when they elected the Labor Government just over a year ago. The Government has, with a whole variety of economic and other issues, taken equally energetic steps outside the parliamentary arena. Currency revaluation, the tariff cuts, the establishment of the Joint Committee on Prices and the Trade Practices Tribunal have been endeavours to play some part in curbing the advance of inflation which is so much a problem in the Western world today.

It is a matter of regret that the Government was unable to carry out its referendum proposals by having the Senate deal with a number of these matters when they came before us in the middle part of this Budget session. The Labor Government was forced to put matters to the electorate as a result of arrangements that had been made. A great deal more could be said about the Bills that have been emasculated in the Senate. So many of the actions of the Opposition have had the effect of completely obstructing the will of the Government and of harassing the Government in its endeavours to bring about the essential changes in our society. Having regard to the great number of Bills that are still before the Senate, it would appear likely that a number of them will even be set aside at the conclusion of this week's deliberations. I rise to make the point that I do not believe the Senate is acting properly or maturely. I think it is taking advantage of a temporary situation and not giving the Government a go in regard to its legislative program. I hope that when we come back in the new year the Senate will reflect upon the capricious way in which it has dealt with these bills and that honourable members opposite will wake up to themselves and take a more responsible attitude in respect to the Government's legislation.







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